Look mom no hands!

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Show jumping was so last season.

So it would seem was walking with all 4 feet on the ground.

We would be spending the best part of the summer going to shows, paying good money to enter classes, getting into the ring and then spinning around and waving at everyone who had so kindly come to watch us.

This happened at the next few outdoor shows, I wondered whether Red just wasn’t suited to local outdoor shows as there was so much hanging around, too many other horses, maybe the spring grass was affecting him, maybe being turned out overnight was affecting him. I was running out of excuses for him and we were leaving every show defeated, deflated and with no fillies even in touching distance. What had happened to my bouncing Tigger?

I decided to try an indoor show at a venue he was very familiar with and had been winning at until his about turn in May.

But –  same thing happened, he was jumping the practice fence OK (not brilliantly but no napping), things were looking up.

He walked round to the entrance, trotted in fine, jumped the first jump OK and then as he came past the gate and was asked to jump away from the gate put the brakes on and went straight up in the air. To say I was disappointed was the understatement of the century. We persevered for a while but he just got himself into his usual frantic, sweaty state and managed to wedge himself up against the gate and I was worried his waving feet were going going to get caught which would put an end to his bounce once and for all!

Yet again we were led away with our tail between our legs. We untacked, loaded and went home in silence and with a heavy heart.

This went on at various venues over the summer until he also started doing it at home, it got to the point where he would not even walk over a pole at home – the vet had been out to do a lameness work up which showed very little & he had been put on a calmer which did very little. We were at a bit of a loss.

I had a couple of more experienced riders school him at home and at other venues to see what they thought – whilst they did get a tune out of him and wouldn’t give in to his tantrums as easily as I do the general consensus was that he was fearful of something – although we couldn’t work out what.

He really didn’t like jumping anymore, I blamed my riding to start with and then wondered if that XC ride had taken him out of his comfort zone (and mine) and we had lost confidence in each other. I wondered if there had been an occasion where he had hurt himself (I couldn’t think of one) and I was constantly worried there was a physical reason he was like this even though teeth, saddle, back, feet were all up to date.

I had always wondered about ulcers since his previous owner said he was very girthy and when we viewed him they held his head tightly so he couldn’t bite (I had unfortunately not been so vigilant on occasions and had a few love bite scars to prove it). I enquired about ulcers and they just said ‘that’s just how he is’ so I didn’t really think anything more of it…until now.

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Tigger lost his bounce

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June 1st 2014 – the day Red decided to down tools and not want to be a jumping superstar anymore.

Looking back there had been a few hiccups leading up to the day he threw all his toys out his pram and we got asked to leave Chilham Park, however at the time it came as a sudden and upsetting (not to mention embarrassing) shock that our perfect, kind hearted, brave as a lion Tigger wouldn’t even go in the ring let alone jump any of the jumps.

After the Wye Ride we were on cloud nine, I was so chuffed with how Red went and how forward going he was over all the fences that I decided to enter us on to an Eventers Challenge competition.

We had a month to prepare so I took Red to Denne Hill XC course to practice, we went all on our own which I don’t think was the problem as he left the trailer fine, we jumped quite a few of the jumps absolutely fine and he was showing great bravery jumping brick walls, concrete tunnels, brush fences and gates – it was when we came to an area where he had to go over a jump with a ditch, down a slope and up the other side that the brakes went on, he started to nap backwards at great speed and threatened to rear – I could not for the love of God get him to even go past this section let alone through it. He was shaking, foaming, google eyed and seemed genuinely fearful of something. I was not going to get off, nor was I going to quit and go back the way we came. We were now at least a few miles from my mum and dad who came with me and there was literally no-one around so I had to tackle this on my own or I could be creating a very bad habit that he would learn he could get away with.

It took me a good 30 mins and a lot of drifting away from where I wanted to go and an alternative route around this horror jump but we got past it and on we went.

Another stretch of great jumping brushes and logs and I thought we were back on track….

