Seasons Greetings

Regular readers will know that for Hal and I 2018 has been a truly horrible year. I had so many hopes and plans as we waved a fond farewell to 2017, but right from the get go it became clear that things weren’t going to go our way.

Viruses, coughing horses, lameness. Extreme wet weather, storm force wind, snow! losing Leonie, Stella, Hal’s Dad, my Mum. Nearly losing Ripley. Having a very sick Tabitha. Falling off the tandem and damaging the ligaments in my knee. Having to replace a leaking oil tank, defunct fridge, broken dishwasher. Finding out Breeze is going blind.Yes, it does seem to have been a year of lurching chaotically from one crisis to another. No wonder we both feel so wiped out!

To be fair there have been some good bits along the way. Our Niece Sarah’s wedding, veing given an award by the Riding Club. Increasing support for this Blog, support for Blind Riders UK, my business getting stronger. Having lessons on Florence. Doing more talks for Guide Dogs. Doing some PR for Retina Implant.

Personally though, New Year’s Day cannot come quick enough for me. New beginnings, A fresh start, A blank sheet. I have of course got lots of hopes and aspirations for 2019. Poor Florence isn’t going to know what hit her! Neither is Hal for that matter. In the meantime though thank you very much for supporting this blog. I hope you have an absolutely marvellous Christmas and a happy horsey New Year

Do Horses Get Charles Bonnets Syndrome?

Last night we had a strange, and worrying, experience with Breeze. . Breeze is the sweetest pony, but she is extremely nervous. Last night however she surpassed herself, and gave me a few more grey hairs along the way.

Doing our usual bedtime routine, carrots for Florence, apples for Breeze, debrief on the day, hay, water, skep out, check all is well, it soon became apparent that all was not well with Breeze.

it is not unusual to find Breeze on high alert, but last night she took it to another level. I had heard her snuffing a bit, but just thought she was commenting on the dogs. However, when I went into her stable with a full haynet, only to be ignored, alarm bells began to ring. Normally I would be in for a full-scale mugging, breeze usually starts off by trying to eat out of the net as I take it in and try to hang it, and if this doesn’t work, she turns her attention to my pockets. Last night though, Breeze just stood there transfixed. Head held as high as she could get it, ears erect and straining forward, eyes bulging, nostrils flared, heart racing, and, I realised as I laid my hand on her shoulder, trembling. This poor pony was frozen to the spot with Fear! At what though? Let’s face it, what ever it was, it wasn’t bothering Florence. Yes it’s true, Florence is of a much more Sanguin disposition than Breeze, but she isn’t stupid. Had there genuinely been anything that frightening anywhere in the vicinity, Florence would definitely have mentioned it. However, despite only being in the adjoining stable, in stark contrast to her companion, Flo was the picture of relaxed contentment. It did cross my mind that she might be tying up, or have colic, but this wasn’t the stance of either a tied up horse, or a colicky one. Not only that, but Hal had just cleaned some very healthy looking poo from the stable. When it comes down to flight, fight., freeze, this was absolutely textbook freeze. She was staring up towards the house, but neither Florence, either of the dogs, Hal, nor I, where aware of anything untoward. Florence was perfectly happy and content in the nextdoor stable, The dogs have gone off down the field on their own private nose lead missions, and all I could hear was a distant owl. Absolutely nothing obvious for a horse to be scared of.

Thankfully Breeze did begin to relax after a while, but she was still unsettled by the time we left her. I find the whole situation a little worrying, and it’s made me begin to wonder about something. Is it possible that Breeze could be suffering from hallucinations?

Sadly a few months ago we discovered that Breeze is very gradually going blind. She is an old lady, at least 20 years old now, and has recently been diagnosed with age related pigmented retinopathy. Yes I know, whilst a horses eyes are different to humanise, The name of this condition, and indeed the pathology of it, are similar to retinitis pigmentosa )RP), which is the condition I myself have. However, as RP is not an age-related condition in humans, whereas age related pigmented retinopathy is and age related condition in horses, I prefer to think of Breeze as having the equine equivalent of age related macular degeneration )AMD). Basically she is a little old lady who is losing her eyesight. . There is absolutely nothing we can do about this, it’s not a treatable condition, and the vet has been very calm about the diagnosis. We have been told to carry on as normal but to be vigilant, and be led by Breeze as to what she can and cannot do. We have not even been advised to stop riding her, although I have decided that I wont ride her myself from now on. I’m actually too heavy for her anyway at the moment, but I think its better for all concerned if at least one of us has a fully functioning pair of eyes. As an aside, I recently read the headline of a research study which took place in Australia, which concluded that a high percentage of aged, defined as over 17 years old, horses have some form of eyesight problem, but this is usually not known about by their owners, and rarely has an adverse affect on the horses ability to carry out ridden activities

Until they are near total blindness. Symptoms like stumbling and spooking are invariably put down to other things. Back to Breeze though, , and I wonder if last nights strange behaviour was down to her failing eyesight. As a result of the Retinopathy, does Breeze have Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Does Breeze have what?

