General (and somewhat lengthy) update

wpid-20130714_180259.jpgAnother imaginative title for a post ūüėČ but then I’m a bit short on brain capacity at the moment.

The work-life balance has swung the wrong way. It’s been building up to this for a while and although this was predictable and I know it should pass in just another few weeks, it’s rather inconvenient at the moment. Last week I lunged Drifter on Monday and rode him on Friday. That was it. Thankfully while he’s on Summer turnout regime he’s got plenty of exercise. I went to see him on Tuesday, giving him his eye-drops for the last time before I passed the job on to the staff, and saw him again on Thursday, taking him a clean fly mask and feeling that I really ought to ride, although I had stayed at work much later than I would usually. I tried and tried to persuade myself to ride but I was just too worn out and hot. I did want to interact with him a bit so I took him for a walk & little trot in hand on the track round the outside of the paddocks. Aside from the flies harassing the pair of us it was mostly a pleasant experience, although when passing one of the turned out-mares she approached her side of the fence purposefully and he decided it was time to leave, sharpish. He gathered himself to canter away and seemed to have forgotten about the rope linking him and me. He looked very surprised and stopped immediately when he felt me pull on his nose. Perhaps he thought I would have run away with him, but that’s not a ¬†mare that scares me ūüėČ I might have run from one of her other pasture mates, but not that one. He might have forgotten about me for a moment when the mare’s body language asserted her horse-rights, but his attention snapped right back to me at the first pressure on the rope. I felt really proud of him for that and we walked away, leaving the situation in a much more sedate manner than he’d tried the first time. Then I let him eat some grass as a reward for not dragging me like a less obedient horse might have.

It turned out that it was good I hadn’t ridden him that day (or let him canter off dragging me for that matter) because apparently the physio had come at short notice the day before and he’d been treated again, so should have only been on light duties anyway. As I’d been working late and getting to the stables after all the staff had gone home, no one had realised I hadn’t known. I’d asked a few day before when would she be coming, and no date had been arranged, but as everyone knew I wanted him treated they went ahead with it and I only found out on the Saturday that he’d been seen on the Wednesday.

His eye is looking much better. It’s still swollen, but so would mine be if 3 times a day people had to fight me to force it open to put drops in. There is still some discharge but it seems to be clear tears now – fingers crossed we’ve seen the last of the pus.

On Friday I’d decided (and told my husband) that I’d stay at work as long as I needed to but then I’d ride afterwards no matter what time it was. I was exhausted by the time I got to the stables*, but quite looking forward to getting into the saddle for the first time since the previous Friday. I’d driven there in my work clothes (cooler than jodhs and my air-con’s broken) so I started by getting changed in the toilet. I went back to the car to put my work clothes in. As usual I separated my keys to take my car and tack room keys from my house keys so I didn’t have to have all my keys in my pocket. Somewhat unusually I pocketed the house keys and locked the tack room keys and the car keys inside the car. Oh.

Sound the fanfare! Mr S to the rescue! Luckily he was on his way home and was able to bring me the spare key. The tack room wasn’t locked so I was able to groom, tack up and ride while I was waiting. Mr S said he would have been more annoyed if he hadn’t done that himself in the past, so I didn’t feel too bad, but it was evidence of my mentally exhausted state. The ride on Friday night was not great, but not too awful. Having not ridden for a week I was out of tune with him and he wasn’t in the mood to listen to his somewhat erratic rider. It was a reminder that regardless of whether his need to move is met by turnout, I need to ride regularly if I’m to improve. Also, at that point I didn’t know he’d seen the physio a couple of days before and, had I know, I might have asked him for a little less and been more willing to let him off when he wasn’t finding something easy.

wpid-20130720_104555.jpgExhausted, I’d decided not to ride on Saturday, but I needed to touch base with the staff and fancied hanging out with him a bit. I dressed in shorts and t-shirt because I was so sure I wasn’t riding, and pottered about washing brushes, paying bills, tidying my stuff, checking the fit of his newest fly mask (pictured) and generally taking it easy. I became aware that the morning was quite overcast (good for a horse who might still be light-sensitive) and relatively cool, so despite my shorts and lack of a sports bra, I decided to tack up and have a little potter around the track. We had a pleasant little walk and trot around the first time and I thought we might do 3 laps. By the beginning of the second lap the flies were driving us both potty. I’d forgotten the repellent. (Bad human. But at least he had his mask on over his bridle.) A horse fly was sucking blood from my left leg and proving hard to deter because Drifter wouldn’t stop moving; he was trying to get one off his chest (literally) and generally they were spoiling our day. The long grass there was teeming with unpleasant insect life. We got away from the worst place and trotted on hoping to leave them behind. We turned the corner onto the little uphill slope and it occurred to me I felt positive about trying a little canter. I asked and he went. It was bliss not having to care which leg he was on. It was the first time I’d cantered him outside the school, so I was a little concerned as to whether he’d stop, so I asked him to come back to trot long before it would become urgent. I gave the gentlest squeeze on the reins to see if he’d notice and didn’t get a response. I tried ever so slightly more and we were back in trot. Clearly no issues with outdoor braking – what a relief! Back to walk to cool off and then we were done. Only a very short ride, but very nice.

