A beautiful day for a ride

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Today is a beautiful day for a ride, not a cloud in the sky and it is warm, unusual for March, so I pull my jodhpurs on and drive down to the stables.

I chat to Lucy in the feed room, collect Ant from the field, give him a quick flick over with a brush, pick out his feet and tack him up.

Off we go to the park. Ant walks normally to the end of the road then power walks the rest of the way. I could have a hot seat as Jeanette reckons Ant is slow. There is nothing slow about Ant. I think I maybe need to avoid riding out with her as we clearly have different concepts of speed, either that or she has seen a side of Ant I am yet to witness.

So we power walk up the hill, towards the beautiful Georgian hall, which must have fantastic views over the surrounding countryside and take the track towards the fields of pigs.

Where I notice a man up a tree, a very tall tree, holding a chain saw and yelling at  a man at the foot of the tree. And I see a sign next to them that says ‘treecutting’. My heart sinks and I wonder how Ant will be with treecutting as it is now too late to turn back. I shout ‘hello’ to the treecutters to make them think twice about treecutting until we have gone past.

They are friendly and don’t do any treecutting.

We carry on and I think, lovely, we can enjoy this now and then I notice another yellow hat in a tree and one at the bottom of the trunk, just a bit further round.

And another couple of yellow hats two hundred yard on and more and more and more all along the woods. In fact, in total there must be about fifteen lots of treecutters attacking different trees throughout the park.

Brrrrrrrrrrr, brrrrrrrrrrrrrr, brooooooooooooom, brrrrrrrrrrrr. The tranquility of the sunny afternoon is shattered by the song of chainsaws.

And I begin to wonder what star I was born under.

The Rug

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Over Murphy’s stable door is a rug, a thin navy blue quilted rug. That’s odd, I think, where is his navy and green checked rug, he wears underneath? Or maybe Jeanette just wants this one on?

I go into the stable and heave off Murphy’s turnout rug and throw on the thin quilted stable rug. As I carry on round the yard, I start to shiver. The afternoon is getting colder. I send Jeanette a text to say is it just this one rug, she wants him to wear?

I get no reply, so go and hunt for Murphy’s navy and green checked rug. After much searching, I locate it. It is lying on the floor behind the door of the empty stable next door to Murphy.

I go back in to Murphy, take off his quilted stable rug and start again with the rugs – navy and green checked, followed by the quilted stable rug.

He looks pleased, if not a little perplexed at my doing his rugs for the second time in one afternoon.

I carry on changing rugs and picking out feet. Larry needs stable bandages on and Gemma needs her foot tubbing with salt water, the horses that live out still  need feeding, there are waters to refill, more hay and feeds to put round.

Then I get a text from Jeanette to say ‘just his quilted rug’.

I say ‘are you sure. It’s freezing?’

‘Oh yes, he’ll be fine.’

I know Murph is chunky but he’s clipped and it is icy.

So I go back into his stable for the third time and pull his rugs off and put just the thin quilted one on.

He’s just warm enough with the navy and green check and the thin quilted one: his teeth are going to be chattering in just the quilted.

I feel so bad about taking it off, I even check Jeanette’s list of when she’s going to be in. It looks like she’s in the following morning so I can’t ignore the only one rug request!

In one afternoon I’ve been in to do one horse’s rugs three times and feel I am caught between a rock and a hard place!

Note to self: don’t ask next time!

 

Bisto has gone

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Bisto pops the jump in the arena, clears the five bar gate (normally opened and closed for horses to enter and leave) and trots back to his stable.

We all look at each other.

Ollie shouts “Did you record that?” and then runs after Bisto.

I have to say, this colt is mighty sporty!

Leaving the arena and splashing through the mud back to the yard has turned Bisto’s white bandages the same colour as the rest of him. He is now all Bisto. Not such a good look for You Tube.

Having jumped out of the arena, Bisto clearly feels he has done enough.

I think he’ll just need to do a small planned jump and leave the arena with us rather than on his own and that will be his work for today.

However, he’s going to do a bit more and my job is now to be gate monitor as he is no longer heading for the herd (Justine and I in the middle) but trying to make a quick exit! And I am to wave a lunge whip, should Bisto dare to come close enough to the gate to escape.

This would not be so bad apart from Bisto is quite fearless and lunge whip waving has to be enthusiastic enough to make him stop and not leap out of the arena, but not enough to scare the living daylights out of him!

Each time he screeches to a halt just in front of me!

When he has done the jump he is supposed to jump and cantered to me, my job is to collect him back up and give him back to Ollie.

There must be a better way to film young horses, in fact any horses.

I wonder if Ollie has tried standing in the middle with a lunge whip with whoever is recording standing at the edge of the arena?

Getting a video of Bisto may not be as easy as originally thought. It could take a few weeks of loose schooling over small jumps.

That said, if you want an eventer, watch the footage of him leaving the arena: he makes the five bar gate look like a cavaletti!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larry and the Zamar machine

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Larry is to have the Zamar machine on his legs. The what? I hear you say.

The Zamar system is a time saving alternative to applying ice boots for cold and bandages to the horse’s legs for warmth, but not if you’re the one standing with the horse! It is used in competition horses before and after competition for maintentance and also for injury.

Needless to say, Larry is having it on for injury. Somehow he has managed to bang his cannon bone.

The Zamar machine has wraparound boots for the horse’s legs. The boots are filled with glycol, which gets extremely cold and cools the legs, and come with lots of hoses and so the horse, when fully kitted out, looks like an astronaut. Recommended factory settings are between 3 and 40 degrees Celsius however, when the machine says it is at minus 5 degrees Celsius, you are apparently good to go?

Only you don’t do any going, you have to stand for twenty minutes with the horse wearing the contraption of hoses which go over the withers down to the legs and boots.

You can get cold only Zamar machines and Zamars that provide hot and cold therapy in cycles to the horse’s legs and massage to promote improved circulation and healing. I presume the one we’re using is cold only as we’re still bandageing Larry’s legs for warmth.

No better horse than Larry to have to stand still with! I jest.

Yesterday, we made the mistake of putting the Zamar in the stable with Larry and me. He tried to knock the machine over, chew the hoses, pull his boots off, bite my jacket, nibble my wellies, pull my hair, and bite my finger. This required patience as if Larry senses he is annoying you, he backs off taking the Zamar with him!

This wouldn’t be so bad apart from the Zamar machine is expensive and would appear to be a little top heavy, so any lack of attention could lead to it inadvertently being knocked for six! Although, the boots are allegedly quick release and if the horse pulls back, the boots come off. Sounds excellent in theory, but in practice I’m not convinced they would quick release quite so readily! It looked like the machine was about to fall over rather than quick release to me.

And as for Larry having to have the boots on for twenty minutes. Say no more!

Today my heart sank when Ollie said Larry had to have the Zamar on again. However, this time I had a better plan – leave the Zamar outside the stable and stand outside the stable with the Zamar, leaving Larry inside the stable once attached to it.

This, together with the fact I had a packet of polos in my pocket, worked a treat. I treated Larry with polos and tickled his nose for twenty minutes.

He’s not used to polos as he struggled to get them off my hand, but he loved them!

Jeanette and Georgia came over with a cup of tea to chat. I was able to drink my tea and tickle Larry’s nose and feed him polos. Apart from being frozen to the bone from standing still outstide the stable for twenty minutes in sub zero temperatures, I have to say that today’s Zamar time went very quickly indeed!

Note to self: I think I might need to buy one of those heated gilets if Larry has to do many more days on the Zamar.

A new broom

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How sad am I?

I am seriously excited about a new yard brush!

What’s even more sad, is that it’s not even mine!

Jeanette bought it from Castle Rider in Fram and it is quite honestly the best yard brush I have ever used! It is lightweight, brightly coloured and it springs along the ground, leaving no trace of straw or shavings behind!