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a little understood condition that causes people who are losing their sight to have visual hallucinations. These hallucinations are only visual in nature, no sound,smell, or taste, but can vary from patterns to detailed and lifelike representations of animals, people, events or places, which can be static or moving. According to the NHS there are known to be approximately 100,000 diagnosed cases of Charles Bonnet syndrome in the UK, but there could be many more undiagnosed cases. Whilst it affects people who have lost most of all of the site in both eyes, The real mechanism behind it is not fully understood. However it is believed to be down to the brain trying to make sense of, and filling in the gaps in, The incomplete message being received by the visual cortex. The macular society believe that half of people with AMD will experience symptoms of Charles Bonnet syndrome at some point. These hallucinations are only related to sight loss and have no link to mental illness or any form of dementia in any way

So, whilst there are of course differences, horses and humans are both mammals, and mammalian eyes and brains do vary from species to species, there are also a great many similarities. What I am curious about is, given that Breeze has a condition which is not unlike a condition that humans get, could she also have another condition, which is often associated with the human variation of the condition she has? In other words. Can horses get Charles Bonnet syndrome? Is the reason that only Breeze was so frightened last night, because it was only Breeze Who could see what she was so scared of? I guess we will never know, but I’d love to hear the opinions of any vets, ophthalmologists, other experts who might stumble across this post in the future

Day 30 – a Trip Down Memory Lane

As today’s Blogtober Challenge prompt is another photographic one, I thought I would go off piste and tell you about the horses that I have owned over the years.

Jigsaw- when I first started having lessons I rode a little skewbald pony called Jacob. He was one of those steadfast classic riding school ponies, he was a difficult pony to instil a sense of urgency into, but he was completely unflustered by clumsy novice nervous children. I am absolutely sure it is because of this I have a little bit of a thing about coloured horses. So roll-on several years from when I first threw a leg over Jacobs back, and we meet my first horse, Jigsaw. Bought from a dealer in Honiton, Jigsaw was only the second horse I ever looked at, and he was totally unsuitable for me, but I had to have him! He was a heavyweight Cob, was only three, and although he was broken in, was greener than the lushestField! Whereas, I was 5ft3in , weighed 7stone wet through. Registered blind, and had only ever ridden riding school horses. . Jigsaw was skewbald though, and he looked like a bigger version of Jacob. It was not a match made in Heaven! In all honesty, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Jigsaw. He was just a young Cobb, and totally unsuitable as a first horse for a nervous novice rider. I sold him to the riding school where I learnt to ride, and kept him on livery. He was subsequently bought by a local family and went on to have an lilustrous pony club and hunting Korea.

Oliver Twist. After selling Jigsaw, only 4 months after buying him, I set out to find myself another steed. I wasn’t going to make any stupid mistakes this time, and set out to find something older, more experienced, and smaller. After trying and rejecting several likely candidates, I bought Oliver Twist

From a man in Lanivet. I think it’s no exaggeration to say I was had! Oliver was not the Schoolmaster and ideal first pony he was advertised as. 14.2hh, bright chestnut, part bred Arab, I truly believe that he had been doped when I went to try him. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I watch him being ridden, and handled, and rode him myself, including over a bridge over the main A30, and the man he was selling him racing up behind me in a car and honking his horn.

. If you were riding in a school he was indeed a good teacher. He had obviously been very well schooled, both on the flat and jumping. However, by the time I got him at 12, something very bad must have happened to him. He had no truck with the human race whatsoever. He bit, he kicked, you couldn’t catch him in a stable, let alone a field! I took him away from the yard where I was keeping him, because he couldn’t set foot on open Moorland without bolting. Then I discovered that he was completely unreliable in traffic. I had one of the worstfalls that I have ever had when Oliver took off with me and started jumping bushes. It’s because of Oliver that I have a front tooth that is a ceramic implant. Frankly, by the time I gave up and put him up for sale, eight months after buying him, I was absolutely terrified of him.

