Five Years!

Today marks the fifthe anniversary of Hal and I coming to Albert’s Bungalow.

Five Years!

I’ve just read back through all my posts since I began Poo Picking in the Dark, which it surprises me that I didn’t actually begin until the November after we moved in, and, we haven’t stopped have we?!

Looking back, we’ve achieved such a lot, and learned even more. Yes, there have been some terrible lows, the whole Leonie situation will haunt me for life, however, there have been so many more highs. Yes, it’s hard work, no we haven’t had a holiday since we’ve been here. No, we don’t have any money. Yes, we have a great quality of life.

I still have to pinch myself regularly. I still can’t believe I’m here with my own little yard and my own school. The last five years have been full on, but we’ve done all the big stuff now. So now it’s time to consolidate on what we’ve built here. Here’s to the next five years.

Mouthing the Bit 3 – Colour Prejudice #HorseBloggers #HorseHour #PonyHour

It’s no big secret that, if things go to plan, later in the year I will be looking for another horse to join Florence and Breeze here at Albert’s Bungalow. We’re not quite in the right position yet, but I am beginning to , erm, shall we call it, do some research. To be honest, so far, I haven’t really seen anything that I would consider going to look at. My requirements are quite unique after all, but, in order to clarify my own list of requirements, I have been reading a lot of advertisements by people who are looking for horses themselves, and I’ve noticed something I’ve never really noticed in all the years I’ve owned, bought, sold, and loaned horses, and it perplexes me somewhat.

I can’t help noticing how restrictive, and prescriptive people are about the physical attributes of the horses they want.

I’m not talking about size, or breed here. Let’s face it, I personally would crush a thoroughbred, and will definitely be looking for a cob, or at the very least, something with a bit of substance about it. Neither am I referring to the gender of the horse that people are looking for. I know full well that not everybody likes a mare, and that some Livery Yards will only take horses of a certain gender. I actually had to move a mare off a yard I’d been on for years once because it changed hands, and the new owners would only take geldings. No, I’m referring to things that, to my mind, make very little difference to the nature of, and capabilities of, any animal. I’m shocked at how many people will only consider horses of a particular colour.

Now, OK, I’m blind, so really, what a horse looks like is hardly my priority here. However, I really do fail to understand why or how the colour of the fur a horse is wrapped up in makes a difference to a horses temperament or way of going. Yes, I do know that we all have personal preferences, in fact, when I could see enough to tell what colour a horse was I wasn’t all that keen on Dun, but really liked Chestnut. I’m not sure I would have ruled a horse in or out because of this though. It’s also true that none of my horses have had less than 4 white legs, Breeze actually only has three, but she belongs to Hal not me, but this is purely by chance. Over the years I’ve had a Skewbald, 2 Chestnuts, a Palamino, a Blue & White,a Bay, a Grey, and a Piebald. Alongside this Hal has had 2 Black/Bays. I’m here to tell you that colour really doesn’t matter.

In the last week I’ve seen adverts that specify no greys, no coloureds, no chestnuts, chestnuts only, greys only and bays only. Now, OK, I get that it’s a free world, and I also understand that if you are trying to put together a team of carriage horses you might have specific requirements to match them up, but all the above examples were for Riding Club/Pony club/Family All Rounder types. What I don’t understand is this. Buying a safe reliable, sound horse is difficult enough, why make it harder by placing such a massive restriction on the already small pool of suitable potential purchases out there?

Yes, a horse needs to be put together correctly in order for it to be able to do the things we want to do with it, but surely, if it has the right character, is safe, sane, sound, and capable of doing whatever activity you want to do with it, the colour is unimportant isn’t it?

I do remember that when I was a child a lot of people looked down on coloured horses as being common, but I really don’t remember people being quite so picky about what colour horse they have. Yes, there were the old wive’s tales about Chestnut mares being nasty, utter rubbish, and I have heard some people describe Palamino’s as insipid, and I have to admit that I don’t really know what they mean by this. Have I had my head in the sand, or is this a new thing? I don’t know. It smacks of. Hroses being seen as fashion accessories, and that worries me. To quote Mark Rashid “A good horse is never a bad colour”. Believe me, when I do start looking for my next best friend, colour will be the least of my worries.

Proceed up the Centre Line

It turns out that I did indeed qualify for Regionals , and they took place yesterday. However, because life has been quite busy I only managed to get down to Lakefield once beforehand to do a coaching session, and that was on Friday.

A lot has changed!

On Friday morning I got an Email telling me that I would be riding a different horse. Enter Willow, a rather gorgeous, grey cob mare. I’ve been changed on to her because she goes straighter than Carrie. Size, shape, and pace wise Willow is very similar to florence, so I felt very much at home as soon as I sat on her. Although, Willow is perhaps a little bit wider , and not quite as responsive to the leg. . However, I took to her straight away. Lovely!