Then we jumped a big (it looked big to me anyway) wall into a wooded area that lead down to a series of steps to go down and up the other side – cue huge tantrums again, this time backing up into a wire fence and losing all ability to think properly and almost throwing himself and me down a massive ravine. This time there was no way around so we had to jump the wall again to get out and find another route around – this took another 30 mins and the tantrums were getting stronger – I had no idea what had set these off or how to stop them – he was dripping with sweat and the veins on his neck looked like they were about to pop.

I tried to calm him down and he was just about breathing normally again when we started to head for home, there was one more field to go through with some small schooling jumps that I thought would be a good way to end the day on a positive note but he wasn’t having any of that either, he had now decided to just plant himself mid canter and try and get me off, if I put my leg on he would rear, if I tried to steer him he would just pull me and drift in the opposite direction – then the last straw was the farmer opening the gate to the field we were in and letting about 300 sheep (Red’s absolute pet hate) run in and head straight for where we were standing. I did get off at this point as I had no idea how he was going to react to that but I figured it was not going to be calmly….

We survived the sheep, made one frantic call to my parents and led him back to where they were. I couldn’t leave like this so I got back on and persevered with him and actually got him over some pretty hefty logs, through the water and over some steps (after some strong negotiation).

We did leave on a good note, eventually! And I decided to just write that day off as a bad experience and crossed my fingers and toes tightly that there would be no steps or ditches at the Eventers Challenge Competition in a weeks time.

The Wye Ride 2014

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We had been out to local shows (jumping & dressage) for quite a few consecutive weekends so I thought a change of scene was in order. Red had been jumping fantastically both indoors and at some of the early spring outdoor shows and as nothing seemed to phase him I thought we would join some friends on the Wye Ride.

I had done this on Millie a couple of years ago, I don’t know whether I was incredibly stupid or incredibly brave but I took her on my own, in a snow blizzard and to be fair to her she was fab! We didn’t jump many of the jumps (not surprisingly) and it was a bit of a mission getting her to the venue and back in the trailer to get her home again but we both survived and I was super proud of the little madam that day…

Fast forward to 2014 and this time aboard the ginger ninja off we set again…..

I don’t think I have ever set off at such a speed! Someone suddenly remembered they were once a race horse and as my eyes watered and I tried to catch my breath we were already half way round the ride.

Red LOVED it, if he could have smiled he would have. I have never seen such pricked ears.

He was literally dripping with sweat from his eyelids to his feet, he jogged all the way round (when he wasn’t flat out galloping or trying to rear as he became impatient with having to wait for other people)

He jumped pretty much everything and as we came to the last downhill stretch of jumps he felt like he could do it all again with ease. I let him go at the top of that hill and just prayed to god that he would decide to jump and not stop or run out…he did jump bless him, at great speed but with great height (those lessons were all worth it) and as we galloped through the finish line we were both grinning from ear to ear. I don’t think Red had ever done a sponsored ride and I don’t think I had ever done one quite that fast…..or bouncy.

From now on the artist formerly know as Red was now affectionately referred to as Tigger.

Back to school

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Although we were coming away from most events with frillies and smiles all round, we kept coming away with 3rd and 4th place and I know that I said I was just happy to be competing after the traumatic experiences we had with Millie but I knew Red could and should be winning and I knew I was letting him down.

We went through a long phase of having one pole down in every class, regardless of height, although he did seem to jump a lot better when the jumps were bigger (or maybe I just rode better)

I knew my reins were too long (despite my mum always being ring side shouting ‘shorten your reins’) and I knew I didn’t use my leg enough (despite my mum shouting ‘leg on, leg on’) and I also knew I was so focused on remembering the course and so thrilled just to be leaving the ground that I forgot to actually ride once I was in the ring and Red thought ‘if she’s not bothered why should I be’ so I went on the hunt for a jumping instructor to help us out.

Luckily we only had to search 3 miles from the yard – we started going to clinics at Goodnestone Equi Training with Alex Hudson (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Goodnestone-Equi-Training/192922240778471) who started to sort us out pretty quickly. She saw straight away that Red was meandering around aimlessly, that he wasn’t using himself properly and that we didn’t have the required energy to jump a course successfully. Alex got us working on 3 canter gaits, positioning into a jump correctly, how he should be cantering in the turn leading up to the jump and how to ride him away from the jump and set him up for the next one.

