Being pregnant is not a process I find enjoyable. Being unable to do stuff because of it sucks. Paying a fortune to keep a horse I can’t ride sucks, especially when I barely have the energy to see and groom him once a week.


At 28 weeks and 5 days pregnant, today I had a nice time with my horse.

I didn’t feel great today, but as Sunday morning is now the only time I see Drifter, I got on with it anyway.

I drove to the yard and got out, taking my lightweight folding chair out of the boot. I walked down the yard with my chair, and immediately realised that because I’d stood up, the toilet needed to be my first stop. I knew pregnant women needed to pee a lot; I never realised how much time it seems to take out of your day when you can’t do anything without it making you need to pee!

Business there concluded, my chair and I proceeded down the yard. Various other liveries wanted to ask how I was, so I unfolded my chair and sat on it while they wanted to talk to me. I have learnt the hard way that without somewhere to sit down the entire ration of energy I brought to spend with Drifter gets spent on standing up for a handful of very similar conversations about how I/baby/Drifter am/is doing, and them observing that they don’t see me that much now. It’s nice that they want to talk to me, but it’s not actually what I came for!

Obligatory small talk done, I made it to Drifter’s stable door and sat down on my chair again for a rest! I realised he wasn’t visible over the door, so eased it quietly open and he was lying down asleep. Adorable. And it was great to have an excuse to sit a bit longer before breaking out the brushes … which I hadn’t yet picked up from the tack room.

Quietly and carefully I moved my chair inside the door of his stable and sat within touching distance. He was aware I was there, but not fully awake and we spent many peaceful minutes doing nothing until he felt like getting up. This horse used to scramble instantly to his feet if anyone caught him lying down, but now I’m allowed to share that time with him.

Eventually he decided to get up, so I went to fetch the brushes. The walk to get them was pretty tiring so I sat down and brushed any bit of him he’d let me reach from my chair. This was playful. He let me get the left side of his face easily, but not the right. The only way to get the right at all was to turn my back and feign disinterest until he came closer again, then I’d get a swipe or two in before he backed up. It was not efficient grooming, but I think we both found it entertaining. We did his front legs in much the same way.

By then I’d got some energy back and stood up to do his mane and tail. His tail is exhausting for me, in part because it’s so thick, but also because it’s only getting done once a week so it’s a mass of tangles. So I did some, sat down, and then got back up to finish the job.

After another sit down I did all the rest of the body and legs. His winter coat is pretty thick but I’m going to hold off getting him clipped if I can – when he has to stop going out every night I’ll get staff riders to hack him, but I’m hoping that being ridden in the middle of the day by staff will mean his coat is more manageable than in previous winters (when I rode at night and couldn’t get him dry before bed if un-clipped). I guess a lot will depend on the weather and how het-up he gets about being ridden by staff. At least I hope to get by with fewer clippings than usual.

So now I had a groomed horse. I went for a wander to check out which schools were in use. The big outdoor had some jumps set up, but enough space at one end for lungeing, so I chose that one. After a conversation about someone’s passed driving test, and another sit down to recover, I grabbed lunge whip, lunge line, headcollar and bell boots, visited the toilet again, and took the items to Drifter. He considered them, and started offering his “yoga” stretches, suggesting that he’d far rather do tricks for treats. This availed him little, as we always do work first and play later, and I hadn’t cued the stretches so there were no treats to be earned. I put the boots and headcollar on before picking out his feet. I’ve always expected him to lift the feet, but now I expect a higher lift so I don’t have to reach down as far. This is easier for him on some legs than others. At last we headed out to the school. He suggested that he would rather be turned out to graze, and I gently overruled.

Once in the school, we walked around and between the jumps. There were a few ground poles and one angled raised pole as well as the jumps. If there are titchy crosspoles we walk over them together, but today it was all far too substantial, so we just went between them. I had him on a line, but aimed to control him as if we were working at liberty, with my body language and just a finger gesture to steer. We did some nice tight figures of eight around pairs of obstacles, and his accuracy in going over the parts of the poles I requested was very good. I was too tired to want to put any but the minimum energy into asking for anything, so every gesture was tiny and any correction just a tiny touch on the line and disapproving noise.