On Sunday morning I woke early from a dream about work in which I’d realised a genuine urgent problem had slipped through the cracks. I logged on to work e-mail, read a few things from last week and found I was correct. I sent a few e-mails, knowing that at least one of the people I’d sent them to would be working over this weekend (I’m not the only one doing long hours at the moment) and then felt better having done something about it. As I was awake it made sense to go and ride early.

Taking care not to lock my keys in the car, I did so. As it was a fairly quiet Sunday in terms of lessons, there were schools available and time enough for me to put out some trotting poles. We had a good workout and I was pleased with him, but the right canter lead was still elusive. I’m losing my confidence in knowing if I’m on the right lead now, which isn’t helping anything. I’m pretty sure we had a lot of wrong leads but at least one correct. The only one I was sure was correct was really difficult to keep him going – my leg and willpower were the only thing keeping it a canter not a trot, and I can’t maintain that for many strides!

So after I’d ridden I went to the office and booked him schooling on Wednesday morning (he’s seeing the physio again in the afternoon) and us both a lesson next Saturday. Usually when I book schooling he’s ridden by whichever of the staff is convenient for them, but this time my instructor and I arranged for her to school him, with particular attention to that right canter, and then on the Saturday she’ll have more of an idea how to help us with it in the lesson. Or if he finds it easy with her we’ll know it’s me. I think she’s a little worried she won’t get that right canter lead herself, but I’m not worried. She doesn’t get much saddle time these days and is quite down on herself about her riding, but I suspect they’ll manage it together. She’s lighter than me and more balanced, both of which are bound to help him. If he won’t do it for her either I’ll spend more time working him in that canter on the lunge and then try again when I feel he’s had a chance to improve. If we need to invest time and money in this I think we should do it. If I feel like I can’t justify it I can always remind myself that it would cost a lot more time and money to sell him and buy a horse with two canter directions pre-installed. Not that I want to sell him, but that would be the alternative. Other than this canter issue he’s a perfect first horse. If we can help him over these issues, be they physical or mental, and get the pair of us able to canter in both directions well enough to start jumping, he’ll be everything I could ever have wanted.

In other news, I think he might be getting a bit fat. If I remember on Saturday I’ll ask my instructor what she thinks about reducing his hard feed a little.


*My eventful day had included turning up to give a training session with only a fraction of the printouts I’d intended to take (because the printer had overheated and given up, demanding we call for a service) then getting half way through the training session and having the computer at the trainer’s lectern blow up** half way through so I had to send everyone back to their desks half trained because there wasn’t really any way to carry on.

** Yes really. Flash, bang, gone to the great server in the sky.***

***Is that related to the cloud??

Helping with horses

A couple of months ago I started volunteering at the stables where I have my riding lessons. The idea to do this came initially from the thought that I don’t know anything about horse-care and it seemed weird that I was learning to ride horses but not how to be around them on the ground (incidentally it’s safer to ride them than be on the ground looking after them – most accidents happen when you’re not mounted). So I wondered how you learnt how to look after horses and¬†I came up with the idea to ask if I could work there as a volunteer at weekends.

No sooner had I formed the idea than I realised how this was a sign of how much I’ve¬†changed¬†in recent years¬†– to have the energy to consider volunteering as well as working a full-time job was a new concept for me and to approach a new working environment by choice is something I would never have done in the past. You might assume that having been riding there for nearly a year I would be fairly at ease in the yard and with the staff, but that would be incorrect – I always used to feel awkward standing in the yard before my lessons because I didn’t know how the yard worked, what I was allowed to do or¬†whether I was in the way. But I was ready for a challenge. I was ready to test¬†my new self¬†and find out how I would cope with working in an environment where I was more ignorant than the 5 year¬†old Pony Club members.

With many warnings that there was no discount on my lessons and no tangible reward for doing the work, the yard manager¬†agreed to permit me to volunteer for 5 hours every Sunday morning. She warned that I would be in at the deep end, that if I couldn’t keep up I’d have to go and that I’d get shown how to do things once and then left to do it.

So since then I’ve learned loads about horse care but also confirmed how far I’ve pushed the boundaries of my comfort zones.¬†I’m¬†having great times in close proximity to horses and ponies and I’ve learned how to handle them confidently but I’ve also been handling humans confidently. Sometimes literally handling them – last week a little girl was the recipient of my first time giving a leg-up onto a pony. (Unfortunately, as she¬†was as¬†inexperienced at receiving¬†a leg-up as I was¬†at providing¬†one, we didn’t manage to get her in the saddle first time and so she was also the recipient of my second attempt, at which point we succeeded in getting her on board. Hurray!) Of course there are not-so-great moments mixed in, such as when I was removing the horse poo from a field and a horse making trouble overturned my wheelbarrow of poo tipping it back onto the field again, but,¬†irritating moments like that excepted, I’m having a really positive experience. And when riding instructor no. 2 left suddenly I wasn’t shaken by it because I’d got to know the other instructors through working on the yard.

