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

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist ๐Ÿ˜‰

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!

The Invisible Equestrian 3 – No Such Thing as An Elephant.#horseBloggers #BlindPeopleUsePhones #BlindRiders

This post may seem a little bit off topic at first, but bare with me, I have a point to make.

When I was a little girl I enjoyed any activity that meant I would be able to interact with,or even just see, animals. Admittedly, as quite a small and shy child, I could often be a bit intimidated by larger animals , especially if they were a bit up front and personal, but nevertheless animals, all animals, fascinated me – they still do. Therefore, going to the Zoo was a particular favourite day out for me.Throughout my childhood I visited a great many Zoos, and, whilst a lot of people are very much against the concept of animals being kept in captivity, I personally believe that if I hadn’t seen wild, exotic, and rare animals in the flesh as a child, I would in no way be as concerned about conservation as I am now. That’s not the point of this post though. However, it’s the Elephant, or rather the ongoing Dad/daughter ‘joke’ about elephants, which somehow managed to persist throughout my childhood, which will help illustrate the point of my post.

If you tell somebody something often enough, and with conviction, they will begin to believe it. Even if it is demonstrably not true.

My Dad is a brilliant story teller, and as a child I believed every word he said. Let’s face it, even though he is now 88, and I am fast approaching 52, he can still catch me out with alarming regularity. So, when , as quite a small child, I had wondered away from the parental gaze, and found myself, nose pressed against a fence, staring at an enormous grey beast, with huge ears, and a long pendulous trunk, awe struck didn’t quite do my feelings justice. I had only ever seen elephants in story books, or on Telly before, never in the flesh. I didn’t believe anything could be that big! “Dad! Dad! Dad! Come and see the Elephant!” I ran squealing with excitement

“But Nicola” He replied “There’s no such thing as an Elephant, you must be mistaken”

So, imagine my confusion when, after dragging him after me, loudly proclaiming how it was him who was mistaken, when we got back to the Elephant enclosure, the creature in question was nowhere to be seen! Now, obviously, the Elephant had just gone into it’s house, but remember, I can only have been about five, so , although I was a bit bewildred, and truly believed I had seen an Elephant, wel, Dad said it wasn’t so, so maybe…

The thing is though, strangely, everytime we went to a Zoo, any Zoo, I would see the Elephant, but my Dad wouldn’t. It was uncanny, and , as a result, even though I knew full well that Elephants were real animals, after all they’d had one on Blue Peter didn’t they?, I did, briefly, begin to doubt myself, Because, if you tell somebody something often enough, and with enough conviction, they will begin to believe it, even if there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. This is how perpetrators of coercive control and domestic abuse manage to get away with it for so long.

Now, I need to make it clear here that my Dad did in no way perpetuate this Elephant thing out of any sort of malice. On the contrary, he would have torn anyone with any bad intentions toward his little girl into very small unrecognisable peices in the blink of an eye, it was a joke, and a bit of a life lesson. Believe the evidence before you, don’t just take what people tell you on face value. It’s still a bit of a joke between us.

So, what’s your point? I hear you all ask. Well, it’s that very often we believe things, hold beliefs and preconceived ideas about things, other people and situations without any real evidence as to why we hold that belief, we just do. Quite often these beliefs really only effect us and the lifestyle choices we make, but sometimes, what we believe about somebody, and the way they ‘should’ be living their life, can have a very detrimental effect on them, their life chances, happiness, confidence, and mental wellbeing.

Wind forward to recent weeks. If you are a frequent flyer on Social Media, especially Twitter, you will most probably have come across the story about the photograph of a blind woman walking with a Long Cane (White Stick) whilst using a mobile phone. The photograph was taken and shared without the woman’s permission, and it was shared, and went viral, with the assertion by those who shared it that the subject must be faking her blindness because she was using a phone! Understandably this mindless act of Ablist hatred has sporned a massive backlash from the blind community, and given rise to the Hash-Tag

#BlindPeopleUsePhones

So, let’s deal with this particular can of worms first, then I’ll get to the real point of this post.