Next change was that they had the new, blindy friendly, higher, dressage boards in place. They are great! It’s amazing that just having a few extra inches of height makes more of a barrier that the horses won’t step over. I was absolutely horified whenn Mark let slip how much they cost though. As far as I know I am their only blind rider, so they must think I’m worth the investment. That makes me want to really up my game and do my very best to prove that I am worth it. It’s a challenge, but what a fun challenge to have.

Next. I had a full team of people calling the letters, including Mark at X. Now this is Gold Standard for blind riders. However, it’s a skill,both for rider and callers, and it was the first time for all of us. I think we did alright, but I ride with my toes sticking out a bit, wel, a lot actually, and so kept kicking the callers. In fact, the man calling M was very nearly gelded in the process! However, it seemed to work, and I was able to ride out to the track a lot more confidently,

So, yesterday, a bit better turned out, in a new pair of cream Jods that I could actually breth in, and a new stock shirt with stock, but still wearing Amy’s borrowed jacket, I arrived to find a beautifully turned out Willow, complete with plaits, and, horror of horrors, a dressage saddle!

It’s been a very long time since I sat in a dressage saddle, and while I totally get the point, and fully understand the reasons why I was suddenly riding in one (which actually had a lot to do with an equipment failure and not the fact that I was doing dressage), , my body just isn’t that shape any more. The saddle had huge knee blocks too. Oh my word was I uncomfortable.

Combine this with the fact that I wasn’t feeling the 100%, and it’s no wonder that I felt that my round was a real struggle. I really felt like I was untidy, unbalanced, stiff, and had to fight , me not Willow, for every step.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I got my score.

68.12%!

Not only that, vut, there was a big red Q written by my name.

I’ve only gone and qualified for Nationals!

Beginners luck r what. I can’t believe it.

There is a problem though. My new found dressage career may well be the end of my marriage. Nationals is the same weekend as Wimbledon finals.

Going to hav to be mega nice to my husband between now and then.

Florence and the Machine #Blind Rider #HorseBloggers #HorseHour #PonyHour #HorseChatHour

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist 😉

Things are in a good vein at the moment. Florence is very definitely on the mend. Although I wonder if her shoulder is a bit sore whre she’s having the injections (she really bit me hard when I was picking her feet out on Thursday, and tried to bite Tony the farrier on Friday), on the whole she is noticeably more free and flexible in her movement. in fact she actually passaged, or as Hal put it “Doing that big ponsy trot” up to get her tea on Friday evening, and seems to have changed shape slightly.

Yesterday I had a totally new, and as it turned out, completely mind blowing, experience. I took part in a Mechanical Horse Clinic which was run by Ruby Moor Riding Club. I signed up for this along time before I started riding with the RDA, and had no real idea what to expenct. It was just something I could do that didn’t mean I had to have a rideable horse, and I never really thought I’d get so much out of it.

It was amazing!

So, Millie the Mechanical Horse is a strange beast. Standing at around 14.2hh, with no head or tail, and riding. like a much bigger animal, she does not have any kind of a motor, but instead responds to your body movements.You sit in a conventional saddle, but have no reins, so everything you do is down to your seat and core. The instructor, whose name I didn’t catch, but I think was called Emily, not only knew her stuff about how horses move, but was obviously well versed in Human Biomechanics, and was a brilliant communicator.

At the beginnning of the session Emily asked about my riding experience, what I was interested in working on, and if there were any particular areas of concern. I explained that I am blind, explained about my arthritis, and hip problems, and that I am currently carrying a shoulder injury. I also told her about my riding career to date, that I hadn’t ridden much this year because of Florence not being sound, and that I was just starting out on my RDA Dressage adventure. I told her that my present lack f physical fitness combines with carrying to much weight was compromising my ridng, and that, partly because of this, and partly because of my blindness, I felt that my balance was not very good. I also explained that I didn’t get the chance to canter very often and that my trot to canter transition was appalling. Emily than got me to use my seat to push Millie into a walk, and immediately picked up that I was using my shoulders rather than my lower back, seat and core. As she gently held my shoulders to make me aware of them, she got me to put my hands on my hips and feel where the power should be coming from. . We then had a discussion about whether or not I could feel where each leg was. Now, I have to confess something here. I have been getting this wrong for years! Whilst I can feel exactly what the legs are doing, I was misinterpreting what I was feeling. I always believed that when my hip came forward in walk, it was being pushed by the corresponding back leg. No actually. It turns out that when my hip comes forward, it is following the corresponding shoulder, and when it goes back, that is when the corresponding back leg is coming forward. Who knew?! Soon I was walking without involving my shoulders, and accurately saying where each leg was (or would have been if Millie actually had any).