I found myself imploring Ollie to have a go with it and Roz. In fact, anyone who came on the yard. I think I need to tone down this crazy behaviour or they’ll be locking me up.

Both had a tentative brush with it but I could see their excitement was far more contained than mine, probably because they do not have to endure the end of the day ‘little sweep’, when you are on your knees with exhaustion and still have the yard to make presentable!

I noticed on its label it said ‘Tubtrugs’. That said, it’s a brush not a trug! Tubtrugs are clearly geniuses, making trugs, brushes and who knows what else. I must investigate the Tubtrug empire.

Apparently, there’s one yellow brush left in the shop. I may just have to go and treat myself!

It’s one of those pieces of equipment, that when you go to do someone else’s horses, you really wish you had one with you.

The best thing about it, is that it is only £14. Money well spent I’d say!

Poor Jeanette. She bought the brush and she’s used it a bit, but nowhere near as much as me

Shame the one in the shop is yellow. It won’t go so well with my pink fork!

If I keep failing to buy matching equipment, I’m going to look like Joseph and his amazing technicoloured dreamcoat soon.

But, I’ve just got to have one!

 

 

Frozen pipes

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“You’ll be okay doing the pump won’t you?” asks Ollie. “Be careful not to fall in!”

Heights are not my thing at the best of time, neither are depths!

I look at him and give a half smile, which translates as ‘are you having a laugh?’

Ollie translates this as ‘of course, no problem’, thanks me profusely and says, “See you next week!” jumping in his extreme vehicle and giving me a wave, the snow spraying behind him as he heads off piste towards the drive.

With ‘Ding Dong Bell, Pussy’s in the well’ going round my head, I slide to the well. The area surrounding the iron cover is sheet ice and snow. The well is, I don’t know how deep, but from the cover to the water surface is at least 8 feet. There appears to be no way to climb out and call me a pessimist but in sub zero temperatures I think you’d die of hypothermia within the first ten minutes of falling in!

But the tap on the main yard is frozen, as is the tap in the tundra tack room and the outside toilet. In fact, there is not even a drop of drinking water on the yard. We had drinking water last year, so it must be decidedly more arctic, either that or the drinking water has been turned off by accident. Using the pump to get water out of the well is the only way of getting water to the yard. Fine when it is all rigged up, but rigging it up or putting it away is a job in itself requiring strength and mental fortitude.

I heave the pump out of the water. Slowly, slowly it comes up to ground level. The freezing water drips out of it as it comes higher. Then the hose comes off it. I am left holding the hose and the pump splashes back into the water. Good job the pump is on a piece of baling twine tied to the fence or else it could be good bye pump!

I heave the pump out of the water again. The water drips off it. I get it to ground level and squeeze it through the gap between the side and iron cover.

My heart beats faster as I move closer to the edge. The ground is slippy. I grip the freezing iron lid and heave and heave, finally dragging it into place.

I lean against the wall and breathe.

When is the big thaw due?

 

 

Snow

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When I was little I loved the snow. Snow meant no school, a snowman in the garden, rosy cheeks and drying off in front of a roaring fire. Lovely!

Well, it wasn’t a real roaring fire, it was a gas fire that if you lay too close to it, made the sleeve of your jumper change colour. But the thought of it still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Now, I still love the idea of snow, but it fills me with trepidation on a number of counts – that I won’t be able to slither down our track to the main road to get to the stables in my car, that I will crash the car on the way to the stables, that having arrived I will not be able to slide down the drive to the stables without going through the fence, that I will not make it back up the drive on the way home without going through aforementioned fence, that I will crash on the way home and that if I don’t crash on the way home, then I may not be able to get the car down the track to my house.

This is without thinking about the resident horses and what they think of the snow. These are not cuddly, ride once a week horses but lean, mean exercise machines who are addicted to exercise. If they were people they’d be gymaholics who run before cycling to work, go the gym in their lunch hour and that is before cycling home and going out to play squash till ten every evening.

However, with the exception of Ollie and Becky, everyone has been hexed by the Snow Queen and are noticeable by their absence. Their horses meanwhile, have been transformed and not in a good way!

Dessie, the most predictable horse in the yard has turned into a rearing psychopath whose athleticism is quite remarkable. I didn’t think a horse could go from the field all the way to the stable block on two legs. She clearly has been hit by the Snow Queen and now thinks she is in Dancing on Ice. My experience of hanging onto the end of the lead rope while she danced on two legs was terrifying. The Snow Queen’s spell only momentarily being broken by the haybarn where Dessie glimpsed the haylage. This gave me chance to breathe and made the last part of the skate back to the yard slightly more bearable.

Meanwhile, Idris has taken on the mantle of Little Ted (the meanest pony in the paddock before he changed yards). He has been vying for this role for some time, but today out in the snow has been crowned the most evil by the Snow Queen.

I know he didn’t want the bit in his mouth which was still cold in spite of my best efforts to warm it, but rearing and lashing out with his front legs has not endeared him to me.

So now, when I see it snowing, I still initially think no school, snowmen and the glow of the fire and get a warm fuzzy feeling and then I think of crashing my car and dealing with hexed snow horses.

Funny how life changes!

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year! A time for new beginnings, for resolutions, reflection and a time to think ‘am I in flow?’ and ‘where to next?’

As I think about the past year and am thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, I try to work out when I’ve been happiest and where I’ve most been in flow.

I am thinking about this as I lead an explosive horse into the yard, the mud nearly over the top of my wellies.

As my wellies disappear in the lake of formerly dirt track, unavoidable on the way to the stable block I say out loud, in a crazy, talking to myself kind of way, ‘am I in flow?’

This is worrying on two counts, firstly that I am questioning whether I am in flow doing something horsey and secondly that I am talking to myself!

According to Barbara Sher, the way to work out how in flow you are, is to rate how happy you feel on a scale from H1 – H10 when you are doing different things, H1 being not so happy and H10 be the happiest you can be. Simple!

I decide, it is probably easier to be ‘in flow’ working with horses in summer.

As for what exactly I want to achieve this year. This could take some consideration, but it will definitely involve more experimentation, more playing with horses and possibly some voluntary work with the RDA (Riding for the Disabled).

What are you going to do this year?

Wishing you a happy, healthy and horsey 2013!

Yard trip to Olympia

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One minute until scheduled departure time for the bus, but I can’t park as the bus is in my parking space. The bus finally moves. I drive past the mounting block and horse boxes, reverse and swing my car into my parking space. I leap out my car, wave my remote vaguely at it and dash up the wet bus steps. I can’t see who’s inside as the windows are all steamed up. It would appear, they have been in there a while!

The bus driver says “Can you do your seatbelt up?” through a toothless mouth which concertinas his whole head when he speaks or chews. He is monotone and neither friendly nor unfriendly. I do it up – I can’t remember ever having to do my seatbelt up on a bus before.

Jeanette passes smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches down to me and a can of Fosters. I’m not sure Fosters goes with smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, but there’s a first for everything.

I am sitting with Grace, the little girl who loaned Ted the Teeth. She talks non-stop about her new pony, however this is not all bad as before we know we are driving through central London!

We are on our way to Olympia, The Olympia Horse Show. I never thought I would get to this point in the day as getting there has been far from straight forward.

I was originally working a full day but I swapped with Lucy. She’s done my full day and I’ve done her half day, dashed home and got changed, getting back to the yard to catch the bus, which was supposed to be 3pm. Perfect!

It turns out however, we are leaving for Olympia at 1pm not 3pm, which when I realize induces a small panic as how could I possibly muck out all the stables I’ve got to do, go home and get showered and be ready to leave by 1pm?