Firstly, blind people, and for that matter, people with any other form of disability, impairment or chronic illness , are NOT public property. You do not hav the right to take photographs, share our information or in any other way intrude on our private life just because you prcieve us as being different to you. We are not there to entertain, bolster your ego, be the butt of your jokes, validate your pity, or inspire you. We are subject to, and protected by, the same laws as you, including those to do with privacey and Data Protection.

Secondly. Visual Inpairment and Blindness is a spectrum. Blindness is not all or nothing, different eye conditions effect sight in different ways, and an individuals ability to utilise whatever residual vision they have will be effected by so many factors. Very few people are actually totally blind. Yes, some people have absolutely no eyesight at all, but the majority of us have something. Even I, who describe myself as being totally blind these days because I have no useful, functional sight, still have a degree of light perception.

Thirdly. Modern technology has revolutionised the lives of people with all kinds of disabilities, not just those of us who are blind. Screen readers, screen magnification, text to speech, speech activation, it all makes using tech possible. I am actually writing this post using an Ipad. OK so I’m using a Blue Tooth keyboard to type, but only because I find it quicker and easier than using the touch screen keyboard. All Apple devices have a built in screen reader called Voiceover, so it speaks everything onthe screen out loud. Androad devices have similar programmes. Most smart phones can talk in fact. All Smart phones and tablets have the ability to magnify the text on the screen, alter the contrast, revert to Grey Scale or invert the colour scheme, all things which will enable people with a variety of eye conditions to use them. Not only that, but there are a plethora of apps which are specifically designed to help the blind. From apps that help you find your way around, tell you what colour something is, use the camera as a scanner and read documents to you, recognise bank notes, even tell you if it’s light or dark. In fact, I often describe my iPhone as a Swiss Army Knife for the blind. So yes, not only can Blind People use phones, but they are actually a very important tool to aid our independence.

Finally. Being Blind, or for that matter habin any other disability or chronic illness, is hard work! The world is built around the specific needs of the fully sighted and able bodied. It’s not a lifestyle choice, and the world doesn’t really cut us any slack. We do not get things handed to us on a plate, regardless of whatever ablist propaganda you read in the Newspapers. White Sticks cost money, and can’t just be bought in the corner shop, and, well, getting a Guide Dog is, a long and complicated process. Unless, and sadly it does very occasionally hapen, you have some sort of mental health condition that might lead you to behave that way, there would be absolutely no benefit to anyone faking being blind. In fact, for many new to sight loss, the fear and stigma of being believed to be a fraud is a huge barrier to them seeking the help and support they need, or being able to carry on with the life they had prior to losing their sight. . So situations like this, where some random stranger, who most probably is not an expert in sight loss, and did not spend years training as an Opthalmic Surgeon, suddenly declares that somebody they don’t know anything about, but happen to see getting on with their life in the best way they can, decides they are faking it, and spreads malicious lies about them for who knows what reason, is extremely harmful, not just to the individual who is the butt of their toxic behaviour, but to everyone who is in the same or similar situation.. You do not know that persons truth,so why do you think you have the right to judge?

Sadly though, these kind of value judgements are not just reserved for whether or not a blind person can use a phone. People believe all sorts of strange and inaccurate things about blindness, and what blind people can and cannot do. Mostly this is because the vast majority of folk have never, knowingly at least, met anyone who is blind, and if they have, it’s more than likely to be somebody who is extremely elderly, and has lost their sight to age related conditions such as Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). What most people ‘know’ about blindness, has been learned from fiction, backed up by the occasional sensationalist headline in the Media. . We are expected to be either pitiful and frail, or absolute super heros, we all read Braille, We are all gifted with extra sensative hearing, touch, smell, we all have Guide Dogs, we are all elderly, we all have blank, staring, or disfigured eyes, we all wear very dark glasses, we are all piano tuners, basket weavers, physiotherapists, unemployable, we all need 24 hour supervision lest we hurt ourselves. We are never, young, interested in fashion, capable of dressing ourselves, capable of feeding ourselves, we are never married, in relationships, have children, have sex, fall in love, unless it’s with another blind person of course, we never work for a living, unless of course it’s as a piano tuner, basket weaver or physio, we never live independantly or own our home home. We never have any hobbies or interests, we never go out by ourselves, not eve with our Guide Dogs, we aren’t educated, we are never interested in politics, telebision or sport, unless of course we are Paralympians, we never travel anywhere, not even on Public Transport.

