In which we do various diverse activites, not all of them together. Another long post.

On Saturday morning, having been unable to sleep longer because I was stressing about when would the physio come out and what would I do with him in the meantime, I arrived at the stables at 7.00, hoping to be in time to ask them not to feed him yet  (officially fed at 7.00). Unfortunately for me, keen staff had started early (what is the  world coming to?) and his head was already in the food bowl, so I would have to wait an hour for his breakfast to go down before I could exercise him. Ah well. I had decided to give him a very gentle lunge without any side reins or the new lunging aid to see how he was moving by choice, and just to get him out of the stable and moving his legs. I groomed slowly and managed to fritter away the hour quite easily. One of the other liveries was also there early and we got chatting and he decided to lunge as well, as it was raining, so that we could both go in the indoor school. You’re not allowed to ride and lunge in the same school, but you can have 2 horses lunging in the same school. With my usual fear of the new I was a little worried about how exactly this would work, but it was absolutely fine and his (often grumpy & difficult) mare took no notice of us.

Unfortunately Drifter was not moving very well. On his good rein he was happy to walk and trot, but on the right rein he didn’t want to trot. As I mentioned in the last post this is a horse whose default gear is trot on the lunge, so for him to only offer a step or two of trot on that rein before dropping back to walk was not a good sign. So we did lots of walking on that rein and a bit of trotting on the other to let him get some energy out, as he seemed quite comfortable going that way.

Afterwards I asked after the elusive physio, who hadn’t returned my messages, but there was as yet no date set for her visit although they were hopeful it would be soon as there were so many horses waiting for her attention. I decided that for the next two days, when he had turnout, I would not ride or lunge him and hope that a rest would help.

I had noticed when I was grooming that there were tell-tale greasy stains on the inside of his legs – tell-tale that is, that his masculinity could do with a clean. However he was being very coy about it so I thought it would have to wait.

In the new stable

In the new stable

On Tuesday I was to have my first ever chiropractor appointment. Mr S & I had signed up with them a few weeks ago when we saw them manning a stand in the supermarket one weekend with information and discount vouchers, so he with his back pain and me with my wonkiness both signed up. Unfortunately then I’d been ill, as you know, and had to postpone my first session until this Tuesday.

Unfortunately, Tuesday is a day when Drifter need exercising. Well I could go after the chiropractor, although it wouldn’t be ideal. Oh no I couldn’t  – the appointment was at 5.30 and then at 7.00 there was a free back care class Mr S had signed us up for. Oh.

So I booked the afternoon off work 🙂

Arriving at the stables shortly before 3.00, my heart sank when I realised today was the day they were resurfacing the schools. But quickly lifted when I realised a) it was the only nice day of the week, and b) hacking involves walking in straight lines – good exercise for him with his current limitations. So we’d hack. I rounded the corner to our new location, and saw the farrier set up. And my heart sank again. Maybe the farrier had already seen him? I checked his feet. Nope – dull old shoes and no pedicure. So I spoke to the farrier, asking if he was about to do Drifter. “Oh I won’t get to him until tomorrow” he replied, so we were back on for hacking. A side note on our farrier – he is marvellous. Touch wood, but in almost 3 years of hanging around our stable I’ve only once heard of a horse he’s shod losing a shoe. Unfortunately you never know when he’s coming, so it’s prudent to put your horse on the list for shoeing early as although he’s supposed to come weekly, sometimes he’s not seen for ages, so you wouldn’t want to wait until you’re desperate for shoes to put him on the list and then find the farrier didn’t turn up for a while. But I refer you back to the being a marvellous farrier thing, so he gets away with it.

So I groomed, tacked up and adorned the pair of us with many hi-vis trappings. He wasn’t in a particularly cooperative mood, I noted, but I didn’t have time for him to prevaricate.

And off we went on hack number 3. Again I rejected the 30 min. hack through the village because the 1 hr-ish one by the golf course is so much nicer. I’d rather do that hack and turn back after a bit if he seemed sore/wiggly.

