This post gives tome background as to why I started writing a blog The Story So Far\\\\

As long as I can remember I have been 100% horse mad, some might say horse sad. There was never a Eureeka moment when I suddenly looked at a horse and thought’Wow!’, it was just always there, like a seed had been sewn in my soul before I was born. Strange really, because I don’t come from a horsey background at all. I love all other animals as well (although I freely admit to being terrified of geese, and a little bit spooked by the uncannily human hands that monkeys have), but with horses it’s different! I just can’t get enough of them. I don’t actually have to ride very often to be happy, but I do need to be able to touch them, smell them, interact with them. They feed my soul and they ground me. Remove me from horses for more than, say, 3 weeks, and I am a very unhappy, and very unsettled human being.

I was also born with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). A genetic condition that makes people slowly go blind.

The problem is, that in many peoples minds, these two things do not go together. You can be horsey, or you can be blind. You cannot, under any circumstances be both.

I beg to differ!

As soon as I could talk, I talked about horses. AS soon as I could walk, I trotted and cantered around on my invisible pony. My bike was a horse. If a toy wasn’t a toy horse I wasn’t really interested (unless it was a dog). The little girl next door was also horse mad which helped.

After much nagging (pardon the pun) I was finally allowed to have riding lessons when I was nine. I didn’t get my first horse until I got my first job at twenty-one though.

I’ve had several different horses over the years. Because of working full time, and needing a little more support with horse care because of my deteriorating eyesight I have always kept them on livery. However, in May this year that changed. My husband and I bought a bungalow with four and a half acres of land on which to keep our horses.

Poo Picking in the Dark is the story of our new adventure. Looking after the horses and the land on our own terms for the first time.

Wish us luck

28 Days to Save the World

As regular followers will know, this has been a particularly difficult year for Florence. She took quite seriously ill in the first week of January, and although she responded to the vets interventions really well at the time, she hasn’t really been right all year. As a result, she has done very little as she doesn’t really seem to want to be ridden. We’ve tried all sorts of interventions, from treating her arthritis, to looking at her tack, feed, supplements, teeth, you name it, we’ve tried it. We’ve had a few little glimpses of hope along the way, but no real progress beyond a certain point. Our gorgeous girl is trying to send us a message, but we just can’t hear what she’s trying to say. It’s frustrating, soul destroying, and heartbreaking in equal measure. Florence is the absolute centre of my universe, I adore her; she challenges me teaches me, and validates me on a daily basis, sitting on her back is my happy place, and when I’m riding her I feel invincible.So it absolutely destroys me that we haven’t been able to find a solution for her.

Florence is quite an old lady now, officially 20, but only she really knows how old she is. Her passport was drawn up before they were compulsary, and her date of birth is a ‘think of a number’ guestimate. Only Florence really knows how old she is, and like any true lady, it’s a closely guarded secret.She owes me nothing, and, if she’s not right by the New Year, or even beforehand to be honest, then I’m OK with the idea of her hanging up her saddle and retiring. However, before we do that, there’s one more avenue to go down.

Gastric Ulcers.

OK, if you just look at Florence, and don’t take any of her behaviours into account, she’s not a classic Ulcer candidate. She’s a big heavy cob, who is a very good doer, and who, at the moment, is scarily obese. She has a light work load, does not compete, and lives out most of the time. However, recent research has shown that any horse can get ulcers, apparently some studies have shown that even ferrel and wild horses show some sign of ulcers on post mortem examination. Also, Flo is a very sensitive soul, and a bit of a worry wart. Her behaviour sometimes includes some classic ulcer related traits; girthiness , sensitivity to touch, mild colicky signs like pawing the ground, which is something she never used to do, refusing to be mounted, and generally being grumpy. Some of you may remember that a few years ago she had two unexplained bouts of colic. She also has Cushings (PPID).