We also attended the grid work clinics at Alex’s which were fab for getting Red to use his eyes and improve his athleticism – Red got the hang of these grids better than I did bless him.

After a few months we started to put all this practice to the test and woo hoo, we started winning. I started riding properly, Red started picking his feet up and the allusive red frillies were rolling in 🙂 thank you Alex!

Frillies, frillies and more frillies

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I was finally winning some frillies that didn’t say ‘Well done for completing the sponsored ride’.

They weren’t red frillies, heck they weren’t even blue ones but I was over the moon and back to be getting out and about with the worlds easiest horse and getting round a course of jumps.

Red did me proud and I know probably would have done a lot better without me on his back, but he was tolerant of my jumping rustiness, he corrected his own stride when I got it wrong, he luckily kept breathing when I held my breath and I swear more than once he remembered the course when I didn’t.

Red was a little superstar, he would jump anything and everything. Pink pig fillers no problem, gates not an issue, water trays easy peasy, brick walls absolutely – there was never any hesitation and he just seemed to LOVE jumping, and the more we did it the better we (me as he was already fab) were becoming.

When he wasn’t being a jumping superstar he was being a fab happy hack, a fantastic horse for my partner to learn on and generally just the perfect all rounder we had searched high and low for….we had struck gold.

What a difference a horse makes….

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After having Millie for so long its hard to describe the elation you feel when your horse does simple things. Simple things like tie up outside its stable without trying to hang itself every 5 minutes, things like stand still while you get on instead of waiting for you to precariously insert your foot in the stirrup and then do a triple somersault backwards and throw itself on the floor, things like load into the trailer without an army of people waving yard tools at it and cracking a whip up its backside, things like stand still in the field to let you put a head collar on rather than run rings around you for an hour until its dark and you have to go home and then giving you the finger as you walk away defeated yet again.

The bonus on top of all these simple things was that Red could also jump and he was rather good at it. He had been with his previous owners just over a year, in which time he had jumped up to Newcomers with the daughter and competed in dressage with the mother I think up to Elementary (I wasn’t listening to be honest – he was sold the minute he stood still for me to get on…that was worth the thousands of pounds alone)

They said the reason they were selling was due to his scope and the daughter was well on her way to becoming professional and they just didn’t think Red was the horse to take her any further – I can understand that as he can be a bit lazy and sometimes he just can’t be arsed – bit like me. However,  seeing as getting round a 1ft 6″ clear round would be a huge improvement on the previous years achievements I thought he was up there with Arizona Pie and I was young Sarah Brown.

Off we went to tack clean and polish our boots – just in case Anthony Hopkins was watching at our first show……

End of an era

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Millie & Me – the end of an era

So after threatening Millie Moo with the ‘For Sale’ advert every few months or so over the last few years I actually got to the point earlier this year of writing it, and not just writing it but posting it, and not just talking about selling her but I actually sold her *sobs hysterically*.

I can’t remember exactly at what point the threat became a reality but it was honestly the most heartbreaking decision I have ever had to make in my life. The fact of the matter was I wasn’t enjoying having a horse anymore, I had lost confidence around her and as much as I adored her (and still do) having a horse is too time consuming & expensive to not be having fun or reaching your goals. I knew Millie needed a more experienced owner and I needed a horse that had been there and done it and didn’t answer every question with ‘Why?’

I felt bad putting her up for sale and felt guilty that I couldn’t give her the home for life I had imagined when we bought her, I felt disappointed that despite all my efforts and all my dedication to her we just hadn’t progressed as I had planned and I felt incredibly sad that for whatever reason Millie just wasn’t the right horse for me, not at this stage in my life anyway.