My small panic makes me tell Ollie I’ve decided not to go if he’s not got the tickets but would have mince pies with Lucy instead. However, Ollie has got the tickets, which calls for a rethink.

I will go in early and work like a dog. The morning of Olympia I start work early, so early it is still dark.

All the horses are fed and rugged up by the time Lucy arrives. Everyone who is going to Olympia mucks in or rather mucks out and I do have enough time to drive home, get cleaned up and drive back to the yard for the bus’ departure.

Olympia is nothing short of fantastic, however, I’m not sure it is fantastic enough to warrant only four hours sleep before getting up for a full day at work on Sunday, which is a killer. It would have been bad enough without three extra straw beds for the brood mares, who have just been brought in.

Note to self – Next year remember to ask for the weekend off!

 

 

 

 

 

Yard Christmas dinner at The Station pub

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The yard Christmas dinner is at The Station pub, a good food pub, or so I understand. I’ve been there once before for lunch, but can’t actually remember the lunch, which means it was neither outstanding nor dismal.

I arrive at the pub, park my car and notice the notice that says, ‘absoulutely no parking for pub customers’, so I move my car and park on the main road. This is not a good start.

I look at my watch. I’ll just about be in time. I dash to the pub door and push it. It doesn’t open. I pull it. It doesn’t open. I push it again. It still doesn’t open. People inside the pub look at the door This is embarrassing. I walk round the front of the pub to see if there’s another door. There’s not. I walk round the back of the pub to see if there’s another door there. There’s not. I walk back to the door, where I started. The inside people at the bar look at me as if I have escaped from somewhere. I push the door again. I pull it. I stand and wait…

I rattle the door again and sigh and this door still does not push. Neither does it pull. I now feel as if I have been outside the pub for a lifetime. As my eyes get used to the gloaming I realize the door to the Station pub is not locked to keep the diners warm, it has a latch.

Finally, I manage to open the door to the pub. The people on bar stools at the bar look at me as if to say the person who has escaped from somewhere has managed to get in the pub.

I think, thank God we are going to be seated in the snug.

I walk through the door and close it quietly behind me. A hundred eyes are on me.

To my left is a table with an older couple seated at it, “Behind you, you’ve not shut the door,” squawks the woman.

Stunned, I push the door until it clicks behind me.

The squawking older couple woman carries on eating her turkey pie.

I am still reeling with incredulity and as I pass the couple’s table and I say “Thank you might be nice.”

I don’t wait for her reply but spirit myself to the snug. I sink down on a chair and think, this evening can only get better.

“Happy Christmas!” I pin my sparkly pony name badge/place setting on my jumper.

I think I need a drink but unfortunately I am driving.

 

 

 

 

Dressage lesson

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At last I have found a fantastic place to learn dressage, a Lusitano stud, where the horses are designed for dressage and are incredibly well schooled, where the instructors are dressage and where watching them schooling is a delight.

The horses know all the dressage movements so that you can feel how it should feel to ride a particular movement and so can recreate it on a horse that hasn’t done it before.

This is a breath of fresh air as many yards offer riding lessons where you will never progress beyond a certain level as the horses are green, unschooled or are simply not conformationally capable of doing anything that resembles any dressage movement in the book.

You can’t teach a horse how to ride a particular dressage movement if you have never felt how it feels to ride that particular movement yourself. It is like the blind leading the blind!

Yet, too many places are happy to give lessons using instructors that can’t teach to any significant level, using horses that can’t do very much, and no matter how often you go or how much you spend, you will never make significant progress.

Such riding schools are great for having a go or teaching your kids how to sit on a pony, but not great if you really want to progress your riding.

Don’t plateau, find a great trainer! Also find a school master (horse that can do) who can teach you too and the sky is the limit.

If you want to do more than walk, trot and canter every week, find someone who can teach with horses that can do.

When you find yourself plateauing, it’s time to make a break and take the next step. Find a great trainer. They’re out there. It is just a question of finding one or more than one.

There will be no more plateauing. Plateauing has been replaced with progress and a diet of jacket potatoes due to the price of aforementioned progress!

Don’t plateau. There is nothing wrong with jacket potatoes.

 

 

 

Two Socks

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I squidge through thick mud, the colour of chocolate mousse with the consistency of custard. It must be nearly lunchtime as even the mud is making me hungry! My next thought is, there must be something you can put down to make field entrances less boggy, and there is, rubber matting especially for field entrances, but there isn’t any here, or if there is, it has been submerged under the mud.

I look up at Socks, a giant of a horse, whose head and neck obscure my view to the right completely, We are heading back to the main yard, just the field entrance to negotiate and the road.

However, this proves to not be so straightforward as we wade through the mud. Socks doesn’t like the mud any more than I do.

It would appear that I am sinking, and sinking! Socks keeps walking and I would like to keep walking with him but as I take another step forward my foot leaves my wellie behind, almost forgetfully, so now I am hopping. With a horse giant in one hand, my wellie stuck in the mud about three feet away, I struggle to keep my socked foot in the air.

If I can stop briefly on the wooden boards at the field entrance, I may be able to hop to my wellie. Yes, I can hop to my wellie! This idea might have gone according to plan, had Socks not decided that he was not going to walk on the aforementioned pieces of wood that Becky had put down especially for him earlier in the day in the field entrance. Not only will he not walk on them, but he won’t go anywhere near them.

So I hop, trying desperately to reach the boards before I put my socked foot down in the mud. Meanwhile, Socks avoids the boards with the same determination as me, but where I want to reach the boards, Socks is trying desperately to avoid them.

Socks strides on. Meanwhile my socked foot hovers in the air and…misses the boards and splidges into the mud custard.

Socks stops and turns, giving me an odd look as I hop, wellieless with a dripping, muddy sock.

I heave my wellie out of the mud and put my muddy socked foot inside my wellington boot. It squelches.

This is not a good feeling!

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell Ted

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There is a God. Ted the Teeth and Back Legs Bella have moved yards.

We heard it rumoured and no one knew if it were true… but it is.

Laura has actually moved them to a livery yard down the road, which has more grazing.

Well, I say down the road, it was still a reasonable distance for her to walk them down there in headcollars.

This rendered me speechless on two counts, firstly that they had gone with only a  week’s notice and secondly that they had gone on foot in headcollars.

Thankfully and incredibly they made it in one piece. I imagine that Laura has a few bruises as Ted had allegedly bitten her before they’d left the yard.

Ted and Bella are in a field together, which on the one hand is good as they love each other madly, but on the other hand isn’t so good as now they’ll be even more inseparable.

That said, the last time they shared a field, one of them kicked the other, leaving a horse shoe shaped swelling, which bled. Strangely, it was Ted, who kicked Back Legs Bella, if I remember rightly.

I arrived as Laura was saying goodbye, having packed the last of her possessions in her car.

Laura will be missed, but she will be remembered her by the remains of Back Legs Bella’s stable, a tower of moulding straw near the hay trailer and the space where her cabinet has gone from the covered rug area.

I have to say it’s not quite the same without the meanest pony in the paddock, but at least I’ll live to see Christmas!

 

Bucked off

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As I sail through the air, blue sky, more blue sky and more blue sky, I think this is slow motion or one mighty big buck…

and then thud. I land in the sand, upside down, kind of on my head and do an unconventional forward roll.

Tosh carries on bucking and rodeo-ing round the track in such a crazy way I have to put my hand up and wave at him from my spot in the sand to make him change direction and not gallop over me.

Dazed, I pull myself over to the fence.

After three lunatic laps, Tosh comes to a halt in the corner of the arena: his reins tangled but not badly as he is wearing a martingale.

I catch him, get him to step out of his reins and walk him round the arena twice in hand and then climb back on.

Springing  back up on this 16.2 hh from the ground isn’t a problem. I must have more than the usual amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins.