So today we have started a 28 day ulcer protocol to see if it makes any difference. Normally a horse would have an endoscopy to see if there are indeed any ulcers, and whereabouts they are exactly. Differently located ulcers need different medication. However, we would need to take Florence to the vets to have this done, as the equipment is highly sensitive, and does not take kindly to being transported around, and we do not have our own transport yet. So, after having a conversation with my wonderful vet, he decided that we could run Flo on both medications for 28 days to see if it makes any difference.By the time this is done, we should have our own horsebox (there’s a whole new blog post coming about that soon), so if it’s made a difference, then we can take her to be scoped and find out where the ulcers are, and then continue treating with just the most appropriate medication. However, if there is no change, then that’s the end of Flo’s ridden career. Luckily there are no serious side effects of the medications she is on, so this approach will either make a difference, or things will just stay as they are. However, if we all survive the next 28 days it will be a miracle!

This intervention isn’t simple. Both meds have to be given on an empty stomach. This means that Florence has to come in over night so she has nothing to eat for at least 8 hours before. Having her meds; and, because of Flo’s seperation anxiety, the boys have to come in too. This will be a massive challenge for Mayo, who is not used to being stabled overnight, and who is just that little bit claustrophobic. The boys don’t have to be starved though, so it’s not all bad news. Next, one of the meds cannot be given with food. It has to be delivered via aural syringe like a wormer. In the very nearly 4 years that Florence has been with us, worming has always been a battle royal; and now we’ve got to do it every morning for 28 days! It’s going to be a long month!

Normally I don’t bring my horses in over night until at least the middle of November, and later if I can possible do it. Last night we brought them for the first time, and started the ulcer regime. Everybody was fine until we went to check them last thing. Mayo barged out of the stable 3 times in the process of trying to give him a hay net! Bless him, he really doesn’t understand the need to be shut in. Perry though seems to be taking everything in his stride. Honestly, as long as there’s food, I don’t think he minds much to be honest. No early in the morning visit from me today, which felt really wrong; but I neither wanted to start a riot by given the boys hay and not Flo, nor did I want to be flattened by a forced exit from Mayo. However, Hal and I went down later and gave Flo her meds, and the boys some hay. Actually, Hal gave Flo her syringe medicine, and she took it really well. The other med went into a small feed half an hour later. That didn’t touch the sides! Once again Mayo came out of his stable like a cork from a bottle as soon as the bolt was taken off the door. It’s not nastiness, he doesn’t have a nasty bone in his body, he just doesn’t understand, and he probably doesn’t feel all that safe being shut in. Let’s face it he hasn’t been here 3 weeks yet. I’m sure he’ll get the idea. Perry though was as laid back as you’d like. He might be a monster, but he knows which side his breads buttered.

They’re all turned out for the day now, in the Old School Paddock (left hand side as you go into the bottom field) which neither Mayo nor Perry have been in before. We took the boys down together first, and they both walked down really politely. Then Hal went back and got Flo while I stayed in the field to monitor things. The boys both had a really good gallop around, with some bucking and leaping in the air for good measure. Life apparently is good. However, by the time Florence joined them, they’d already got down to the serious business of grazing.

Let’s hope the next 27 days pass as smoothly.

What a Month!

It’s just occurred to me that it’s a month ago today that I rode at Nationals. Really! Where did that month go then?

Honestly we just haven’t stopped. Once we got home we went straight into the whole rehoming process for Peregrine. The car knows it’s own way to the Mare and Foal Sanctuary now, and naps in that direction every time we pass the junction. We’ve also been down to darkest Cornwall several times to view potential new horses, and get Mayo vetted. Then the weather did the dirty on us, so Mayo’s delivery day had to be brought forward. Not that I’m complaining, any extra time spent getting to know a new horse has got to be time well spent, but it did mean we had to suddenly prepare things, rather than having a few days to play with. Since we’ve only had 2 horses for a while, the third stable has morphed into an unofficial storage shed. Let’s face it, the tractor lived in there last winter!