The beginning of the hack did not go smoothly. Cars came at inopportune moments so we had to trot to passing places, at which he was fidgety and concerning. In one of these trots his knee boot fell down around his ankle which he found very worrying. I managed to get him to stand long enough for the car to pass before getting off to sort out the boot. Drifter was very much of the opinion that he was going home now, but eventually I had him re-booted, pointing in the right direction and I remounted (with some difficulty as he had little intention of standing still if he had any choice in it). His determination to go home steeled my resolve to carry on. Thankfully although he had stepped on the boot at some point the clips were not broken.

We continued with fewer issues and we both began to relax, until I realised the other knee boot was working its way out of place. I think the problem may be his woolly winter legs. I read somewhere someone saying they never used boots with a lower strap because their cob’s feathers catch on that and drag the boots down. This was the first time we’d used them with his winter coat. I dismounted again and tightened both and fiddled with the lower straps and they held for the rest of the hack. Back on board and forwards.

He was mostly settled and calm now although I kept standing up to look at his knees over his shoulders. As he’d been not great about the passing places at the start of the hack I instigated a training session of random stops at passing places and verges to a) get him in the zone of pulling over and waiting patiently when asked and b) show him his boots wouldn’t fall down everytime he was in a passing place. This was going well and when a car next came he behaved perfectly and waited nicely. The car passed and we were about to continue when what I can only describe as a terminally ill wood pigeon half walked and half flopped out of the hedge right in front of him. I can only imagine what it smelled like to a horse nose, and adding that to the sickening way it was lurching, I am not surprised that Drifter took exception to it. After a brief conversation during which he strongly asserted his belief that we needed to head back the way we came,  he calmed down and I was able to make him walk past the area and on our way.

Not the relaxing hack I’d been hoping for, I have to say. But from that point on, once our adrenaline had dropped, we relaxed. And realised it was a very pleasant afternoon and that he was moving rather well, by which I mean he didn’t feel like he was trying to protect any sore places. We continued without any further drama for the remainder of the hack and there was only one more incident of note: a car came, we got over into a gateway, it passed us, I touched my hat to thank them for slowing down and made eye contact with the passenger, who was having a good laugh at us. While I may be wrong, I got the distinct feeling that they were laughing at the geeky hi-vis of us – not in a nasty way but in a pleasant “look at the horse wearing skateboarding knee pads and reflective anklets!” kind of a way. “Well,” I thought, “you saw us, didn’t you?!” and continued back to the yard with a smile on my face. Maybe they think I’m an overprotective safety obsessive or maybe they just think it’s funny to see a horse dressed like that – either way they got pleasure out of seeing us and I got pleasure out of that.

We got back, and I began removing tack & hi-vis when I saw … my horse-boy was letting it all hang loose. Time to attend to intimate hygiene! Quick! Grab a sponge and get cleaning while you see it! I keep an empty plastic water bottle in my brushes bag and, while using one hand to keep him unfurled, used the bottle in the other hand to get water from his water bucket so I could wash it. This was surprisingly satisfactory and by the time he retracted the organ I was fairly satisfied with its cleanliness. But there’s a reason they call it sheath cleaning … and that would be the sheath. Unfortunately this was much more unpleasant, I have to say, and the sponge I used will never be the same again, but the job was done and he had taken very little notice. As I left the stable with the disgusting sponge he sniffed it, thoughtfully turning his lip up in the flehmen response to fully savour the aroma. Yuck! Thankfully during the cleaning process no one dropped by to talk to us. Far more embarrassing than doing this job would be having to hold a conversation while I was doing it!

Flehmen response in the old stable

Flehmen response in the old stable

In case anyone is interested I clean this area only with water because I would not want to risk him reacting to any cleaning agent, even one specifically designed for the job. I do believe that it needs cleaning occasionally (ref. sticky yuck down back legs) but do not believe in interfering otherwise. I have done my research and am aware some vets advocate never cleaning while others are in favour of regular cleaning with strong products. This is my response – a balance between the two views. Before I got him I thought I might be too embarrassed/worried to do this job and I know some ask their vet to do it – I had thought I might be one of those. Now I have him, the bottom line is that it’s a job that needs doing, so I might as well get on and do it. But now I’m going to change the subject.