I walk him round, hop off, straighten his pad and numnah and go and get on the mounting block to do it properly and finish on a good note.

I can’t help thinking, ‘what a shame!’ This is the best he’s gone. Admittedly, I’ve only sat on him about five or six times. He’s always been stiff on the left rein and tried to evade in left canter, but to think he even struck off on the correct leg for several left canters and this was my last ask before cooling him off. He even cantered a few strides before he got rid of me.

Am I asking too much of him? He’s a retired race horse and not a youngster. Would he be happier just hacking out? I’m sure if I ride him a few more times I’ll get what he’s trying to tell me!

However, I’m not overly looking forward to schooling him again. I can’t remember the last time I came off on the flat!

Sand does make for a soft landing but even so, I am getting through a goodly amount of Arnica and when any one comes near my back I almost scream.

I can’t help but feel there is something not quite right with this horse. Is it really just the thoroughbred in him? Or does something hurt? Apparently he’s been seen by a back lady and his back is fine?

I ponder the ‘have you got a body protector?’ question posed before I got on him the first time. And think this doesn’t sound like his first handstand!

Note to self – Google body protectors and make sure there is an infinite supply of Arnica, Deep Heat and Radox in the house!

Now, just how much are those inflate on impact body protectors?

A pig tale – part 2

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The pig was through the gates and back on the farm. Fantastic!

But then… which pen was hers?

The pens stretched as far as the eye could see and we couldn’t just put her anywhere.

I jogged or rather slithered up to the farm building at the top of the hill, while Liz played British Bulldog with the pig – it must not reach the road!

At the top of the hill there wasn’t a soul about. However, on the horizon was a dot. The dot grew bigger and bigger and as it grew so did my euphoria as I realized that it was the pig man on his tractor.

The pig man got closer and closer, mud splattering and water spraying.

I waved at him. He waved back. And carried on waving and driving.

With my waving becoming crazy and my wellies sinking in the mud, the pig man stopped.

“You’ve got a loose pig,” I shouted above the noise of the engine.

“A what?”

“A loose pig!”

“You better climb in!”  he said.

Not standing on ceremony I pulled myself up into the cab of the tractor, a new experience.

My mother always said ‘don’t get into strangers’ cars’. There had been no mention of tractors.

We bounced down to Liz and the pig: the condensation running down the window.

We reached Liz and the pig and jumped down.

Meanwhile, Kerstin from next door had driven round the other way in her Range Rover to head off the pig.

She stopped to talk to the pig man.

She talked and talked and the pig ran off down the track.

Liz and l looked at each other in disbelief and yelled, “the pig!”

The pig man splashed after the pig, Kerstin drove off and Liz and I waited in the driving rain.

Finally having caught up with the pig, the pig man brought her back to us. He looked at her tag, ran his finger over his chart and he nodded, the rain dripping off his nose.

I think he could have managed but as he was rurally handsome, we helped him get her back to her pen and her piglets.

He said, “She’s slipped under the wire, the ground being so muddy.”

All I can say is, next time you’ve got a loose pig, I’m your girl!

 

 

 

 

A pig tale

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Liz appeared in the door way of the stable; water dripping from the brim of her hat. She was brandishing a shavings fork.

“Can you help me? she gasped.

Taken by surprise I said, “of course,” zipped up my jacket and stepped out of the warm stable I was mucking out into sheets of driving rain.

I followed her at a jog.

We had run half way to the road when Liz started gesturing.

Cars were slowing and stopping. A traffic jam had already formed and a barboured man was directing the traffic. In fact, there was quite a commotion.

Liz still couldn’t speak.

The barboured, traffic man asked, “Have you lost a pig?”

“A pig?” I looked at Liz, who echoed, “a pig.”

The barboured, traffic man looked at me expectantly, as if anticipating me to claim responsibility for the pig.

“It’s most likely from the farm across the road,” was the best I could offer, nodding towards the fields full of sties opposite.

The farm was not very far away, but I had never touched a pig in my life and I wasn’t sure Liz had either.

How had it got out? But more to the point how were we going to get it back?

“Here piggy, pig. pig, ” cried Liz.

The pig took no notice and rooted in the undergrowth by the side of the road.

“Here piggy, pig, pig,” cried Liz, waving her shaving fork. She moved forward. The pig ran off and then rooted in the undergrowth by the side of the road.

We checked the hedge to see if the pig had come through it. There wasn’t an obvious hole in it. That was good – she must have come through the gate. Though, I’m not sure that was actually good.

“Here piggy, pig, pig!”

Meanwhile the pig rooted in the undergrowth around the tree trunks.

The barboured, traffic man with frantic arms intermittently slowed or stopped irate drivers who thought 60 mph on flooded country roads was acceptable.

Or they did until they encountered the barboured, traffic man.

Meanwhile, Liz and I attempted to guide the pig along the road back to the gate.

Liz waved her shavings’ fork and I wiggled a fallen branch and we both ran to position ourselves to keep the pig moving forwards in the direction of the farm.

In the driving rain, Liz and I slowly edged the pig out of the undergrowth and guided her along the road and back through the gates to the pig farm.

No sooner had we guided the pig to the road, than she dashed back to the hedge and continued rooting.

Liz had clearly never touched a pig either.

 

Ted the Teeth

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Ted the Teeth is a Welsh Section A pony or should I say show pony? He’s rising five and just over 11 hands, in fact I think he is 11 hands 1 inch. And do you know what? He’s the meanest pony in the paddock.

There are younger, crazier horses at the yard, but this pony is the one I dread leading to or from the field the most. Why? Well, for the reason that he is the one that actually goes for you: he bites and not in a playful nipping kind of way, but in a tear the sleeve off your jacket, rip your ear off, maim your face kind of way.

He has always bitten and bitten to bruise, but now he is faster, fiercer and more on target, and now he goes for your face. He has always reared, but now he rears to strike.

His antics were questionable even when he was on loan to the sweetest, kindest little jockey, Grace: he’d try to squash her against the wall when she was trying to tack him up; he bucked her off every time she sat in the saddle – usually more than once per session; and he’d bite her when she led him in or out.

Little Grace was too nice for Ted the Teeth. She even cried when she stopped loaning him.

If I were her, I’d have celebrated! I think her mum probably opened a bottle of Bollinger!

But now Ted the Teeth isn’t doing any work, while his owner, Laura is feeding him just as much, so he’s getting fatter and meaner.

He’s got so bad leading him out that you really can’t take your eyes off him to open the gate as he is now going for your face. I can just about cope with a bitten, bruised arm, but not a bitten face.

The sad thing is that Laura is a what you see is what you get girl, who would do anything for you. More sad is that she can see no badness in Ted the Teeth.

Sadder still, I struggle to see a glimmer of goodness in him.

In fact, I can’t believe that Laura has managed to end up owning Back legs Bella and Ted the Teeth. How unlucky can one person be?

I’d love to be able to say, ‘Sure, I’ll bring them in for you,’ without my heart sinking!

What is worrying is that she seems to think that doing no work for a period of time will do Ted the Teeth good. Yet, she is talking about sending him to be produced for showing.

Let’s hope she finds a yard that’ll have him soon!

 

 

 

Larry has Mud Fever

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Larry has mud fever, weeping crusty scabs on the back of his pasterns.

Not surprising as the relentless October rain makes for poached gateways, muddy paddocks, muddy tracks, and water filled potholes – the perfect conditions for mud fever, so what is it exactly? What causes it? And how do you beat it?

What is mud fever?

Clinical signs of mud fever are sores on the lower legs, especially round the back of the pastern. It can range in severity from a few small scabs to a lame horse with swollen, scabby, bleeding legs needing antibiotics and painkillers.