Yes indeed, it’s a sad, lonely, and confusing life that we blind people live.

Of course none of this is true. We do all of the above, and more. Or at least we would if the prejudice and preconceptions of others didn’t get in our way. You see, the more you believe the rubbish that is propagated about blindness, the more you will put barriers up that prevent blind people living the kind of lives we want to. The more barriers there are, The less we are able to integrate into society. The less integrated into society we are, The less we are seen. The less we are seen in the society carrying out normal everyday activities, The less we are seen to be able to do them, and so the belief that blind people can’t use phones, or do anything else for that matter, gets perpetuated.

So, what’s all this got to do with horses then?

Well, let me tell you a story. This is a made up story about a fictional Riding School, and a fictional potential client, but it is based on real experiences I have had a few times over the years.

Imagine you are the proprietor of a Riding School. You have an excellent reputation, and most people for miles around would recommend you as the place for people to learn to ride or go for hacks, your livery services are highly sought after too. You are fully insured, and you and your staff are highly trained and keep your professional development up to date. You are of course BHS approved. and regularly pass every inspection from the authority that licences you. So one day you get a phone call from a prospective new client. they’ve just moved to the area and are looking for somewhere to have lessons and regular hacks out. They tell you that they have been riding since childhood and would consider themselves as an experienced rider. then they drop the bombshell.

They just happen to be blind!

Blind! What?! Blind people can’t ride horses!

Now, at this point the conversation could go one of three ways.

A. Let’s face it, you’ve never actually met anyone who is blind before, and you ‘ve never really thought about blind people riding, well, to be truthful, you’ve never really thought about blindness. However, your staff are well trained, your horses well schooled, and you have a lovely secure arena in which to teach. As a business owner you are fully aware of your obligations under the Equalities Act, and the person on the other end of the phone sounds like they are an adult who knows what they are talking about. You explain that this is a new experience for you, and book them in for a private lesson, asking them to come a bit early so you can get to know them a bit and take your time mounting them up. Perfect scenario.

B. Let’s face it, you have never met anyone who is blind before, and you’ve never really thought about blind people riding. Wellm to be honest, you’ve never really thought about blindness. However, you are fully aware of your obligations under the Equalities Act, and besides that, you’ve recently read an article about a restaurant that refused to allow somebody to take their Guide Dog in, and you’ve seen the back lash and negative publicity they have recieved, and you’re scared that might happen to you if you refuse to take this person. However, somewhere in the back of your mind you seem to remember that you’ve been told, or did you read it, that blind people have terrible balance, can’t coordinate, and are a bit heavy handed. In your heart of hearts yu don’t want to take this person, but neither do you. Want to be the subject of a storm of negative publicity if you refuse them. Reluctantly you book them in for a lesson, deciding to put them on the most unresponsive, hard mouthed, dead to the leg, old plod you have in your string, because, that would be safest all round. Not an ideal solution but, better than a poke in the eye.