In between all this, we’ve been up to Shropshire to celebrate our neice Hannah, and her lovely man Sam’s wedding. We’ve had the outside of the house cleaned, and we’ve ordered a Horse Box!

It’s no wonder we’re both so knackered!

Today though I finally feel like things are slowing down and becoming more relaxed.

Florence came home exactly a fortnight after we lost poor Breeze, and Melissa took her over to Kingsland. Peregrine came home on the same day, and Mayo came home on Thursday. It’s early days; but all of them are now turned out in the same paddock, and all really does seem to be going incredibly well. I’ve never had such a smooth, or quick introduction of new horses.They all seem totally relaxed about everything. In fact this is the most chilled I’ve ever seen Florence; she really does seem to be warming to her new found status as the matriarch of the herd, and is being remarkably tolerant of having a small pony almost perminantly welded to her side. She called to the boys the other day when I had her out, and called to them both yesterday when they were being worked in the school and she wasn’t. It really couldn’t be going better really.

So now we can relax again and start having fun. I’ve just booked my first lesson since Nationals and I have a plan to try and get Florence hacking out again, I’ve got lots of plans for Mayo, and Peregrine is beginning agility and beginning to walk out in hand. All three horses are far too fat, so are, along with their equally porky owners, officially on boot camp, well, OK, more like comfy slipper camp really, but we all need to be fitter and slimmer.

So now we’re waiting for some concreting to be done. Yes folks, Digger Man Pat is returning, and for the Horse lorry to be built, then the world is our lobster, as Arthur Daily would say.

From where I’m sitting the future is looking very positive indeed.

The Worst Kept Secret – Introducing Mr Mayo #PonyHour #HorseHour #RDA #BlindRiders

As regular followers will know, for a while now I’ve been looking for a new horse. Florence is the absolute centre of my universe, and I trust her completely; but, she isn’t getting any younger, now officially 20, and she’s had a few ongoing health problems this year. In fact, this is partly why losing Breeze was such a shock, as although Breeze was older than Flo, she was generally in much better health.I hope to be able to keep Flo going for a while yet, but she is definitely looking for the quiet life nowadays, whereas, having rediscovered my love of dressage, want to start doing a bit more. Hence the decision to get another horse for me to ride.

Now, although I want to do dressage, I also want to be able to hack out safely, and do some of the things that the riding Club put on. The level of dressage I’m anticipating doing is quite basic, unaffiliated, as well as RDA competitions. I loved my experience of Nationals this year, and I’d really love to get there again, with my own horse. Being blind, I have some very niche requirements in any horse, which can be tricky to find all rolled up in one package. They need to be calm, confident, and forward thinking, but not buzzy, overly spookey, and definately not prone to tanking off. They need to be able to think for themself, but still listen to their rider, and they need to be very very genuine , and quite brave, but not so gung ho that they don’t look after themselves and their rider. They also need to be polite and easy to handle on the ground, but at the same time, they do need to be open to their handler being more, well, up close and personal, and hands on. It also helps it they can cope with being walked into occasionally, and they absolutely must be easy to catch.There’s also that other, undefinable thing, and it’s something you will never know about a horse until you start riding and handling it on a regular basis. It’s difficult to explain, but, some horses seem to understand the blindness thing, and others just don’t. A lot like humans really when you come to think of it.