Then we moved to lungeing. At first he wasn’t clear that I was changing the scenario from close work to working at a distance. I think this is because he has to switch brain gear from the intimate signals he and I have developed together for in hand work, to the traditional lungeing behaviour he learnt as a youngster. But once it clicked, he went into lungeing-brain and carried on. He was pretty lazy about it but I didn’t care to put any more energy into the process, and he mirrored my low energy level. I let him potter on, changing between lazy trot and walk quite often. I was aware that there were people observing us, and in their eyes I would be letting him get away without working properly, but it didn’t bother me. We did 5 minutes and then changed the rein. On the second rein after a few minutes I started feeling the watchers’ eyes again, and thought maybe I ought to ask for canter, as much because it was expected as because I wanted it. I thought about it for a while, and then suggested it to Drifter. I kept the request tiny because if he was going to get anxious about the canter I wouldn’t ask again; with a spooky horse lessoning in the next school I didn’t want a trot-buck-buck-gallop-canter transition. If I’m that low energy about things, I expect to get a few “no thank you” answers where he trots a little faster and declines to canter (often because he needs to set up a trot he can canter from, finding the transition hard on the lunge) but today he promptly arranged his legs and got into a no-fuss canter at once. After a single circle I brought him back to trot. Interesting. That was good enough to reward, so I brought him to walk and then halt. I would have stopped there, as I think 5 min on each rein is really enough for his joints, but having cantered only one way, I changed back to the original rein and popped him back up through the gears. Again my canter ask was a mere suggestion, and this time he seemed to consider the option of a buck or gallop, but at my quiet disapproving noise we he went straight to a lovely canter, which I praised and after a single circle, brought him back down through the gears again.

We finished the session with a return to the way we started it, walking over and around obstacles using our “at liberty” language despite him not actually being at liberty. It was easier for him to come from lungeing to liberty brain-mode than it had been to go the other way.

When we were done we headed back to the stable. I had another little sit down; he had a long drink from his water bucket. Once I felt recovered I took his boots off and put everything away… except the carrots.

This time when he offered stretches I was happy to cue the ones I wanted and provide treats for stretches🙂

Since getting pregnant we haven’t done any clicker training, because he finds it very exciting and I am not prepared to risk handling an excited horse, even if I had the energy. However, the clicker training from the past prepared the way for the relationship we have now. It prepared him for the idea that we can be playful together, and that although sometimes he has to do strictly trained traditional horse & rider things, at other times I might ask him to try something new and unexpected and that there might be something in it for him.

I drove home realising that the morning I’d had was exactly what I’d dreamed of before I bought him. I dreamed of a horse that would pick up on my tiny cues, and do what I asked without fuss. I dreamed of sitting by the side of a snoozing horse, just being together. I dreamed of a partnership and a friendship and a relationship of mutual respect. Of course I thought about doing dressage and maybe jumping, but it would be hard to say how much of that was my own desire and how much peer pressure and social expectation. Yes I do miss riding, but it was never the be all and end all for us.

Both Drifter and I are fat and unfit at the moment. We both have our health issues and I can’t tell what the future holds for us, but today I realised I have my dream horse, and I think he had a good day too.




In truth there is one reason which ties together why I have not been posting much, why I have not been riding much and why my health is a bit delicate:

I am pregnant.

I have waited to post this news until the second trimester and it has been a long, long wait. The first trimester has been somewhat rough, although I know a lot of women have it worse.

I thought this was going to be an epic post, but now it comes to it I don’t feel like writing a lot.

Drifter is having a lazy summer, and will be schooled and hacked by the staff once the weather restricts turnout. I’ll do a bit with him when it feels right for me, but for the 1st trimester I’ve been too sick and exhausted to spend much time with him, and while the second trimester is slightly easier, it’s still hard to do anything apart from work, sleep, eat and flake out.

The baby will be due around 20th December.

Sound as a pound?

Drifter seems to be doing well. I have to admit that I haven’t been seeing that much of him and haven’t ridden much in the last few weeks because my ever capricious health has been especially erratic. But helping me not feel guilty about this is the fact that Summer has officially reached the yard!

This means that Drifter is going out overnight, every night unless the weather gets suddenly unreasonable. He is tired and grass-bloated and totally chilled.

The last week before official summer came, I popped him on the lunge in a headcollar for a few minutes to see what he was moving like in the new shoeing (his hind shoes look like an ordinary shoe but the fit and shape look subtly off somehow). I hadn’t bothered to take a whip out with me partly because I was being lazy and partly because I wanted to see if he wanted to move of his own accord. Lunging for diagnosis, not for a workout.

We started on the left rein. He was … irritating. He had no interest in observing even the loosest geometric rules of circles. He had no interest in trotting. If I really asked he’d trot for a stride or two before quitting. Usually he tries but this day was an exception. I was aware it was about 5 minutes before his dinner time, but it seemed he was just going to mess around and do the bare minimum. Well, I thought, I guess he’s still stiff as well as in a bad mood. Hey ho, let’s flip him over and check the other direction.