Once I’d washed my hands in very hot water I came back and removed the hi-vis leg bands he was still wearing and put the tack away. There was just time to get home and showered before it was …

Time to go to the chiropractor. Again, my wariness of new things was in full flow. I knew Mr S had had x-rays on his first session, so I might have to be ready to strip off, don a gown and strike a pose for the bone cameras, but other than that I didn’t know what to expect.

Mr S and I had back-to-back appointment times and the chiropractor invited us to come up together and sit in on each others’ sessions. He asked me all about why I was there and got quite excited to hear that I wasn’t in pain, unlike the vast majority of people who first  go to a chiropractor, and was very interested to hear about my violin/viola playing past, which is in my opinion the reason for my wonkiness.

Following the comedy part where he had several goes at taking my blood pressure with a non-functioning cuff and eventually gave up, he told me there was no need for x-rays as he thought my issues were all postural. Good. I hadn’t been looking forward to that part!

So he looked at me standing, touching my toes, standing again, touching my toes and announced that my wonkiness corrects when I touch my toes. Interesting. I lay on my front on his couch and he prodded and leant on parts of my back, announcing that one portion felt like a brick wall. “How does that area feel?”, “Err, like a brick wall”.  His words summed it up so well I couldn’t have put it better. That section of my back is immobile, unyielding and not massively into sensation either. (Not in a numb way, just an “I don’t ever move so the brain stopped listening to me because I don’t tell it anything new” kind of way.) Apparently that’s not normal 😉 That part is to the left of my back, just below my shoulder-blade. Apparently there’s a lesser compensatory area of slight brick-like-ness right at the bottom of the right of my back.

The most dramatic portion of me was my neck, which turns 90 degrees to the left, but only 45 to the right.  So I sat on the couch and he squished my head down in various angles. And now it turns nearly as far to the right. Magic!

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. It helped that the chiropractor was fun, interested and non-threatening, and my husband was there to laugh at me too, but really I enjoyed the process of being poked, prodded and squished. I hadn’t realised at the time that any of what he was doing was treatment rather than assessment, but afterwards I felt movement where before there had been none. I felt differently balanced and, well, better. Mr S thinks its psychosomatic. I think Mr S is wrong.

It was interesting to hear that my areas of interest to the chiropractor were the section at the top left of my back, near the left shoulder, in my neck and a minor area at the right of the base of my spine. Drifter’s areas according to the physio are the left shoulder, the right hindquarter and the neck. Notice any similarity? How much have my issues been affecting his? I don’t believe that my physical issues are the entire cause of his, because he felt wonky so early into my owning him (although I didn’t understand that at the time) but I do believe we’ve probably been aggravating each others’ issues. Hopefully as we’re both getting treatment we’ll be able to both improve, but it’s unfortunate that our weaknesses mirror each other because it makes it harder for me to help him.

While there were other things I had thought I might include in this post it is already overly long, so I’ll end it here. We’re hoping the physio will be seeing Drifter this afternoon, so no doubt I’ll be posting again soon. Unfortunately the farrier failed to come back on Wednesday, so he remains sans-pedicure, but fortunately I hadn’t left it until the last minute so he can get another week or two’s wear out of the shoes he’s in without issue.

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Back to normal

DSCN4355Drifter is a horse again, I am back at work (which has calmed down a lot), and the weather has remembered this is Britain, and returned to rain. Sigh.

But to look at it another way, dragons are impractical, it’s nice to be well enough to work (and have it be calmer) and we have had one of the best summers I can remember.

So we’re back focusing on how to get that right lead canter.

The lesson I had the day before the show really depressed me about my ability to get the canter to the right. I had not realised that this would be a long process. I guess I thought once he’d done it a bit it would just “click” and then even I’d be able to get him to do it.

The next day I lunged him, thinking it was the only way I could get him to practice that canter. I tried to buy a cheaper version of a pessoa lunge aid, but sadly it was out of stock, so we stuck with the side reins. It always amuses me on the lunge how easy it is to get him to accelerate and how difficult to get him to decelerate. You would have thought he’d feel like slowing down and doing less work, but sometimes it takes several circles to change a trot to a walk. The physio had suggested trying lots of transitions on the lunge but when it takes this long to take a trot to a walk, quick repeated transitions are not possible! He cantered nicely on both sides on the lunge although he tired quickly on his weak side and could not strike off correctly when I asked for one last try.