Now, whilst I love horses, and riding, I have to admit that I find the whole, trying out potential new horses thing really stressful and frightening. I really have to trust, even more so than anyone else, that the seller is being honest with me about this horses personality. If a horse tanks off with me I have no way of telling where I’m going, what’s in front of me, either on the ground or overhanging, or what the grounds like… well you get the picture; and that’s on top of the whole, being in a strange and unfamiliar place that I don’t know my way around, and being watched, and possibly judged, by the horse’s owners. I really do find it all very difficult. For these reasons I am extremely picky about what horses I will even consider going to see. I have a list of absolute deal breakers, words and phraises that, if they appear in an advertisement, mean that horse if automatically rejected. Can be nappy, prefers to hack in company, neds experienced rider/handler, to name just a few. Then, when I contact the seller once I’ve read a likely sounding ad, I explain my situation, and see how they react. I once had a persona tell me that their horse, who they were selling as an ideal novice ride, wouldn’t suit me as she was very big. The mare was advertised as 15hh, and at the time I had Magnum, who was a 16.3hh Irish Draught, so I thought it was a strange reaction; but she obviously didn’t think I was right for the horse, so I didn’t labour the point. Mind you, some people would sell a rabid wolf to a puppy petting zoo, look at the dealer who sold us Leonie to us, so you do need to take things with a pinch of salt, and be open to the possibility that things may not be as rosey as they have been painted. Once I’v got to actually viewing the horse in the flesh I have a few rules. I like to see the horse being tacked up, and ridden before I will consider gettingon board myself. Before I bought Florence, a yard that I had had some dealings with, who knew I was blind, and who knew I was looking for a horse, contacted me to tell me about a young cob they were selling. I’ve never seen a horse run backwards down the yard when somebody was trying to put his bridle on before! Definitely not the horse for me. I know almost instantly my bum hits the saddle if I feel safe on a horse. It’s difficult to explain, but with some horses I get a butterflies in teh stomach, sitting on top of an unexploded bomb, slightly nauseous feeling before i’ve even put my leg on; whereas, with others, like Florence, Sapphire, and Magnum, I just feel at home.

So, last week i went to view a likely sounding little cob. When I spoke to his owner I got the impression that selling this horse was not an easy thing for her, and she was very concerned that he would go to a home where he would be loved as much as they love him. He sounded very genuine, and, whilst not your typical dressage horse, he did sound like he’d be more than capable of doing the kind of dressage that I want to do. He had apparently been bought as a confidence giver for her teenage son, after he had had a bad experience with another horse, and he had done such a good job in this role, that her son now found him a little bit too steady. Well, that sounded ideal to me!So, off we went to darkest Cornwall, to meet a lovely Mother and Son and their gorgeous little cob. He handled beautifully, the lad was more than happy to show hin off to me, this cob definately can, and he’s a good little junper too, and then I got on. At this point I think it is fair to point out that. The horses owners were quite tall,wel in comparison to me a lot of people are quite tall, and as the horse is only 14.3hh, they never use a mounting block, in fact thy don’t have one. This could havr been a massiv problem for me, as, not only am I short, but I have restricted movement and strength in my left hip, so mounting even a very small pony from the ground is just plain not going to happen. I needn’t have worried. this genuine little horse stood like a rock while I scrambled up onto a wooden block thing that they used as a junp, and then scrambled up onto his back from there.Yes, this was one of those feeling at home horses. So a short plod around the school trying not to ride into the jumps, then a short hack out, and i was feeling very safe and secure indeed.

On Friday we had him vetted, and the vet couldn’t find even the smallest thing wrong with him.

So…

Let me introduce you to Mr Mayo (just plain Mayo to his friends).

He’s an 8 y.o., 14.3hh, bay roan, bllagdon, cob gelding.

I’ve been trying not to say too much about him until he got here because I think that selling him has not been an easy decision for his previous owners, and if I’m perfectly honest, I half expected them to change their minds before he got here. However, Hal has been just as excited about his pending arrival as I have, and, even though I asked him not to, he just couldn’t help telling people about Mayo.

Mayo wasn’t supposed to be coming to us until Saturday, but here in the South West we’ve got a severe weather warning for storm force winds (gulp) on Saturday. They’ve even cancelled the Board Masters Surf Festival in Newquay, which is where he came from. So they decided to bring him up early. Suits me!

He seems to be taking everything in his stride so far. Yes, he’s only been here a few hours yet, but compared to others I’ve had over the years, he is remarkably calm about having been left on a strange yard, with strange people, and strange horses. So here’s hoping he’s going to carry on that way.