Moving into trot it soon become clear that I have been putting too much weight into my stirrups and not using my seat, back and core enough. Sitting trot without stirrups got me thinking about using my seat to control the trot, which , once I had stirrups back, lead into risng trot, and controlling the trot through controlling the rise. Think of the rise and sit as a squat, don’t drop back into the saddle by force of gravity..

On to canter! My weakest pace, as, I rarely do it. It’s difficult for me to canter, except in a school, as I rarely ride out with another rider. Usually Hal walks on foot with me, and bless him, he’s very good, but he just can’t run that fast! Actually, around here, it would make very little difference to my cantering opportunities if I had perfect vision and could ride independently, or had an army of hacking buddies,as there is absolutely no off road riding to be had. It’s all lanes or arenas around here. Historically my trot to canter transition has been a really messy affair. I tend, unintentionally, to throw myself forward. I also have trouble sitting to all but the smoothest of canters, and tend to bounce rather alarmingly. On Millie I was encouraged to feel the circular motion of the canter, and to engage my pelvic floor as well as my seat accordingly. A revelation! Let’s hop that when I do get to canter next I can do it as smoothly as I was doing on Millie yesterday.

I took a lot of positives home with me yesterday.

I do not sit crookedly

I have good feel, I just have to engage my brain

My balance is actually quite good!

What a week it’s been. I’m feeling very positive about everything at the moment. Now all I need to do is fan the tiny spark of self belief that is igniting deep down in my soul, into a little flame.

Enter at A

Wow, what a great week this has been so far.! Things have really taken off in all the right ways. And I couldn’t be happier.

Firstly, Florence is very definitely on the mend. At long last! She’s having a course of injections that are designed to lubricate her joints. Cartrofen they’re called, although I’ve most probably spelt that wrong. It doesn’t matter because, regardlessof how it’s spelt, this is truly a miracle drug. She’s got to have a course of 4 weekly injections. She had the 2nd one on Wednesday, but even after the 1st the difference in her was obvious. I’ve got my girl back! What a relief.

In the meantime, my RDA experience couldn’t be better. In fact on Tuesday, having only ridden at Lakefield 3 times, I entered the dressage arena for a competition for the 1st time in approximately 16 years! I know. Honestly, if you’d told me even 6 weeks ago that I’d be doing a competition at the end of April I’d have told you that you were bonkers.

So, there I was, in a borrowed jacket, a shirt that used to belong to my late Father-in-Law, a pair of beige jods that I could hardly breath in, on a horse I’d only ridden 3 times, and for a total of 1 1/2 hoours before, doing a test that could potentially qualify meto ride at RDA Regionals. Coach Mark had told me it was going to be a low key affair – I’d hate to see his definition of high end. The venue was absolutely heaving! There must have been representatives from every RDA group in Cornwall in attendance, and the atmosphere was just brilliant. I never heard anyone having a stroppy, or witnessed any unsportsmanlike behaviour. Just good hunour, camaraderie, and genuine support for each other. Lot’s of people, of all ages and abilities enjoying horses in the, not too warm actually, Cornish sunshine.

So, how did I get on?

Well, I’m really chuffed. I got 68.75% in my test. I’m not sure, but I think this the most I’ve ever achieved in a test in all the times I’ve attempted Dressage in the past. Beginners luck or what!

The next bit sounds a bit weird, but I’m feeling so happy that I’m prepared to roll with whatever happens.

I have absolutely no idea where I was placed. I have absolutely no idea if I’m going to Regionals or not. I haven’t seen myscore sheet.

Because I’m completely new to all this, and because it’s all happened so quickly, I didn’t know how the day was going to be organised. I was told to arrive half an hour before my round, but that was all. It turned out that for the seniours, which of course I am, the prize giving wasn’t held until the end of the day, which was around 5.30. My round was at 1pm, and we’d left the dogs at home alone, and hadn’t made any arrangements for them to be let out, so we couldn’t stay. It matters not.

I came out of the whole experience feeling bouyed up, and more confident about my abilities in the saddle than I have for a long time. Yes, I do need to take the time to learn how things run as far as RDA competition is concerned. I also need to upgrade my wardrobe. For now though, I’, just happy to go with the flow, and take every experience as it comes. Just bring them on!

As a big juicey cherry on the cake. Ben, who had yesterday off school because of the annual Great Torrington May Fair celebrations, hacked Florence out . Hal and I walked with him, but honestly, he’s doing so well with his riding that he didn’t really need us. He only went down to the village square and back, because it’s only the 2nd time Florence has been ridden out this year, but it couldn’t ;have gone better. Flo was positively skipping along with a big smile on her face, while Ben’s smile could have wrapped around the world!

Tomorrow I’m going to have a completely new experience. I’m taking part in a mechanical horse clinic which is being organised by Ruby Moor Riding Club.

Don’t look now, but it looks like things are on the up.

Good times!