Since then I’ve had a lot of lesson. The bank account is suffering because I’ve been having 2 or 3 lessons in a week. And in every lesson, I get that right canter.

It’s hard though. I have to be riding at the edge of my ability and I can’t tell for myself if we’re on the right leg or not, because in that direction he feels really unbalanced on either leg so they feel equally wrong and bad! So I need someone shouting “wrong leg” for me. If I look down at his shoulders the change in my weight unbalances him more and he stops cantering, so I’ve got to learn to feel it.

In lessons now we get the right leg at least 3 out of 4 times, and I’m starting to know from the trot whether or not he’ll do it. If the trot’s not quite there, I won’t ask, even if he’s trying to anticipate the transition, because if I do then he’ll get it wrong.

The trouble comes when we can’t get it and he and I get more tired and worried about it with every ask. And as we’re both finding it hard we don’t have much spare energy to set it up and try many times.

It’s a shame I don’t have a regular riding friend or helpful spectator to call out when we’re on the wrong leg – it would make it much easier for me to practice outside my lessons. I have tried riding in the indoor school and using the mirrors there, but it’s very hard to coordinate everything at a place I can see in the mirror without twisting and even when I manage that it all looks different in the mirror and takes me too long to work out what I’m seeing. We tried that this morning and I think we managed it, but I can’t be sure. We have another lesson tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll keep doing well. We’ve certainly come a long way from not being able to manage it together at all.

Away from the intensity in the school, on one of the last hot days last week we went out for a hack. It seemed unlikely that it was only our second ever hack, but that’s the truth of it. Since last time I got him 4 hi-vis fetlock bands and myself a hi-vis hat band. The latter was somewhat improvised… I had looked at proper hat bands and decided they cost too much, so when I saw some hugely reduced hi-vis dog collars, I snapped up a couple, clipped them end to end, adjusted the length and now I can slip them onto my hat at a fraction of the price of a “real” one and they look close enough that no one will notice. (I realise that reads a little like a wartime make-do-and-mend propaganda article for ladies, but I’ve been working on a lot of vintage material at work of late and so can’t be expected to write in styles later than the ’40s.*)

So, gleaming with reflective yellow luminosity, we headed out. I’d forgotten how tense and wiggly he feels out of the school, but we had a pretty uneventful ride. Cars came along at reasonable points where there was somewhere for us to get out of the way; he wasn’t too fussed about the golfers tee-ing off this time. There was one point where one of his kneeboots was making a weird sound and I wondered if the clip on the bottom strap had come undone. He was a bit worried by the sound, so I dismounted and inspected the boots. There was nothing wrong with them but I think the clip on the meant-to-be-loose lower strap was banging against some other part of the boot, so I shortened the strap very slightly and worried about remounting.

We are taught never to mount from the ground – always from a leg up or a mounting block to save the horse’s back. But this means that when you are off your horse without access to a leg up or a block, it’s a bit daunting getting back on! I can probably count the number of times I’ve mounted a horse from the ground on 1 hand, but luckily my horse is not tall. On the other hand my legs are quite short 😉 Luckily at this point we were by a few houses rather than out in the lanes, and there was a short stretch of kerb, which I tried to utilise to give me a little extra help. Unfortunately he wasn’t being particularly helpful and moved away from the kerb as soon as I put my left foot in the stirrup, but I hauled myself back on board and we set off again.

I felt a certain tension and lift in his back – he was defecating. Most unusually for him, he decided he’d like to stop for this instead of his usual on-the-go attitude so I permitted a pit stop. Unfortunately just as he finished his business a dog we hadn’t seen on the other side of the hedge ran up and barked at us making us both jump sharply, but we didn’t suffer anything worse than a shock, and carried on our way back.

Back on the yard I tied him outside his stable (as the bed was made and he was going out, so I didn’t want it spoiled) and untacked him. I quickly put the tack away and came back with his turnout gear … he was stretched out and peeing a torrent… splashing up his legs all over 2 expensive knee boots and 4 brand new hi-vis fetlock bands as well as all up the wall. Thanks Drifter.