So here’s a¬†few¬†things I’ve learned so far:

  • Bad weather makes horses and people grumpy, so assume that everything you do in bad weather will be wrong.
  • The day you don’t wear steel-toe-caps is the day you’ll get a hoof on your toes.
  • Little girls can be acceptable company if you manage to separate one from the herd, but shrill squealing packs of Pony Club kids are best dealt with by hiding behind the largest horse you can find until they’ve gone away.
  • Darker coloured horses are more practical because they don’t show ‘the mud’ (i.e. poo stains) like greys do.
  • Horses have extensive wardrobes, but hot-pink rugs are not flattering to any pony.

Image: Tina Phillips /

5 reasons why I won’t be giving 110% at work today

1) Giving 110% doesn’t make sense. I can’t magically get another 10% on top of my maximum capacity. Unless I stole it. And stealing is wrong.
2) We’re not designed to give 100% of ourselves to anything unless our lives are in danger because it’s not a good survival trait. Waste 100% of your energy on your paperwork and when your filing cabinet starts falling on you you won’t have enough left to get out of the way.
3) If I work at my maximum capacity today I won’t have anything left for the rest of the week. I’ll be more productive working at 80% for 5 days than at 100% for one day and then needing the rest of the week to recover.
4) Working too hard only encourages management to give you other people’s work to do as well as your own. Unless you’re getting their pay as well it’s probably not worth it.
5) It’s Sunday. I don’t work Sundays.

Image: jscreationzs /

On how my job affects my blog

At the moment work is pretty busy, due to a serious staff shortage, so I seem to be putting more energy into my working life than I have done at other times. Unfortunately that means less energy to blog with.

But I should still be able to post at the weekend, shouldn’t I? Apparently not. It seems that going to work provides the mental stimulation I need to feed into a blog post. So while I have plenty of time and energy to blog at the weekend, I just don’t have the ideas to build the post with.

¬†I need the irritation of spending 36 hours per week in a room with some personalities I wouldn’t necessarily chose to spend much time with. I need to hear people talking about things I wouldn’t otherwise think about, such as vouchers, water meters, diets or Google. I need the intellectual stimulation of dealing with academic material in a variety of subjects and I need to vent with my colleagues over the events of the day.

¬†Perhaps this means that the cure for writers’ block is to get a job in an office? We often joke that if our everyday office life was written up as a farce no one would believe it – it would certainly provide a lot of material if that was the kind of thing you wanted to write.

¬†It also shows me that I’m getting more out of my working life than I might have thought; that even when my colleagues irritate me they are in fact enriching my life and providing me with experiences I might otherwise miss out on. I’d already decided that if money suddenly fell from the sky to me and I never needed to work again I would still keep my job part-time so that I would have some stability and continuity and because I like what I do, but now I see that I need the interactions of the workplace to keep me thinking. A non-taxable benefit – how refreshing!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

On work and play

When I was a child someone said to me:

For a child work is an interruption of play; for an adult play is an interruption of work.

While I see the truth in that I wonder if I’m still a child because I still see work as an interruption of play. Of course, now I’m 30-ish I play differently from the way I played as a child (mostly) and I work differently as well, but when it comes to hanging the washing out or going back to the office after a break there’s no doubt in my mind that I am inconvenienced by the intrusion into my life.

I imagine that I may continue like this unless I have children in which case I suspect my existing play time will become none existent as I believe they bring unprecedented amounts of washing, sterilizing, sleepless nights, cleaning, shopping, etc., all of which definitely counts as work. While I hear that people do play with their children I can quite imagine that at that point play does become an interruption of work.

Of course not everyone without kids has as much playtime as I do. I do not worry if my house is dusty and untidy and, it being a fairly new building, it does not demand maintainance like an older property could. I prefer the garden to resemble a meadow with perennials that look after themselves and have that wild and un-manicured look. (The vegetable gardening is more cultivated but that counts as play.) If I were house-proud I wouldn’t have so much play time!

There’s not always a clear-cut division between work and play: an enjoyable task for one  person is another’s dreaded chore and even within your own life there will be things that you enjoy in the right mood yet despise in others. Even being at “work” can be play sometimes, particularly when that Friday-afternoon feeling hits the office and ludicrous conversation is the norm.

I’m know I’m not the only adult I know who still thinks work is an interruption of play. A colleague asked me last week why we had to return to work after morning break. I replied that she had to go back to work in order to have a lunch break. She was happy with the reasoning – surely that’s a case of treating work as an interruption of play?

I hope that I can remain a child by this definition for a long time, even if I do more work than I do at the moment. I’d rather think of life as a series of play-times, punctuated with work, than think of it as a long spell of drudgery with the occasional game. I feel sorry for people who feel they have to work all the time – I hope they don’t forget how to play.