So now we’re back up to 3 horses. The future is looking very bright indeed.

Unbalanced! Me? #HorseHour #PonyHour #HorseBloggers

I seem to be having a real problem with my balance of late. It’s not a new thing, but in this last few months it really seems to be getting worse, ad I don’t really know why.

Everybody assumes that balance is all inthe ears. Afterall, aren’t we taught as children that the mechanisms behind balance are in the middle and innner ear? However, eyesight and proprioception both have their part to play. This is why people with certain neurological conditions, and those of us living with blindness or visual impairment, have problems with our balance to some degree. Strangely though, I have met a lot of blind people who just plain do not accept this to be a fact. They often just can’t understand wy they get travel sick, or seem to trip over thin air, or blame their Guide Dog for pulling them over, but if you explain to them about their innately rubbish balance, they will argue black is white with you that you are wrong. Not me though, I know my balance is compromised. . What i don’t understand is why it’s as bad as it is at the moment.

OK, so in my case I am specifically talking about my balance in the saddle, but actually, it all amounts to the same thing. Unbalanced on the ground, very unbalanced in the saddle.

For a while now I’ve been having a problemdismounting. At first I thought it was a fitness/flexibility thing; I was just too stiff and fat to lean forward and swing my leg over the horse to get off. However, since the beginning of the year I’ve lost a stone and a half, and, while there’s still a lot of weight to come off and a lot more fitness to gain, I am a lot more fit than I was, but dismounting is still a problem. It is getting better, but I’m also convinced that there’s more to this than just being a bloater. Now, I should point out that. In all the years I have been riding, I have never fallen over the front of a horse while dismounting, but, that’s exactly what my bodymind is telling me is going to happen when I try to lean forward before swinging my leg over. I am totally convinced that I am going to fall forward, over the horses head, It’s not even a conscious thought, I just feel very insecure and unbalanced. I don’t feel dizzy or lightheaded at all, and I haven’t had a cold or ear infection. It’s more a body control/proprioception/confidence issue, but what do I do to overcome it?

I do also have some problems when mounting, but thee are definately physical. I have arthritis in my left hip which was as the result of an injury I recieved whe I was in my 20’s., so I am restricted in the range of movement I have in that hip and putting my whole weight through that hip can sometimes be painful. That’s normal for me though, and tall mounting blocks are the order of the day. That doesn’t explain what has happened to me twice this week though. On Thursday I went to try a horse with a view to purchasing him. He was a lovely horse, but as it happens, not the horse for me. That’s not the point here though. Perhaps it is down to me being fitter and lighter, and so having more power in my left leg, or perhaps it’s because I just couldn’t judge the size of the horse properly, or maybe it’s down to my appaulling balance, and, this horse was a part bred Freisian, so narrower than Florence, Willow, Goldie or Alphie, who are the horses I ride the most; but I very nearly threw myself off the other side of him when I was getting on! I had real problems riding him too. I truly hadn’t realised just how large an action he would have, and when I asked him to go forward to trot, I completely lost my balance, and had to grab everything to stop me having an unscheduled dismount. Embarrassing! Even more embarrassing though was my mount and dismount yesterday, and this not even with a real life horse. The Riding Club once again had a Mechanical Horse Clinic with Emily Lloyd of E Equine and Mechanical Millie. So, once again I nearly threw myself off Millie as I was getting om her, and my dismount was dreadful, not helped by the fact that Millie only has half a neck and no head.

Core stability! I hear you all shout, and, yes, as I freely admit to being overweight and unfit, my core isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be; but compared to some it’s not that bad. I also think there’s more to my problems than just muscle control, and I really do think they are down to not being able to see. In the case of nearly throwing myself over both the real live horse and the mehanical one, I think it’s got a lot to do with not being able to gauge how far I have to move to get my leg over and sit in the saddle. I know all the horses I ride regularly, so I have a muscle memory of how much I need to do to get on them. This is something I can learn with any horse I ride on a regular basis. However, the dismounting problem goes deeper, and I’m really struggling to work out how to over come it.