Signs include matted areas of hair and crusty scabs; reddened area of skin; small circular ulcerated moist lesions some with scabs; some discharge – can be orange goo to thick, yellow pus; scabs may remove hair in clumps; deep cracks in the skin – these are often horizontal; hair loss leaving raw looking areas which may bleed; horses with mud fever can have swollen legs; mud fever can lead to lameness.

What causes mud fever?

A bacteria called Dermatophilus congolensis, which is found on the skin of grazing animals, is the culprit. Usually, it is not a problem but if the skin is compromised it can cause problems by invading vulnerable skin and causing an infection. Skin is damaged by getting wet or scratched by thistles or sand. Pink skin under white legs seems more prone to mud fever.

How do you combat mud fever?

Keeping the skin of the legs clean and dry is key, which may mean the horse needs to be stabled for some time.

There are many conflicting views on the treatment of mud fever. Some vets are keen on using hibiscrub, picking off scabs etc. My experience of hibiscrub used on people and in hospitals is that it is harsh and irritates the skin, so if you opt for hibiscrub, use it sparingly and dilute it a lot. I would also err on the side of caution re picking off scabs –  in a hospital environment, you would never pick off a scab in the treatment of people unless the wound was necrotic. Generally a scab forms and healing goes on under the scab. Picking off scabs causes bleeding and increases the risk of bacteria entering the skin. Yes, the cream you are applying needs to get to the infection, but you need to be very careful about how you go about this.

If you are applying a cream to treat the mud fever from your vet eg Yellow mud fever cream, the area should be clean and dry. If it is not clean, wash with a mild disinfectant such as diluted dettol, extremely dilute chlorhexidine (hibiscrub) – extremely dilute as this is nasty skin drying stuff and can aggravate skin and make skin worse. Vets sometimes recommend pov-iodine wash or a medicated shampoo eg Allermyl. Don’t get the legs too wet, too often and if they are wet, dry them carefully. Pat them dry with a soft towel.

Dry the limb thoroughly before any creams are applied. You must dry the legs very gently so that no further trauma to the skin occurs.

There are a lot of creams on the market and your vet may also prescribe a cream with antibiotics and corticosteroids. For very bad cases antibiotics and pain killers may be necessary.

Any brushes that have been in contact with the infected skin will need to be disinfected.

Interestingly, some people advocate the topical treatment of the affected area with Manuka honey. I have heard of the healing properties of Manuka honey but have never tried it myself. (It’s not just any old honey, it is only ‘Manuka’ honey that has healing properties.)

How to prevent mud fever

Try to ensure your horses aren’t standing in muddy, waterlogged fields. Use electric fencing to fence off muddy areas.

Rotate paddocks to avoid poaching.

Avoid riding in abrasive surfaces eg sand if your horses is prone to mud fever.

Make sure the bedding in the stable is clean and dry.

Don’t overwash legs or groom legs too vigorously.

Consider barrier creams on clean, dry legs prior to turn out eg tea tree oil, aloe vera, honey with vitamin E, dermisol cream, filtabac, udder cream or petroleum jelly.

Some people like breathable, waterproof leg wraps eg Equiwraps.

Keep your eyes open as the sooner you spot mud fever, the sooner you can stop it turning into a costly recovery.

Larry seems to like Yellow Mud Fever Cream! There is a God!

Streaming with cold

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I am streaming with cold. I’ve not had a cold in ages, which is probably why I am feeling so awful. I have forgotten how horrible having a cold actually is.

I didn’t feel great at work on Sunday, in fact in the afternoon I felt a bit sick and very tired, but I carried on and managed to get all the horses in before the rain closed in – apart from Back Legs Bella and Ted the Teeth, whom Laura had asked to be left out.

Leaving them out came as music to my ears, as Ted is once again a nightmare, probably to do with being fed too much and doing no work.

There is a link between doing no work and being fed too much, Laura liking Ted the Teeth to look like a show pony, that is to say, fat and to keep him fat, she has to feed him a lot and when he’s fed a lot he is unmanageable. He was fed a lot before and little Grace, who was ‘loaning’ him,  with Laura’s help, was bucked off at least once every time she rode him, so she’s no longer loaning him, as finally Grace’s mum realised it wasn’t normal to be bucked off every time you got on. And so now Ted the Teeth is getting just as much food if not more, is doing no work at all, and is unmanageable verging on dangerous. God help us all!

However, my delight at not having to bring them in was tempered by Bella looking as if she was about to jump the fence any minute and bring herself in – something she has done before on more than one occasion.

I think next time Laura asks me to leave them out, I’ll make sure Bella’s stable door is open so she can just run straight in, should she jump the fence.

Laura and Chris arrived just as I was leaving. Their humour matched the grey sky and drizzle.

Laura dispatched her brooding welsh husband to muck out while she went to collect Back Legs Bella and Ted the Teeth from the field.

I walked back across my newly swept yard to see it covered in clods of earth from Bella and Ted’s feet.

I couldn’t bear to watch any more. Doubtless it would soon be covered with straw from the brooding welsh husband’s wheelbarrow.

Laura has always blamed Dave (who pronounces his name ‘Doof’) for all the straw on the main yard, which is actually hard to do now as all the horses on the main yard are on shavings.

I imagine she will have left the feed room door open too.

I think I am getting Obsessive Compulsive Disorder about sweeping and yard tidiness!

This is worrying.

 

 

 

Hello, Good Bye, Wow Wow

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Today was a strange day at the stables, marked by the reappearance of Wow Wow, a stripey grey cat with white paws, whose trademark was his loud ‘wow, wow’ miaow.

His arrival was noted mid morning, a crisp or rather more than crisp Sunday morning; his plaintive wowing becoming so loud and persistent, you couldn’t ignore him.

At first he was timid. He stood on a bale of hay and wowed and if you moved towards him, he ran off, but then he waited.

He waited and wowed.

I’ve seen him before, only once. Last weekend I saw him trying to catch a mouse in the long grass. He crouched, waited and pounced. He looked well.

In fact, he still looks well. He is a young, well covered cat.

We watched him for a while Sunday morning. He climbed out of the haybarn, so we could see him, and slowly, slowly he crept forward. He came closer and closer.

I crouched down and Wow Wow smoothed against my jodphurs and purred.

He went to see Lucy and purred.

He was going to make us late.

Having given him lots of love and strokes, we decided we better get on. He followed us and wowed.

Thankfully, when I led leapy about Larry out to his field and Lucy put Punch out, Wow Wow stayed still and waited patiently for our return.

We had half the stables still to muck out and were being followed round by a wowing cat!

Was he hungry? Was he lost? Was he hungry and lost?

One of the dogs had killed a rabbit last week, the remains of which had been found in a stable with cat prints in the shavings. Was it Wow Wow, who had dragged the rabbit into the stable?

Two hours later Wow Wow was still moaning, so we gave him a saucer of milk. I know you’re not supposed to give cats cow’s milk, but we didn’t have anything else to give him.

He lapped it up and then he started wowing again.

Lucy went home at 1 o’clock. Her lift arrived with some cat biscuits for Wow Wow.

Wow Wow ate them, not starvingly and left quite a lot. He obviously wasn’t starving, but he was still very vocal.

Lucy left and Wow Wow stayed and wowed.

Ann and Katherine saw Wow wow and gave him some attention, while they waited for the non arrival of Justine to clip their horse, Ellie. They popped home and picked up a tin of cat food for Wow Wow.

Wow Wow tried it, quite liked it, but clearly wasn’t starving.

I went to feed the horses in the field, and wondered if Wow Wow were microchipped. Should I take him to the vet to see if he was microchipped? Should I wait and see if he lost any weight? How long should I wait? Maybe we need a yard cat?

When I got back, Wow Wow had gone.

Maybe he does live locally after all?