Needless to say they and the horse were washed. It occurred to me afterwards it probably would have been easier to leave everything on the horse and hose the gear down in situ, but I didn’t think of that at the time.

In other news, expect me to be calling him woolly boy again more often – the winter coat growing is in full swing. He is seriously fuzzy. No one else’s horse looks like a persian cat, just mine, but everyone wants to stroke his soft fluffy neck. I’m trying to put off getting him clipped for a few more weeks, because I think he’ll just grow out again. It started growing in the hot August weather, so much as people tell me he won’t grow out if he’s well rugged, I’m taking that with a pinch of salt.

I don’t have any new pictures, so here’s a dragon picture again to keep you going. But he’s so much fuzzier than this now.

DSCN4389

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*Some highlights have been the 1835 veterinary work with lots of discussion of hooves, shoeing and ailments of the horse; and the sarcastic suffragette poem telling women it was much better to bore themselves at home thinking only of cooking than to end up in prison trying to help womenkind. There were also some illustrated hardware catalogues from the 1870s and a 1960s edition of Dante’s Divine comedy in parallel Italian and Esperanto, which I’m sure will come in handy.

First solo hack

DSCN4184

In keeping with our recent theme of getting out of our comfort zone, Drifter and I went for our first solo hack the other day. As I’ve mentioned before, there isn’t any off-road hacking near us, so we were out in the lanes. I woke up on a sunny Sunday and felt like it could be the day. Unfortunately I hadn’t yet bought any knee-boots, so I needed a tack shop that was open on Sundays so I could buy some in the morning and hack in the afternoon. The internet yielded the relevant information and Mr S and I went on a little road trip to find it. I bought the only pair of knee-boots in the shop, hoping they’d fit, and headed back with them. Luckily they fit OK. I don’t have a photo yet, but I’ll try to take one, because there’s nothing geekier, to my eye, than a horse in knee-boots.

The short circular hack goes through the village, where there are many parked cars to pass along the road, which I didn’t fancy. I don’t particularly like driving through that way because oncoming drivers can’t see around the cars so I didn’t fancy hacking that way. The other route goes through lanes crossing a golf course and most of the route does not carry much traffic, so I decided to go that way. It’s a circular route but I set out with the thought that if it wasn’t going well I could just come back the way I came after 5 minutes or so.

The first piece of road was the busiest of the whole route in terms of cars, and the road is narrow enough that a car and a horse need to use the passing places to, err, pass each other. We met a few cars and managed to use the passing places, sometimes more easily than others. A little further on we were able to turn into a gateway to let another couple of cars pass us, one of which he got a little upset about although I was able to control the “moment”. Then we were able to leave that road onto a much less used lane. We relaxed a bit until we came across a dreaded puddle, but by now I was settled into asserting myself enough that we passed the puddle nicely and had a bit of a trot on the other side. The trot was very forward but we were both glad to use our energy productively so we progressed with good pace. The lane was pleasantly quiet and warm and we returned to a calmer walk after a while. Further up the lane we were well into the golf course and I was alert to the possibility of electric buggies crossing from one golf hole to another, but we were spared that joy. We were passed by a cyclist and I was pleased to see Drifter is not remotely concerned by bikes.

Unfortunately we were not spared the CRACK of golfers teeing off. He was tolerant of a few, but became more and more resistant and eventually I could not prevent him from turning round and heading back the way we’d come. This was complicated by the fact that I could hear a car coming so didn’t want to try turning him back round to the original direction and end up blocking the lane broadsides on to the approaching car, so I had to acquiese to his direction so that we could get to a suitable place for the car to pass us. Once the car was gone I manged to wrestle him round again and successfully pushed him on, past the point at which he’d turned before, and into the even narrower turning on the right. Here we met oncoming traffic, but only in the form of another horse and rider out hacking. I was a little jealous at how relaxed they seemed compared to us, but I assumed they’d had more experience than we had and reminded myself Rome wasn’t built in a day. This lane took us away from the golfers and was narrow enough that no one would drive down it if they could avoid it, so we met no cars. However, a polite cyclist did ask if he could come past and it became apparent that he’d been politely sitting behind us unable to get past for quite some time. Oops sorry! I don’t know if Drifter knew he was there but I certainly didn’t!