I sent him off on the right rein. Pretty much as soon as he was on the circle he picked up gallop. Sorry, what?? The circle was round as could be and the horse that said had just said nope to doing anything but a sluggish walk at angles of his own choosing on the left rein, was now galloping perfect circles when he hadn’t even been asked to trot yet in this direction. Apparently he needed to be going this way, and going this way fast. I ignored him and let him get on with it, to be honest. He threw in transitions between gallop, canter and buck and got his steam out. Eventually I persuaded him to trot a little and cooled him off. The right rein canter, when it wasn’t a gallop or buck, was beautiful. Right canter has always been an issue for him, and I’d had no intention for asking for it, especially on the lunge, but it seems he’s fixed that. Even the bucks were pretty nice – much more hind action that he used to get which suggests it’s more comfortable for him to throw those legs out than it used to be.

It definitely suggests that he’s much more comfortable on the right rein than the left, and I know the left has always been his stiff side, so it’s probably got worse.

So when I returned from my sick bed this week, and hopped aboard, I was quite interested to see what I’d find. I wanted to see if he was now capable of working to a reasonable rein length in walk, and maybe in trot if walk went well. It’s one thing for his back legs to have recovered enough to step under him without my weight, but would he be able to do it with me on board?

Well yes, he could. It took some persuading, but I got a reasonable walk on a reasonable rein. He really, really wanted to rush into trot, because it would be so much easier to trot badly than walk properly, but I insisted. And once we got that good walk, then I could get a proper trot transition and have a proper trot, so we did that. We didn’t trot for long, but we did it. Again, in the trot he really didn’t want to work properly (well why should he after so long?) but I was insistent and he was capable. We got such a nice trot on the right rein that when he started offering canter I took him up on the offer. We only cantered for a few meters, because I didn’t want to do much, I wanted to reward the good transition and also because I didn’t want to canter around a corner just yet. I tried to replicate that on the left rein and we didn’t get a transition. On the second attempt we didn’t really get a canter. It might have been a tranter, or just some random legs trying something for a stride or two before trotting again. I didn’t try again, but thought I probably need to try that left canter on the lunge to see if he has the gear there or not.

But the next day came and it was a beautiful morning and I’d had such a pleasantly successful ride the day before so I wanted to get on. Of course it’s easy to be disappointed the ride after a particularly good one, and it took him longer than his impatient rider wanted to warm up to the good place, but he got there again. This time when he started offering right canter I didn’t hesitate to accept it and I managed to get the left canter on the first try, so we now have all gears under saddle in both directions. I was delighted to say the least. The stiffness to the left is quite bad, but he’s always had that, it’s just especially pronounced at the moment. The right canter, if I’m being critical, is overbent to the inside and a bit banana shaped, but I’m just delighted to have both canters. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we hadn’t. Now we have all the gears, all of them can be improved. It’s great to know that if I’m sick or can’t get there I can put a staff member on him for a hack without worrying if he’s up to it. I still won’t have him on the lunge for more than 10 min at a time, and wouldn’t ask for him to schooled above a trot just yet because I believe in being cautious.

Although this is already a long post, I’ll just mention that Amy Woodhead (dressage rider who rides/competes for Carl Hester) was teaching a clinic on our yard and I got to watch one of the lessons. She is amazing, and if you get the chance to learn from her you should definitely do it. She did a really good job of helping someone with their rein-feel, which is a really hard thing to teach or explain. She also gave suggestions on a different bit and bridle to try for the mare, who is always fighting the bit and crossing her jaw. I get the impression she’s hoping to increase the number of clinics she teaches later this year, so there should be plenty of opportunities.

It’s oh so quiet

I am aware I am being quiet. Please do not be concerned. I will have words again for you at some point, although it might stay quiet here for at least a few weeks.

Drifter is showing infinitesimal improvements. Enough to be encouraging, not enough to make him usefully rideable. I think his calling in life was to be a dog. He would have made a lovely dog and the whole rideability thing wouldn’t have been an issue. But the weather is pleasant and he’s having a lovely time running around in the field, particularly when staff try to catch him, so I’d say he’s OK with being a horse.

In which we see the vet, and realise we sort of missed him

It was too long since we saw the vet. It was nice to see him again, although I hadn’t missed the apparently obligatory best-part-of-an-hour wait beyond our appointment time.