Surprise. Beautiful little horse of my heart. Bought from a private home near Liskeard, I had no intention of buying Surprise. In fact, with my confidence crushed by my ,so far, disastrous horse buying experience, I didn’t know if I should try again. . I went to see her out of pure politeness . An acquaintance New her and thought she would be eminently suitable for me. 14:3hh, part bred Arab, chestnut mare, and only 3! In what way suitable? An unplanned, unexpected foal, by an Anglo-Arab stallion out of an Arab x Exnoor mare

. Surprise was the worst put together Horse you could meet, hi withered, ewe necked, swaybacked, slap sided, bum high, cow hocked, and lop eared. She was the kindest, gentlest, and bravest little horse. From the very first day I went to see her, kindness just oozed from her. She was a real people person, and the only horse I had ever met up till then who would actively cuddle you. I trusted her completely. We went for miles together over the moors and even had lessons with the marine instructors from the local barracks. I adored her. Sadly, I lost her to suspected black thorn poisoning when she was only 8.

Bella. . 15.1hh Palamino cob mare, Bella was a little bit of a local hero. She had originally come to the area as a very young horse, alongside a great many other equines, as part of the entourage for a film called Revolution that was being made in the local area. Apparently the film was a box office flop, but lots of local horse enthusiasts benefited from them selling off the stock at the end of filming. Bella was one of those horses who could turn her hoof to anything. She became the range keeperrs horse, responsible for clearing the ranges when the army were firing on the moorBella was ride and drive, and took many a bride to their wedding. She gave many a local teenager the first taste at pony club, and hunted regularly throughout seasons. Endurance riding, dressage, Forest clearance, moorland pony drifts, showing, The only thing that nobody ever remembered Bella doing was carrying a sidesaddle. . I was still struggling to get over the death of Surprise when I was offered Bella on loam. She was about 17 or 18 then, and I shared her with my dad, Who had started to learn to ride when I had Oliver. We had years of fun with her, and Bella and I won many rosettes in the show ring. We lost her when she was 28 to Cushing related laminitis.

Maisey.. Because Bella was very old I decided to look for a younger horse before we lost her. The result was a 10 year old, 15.1hh blue and white heavyweight Cob mare. Funnily enough Maisey came from Lanivet, same place is Oliver, but not the same yard. She was spoilt and very much the apple of her owner’s eye. This was a very reluctant sale. . . It’s fair to say Maisie could be a bit of an old bag. She could be a little bit handy with her teeth, but actually there was just something very special about her. Unfortunately, Maisie was extremely wide, and, as the result of a stupid accident I had with surprise, I had damaged my left hip, and as I began to do more and more with Macy, I found her increasingly painful to ride. My left hip became so painful that I was finding it difficult to walk, and even dress myself. I was referred to a rheumatologist, Who advised me to stop riding until they worked out what exactly the problem was. Sadly after only having her for 18 months I made the difficult decision to sell Maisie on. I’ve always regretted selling her.

Sapphire. From here on in all the horses I have had have featured in this blog since the beginning of it. Once I had been given the all clear, and had experimentally Saturn a few friends horses to see if it would hurt or not, I set out to fill the horse shaped whole in my life. The result was a 14hh 5 year old, dark bay Welsh Section D mare called Kissamie Sapphire. She came from Truro, and was being sold by the proprietor of a stud farm. The lady had bought Sapphire through Abergavenny Welsh pony sales, when she was only a two-year-old, with a view to using her as a brood mare. However, she bread much larger Section D’s, and little Sapphire just didn’t grow that big, so she sent her to a friend to be broken in and sold on. . It’s fair to say that Sapphireand I did not always have the easiest of relationships. She didn’t have a nasty bone in her body, but oh boy did she want to have everything her way, and didn’t she throw a tantrum when it didn’t happen! I’ve learnt over the years that many of sapphires quirks, are fairly typical characteristics of the breed. When Sapphire and I were working in harmony, well you couldn’t have a sweeter little horse, but, when she said and no she meant it, and when she didn’t like something everybody knew about it. My history with sapphire is well documented throughout this blog. Sadly we lost her the age of 17 last year. With been together, on and off, for 13 years.