I went backwards and forwards in my head with different options for Millie:

  1. Find a field and let her live her life as she wishes (eating and not being ridden) but apart from that feeling like a massive waste of her life, I just don’t have the time to go check on her twice a day and I would have got myself into a stressed mess worrying about her.
  2. Put her on loan as a broodmare – this was my top option. Millie had successfully bred one foal already, she would readily welcome a career break and she was stunningly good looking (albeit a little temperamental). This all sounded great until I thought about ‘what if she doesn’t get pregnant, will she come back? Then what?’ ‘What if she is treated badly, she will just be a breeding machine’, what if she dies during foaling’ – all these things went through my mind and I realised she probably wouldn’t be part of someone’s family and she wouldn’t be loved and they wouldn’t care that she can say please and thank you. That made me sad. For all her faults I loved Millie and she was a huge part of our family and I didn’t want her just being a broodmare. Also she hadn’t actually proved herself to be any good at anything yet so there was an element of guilt about just adding to the horse population just because I was too sentimental to say goodbye to her.
  3. Sentimental yes but also very conscious she could very easily fall into the wrong hands and end up at dealer yard after dealer yard so the majority of enquiries I received never even got a reply. I had 16 year old girls wanting her on loan for the summer, they assured me they were established and confident riders as they had been having lessons at a riding school for 6 months! I had older women wanting a nice, quiet hack as they had lost their confidence with their last horse – what part of NOT A NOVICE RIDE isn’t clear? I had people wanting to ‘fix her’, ‘break her’, ‘tell her who’s boss’ and ‘take her on as a challenge for the summer’ – no thank you! Firstly you don’t ‘tell’ Millie anything, and secondly she didn’t need ‘fixing’, she just needed someone that wasn’t going to be intimidated by her and someone that was used to highly strung sports horse types that had the time, patience and experience to channel Millie’s erratic energy into something half productive and who would love her for the sweet natured horse that she was and not get despondent with the two steps back that were inevitably going to happen every 6 weeks.

Thankfully out of the blue one night while I was sat on the beach with a beer contemplating what an earth I was going to do with Millie and thinking that I would just keep her after all I received a call from a lovely woman called Chloe who had noticed Millie’s breeding in the advert and who had other horses with her bloodline who were just as quirky and she described Millie down to a tee.

It was apparent from that quick conversation on the phone that Chloe loved her horses very much, they all had characters which she embraced, they all had their ‘funny’ days which she ignored and above all they were all happy, healthy and part of her family.

We (Millie & Me) met Chloe, she was kind, knowledgeable, ambitious and straight away Millie listened to her and for the first time ever someone had a proper plan for Millie’s future.

Millie had a new mummy and I was relieved that someone like Chloe wanted to take a chance on her, I was excited as I did and still do truly believe Millie is capable of great things with the right person.

It was the hardest goodbye even though I knew it was the right decision for both of us. I had thrown myself fully into Millie and hated the feeling of giving up on her. I knew she would never be replaced in terms of character and I loved her whole-heartedly so it was no surprise that tears, tissues and quite a few more tears dominated the morning of Millie’s departure.

We waved her off in her big lorry through bleary eyes and watched her disappear up the lane and I stared at my phone until Chloe called to say she had landed safe and sound and was stuffing her little furry face.

She did land safe and sound and is loving the routine of her new home – in her head she is already a competition horse bless her. She is coming on leaps (literally) and bounds but I’m glad to report she has lost none of her character and still has her madam Millie diva moments.

I look forward to my weekly Millie updates from Chloe and can’t wait to go see her strut her stuff next year. They love her; they see the amazing little horse the other side of the temperamental madam and they have embraced her ‘special’ personality traits.

This is the start of the next chapter for Millie & Me, I believe we will both get there in the end – we just couldn’t do it together…

I miss Millie, I think I will always miss Millie but as one ramp goes up, another one comes down and off that ramp stepped a handsome, chestnut TB gelding.

The future’s bright, the future’s Red!