Aside from this embarrassment, this lane was the most relaxed part of the hack. But as we left it I saw the signs for the children’s farm. As I began to wonder if he’d object to the donkey in the field around the corner, he found a puddle with a swinging squeaking gate over it to worry about. As we passed them a moped came by, which he barely spared a glance – clearly mopeds are safe and puddles are lethal. Around the corner I found the former donkey field had become a car park and a play area. A little kid on top of the slide stood up, waving her arms and screaming “A Horsie! It’s a horsie! Look at the horsie!” I am grateful that said horsie, being older than the child and better mannered, did not stand up and scream back, but nevertheless he clearly communicated his dislike of the situation as she came running at us, still yelling. On his behalf I rose to the occasion and defused the little bomb girl by telling her his name and age and asking hers. Once she calmed down Drifter did too and we were able to proceed, with her voice trailing after us asking us to wait for her to come with us. No chance sunshine!

And we were back. The ride took about an hour and I was drained but proud. We’d braved all kinds of monsters, both real and puddle-dwelling and got back in one piece, sans little girl, despite her best entreaties that her mummy wouldn’t mind!

So now we know we can do it. It was quite stressful at times and I won’t be doing it very often, but it’s nice to know we have the option to get out and do something different.

Getting out of school. Part 2, The Hack.

One of the instructors asked if I wanted to come out on a trip to a wooded ride which took place last weekend. She had one more space on the lorry – did we want to go? Just an hour or so walking round with a handful of adults from the main yard. Yes, why not? It would be the first time we’d gone anywhere and we didn’t really know how he’d be about travelling, but if we don’t try we won’t know. They lent me some travel boots and a tail guard and we went.

It was a bit like this but the trees were smaller and it was much sunnier.

It was a bit like this but the trees were smaller and it was much sunnier.

We took one big lorry with 3 horses in and the little one with 2. We went in the little one, which was new to the yard, and so the instructor driving hadn’t driven it before. After we’d put our tack on she loaded the working livery horse that she would be riding first, and he loaded OK but then started kicking, so there was a bit of a rush to load Drifter and be on our way. Drifter loaded nicely and was happy to find the haynet waiting for him.

Time to get going. Unfortunately at this point it looked like we might not be going anywhere as the driver could not find first gear. And pulling away uphill with 2 horses in the back in 3rd was not going to work. Just as we were trying to work out if we could try any tricks to get off the hill, we finally found 1st gear and headed off, with the driver muttering that she wouldn’t be stopping again until we got there. I’d like to say here that she is a safe driver fully certified for big vehicles and animal transporting and if she’d been driving a vehicle she knew there would have been no issues. However… we pulled out onto the main road in second …. onto the roundabout in third (downhill, luckily) and headed for the motorway. On the slip road she tried for 5th … and the knob of the gear-stick came off in her hand. She shoved it back on and we stayed in 4th for the rest of the motorway part of the journey. Throughout she managed to drive smoothly and the horses in the back were fine (there was a little camera and screen system so you could watch them from the cab). As well as her at the wheel one of the teens was there as a working helper. Her horse was awaiting vet attention so she wasn’t riding but was coming round on foot in case a second staff member was needed. She nearly wet herself laughing at all the gear change issues. Eventually we arrived in one piece. The big lorry had beaten us (they had 5th gear, after all) but not by much. We unloaded the horses and tacked up. As I’ve only tacked up in a stable before I found it rather worrying, but the teen did mine, dropping the head collar around his neck as she put the bridle on so that we had hold of him at all times.

After much faffing, toilet trips, paying, signing disclaimers, all 5 of us were mounted: me and woolly-boy, who was eager to get moving, the instructor on the working horse, Springy (the horse I wanted to buy initially) with his female owner, his male owner on a school horse and another lady (who was the one whose horse took such a dislike to the judges table in the Easter show that she was hard pressed to do a test at all). I don’t really know her or her horse, but obviously her horse is not always as brave as he might be.

We set off. Initially we were near the back of the ride, but Drifter expressed a preference for moving fast, so we ended up second, behind Springy. I thought we walked very fast, but we can’t keep up with Springy when he’s swinging along.