In terms of history I gave him the potted version of the last blog post, and we did trot ups. There was no lameness in the trot up, but I hadn’t expected there to be. Then we went back to the stable and the vet checked pretty much every joint in the back legs and his sacroiliac with bizarre (to me and D) flexions.

He confirmed what the physio and I thought – the wedge shoes that are really helping the bottom joints of the back legs are causing trouble in the joints higher up. And we need to get him off the forehand before his front legs give up too. So we need to do something different with the remedial shoeing; heart bars or egg bars rather than wedges. He’s going to have a think about the relative merits, then phone the farrier and have a chat about the best approach. He explained that as well as giving  a little more stability to the foot, bar shoes can change how the foot is positioned under the horse and how far under it reaches. I can’t say I fully understand the biomechanics of it, but to be honest, I pay a vet and a farrier to understand that for me!

Because we still have thrush in at least one of the hinds, that I’m really struggling to clear out, we may even have a temporary measure before we go into bars to maximise the chances of getting rid of the thrush. The vet is also sending betadine for the thrush, which will be a relief to have something vet recommended so that when the next in the long line of pet remedies is recommended by someone else in the yard, I can trump it with the vet card. So far we have tried hibiscrub, and two branded thrush treatments whose names I forget. I have not tried the peroxide favoured by at least one person on the yard because I cannot handle bleach smells. I want to throw up when I smell other people using it in the open air half way across the yard. There is no way I can hold a hoof up under my face and pour it in while it fizzes and I have to breath the fumes … [retches at the thought.]

So I’m pretty happy because the vet and the farrier are going to fix new legs on my horse, and then it might be able to do stuff again.

Hopefully the process of transition will be as smooth as possible, but I’ve been writing these posts long enough to know there’ll probably be bumps along the way! It’s a real shame Drifter couldn’t get on with the wedge shoes, because they seemed like a miracle when they first went on, but perhaps that itself was a sign that they were a bit too severe. Hopefully we’ll find a compromise that suits the whole horse.

The vet’s also going to get him something to help him build up muscle as he’s had limited opportunity to do anything constructive recently. Apart from the lack of topline muscling, he was very happy with Drifter’s weight, which I asked about specifically because certain people on the yard are asking pointedly when I’ll be feeding him up again. As I suspected, the vet thinks he is a lovely weight at present. On our yard, horses tend to the plump rather than the thin. My under-worked native is not plump any more, and nor is he thin any more. Certainly he isn’t looking skeletal any more like he was at the end of the diarrhoea times. To an eye used to looking at plump horses, and remembering how plump he was 18 months ago, he might look thin still. But if the vet says his weight is right for him, I’ll take that opinion above all others.

All in all, I was really pleased to have got the vet out, and really pleased that we have a path to go forwards on again.



In which shoes and saddle are thought to conspire

I’m afraid a lot of this post is recap,  but I’m putting the pieces together a bit differently so I wanted all the pieces together.

Drifter went into wedge shoeing months and months ago to help the lower joints of his back legs. They seemed to work really well for him. He had ordinary shoes with plastic wedges under them.

He came back into work. He hadn’t had a saddle fit for quite a while because he’d been out of work but I knew he was going to change shape fast and he didn’t seem to be having any issues with the saddle. Then he got diarroeah and changed even more, so the fit was postponed again.

As soon as we got the diarroeah sorted, I had a saddle fit. A week or so before the fit, he was found to be a bit sore in the withers by the physio. She also mentioned that he could be having issues with the wedge shoes. In case the soreness was caused by the saddle, I didn’t ride again until the fit. At the saddle fit we changed the Bates 2 gullet sizes and added a lot of foam flocking because there was so much less horse. The fitter explained how although the shape of the too big saddle had been OK for him comfort-wise, it had been tipping forwards over his withers and throwing my weight onto his forehand. After she’d made her changes I felt so much more secure and upright and realised how much I’d been thrown forwards. Drifter was very unsettled during the ridden part of the fit and refused to work soft and round, but I thought it was a combination of the   oddness and out-of-routine mature of saddle fit and the week off riding before hand.

The next day the farrier found thrush under the plastic wedges and had to swap to wedge metal shoes so that the sole could breathe. Whether someone told me they were bigger or whether I imagined that I don’t know, but that was the impression I got. I was worried this would make him sorer, and he did indeed get sorer fast, until he couldn’t  take any rein contact at all. We saw the physio again just before the next shoeing and this time he was sore in both withers and both hind quarters. I told her about the change of shoeing and she thought that was causing it. She said he was unable to take contact because he was unable to take weight on his back legs because the upper joints where at angles he couldn’t handle.  She said some horses just can’t handle wedges, but to give it another 6 weeks to see if he adjusted. I told her I was riding in walk and trot on the buckle and she was happy for us to continue.