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Stressage Anywhere

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Stressage Anywhere – Prelim 19 April 2013

 

This was our first attempt at Dressage Anywhere (actually no that’s a lie, we did ‘attempt’ it once before but Millie was having a particularly camel like day and we were having a personality clash so we didn’t even get around to pressing the ‘record’ button, so just by getting it on camera this time was a very good achievement in itself)

 

The concept of Dressage Anywhere is simple, you learn a test, practice it, grab a camera that has a video function (99% of cameras these days) grab an unsuspecting friend, partner or family member to press record and happy days – 4 minutes later you should have a decent quality video of yourself and your equine dance partner floating around the arena like Torville & Dean, upload it, wait for lovely positive comments on score sheet, take constructive criticism the way it’s meant to be taken from the not so positive comments, set oneself a plan on what to improve on for next month and get back out there full of inspiration and start training.

 

Sometimes it doesn’t go like that though. Sometimes goes more like this. Half learn a test on commute to work, practice once that week (where do the weeks go), panic that you only have one weekend left in the month to get this bloody thing filmed and entered, grab a camera that has video function (but unfortunately and to your horror does not have zoom or focus functions so you and your beloved steed just look like brown ghosts (midget camel ghosts at that) loitering around in circles at the end of the arena, attempt next day with different camera, slightly better quality video but horse decided to add in some freestyle head banging at E, some ‘fall out of canter so badly your nose runs along the ground for 10 strides’ at X and was adamantly determined to get as close to the camera as possible at the final halt and give the judge our best ‘I’m doing this but I’m really not happy about it’ face as we salute, realise that’s as good as it’s gonna get so upload anyway (easier process than expected-hurrah), wait 24 hours to receive car crash score sheet and see how many negative comments £12 can buy you these days (actually quite a lot you’ll be pleased to know), take negative comments badly, vow to give up on the dressage, but then notice right at the bottom  (through bleary, tear stained eyes) that the judges have mustered some form of positivity in their comments and have written ‘attractive horse’, and not only ‘attractive horse’ but ‘attractive horse that shows much promise’ (…..in trot…..) , waits patiently for Carl or Charlotte to call saying they are in desperate need of an attractive horse that can trot, carry on waiting whilst re evaluating dressage dreams and writing FOR SALE advert…..

 

Oh and we got 64% *which I am secretly quite pleased with considering the mad panic, the technical problems faced, the sporadic head banging episode and the general inability to do any of the movements correctly or in the right place*

 

In the words of Yazz ‘the only way is up’

Only fools on horses

Pictorialist B&W photo of a cowboy falling off a horse at a rodeo.

 

Whilst sat on the train listening to my neck grunt and grind every time I move my head to the left or right and wincing each time I lift my left arm I start reflecting on what actually happened on ‘Good’ Friday and why I have been out of horsey action the last few weeks.

 

Essentially it was the combination of a Jager bomb hangover, a Bailey’s coffee (to combat said hangover) and a rather flighty and unforgiving mare (at the best of times).

 

Turn of events went something like this:

 

1. Dragged self to yard with full intentions not to ride as knew I wasn’t safe to attempt being in control of a live animal (especially a large live animal that has a tendency to take full advantage of any second I do not have my full wits or physical ability about me)

2. Sat in tack room nursing tiredness and hangover and had my rubber arm twisted to partake in Baileys coffee round (seemed like a very good idea at the time)

3. Decided (after caffeine and alcohol fix) that riding was most definitely now the best idea ever *grabbed tack and exited tack room abound with new found energy and enthusiasm*

4. Approached stable, Millie actually rolled her eyes at me (as if to say “look at the state of you, if I play it right I can get myself a nice little 2 week holiday’)

5. Tacked up, acutely aware I was a little fuzzy around the edges and the nagging feeling that maybe lunging was a better idea returned.