It was a hot day. In Cornwall a few days before it had been sunny with a cutting wind. Back in the Midlands it was just hot. Unfortunately in the rush to leave I’d left his fly ears and fly spray behind, but it was only towards the end that flies became a problem, luckily.

Like this but in Spring. Think everything being much greener.

Like this but in Spring. Think everything being much greener.

We walked along in the sunshine. At first I was tense, worried about keeping a good distance from the horse in front, tense from the gear issues on the journey and just generally unsure of what to expect. I felt much better once we’d come to second place in the ride, because then Drifter was happier and also because when we’d been at the back the teen on foot was walking alongside us and I was constantly concerned with reminding him to leave her space and not squish her into the trees. Now we could just get on with being outside.

We came to a place where a tiny stream crossed the path. There was a little footbridge for humans and a muddy down-and-up path beside the bridge for horses. Springy refused to cross. He backed into other horses, spun and tried to get away. Someone else tried to give them a lead through but he refused again. We went. Drifter wasn’t entirely fond of the idea but didn’t put up much argument. Springy refused again. The instructor came across as a lead. He refused to follow. Eventually the instructor had to get off and haul him across from the ground. After several attempts the instructor went through the muddy up and down and Springy went over the narrow footbridge. I was glad I had Drifter and not Springy. We carried on and I enjoyed my calm brave little horse. There was one point where the ride had a little trot, but otherwise we only walked. I would have liked to have trotted more.

The path went alongside a field with a herd of young cows in it. I was unconcerned, pretty sure Drifter would look at them but not really react apart from that. Springy stopped. Springy was not going past the cows. So we took the lead. I got him bending away from the cow field and listening to me. He wasn’t particularly happy about the cows, but he did what I asked and we led everyone past the scary cows. The track took us past 2 long sides of this field and the herd of cows followed us. Springy was not happy. Springy’s rider was not happy. I was proud of my brave boy and we carried on, letting everyone behind us worry about the cows if they wanted to, but setting a good example. As soon as we were past the cows Springy rushed into the lead again, leaving us behind.

On that site there is a cross-country course. At various intervals we saw bits of the course. At one point near the end we came to a clearing with a “mountain” in it. A part of the cross-country course, it was a steep sloping mound of earth with a flat top so you would ride up, across and down the steep far side. The instructor shouted did anyone want to go over it and I didn’t realise she was serious. She asked if I wanted to do it, but I hadn’t really got my head around what it was, so I sort of gave Drifter a half-hearted “you can if you want” sort of an aid and he declined. Springy’s other owner (call him C) took her up on it and I was able watch and then I thought we could do it. I asked the instructor if I could go back round for another go and she said yes and asked C to give us a lead. C did … at a canter, but that was fine – Drifter trotted but came back to walk and we went nicely up, across and down. Simple as, although I think I needed to lean back further on the steep downhill slope. We were nearly back at the car park but there was one last adventure – the water crossing. The instructor was surprised to find that it was full of water – it must have been recently filled for a competition – so it was pretty deep. I assumed that Drifter’s general dislike of water meant we wouldn’t be able to do this, but again C went through it. The instructor gave us a lead through and Drifter went through the deep water without much persuading. It was a pretty big bit of water and he went through it with seeming enjoyment, once he was in. So there you are. There is no logic to horses. Crocodiles live in puddles, fly spray is too wet for him, but water 3 horse lengths across and 2 wide, up over his knees? Oh that’s fine! Of course it might well have been a welcome chance to cool off a bit.

As we got back to the car park we realised that the other lady’s horse, who is skewbald, had got really badly sunburned on his neck. His mane is extremely thin and his winter clip hasn’t grown out, perhaps because he’s not as young as he might be. His white neck was bright pink in a wide stripe after only an hour’s ride. I had long sleeves and a hat on but I realised that afternoon I felt a bit unwell from too much sun on the back of my neck. The ride had felt quite short, but if it had been longer I think we would all have suffered.

We gave the horses a drink, untacked and loaded the vans. Again Drifter loaded very nicely. On the way back the instructor did much better with the gears, although we still had to take the motorway in 4th, and we got back without incident. When unloaded Drifter gave some ear-splitting calls to let everyone know he was back and happily headed for his stable.