Magnum. The horse that changed everything.16.3hh, grey, ID, gelding.bought/rescued from a not particularly nice riding school on the outskirts of Plymouth. I ha d reluctantly given up horses, or so I thought. Hal is very ill, I had left work and gone back into full-time education, Sapphire was out on what I thought was permanent loan. I’ve never been so miserable in my life. So I decided to start going to a local riding school once a week or so, to try to mitigate the horse shaped emptiness inside me. The horse they put me on was Magnum, and soon as my bum touched the saddle we had a meeting of minds. Had I been looking for a horse, there is no way that I would’ve looked at anything so big. However, he came up for sale, and when I went there one date for my weekly ride, I caught them in the act of putting his saddle on top of an open, infected sore. I refused to ride, which they thought was very peculiar indeed. My dad was with me on that day, and by the time we had got back home, we had formulated a plan as to how we were going to buy him. The rest is history. He gave me five years of absolute joy. It is because of Magnum that Hal and I live where we do now, and live a wonderful lifestyle. Magnum was put to sleep on 12th February 2016, here at home. We don’t know exactly how old he was, but he was riddled with arthritis, had navicular disease, and was in heart Phalia. I hope you was happy with us. I still miss him terribly.

Leonie. 14.3hh 5year old black Irish Cob mare. Leonie actually belonged to Hal. She was his first horse, and the story is very well documented throughout this block. She was bought from a dealer at Tedburn Saint Mary near Exeter. Sadly she was put to sleep at the age of eight in March this year. She is the reason why I believe indiscriminate breeding should not be allowed, and why I would always strongly advise anybody to have a horse vetted before buying them. We like to think we gave her a good life in her last few years. However, she is the only horse that I’ve ever bought with out a prepurchase vet check, had I insisted that Howe had her vetted, it would’ve saved us both awful lot of pain and heartache.

Florence. The absolute centre of my universe.15.2hh. Heavyweight traditional, piebald, gypsy cob mare. She will officially turn 20 on the 1st of January. Bought from a private home near Launceston, I will have had her for three years on the 15th of November. She is a real character, A bit of a bossy moo when she’s being handled on the Ground but the safest, most reliable, cause when being written. I trust her implicitly, and she makes me feel as if I can take on the world. She is the most vocal, talkative horse I have ever met. I think she is also one of the most intelligent. I really hope that I can keep her sound, well and happy for a very long time into the future.

Breeze. She actually belongs to Hal. . 14.2hh black Cob mare. She is now 20, and we have recently learned that she is beginning to lose her eyesight. An ex-trekkingpony, bought from a trekking centre near Okehampton that was closing down. The only horse I have ever met who is frightened of cats! She is a sweet little soul, full of cheek, but she is extremely nervous and has a will of solid iron. We both adore her.

Bareback in the Rain

Never underestimate the therapeutic power of going for a hack. Even if it is raining. We all know that being around horses is good for the soul, but how many of us allow ourselves to just be in the moment with our horses purely as a self care strategy? No training or improving you or your horse, no schooling, no competition or sales preparation,and with it being about you, not the horse? Even I find this difficult to achieve, and I am neither a professional nor a serious competitor.

In my work as a Masseuse and Holistic Complementary Therapist I spend a lot of time advising clients on self care and stress busting. Truth be told though, I am useless when it comes to taking my own advice. This has to change!

As we travelled home from Mum’s funeral on Tuesday I gave myself a bit of a talking to. Whilst there is no way I am going to stop caring about and looking after others, i have to take caring for, and looking after myself much more seriously. It’s like they tell you in the safety talk when you fly, when the worst happens, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else with theirs.

My new self care strategy began on Wednesday morning. Our friend Claire came over to ride Breeze. Neither of us can remember when Claire last rode, but it’s been awhile. No, taking this into consideration, and bearing in mind that Breeze can be a tricky little madam when she puts her mind to it, I was more than a little taken aback when Claire said to me that, as she had put a lot of weight on since the last time she Rode Breeze, she was going to ride bareback to lighten the load . . What could possibly go wrong? As I pictured Breeze, riderless, and with Rein trailing, legging it back home, while Flo and I scraped Claire’s broken body off the road, I did manage not to squeal “Are you mad!?”, and instead asked “Are you sure?”. Ordinarily, Claire’s impending doom, together with the fact it was a bit drizzly, my knee and hip were hurting, and I was tired and heartsick from the previous day, would have made me say “maybe we should give it a miss”. However, Claire said she could always hop off if Breeze was a pain, the drizzle was forecast to stop, and Florence’s back is my happy place, so off we went.

I’m so glad we did. Yes, maybe I should have worn a coat! The rain got much heavier, and I was wet through by the time we got back. Breeze was a bit argumentative at first, but she soon settled down. Amazingly

, Claire stayed on Breeze the whole way round! She didn’t even look like slipping or losing her balance once, not even whilst riding down the steep Hill back into the village, or when Breeze saw a Pixie in the hedge and jumped out of her skin. I’m full of awe and admiration of Claire’s stickability and relaxed attitude . I need to be more like that. Of course, Florence was her usual unflappable self, intuitively tunes in to my mood and need for steadiness.