Next I saw the farrier, who told me there was no difference in angle or height between the plastic wedges he’d taken off 5 weeks before and the metal wedges he was using now, so he saw no reason why there would have been any change in Drifter now – if he wasn’t handling wedges that should have showed up months ago.

It did not make me happy that my trusted professionals had conflicting opinions, but I reconciled them by seeing that the physio was saying “Do nothing for a few weeks” and the farrier was saying “Do nothing” and so I did nothing. I mostly stopped riding because he wouldn’t let me use reins at all, which ended up with him running off with me in trot one day when he was particularly sore. If I even twitched the rein he ran off faster because it hurt more, so all I had was voice control to ask him to come back to walk. He was stumbling and unbalanced and pain was overriding voice control and we staggered round and round the school in the world’s scariest trot before he finally understood that if he stopped I’d get off and he’d be comfier.

I was not keen to get on again. We handwalked, with the occasional walking lunge session with diagnostic trotting only.

It seemed like the wait and see approach wasn’t working. Yesterday I was reading horse blogs when I suddenly remembered that the problems were starting to show before the week with the shoe change, but ramped up fast afterwards. What else changed? The saddle. He is now in a well fitting saddle that puts the rider in a balanced position.

What if he was already struggling with the wedges but the badly fitting saddle was helping him cope? If he was struggling to take weight on the back legs, the rider’s weight being tipped over his forehand would help him. As soon as I was sitting back, he started fighting the contact because the only way he could counterbalance my weight was to put his nose to the floor and lean everything forwards.

I don’t have a solution, but at least I feel like I know what’s happening. We’re going to see the vet on Monday and hopefully he’ll have some ideas. The physio said heart bar shoes might be an option but I can’t see how they would help with original problems in the lower joints of the hoof/leg. If the vet fancies heart bars and can explain it to me, we might go that route. If it was the only way to make him rideable and the vet approved I would put him back in a too big saddle, but that would be a last resort!

I do have fears he may have to be retired from ridden life if we can’t get this fixed, but we’d cope with that if we have to. At the moment the yard’s occupancy has reduced enough that he gets daily turnout (weather permitting) which helps manage my worry and his activity levels.

A scale of “My nail catches on things” to “Tsunami!”

I’m not very good at keeping things in perspective. I have no trouble believing that for the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost. Although with me it’s usually more feeling along the lines that for the want of a clear policy on a very tiny issue, a university will be lost.

Many people have said to me, “It’s not life or death” when I’m taking a small issue far too seriously, or they have suggested I need to step back to look at the bigger picture, but it wasn’t until this morning that I read the advice to “rank where this issue is on a scale of 1 to 10 before reacting.”

I’ve been aware for some time that I catastrophize, so my instinctive feel is that most things I get upset about I would probably consider to be at the upper end of the scale, even if others disagreed. But there’s no point having a scale without measurements upon it – a ruler without markings is just a stick – so I started designing my own personal “disaster” measuring tape. First I defined number 1 with the irritating but inescapably minor issue of a fingernail with a little tear that catches on things, and number 10 as a tsunami. As we live about 125 miles from a beach, any tsunami that reaches us is going to be a 10 by anyone’s personal disaster scale. Then I just started slotting stuff in along the scale, starting with the scary end. And I realised that unless you need at least 1 member of an emergency service to deal with it, NOTHING ranks above a 7. So next time we have a systems issue at work and my reaction goes to an 8, my reaction is wrong!

Pretty much every work issue that sends my stress sky rocketing on a regular basis actually belongs in zones 2-4 (and remember that number 1 is reserved for total non-issues).

I created my disaster ruler at about 11.00 today. By 1.00 I had sucessfully used it to adjust my stress level about 3 times. I can’t believe how good it is. It goes like this:

Oh no, there’s a problem with the phone that belongs to the other team we share an office with! Panic now! Everything is broken!

No, wait. Is it a tsunami? No. Do we need emergency services? No. Is it interfering with the function of the team I work in? No. Oh look, it fits in category 2 and classes as a “minor inconvenience to a few members of staff.” So why would I worry about that? How lovely it is that the worst thing that’s happened this morning is only a 2 on the scale!

Hopefully I’ll internalise the ruler at some point, and recalibrate my reactions, but in the meantime I’ll be checking anything that arises on my scale of “catching finger nail” to “tsunami” and finding that most things sit nearer to fingernails than to tsunamis.