I’d be interested in any input or suggestions from others please.

Nationals – A shot in the arm ๐Ÿ˜„

So, despite everything, on Friday morning, Hal, Quincey, and I loaded up, and travelled up to the RDA National Championships at Hartbury College, near Gloucester.I only went because a lot of people had made a lot of effort to get me there. Honestly though, I’d have rather stayed in bed.

I’m so glad I did go. The whole experience was the most perfect antidote to the terrible week that preceded it, and I’ve come away feeling much happier, more confident in my abilities, with a little more self believe, and a lot of plans/hopes/dreams for the future.

This has to have been the friendliest, and most supportive equestrian event I have ever been to. No dragging other people down, no bitching about why the person who got placed above you shouldn’t have even been allowed to enter, no arguing with the judge, no fat shaming, picking fault with other peoples riding ability, tack choices, turn out, or choice of horse. Just support and admiration from everyone to everyone, a feeling of camaraderie, genuine good will, and a lot of people having a lot of good horsey fun. Why aren’t all equestrian events like this?

Hartbury, or at least the bits I saw, is an amazing place. OK, so I can’t comment on the human accomodation, as we stayed in the Holiday Inn in Gloucester (a lot nicer than our usual Premier Inn or Travelodge whenever we go anywhere), but the horse accomodation was the poshest stabling I have ever experienced.Large, airy,barns with lovely wide walkways, and all immaculate.I have no idea how many stables there actually were, but North Cornwall RDA were based in Barn D, and I know there was a Barn G! There were several arenas, both indoor and outdoor, although confusingly, according to a plan that Hal saw, no arena 3. Although I did dressage, there were a lot of other disciplines taking place. Showjumping, showing, endurance, vaulting, musical rides, and the Countryside Challenge, a handy pony style competition unique to RDA

Now, when it came to my test, in all honestly, I didn’t think that I really rode that well

. No excuses here, it’s just how I felt, sick, sad, and sorry over Breeze, extremely nervous, and desperate not to let anyone down, and far far too hot! Let’s face it, even in the coldest of conditions I run warm, and I get a proper sweat on when I’m nervous or anxious, and it was really very hot on Saturday. However, Willow (Stephania! Who knew?) was a total pro, bless her, she’d have done a lot better without the sweaty mess on her back, and of course Mark, Becky, who had only giben birth to their tiny daughter Lowenna 12 days before, and the wonderful, and very long suffering groups of volunteers who called my letters for me, were just the best. A special mention has to go to whoever it was who turned Willow out, all shiney and white, and plaited beautifully. Thank you whoever you are.

Ok, so my test wasn’t a thing of beauty. This was the first time I had ever ridden in an arena where the boards are all away from the walls, and it’s fair to say it’s something I need more practice at. I was worried that Willow would step out of the boards, so I over compensated and ended up cutting of the ends of the arena. At one time I was riding directly towards K thinking to myself,”I really shouldn’t be here should I”. I felt a bit like a bunny in the headlights throughout the test. Not my best effort at all.

So imagine my total shock, and utter delight, when I discovered that I’d won! I still can’t believe it now.

My score was 63.12%, which is the lowest score of the 3 competitions I’ve done with the RDA so far, but having read my scoresheet, I think the judges comments are entirely reasonable. Although, I am a bit surprised at the comment “A calmly ridden test”! Oh no it wasn’t!

placeholder://

If I’ve managed to attach a video here you will see exactly what I mean. Ignore the first bit it’s me on the grey. As she can probably tell, Hal wasn’t very much calmer than me.

So, all I really need now is a new four legged dancing partner, a lot of practice, and some self belief. Not too much to ask surely?

Here’s to next year๐Ÿ˜„