I came back in a much better place than I went out. Horses are amazing healers.

Good and Bad

It’s been a reasonably settled and peaceful few weeks where the horses are concerned. . Being able to have lessons, at home, on Florence, has been an absolute joy. Both Hal and I have been having lessons on Flo, unfortunately the truth has to be faced that, well she’s an absolute dream to handle on the ground, Breeze, bless her, is no novice riders school mistress. . Florence on the other hand, seems to be able to read her rider, and modify herself and her behaviour according to what she thinks they are capable of dealing with at that time. It really is uncanny. A Brilliant example of this was a couple of weeks ago when my dad visited. Dad is 87, and for a man of his age is in remarkably good physical condition. He used to ride, although he didn’t actually start until he was 58, but because he has been caring for my mum for a very long time he hasn’t actually sat on a horse for about 10 years. When I offered in the chance to get up on Florence he jumped at it. He really enjoyed himself, but in true Dad style got a little bit carried away and tried to get Florence to trot. Florence wasn’t having any of it. Hal told me that Florence his whole demeanour said, “Well, I could trot, but you aren’t actually balanced, and there’s no way I’m having you falling off me”.

In my last lesson I actually achieved one of my goals for this year. Drum roll please…

I cantered Florence!

Yes I know, I am perfectly capable of cantering, and cantered lots of horses on plenty of occasions in the past. Also I understand that you may think that having had Florence for approaching three years, I should really have done this before now. However, for a variety of complex reasons I haven’t done it, and to be honest with you it was turning into the one of those big mind monsters.

Not anymore! It did take me most of my lesson to achieve it, and I did very nearly fall off in the attempt, but I did it! Not only did those few short strides slay the mind monster, but they have given me something else to work on. It’s onwards and upwards from here.

Sadly however, away from horses, 2018 continues to be chock-full of bad news and problems. Last week we were celebrating our beautiful niece Sarah, Who is Hannah’s sister, and her lovely chap Scott’s wedding. A truly joyful occasion. Then on Monday my mum died. My mum has been extremely ill for a very long time, and it may sound extremely hard, but I find it extremely difficult to mourn her passing. She had both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, so the woman that I knew as my mum had not been there for very many years. However it’s extremely difficult for my dad, Who, until we got her into a home earlier this year, had been hurt sole carer through all of this terrible diseases ramifications.

I just wonder what else this absolute pig of a year is going to throw our way.

January Blues – and that’s just my feet

January is an odd month really. You make New Year Resolutions on New Years Eve, get all pumped up about a fresh start, and all the amazing things you are going to achieve in the coming year. Then, you wake up on New Years Day , maybe a little hung over, but full of enthusiasm for the year ahead…
And January happens. It’s a month with attitude. A dark and gloomy 31 day, resolve breaking, soul sapping, battle of wills between you and the forces of nature.

Last year howling wind, torrential rain, and the kind of mud that made The Battle of the Somme look “a bit damp” , were the theme for the entire winter. So far though, this winter has been a lot dryer, and thankfully, much less windy. Oh boy is it cold though!

Personally, I love cold, crisp, clear, frosty days. Give me breaking ice on field troughs ova having my arm ripped off by wind powered stable doors any day. However, even I find having to break ice on buckets that are inside the shed, well, beyond the pale. Hal really doesn’t cope well with the cold, and has gone into hibernation. We hand both had the obligatory post Christmas bug. So, apart from serving their needs, we haven’t done anything much with the horses except a few brief walks in hand. Thankfully they are all well, and coping with the cold extremely well. There are a few creaking joints here and there, but those lovely thick, unclipped coats, feathers, manes, tails, and beards, are really doing their job.

Sadly Breeze is finding her change of situation difficult to cope with. . I keep reminding myself that that it’s very early days yet. She’s only been here a few months, after twelve years as a trekking pony. However, i can’t help thinking we might have made a mistake in buying her. She’s a real sweetie to handle, and, although quite dominant, seems to have settled with the others. The trouble is that Breeze is terrified of everything! She’s constantly on red alert, even when In her stable. When being ridden he is both nappy and spooky, and it seems to be getting worse not better. She is not proving to be the confidence giving, supdr safe school mistress we need, far from it! As a result Hal’s already fragile confidence has died a death, along with his desire to ride. The whole idea was for us to hack out together. I despair of that ever happening now.