I hope so, he’s too nice to be lost.

 

 

 

 

Purdy has turned into a kite

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Mud sprays and the fillies shriek and gallop. Purdy, Pippa and Toe screech to a halt and slide towards the electric fence. They charge again, up and down the muddy field. The cries of the Egyptian geese roosting in the branches of a dead tree accompany them.

And I think, what…?

The water butt is rolling drunkenly across the entrance to the field.

Purdy, a pretty rain spider of a filly is about to fly – She is trailing a length of vetwrap  She had an abscess on her near side hind foot and has a poultice on it or rather had a poultice on it.

I walk closer.

The removal of the vetwrap turns out to be a time consuming process as I have to wait for all three to stop leaping around before I can go into the field and extricate Purdy from it.

If she moves off too quickly the vetwrap scares her and the scene of chaos starts over.

Why does this kind of thing always happen? The day was going so well!

I get the the three of them to stand still long enough to pull off the vetwrap and what is left of the plastic bag that was keeping the poultice clean.

How do these fillies get into so much trouble? They are the reason for checking your horse in the field!

I breathe a sigh of relief at managing to get the trailing vetwrap off and ponder how on earth I’m going to get water down here without a tractor!

I put their feeds in the field, which is what I had been going to do before Purdy’s kite flying display, and I watch them eating.

All is calm.

 

 

 

Larry is lame

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Larry is lame, hopping lame. Well, not hopping lame today, but he was after eventing on Monday. Today he is limpingly lame… He’s got a splint on his nearside fore.

And looking at him, having a splint appears to be pretty painful.

What is a splint?

A splint is an inflamed area on either the inside or the outside of the canon bone. There may be a swelling and heat, and the horse will try to keep weight off the affected leg when trotting.

The front canon bone has on either side a smaller splint bone, and these smaller splint bones fuse into the canon bone as the horse matures, but in a young horse ligaments hold the splint bones to the central canon bone.

The upper two thirds of each splint bone is attached to the canon bone by the interosseous ligament (dense fibrous tissue). The lower section flares away from the canon bone and is connected to the surrounding structures by soft tissue.  The lower end of the splint bone has a small pea like button, which can be felt through the horse’s skin.

As the horse matures, the ligaments ossify and all three bones become one. Usually by the age of four the splint and cannon bone will be one bone.

Splints are more likely to occur in young horses, as the ligament is still flexible.

If you feel along the sides of the canon bone outside or inside, you will find a very sore spot that indicates the inflamed area. Heat and swelling may be present and the swelling may start to feel hard as the ligament calcifies. Because of how the leg bones are angled, it is more common for splints to develop on the inside of the leg. It is also possible for a horse to develop multiple splints.

There is also a type of splint that you can’t feel called a blind splint. In a blind splint the bony reaction happens on the inside border between the splint bone and the canon bone, where it cannot be seen and it cannot be felt. With a blind splint, the swelling can impinge on the suspensory ligament.

What causes a splint?

Direct trauma

Direct trauma is a common cause of splints. The periosteum is damaged by the trauma and new bone is laid down in the injured area. Splints caused by trauma are often seen lower down the leg than those caused by strain.

Concussion

Working a horse on hard surfaces increases the concussion received by the interosseous ligament, which causes tearing. Splints caused by concussion are usually found on both front legs, most commonly on the inside of the leg a few inches below the knee.

Overworking

Overworking young or unfit horses at speed or in tight circles may cause splints. The uneven loading of the limb in tight circles places excessive force on the medial splint, which can cause it to move excessively relative to the canon bone.

Conformation

Horses with ‘bench kneed’ conformation can suffer from splints due to excess loading of the medial splint bone

 What is the usual treatment for a splint?

The usual treatment for a splint is a short time of box rest, turnout on soft ground and reduced workload for 1 – 3 weeks, cold hosing and your vet may prescribe medication to reduce inflammation and prevent excess calcification.

DMSO

DMSO with other drugs in it may be prescribed.  DMSO acts as an anti-inflammatory, but it also has a property, which will enable it to also carry other drugs through the skin to the affected area.

The area where it is to be applied needs to be clean and free from dirt as the DMSO could also carry dirt through the skin of the horse.

DMSO is a solution that you paint on the splint with a brush if you have a patient, ‘good will to all men’ kind of horse.

Larry is not that kind of horse. He is more of the ‘take no prisoners’ kind and if he sees you’ve got the bottle of DMSO or smells it, he runs round his stable and turns his hind quarters on you before you can even get a head collar on him.

To be fair to him, it is lethal stuff and you have to wear gloves to apply it as it is quickly absorbed through your skin; If you do get it on your skin, you will smell like rotting asparagus; worryingly, you mustn’t touch it at all if you’re pregnant – it must be bad; you need to seek medical treatment immediately if you get it in your eyes and it can cause neurotoxicity;  I’m not quite sure how come it is used so liberally in horses?

I can only guess how DMSO makes his leg feel – suffice to say, he leaps about after it has been applied!

Applying DMSO in Larry’s case, it’s easier to catch him by surprise, and wearing gloves run a small DMSO soaked ball of cotton wool quickly over the splint, or your chances of getting near him are limited. You mustn’t soak the area of the splint however, just brush it over with the solution, so a quick wipe with cotton wool will do.

Wear rubber gloves rather than vinyl as DMSO is horrible stuff and it permeates vinyl gloves and your skin very quickly. Getting the gloves off without getting it on your skin can also be a challenge, especially as there are only a handful of gloves on the side in the tack room.

DMSO needs to be applied twice a day – a source of great joy to those with the task of applying it!

The morning application is not too bad. I think Larry is still half asleep. It’s the afternoon application, when you are ready to go home, where Larry runs round his box like the clappers.

All I can say is, I hope his splint is soon better!

http://horses.about.com/od/commonproblems/p/Splints-On-Horses.html

http://horses-arizona.com/pages/articles/splints.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splints

http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/printview/index.php?aid=48104

Surprise party

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It’s Saturday tea-time and the phone rings. “It’s Jeanette’s birthday tomorrow. We’re having a surprise party at the yard from 5.30pm. Would you like to come?” asks Justine.

I don’t have to think about it. I’d love to.

“We’re taking her for a hack and that will give time to set everything up. Everyone who is coming will hide in the tack room.”

It sounds fun.

The next question throws me a little. Would I like to bring my husband and children along? That one I have to ponder. I’m not sure I would.

Quent is driving back to London either Sunday evening or Monday morning and his scale of sociability varies enormously from delightful through to disdainful. I am amazed he holds down a job where he has to be not only polite to people, but also has to be charming on a regular basis. And as for the boys, well their behaviour has a similar scale, ranging from angelic to demonic.

So I run it past them, would they like to go. If they don’t that’s fine, if they do, that’s also fine. I would like them to go if they all tow the line.

Do we need to bring anything? I was thinking along the lines of wine, crisps, salad, dessert, serviettes , that kind of thing, but I learn we need burgers, sausages and buns. Mm…not stuff we’ve got in the fridge in any great quantiites.

I say I’ll run over to Co op afer I’ve had a bath. I can’t do anything till I’ve had a Radox ‘Muscle Soak’ bubble bath.

Incredibly Quent offers to go and get some, but he returns empty handed from Co op, which had reverted from Olympic opening times to ‘inconvenience’ store times and was shut already. I ask why didn’t he carry on to Tesco and wonder why I didn’t go myself.

The next morning I am nearly late as I have to write Quentin a note about what to buy and have to run out to the utility room for a couple of bottles of wine to take to work with me, in case Quent forgets the cool bag with them in later. At least, if he fails with the sausages, there will be something to drink!

All day at work, I wonder whether Quent will manage to get the sausages, be pleasant and amiable, and whether the boys will behave.