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If there’s another trip offered we’ll go again (finances permitting) although I do wish there was more trotting. Drifter likes to trot! There was a second trip run for the teens which was walk, trot & canter. I wouldn’t have felt confident to go for that for our first trip out, but maybe next time I will, if there’s space for us and our canter work goes well.

Image 1 courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image 2 courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Getting out of school. Part 1, The Track.

DSCN4194About a fortnight ago I turned up to ride after work one day and found that evening had been taken over with an in-house jumping competition. I had known there were some going on but hadn’t paid them much attention. I hadn’t realised that meant there’d be no schools to ride in. Luckily I knew that on the previous weekend a couple of the teens had ridden on “the track” – which is basically a short path around the edge of some of the turnout fields. Officially this had not been opened for the year (it’s unavailable during the winter) but if they’d used it, surely I could. I was a bit hazy though on exactly where it went and when we were allowed to use it.

I made enquiries and it turned out that the owner was happy for me to use it at my own risk – before they officially open it for the year they check the rabbits haven’t dug any holes in the path that a horse could put a leg down. Also I was told we’re not allowed to go faster than a trot on the bit that goes alongside the outdoor schools. As I barely intended to go beyond a walk at all on our first solo foray outside the school this was not likely to inconvenience me!

I checked with one of the teens that had used it at the weekend and they’d not found any rabbit holes and assured me it was not possible to get lost, so I tacked up. I was nervous because I didn’t know how he’d be to ride outside the school. Apart from the one hack on the road with a staff member, quite some time ago, I haven’t ridden outside the school because there haven’t been any options other than the school or the roads. I was also nervous because although I’d been assured I couldn’t get lost, I didn’t know where the track went or how long it was. Now I’ve ridden it I see it’s very short and you’re barely out of sight of the schools/yard, so it’s really not that scary, but new things are always a challenge  for me.

So I opened the gates, mounted by climbing on the wall (it felt really odd to mount outside the school, but he was relatively well-behaved and I got on OK) and headed out down the track. Down the track – it was the first time I’d ridden him on any sort of slope which again made me a little less than relaxed and he was worried about a woodpile that might contain monsters (visible in the picture above on the left of the track), but although we were both a bit tense there were no real issues. I asked him to bend away from the woodpile as we passed it, with limited success. We got to the bottom corner after a few hundred meters. The path went to the right, but to the left the sun was glinting off a little brook. Apparently this was very concerning for the woolly-boy, who thought there were almost certainly crocodiles in it,

This is where crocodiles live

This is where crocodiles live

but after a brief discussion I convinced him we weren’t going that way anyway and it was safe to proceed along the path. After another few hundred meters we found a pheasant in the middle of the path in front of us. Knowing how pheasants will leave it to the last minute and then fly up in a horse’s face, I was probably more worried by the pheasant than he was – he was curious about it. I slowed our walk to give the pheasant maximum opportunity to leave before we were on top of it, and with a minimum of fuss the bird took itself off into the bushes, much to my relief. Another few hundred meters on we could see and hear two dogs running off the lead, but it turned out they could not reach us, being separated from us by a narrow strip of fenced-off field. After all of that I was feeling pretty confident that I didn’t have to worry too much about how he’d react to things – yes we’d come across things he didn’t feel confident with, but the strongest reaction he’d given to all of this was stopping near the crocodiles. I was in no danger of hitting the floor at any point, which in a way was the question I’d needed answering. I hadn’t known how he’d be when we were out and about and something a bit scary came along. Now I know that he’s fine, I can be more confident, which in turn will make him more confident.

We carried on following the path and in no time at all we were alongside the schools and the jump competition and then back to the beginning. A very short ride, so we did another lap. This time I got him to bend away from the woodpile and keep going near the crocodiles. We had a little trot up the hill and finished the lap with me feeling confident that I will be safe on him even when we meet the unexpected.

I did leave the ride with the idea he has strong feelings about water. He did not like the tiny “crocodile wallow”, he does not like it when the tap in his stable is turned on, he doesn’t like his sweat patches being rinsed off and he doesn’t like fly spray on him even if you spray it on your hand and then wipe it on him. This does not bode well for washing him. I’ll let you know how that goes…

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