6. Ignored gut instinct and doubtful voices. I was tacked up and ready to go! A nice sedate schooling session would undoubtedly blow away any remnants of a hangover (little did I know in 5 minutes my hangover would be a distant memory and the least of my problems-in fact memory altogether became distant)

7. Led Millie the mule to the school, so far so good (although I must point out as I went through the gate the last words I muttered to the other person in the school were “I’m not sure this is a good idea”. It would become apparent I couldn’t have been more right about anything)

8. Played tug of war trying to get horse towards mounting block.

9. Got mounting block, hopped up onto block, horse moved 3 foot backwards.

10. Hopped off, moved mounting block 3 foot backwards.

11. Repeated the above 3 times.

12. Patience wearing thin (Millie and me often play this game and after a few musical mounting block moves she gives in, stands perfectly still, I jump on, she gets treat, all good)

13. Attempt 5 and hurrah, stillness, took up reins, still stillness, hopped up onto block, still stillness. All going well until….

14. Put left foot in stirrup, put weight into left foot, go to take right foot off block, horse swings quarters away from block and I am in a very vulnerable situation. The right choice (and the choice I woulda, shoulda, coulda made had I been in correct thinking mode) would be to quickly take foot out of stirrup and start all over again.

15. I didn’t make the right choice and the above didn’t happen. I instead decided to swing my right leg over and completely misjudged the height of her rump (admittedly not helped by her still moving away from me).

16. Gave said rump a rather hefty boot as I attempted to swing leg over.

17. Knew as soon as boot met rump that she wasn’t going to go “ouch that was uncomfortable but I know you didn’t mean it so I’ll forgive you and stand still anyway”

18. Oh no, instead I felt a whole hunk of 16hh horse rise underneath me with an almighty grunt, saw ground and sky rapidly swap places as I was catapulted somersaulting into the air and landed head first with an almighty thud (although don’t actually remember landing, just grateful it was soft landing and away from angry hooves)

19. Next thing I know I am back on board (can’t remember getting up or getting back on…)

20. Feeling very vague wandering around the school and wondering what all the letters are that are placed randomly about the place, I was struggling to spell anything with AVKESHCMRBP & F!

21. Tried desperately to remember my name, horses name

and what I had done the night before (could not even remember indulging in the Jager bombs)

22. Decided I was probably safer on the ground so got off, called for help and spent the rest of the evening in A&E!

23. Went home from A&E and wrote FOR SALE advert.

24. Never posted FOR SALE advert (I’m obviously addicted to the pain)

 

Although afterwards I felt deflated and defeated (emotions I have become rather intimate with since owning Millie), the overwhelming feeling I had wasn’t fear or anger but pure disappointed (mainly in myself). Disappointed we had gone back to square one with the mounting issue, disappointed I had made the wrong decision about riding that day, disappointed I was feeling contempt towards Millie again after being very happy with her over the last few months and just generally disappointed I had forced us to take a break when things had (for once) been going well and I was starting to feel that lovely warm fuzzy, unfamiliar feeling of…..progress.

 

I think it just reiterated that I can never take Millie’s calmness and good nature for granted or rest on my laurels with her. Millie is unforgiving, she doesn’t allow mistakes and human error to go unnoticed and as soon as you start to relax around her she will make it very apparent that she is not, and I don’t think ever will be a predictable, bomb proof neddy you can faff around and afford yourself to make mistakes in front of.  She will, always, be quicker than me. She will, always, (and without apology), take pleasure from seeing me fail and she will, always, be just one step ahead of me.

 

Whilst I must admit that I (mostly) have learnt to embrace and enjoy the challenging side of Millie ownership (and she has without doubt taught me more about horse psychology and my own behaviour than any other horse) there are just some days I would like a horse that will let me be a little clumsy around them, allow me to take a little longer to mount, not answer every question with ‘why should I?’ and not jump out of it’s skin every time a pheasant struts past.

 

I wholeheartedly know if Millie was to swap places with a well behaved, predictable, safe as houses pony *daydreams a little bit* that I would become frustrated and bored, and I know I wouldn’t get the same ‘this is the best feeling in the world’ feeling I get when Millie decides to play ball and does her little floaty trot, or the same butterflies I feel when I look through her little pointy ears when we are out hacking. But I would be able to go and have a night out with my friends without being hospitalised the next day and that sounds pretty bloody awesome to me!