C. Let’s face it, you’ve never met anyone who is blind before, and you’ve never really thought about blind people riding, well, to be honest, you’ve never really thought about blindness. Why would you? You run a highly thought of riding establishment, and blind people can’t ride. Blind people can’t even dress themselves. Yes, somewhere in the back of your mind you’ve heard of something called the Equalities Act, but that only means you can’t refuse to take somebody if they’re Black, or Gay. No, sorry, this is going too far. You can’t possibly allow a blind person to even enter your yard, it’s far too dangerous, you’re not set up for this sort of thing. if they hurt themself you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, your insurance wouldn’t cover it, and you’d probably end up being done under Health & Safety legislation. No sorry, you tell them, you need to go to the Riding for the Disabled. You put the phone down shocked and amazed that you have had such an enquiry. Oh dear, wrong on so many levels.

Over the years since I have been riding I have been met by all three of the above respomses to trying to book lessons and hacks. Thankfully, Scenario A is not as uncommon as you might think, and yu don’t just get it from the big yards. In fact, it is often small family run yards, that might not have sought BHS approval, and who maybe don’t have the most swanky of facilities , who are often the most open minded and welcoming.Scenario B might not be a bad situation either. Often, once you go there, and they see that you are just another human being, and that you can indeed ride, they begin to relax, and both parties gain from the situation. Sadly though, Scenario C is all too common, and you meet it in even the most well thought of establishments. Apart from the fact that it is illegal under the terms of the Equalities Act, which does indeed cover disability as well as several other things as well as ethnicity and sexuality, this response is really harmful.

Harmful? I hear you say. Surely you’re being a bit melodramatic now.

Let me explain.

This will not be the first time that this individual has been told they can’t do something because of their blindness. It won’t always have been made so obvious to them, but, every time it happens it chips a tiny piece off their self esteem, and erodes their self confidence. The more you tell somebody that they can’t do something, that they are less than, a problem, inconvenient, a burdon, not normal, a risk, especially if it is for something they have no control over, the more they will begin to internalise and sub-consciously begin to believe that message.The less confident, capable and validated they will feel.

It’s a viscious circle though. How can people learn about blindness, if they never see or get to know anyone who is blind, and if all they are fed is inaccurate untrue fictional representations of blindness, and sensationalist and extreme media stories? If you are the kind of person who has been brain washed into thinking that all blind people are helpless, pitiful, drab, recluses, then why would you expect the atrractive , vital looking fashionista, who is walking towards you, latest Smartphone in hand, to be blind? Sadly it’s a damning indictment of the times that when you do see that person, the fact that they are using a cane, or being guided by a dog, doesn’t make you think they are genuinely blind, but instead you assume they are faking it. It’s heart breaking.

Likewise, if you have never met anyone who is blind, and never seen anyone who is blind riding a horse, why would you automatically believe that they can? Then again, why automatically assume they can’t?

There are a lot of very capable blind riders out here, just getting on with it, and enjoying horses and riding exactly like everyone else. We are interested in the same things as every other horse enthusiast The difference is that we do need a little more support at times, and we do have to think laterally and find alternative ways of doing certain horsey tasks. That’s how it is in every other aspect of our life though. So, by and large, when we say we can do something, we usually can, and when we say we need help we invariably mean it. It would be so much easier for us though, if we didn’t have to constantly have to swim against the current of prejudice and misconception about blindness, and the ability and inability of people living with sight loss.

Take it from somebody who knows. Blind people do use phones. Blind people do ride horses. In fact blind people do everything that sighted people do.

Oh yes, and I’m here to tell you, there are such things as Elephants!

How Can it be February Already?!

How can it possibly be the 1st of February already? January seems to have flown by, but, although I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing, as far as my horsey aspirations are concerned, I haven’t achieved much. In truth, this is mostly down to poor Florence’s continuing problems with her breathing. I had hoped that I would be back on board, and preparing to book our first lesson of the year by now. Sadly though, she isn’t really right still, and although we have done some very low level in hand work, it’s really been to entertain her, rather than as a serious atttempt to start getting fit. The weather turning cold has exacerbated her breathing problems. I don’t want to make matters worse for her, ridden or unridden, she is far to important for that, so we are still at base camp planning our route up the metaphorical mountain at the moment. Breeze is also taking it easy at th moment. We are giving her stiffness/lameness time to resolve itself a bit, and we are experimenting with her not wearing any back shoes for the time being. Like Florence, she has done a little bit of in hand work, but not much.