It’s 5.30pm. Balloons are in place, candles are on cake, guests are hiding in tack room, wine is poured in plastic cups, barbecue is smoking and …

“Surprise! Happy Birthday!” Jeanette looks… I’m not quite sure how to describe how she looks, a combination of surprised, moved and mortified. Becky pours drinks and everyone chats.

The boys pat Larry. Not a horse I’d recommend they shower with affection and I suggest they go find another horse to pat. They go off and when I go to check they are okay, find them patting Little Ted, a Welsh Section A, whose teeth marks are regularly on my arm. I guide the boys back to the barbecue.

They eat a hot dog but it doesn’t take them long to be drawn back to Larry, who seems to have magnetic powers over them. He doesn’t seem to mind them. In fact he seems to be rather enjoying the fuss. They feed him grass.

“Remember flat hands!’

The boys remember flat hands, Larry loves them and keeps them good for hours. They feed him more grass, eat hot dogs and drink lemonade.

The evening finishes with a delicious birthday cake, which tastes as if Nigella had baked it

… and a good time was had by all.

 

 

Hit that arena ball!

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Here I am again at Norfolk Polo, ready for my second lesson.

I can’t wait or I wouldn’t have been able to wait, if the friend I was coming with, hadn’t cried off earlier in the week, and I hadn’t experienced the pleasure of driving through the market town of Loddon, where its gurning inhabitants force you to reverse over a mile down a winding street because the cars are on your side of the road, when they could simply stop at the junction for a moment and let you through.

Next time I will ignore sat nav if it tries to take me this way.

I walk into the clubhouse, catch sight of my instructor and bound over to say hi and pay before the lesson.

The instructor looks up, says hi and carries on looking at the computer and chatting to the woman next to him. I shuffle and play with my keys.

Thankfully, a glossy haired woman arrives at the adjacent desk to take my money.  I sink into a black leather sofa and filck through the Norfolk Polo Club magazine.

It is now 12.30, time for my lesson; the instructor collects me, a polo stick and a polo pony en route.

Today’s horse is Baja, a nippy little mare and I learn that last week’s horse was called Capito, not Pepito. Translated as Captain, but Capito isn’t spanish for Captain?

The lesson is an hour long, where I am very much left to my own devices, while the instructor fiddles with his phone. I am hitting the ball with minimal professional input and think I could do this at home if I bought a stick and some arena balls! The instructor on the other hand, is probably thinking, if I don’t look at her, she might hit the ball!

It’s windy and my right eye is watering. My polo stick feels like lead today, but when the wind catches it, it blows all over the place and I struggle to keep it in the air. What am I doing here?

I am annoyed that the instructor is still fiddling with his phone and more annoyed with myself for not telling him to stop! Not that I would tell him to stop, which makes me even more annoyed with myself. I cringe at the price of the lesson and some more when I think I’m not sure he’s even seen me hit a ball!

My hour is up. I feel deflated. Maybe this is how all second lessons go; you practise?

The instructor asks if I have my own horse but doesn’t wait to hear the answer and is fiddling with his phone again. And I wonder if I were wanting to buy and livery my own polo ponies there whether he’d be more interested or whether he has the same amicable ambivalence for anyone at this stage in their game.

Or could it be he is interested in my game, but just can’t bear to watch as I hack the sand and struggle with my polo stick in the wind?

As my instructor is going to South Africa for three weeks, I think maybe I should still have lessons while he’s away or I’ll never hit that arena ball, but he’s Norfolk Polo’s only instructor; Suffolk Polo doesn’t have any polo ponies, you have to have your own; and another local arena club has all their ponies on winter livery.

Will I have the skills and resources to play a game of polo by the start of next season?

All I can say is, it is a good job I’ve started early!

 

 

 

 

Anyone for a chukka?

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Driving into the grounds of Langley Abbey, home of Norfolk Polo Club, you can’t help but think, ‘Wow, what a fabulous place to learn to play polo!’

You walk past fields of polo ponies grazing, through a stone archway into a courtyard, where if you follow the aroma of coffee, you find yourself in the clubhouse, ready to start the morning with a frothy cappuccino.

There’s the usual form filling and disclaimer signing –  I never thought of polo as being a dangerous sport. But maybe you could die if hit by a polo mallet, a non arena ball, or if you fell under the hooves of galloping polo ponies, but I think you’d have to be seriously good to run the risk of any of the above happening to you.

Afterwards you meet your instructor, Mark, whose ability to hit the ball with precision, accuracy and power can only be described as enviable.

The first part of the lesson is to practise several different swings with a short polo stick. Each swing is initially impossible but does get easier given time to practise.

How to hold the polo stick and swing

Hold the stick with the end of it digging into the fleshy part of your right hand, near your thumb, with your index finger round the stick for stablility – even if you’re left handed you have to hold it in your right.

Swing the stick like a pendulum and hit the ball with the flat part of the mallet.

Hit the ball from 5 o’clock to 1 o’clock, the idea being you won’t crash your horse’s head with the stick.

Next is a backhand swing, where you hit the ball with the back of your stick. And a third swing, you hold the stick in front of you at rest (in the air), turn your body 45 degrees to the back then swing through. You let your stick move first and the weight of the end carry it – ‘less is more’.

When you hit it well, you know as the ball goes a reasonable distance with minimal effort but perfecting this could take some time. When the instructor hits it, it goes out of the arena!

Cue the arrival of the polo ponies

Once you managage to hit the ball from the ground, the horses are summoned.

Into the arena come the Argentinian thoroughbreds with hogged manes and tied up tails and bandaged legs – impressive springs to mind. These polo ponies are from Sandhurst and there is a good chance Prince Harry and William have sat in these saddles!

Mine was called Pepito and after a leg up, I was ready to rock and roll or should I say salsa?

First to have a play about – steering is by neck reining as you only have one hand to ride with as the other one will be holding the stick.

So just how do you hold the reins in polo?

You have double reins in polo. The top rein goes to a snaffle bit and the bottom rein goes to a gag.

You hold your left hand as if you are reading a book and the top rein goes between thumb and forefinger, the bottom rein or gag rein goes between your fore finger and middle finger.

And just how to do you ride a polo pony?

Stirrups are jumping length. Style is similar to Western riding. There’s nothing subltle about it. It’s the antithesis of dressage! Reins up the neck and kick on is canter or gallop to the other end of the arena, reins up and sit back and feet far forward is stop, reins horizontally over the neck to the right is go right, horizontally over the neck to the left is go left and one leg on the girth, using the other slightly behind and reins against the neck either left or right depending on the way you want to go is to change direction by spinning.

Our small sticks were swapped for full size sticks, which give you a fighting chance of hitting the ball as technically you can reach it! Technically being the operative word!

Putting what you have learnt on the ground into practice when you are on the horse is the tricky part and it goes something like this…

You approach the ball, you swing, you miss. You approach the ball, you swing, you miss. You approach the ball, you swing, you dig the sand. You approach the ball, you nearly hit the horse, you miss, you are now over cautious about hitting the horse, so you miss and miss and miss the ball. You approach the ball, you go to hit the ball and you hit it and it goes about 30 centimetres.

How can this be so difficult?

So you give up trying to hit it and just go for a burn up and down for a bit. These polo ponies are just the business. They are nippy, can turn on a sixpence, and are just the most fun.

But there’s an arena ball. It draws us nearer. Pepito and I move towards it, I turn, I swing and I hit it! A few more shots like that and I’ll have earned my champagne lunch.

I think I’m hooked!

 

 

Did I get the job at the equine veterinary clinic?

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Did I get the job at the equine veterinary clinic? Well, the honest answer is, I don’t know yet, but I don’t think so. They were making their decision over 7-10 days and tomorrow will be 7 days. I imagine they will have contacted the person they wanted straight away and will now be taking up references.

Incredibly, in spite of my son’s riotous performance in his dad’s shoes, the evening I dropped the application round, I did get a 15 minute telephone interview. I even got invited for the second round, which included an IT skills test, an interview and a tour of the clinc.

Here I learned that they were looking for a ‘receptionist’ in name only, three mornings a week to replace a full time receptionist and office manager, who had been too expensive.

The IT skills test was rather a challenge, in that it was the fastest 15 minutes I’ve ever known! Not helped by the absence of my watch – the face of my watch and the bracelet having parted company while I was bathing a horse the afternoon before.

The job appears to be outrageously stressful and you would never leave having done everything due to sheer volume of work, but in spite of that, I think I would have found it incredibly interesting.

Or it would be, if it were part-time equine receptionist combined with a hands-on role with the horses.

And to think, I’d almost worked through my angst about how the children would get to school and how I would work in the school holidays.

I wonder if I could propose my ideal job to the equine clinic and see if they’ll employ me for that rather?

 

 

 

What about a job at an equine veterinary clinic?

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Well, what about a job at an equine clinic?

It’s funny, I don’t buy a newspaper every day and on the odd occasion I do, I often don’t have time to read it, but the other week I did buy a paper and I did have time to flick through it.

In it was an advert for a receptionist for three mornings a week at an equine veterinary clinic. Initially, I thought this looks just perfect – I love horses and I want to do more horsey stuff and then I talked myself out of it as who would take the children to school three mornings a week and who would look after them in the holidays? And how would I get the housework done? And I’m dead after working at the livery yard at the weekend? And my husband has just broken his elbow and arm and is lurking and moaning at home. And I’d probably pay more in childcare than I earn? And shouldn’t I take my own children to school?  And they go back to school soon and I’m not ready and … I could continue and so I did nothing.

But then I thought, just get your CV done and a covering letter – what do you have to lose?

On Friday, I’d run out of quality paper and almost talked myself out of applying, when I thought, for God’s sake, just do it on Tesco value paper and send it. I checked the closing date and it was Friday. Send it or forget it?

I just needed to just get it sent and as it was too late to get there by post I’d need to drop it round by hand.

‘Can I come? Can I come?’ I bowed to pressure and I took my youngest son, Tom with me, wearing his dad’s shoes and off we went to post the CV and covering letter through the letter box at the equine clinic.

At seven Friday evening, we drove down a winding country lane and pulled up outside. My plan was to stealthily post the form through the letter box and depart as silently as we arrived. However, as we approached and I turned off the engine, a man was striding across the yard, looking at me in a ‘How can I help you? What are you doing here at this hour with no horse kind of way? I got out of the car with my application and issued a stay there command to Tom, who promptly leapt out of the car in his dad’s shoes and followed me across the yard.

I gave the man the letter, thanked him and grabbed Tom, who by this time was running to and fro shouting ‘hello horses!’ at full volume.

We returned to the car and I realised he was only wearing one of his dad’s shoes. I ran back to the yard, grabbed the over big shoe and we departed hastily and noisily with Tom shouting ‘bye horses!’

I’m not sure I’ll hear from them!

 

 

First weekend back at the yard

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The air was fresh, the morning early. Rosie looked up from her hay, Larry jiggled and tried to nip ‘hello’, while Jim kicked his stable door associating me with breakfast.

And the day flew by… from putting the feeds round; a debate about rugs as the wind picked up and it looked like rain; horses on the walker and those not on the walker out to the field; a sit down with coffee and some spanish biscuits; mucking out; dealing with a laminitic pony, a lost vet and an anxious owner of aforementioned pony; a dash to the fields to rid the horses of their rugs as the storm clouds had gone, the sun was blazing and the horses sweating; a little sweep; bringing the horses in; the application of lotions, potions and creams – the yard had turned into animal hospital with mud fever cream for three horses, bandages for a horse that had had an op, some mystery liquid for a horse with a splint, benzyl benzoate for two horses with itchy tails and soothing wound cream for three brood mares in the field who’d got bites in spite of fly rugs and rubs because of them; fly spray for most; taking one horse to the field for overnight; feeding the horses in the stable and the ones that live out, to a final sweep the yard …

But to make a busy day even busier, the straw beds had warranted an extreme muck out; the live out pony with laminitis needed a stable sorting out, special shoes, cold hosing and the live out pony’s buddy also had to be stabled; all the horses had drunk most of their water as soon as they had come in and needed their buckets refilling; still half the horses on the yard needed hay when it was delivered late afternoon, not to mention the non arrival of a new horse, who finally arrived as I was closing the gates.

By Saturday night my legs were aching and my feet were throbbing, a combination of the ground being so hard, so much walking to and from the fields and having been on holiday.

So, was I lively enough to cook dinner for eight people on Saturday night?

No chance. It was fish and chips for all, served with a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc!

 

Back to work or play

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This doesn’t sound like a post about playing but I can assure you it is. And I’ll tell you a secret, but shh, don’t tell anyone…

The reason it is about playing is because I love my job! Not many people can say they really love their job, but I really love mine!

In fact I’d do it for nothing and I think when he saw me, the boss thought, she’d do it for nothing and so he decided to pay me as little as he could get away with and me, being happy to do it for nothing, agreed. I’d like him to pay me a bit more now but that’s another story!

So what is the job that I love so much that pays so poorly but that gives me a body so lithe and toned, it is the envy of devout gym goers, with no gym involved?

Well, since January I’ve been working as a weekend groom at a yard with about twenty five horses.

The only thing that concerns me is that having been away for two weeks sunning myelf in Spain is that I am going to die as it’s pretty physical, not just physical but enormously physical and these last two weeks I’ve done nothing more physical than splash in the sea, laze on a lounger and try too many tapas! So much so that I now have 10 lbs to lose.

Mind you, when I think about the impending manual labour I can feel the the weight dropping off already!

And after I’ve had a day with the horses, a long bath and dinner, there will be no place like bed!

It’s just a shame we have friends staying this weekend!

 

 

The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art

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On Saturday we fly to Spain. I can hardly contain myself. Having flicked through the Lonely Planet guide to Andalucía I want to pinch myself that the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre is in the region where we are staying!

The Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre or the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, Jerez in Spain is where Spanish thoroughbreds known as the Cartujano or Andaluz are trained and showcase their incredible dressage. You can watch the horses in training and on certain days of the week throughout the year they perform at midday. There is also a carriage driving museum and a botanical garden (www.realescuela.org).

My finger hovered over ‘buy now,’ for tickets to one of the midday performances, but something made me quickly check the distance from where we will be staying before I pressed. But now I wish I hadn’t. This out of this world equestrian facility is three hours drive away.

How can it be in the same region and be three hours away? I’m not sure I can face three hours in the car there and three hours back with a ‘not especially horsey’ husband and two ‘are we nearly there yet?’ children, not even for the hottest horses on hooves, and they could be hot or we could be by the time we get there as it is nearly 40 degrees Celsius in August. However, looking at the opulence of their stabling, they could well be air conditioned, but I’m not sure our hire car necessarily will be!

This will be a future visit, where we will fly to Jerez de la Frontera airport (the one on the doorstep) and combine it with the week long Feria del Caballo in early May, one of Andalusia’s biggest festivals, where horses go through the Parque Gonzales Hontoria Fairgrounds in the north of the town with traditionally dressed Spanish male riders in flat topped hats and frilly, white shirts with their female partners, wearing long, frilly, spotted dresses riding ‘crupera’ (translated as sideways pillion – they must mean side-saddle and not two riders on a horse?); or later in the year the September Fiestas de Otoño which culminates in a massive parade of horses, riders and horsedrawn carriages could be fun.

I wonder whether the Feria del Caballo ties up with half-term?…