None of this means that there aren’t things going on in the background though. Hal has decided that he and Breeze are going to try their hooves at Horse Agility, and to this end has joined the International Horse Agility Club. We did a bit of this with Sapphire before we moved up here, and it’s really good fun. Also, although Horse Agility HQ is only just down the road from us, it’s something that can be easily done from the comfort of our own school. To that end we are now gathering together various items that can be used to build agility obstacles.

For myself, well, I am in the process of going over to the Dark Side! I have been given some advice by another Blind Rider who I have met through the Blind Ridrs UK Twitter account, and as a result I am in the process of joining the Riding for the Disabled Association as an independent rider. I will be joining/affiliating to the North Cornwall RDA group, as they are the closest to me, and will hav coaching through them, but will not be riding as part of a group. The aim is to eventually compete. At the moment it all seems very positive. It couldn’t be more different to my last experience with RDA. I have to get a medical, because of my arthritis, to say it’s OK for me to ride, and them I have to have a riding assessment, to see what level I am at, but so far so good. So watch this space.

The idea was always that I would be training and competing with Florence. However, her state of health, and the realisation that she is now 20 has made me very thoughtful about the future. When I first approached RDA, asking how I would go about becoming an independent rider I told them that I would be riding my own horse. However, I’m not sure Florence is realistically going to be that horse. I cannot wait to get back on Florence’s back, after all, it is my happy place, and I hope to soon start having lessons with Melissa again very soon. However, I have told the North Cornwall RDA Group that, for the time being at least, I will need to use one of their horses.Flo’s not going anywhere, and , fingers crossed, is going to live, and be able to be ridden for a long time yet, but I don’t think it is fair to expect her to suddenly become a competition horse, not at her age.

So, yes, this does mean that I am beginning to consider getting another horse. Not yet though. For a start we can’t afford it at the moment. We are finding looking after Florence and Breeze is a pleasure, yes they both have their quirks, but, on the whole, they are really easy going and stress free to do. Also, I’d like to make sure that I’m really up for it, the RDA stuff I mean, before I decide exactly what type of horse I want. It’s no good forking out for a potential dressage diva if I’m destined to be a happy hacker for the rest of my life.

In the meantime though, while I’m not riding, I am working hard on my fitness. I’m already feeling a difference in my everyday life, although the weight’s not coming off as easily as I’d hoped. I’m feeling very positive about life, despite Florence’s problems. It’s all very exciting. So watch this space.

Day 21 – Mouthing the Bit 2 – Just a Happy Hacker

Hacking out is one of my favourite things, and I am always shocked when I meet people who say they do not enjoy it. Haven’t they missed the point of what horse riding is all about? How many times do you hear the expression “Happy Hacker” used to describe either horse or rider, as a derisive term? Oh, she’s just a happy hacker, she won’t know. He’s only good enough for hacking. This horse is too good to be wasted as a hack.

I very much beg your pardon!

You see I think that, in order for horse or rider to be a safe, confident, competent hack, they need to have a vast array of attributes and skills, many of which can be directly transferred into the competition or hunting fields. it’s not about sitting there like a sack of spuds, holding onto the buckle end of the rains, whilst your horse plods round like an automaton.oK, your horse doesn’t have to be on the bit all the time, but she does have to be responsive to hand, leg and voice; and whilst you don’t have to have the skills to do an Olympic standard dressage test, you do have to be able to control and manoeuver your horse in all sorts of circumstances.. 2 legged or 4 legged, a truly happy hacker needs to be resourceful, adaptable, quick thinking, independent and brave, with plenty of Old fashioned horse sense.

I was very lucky as a child, I grew up where Plymouth met Dartmoor. You didn’t have to travel too far in One Direction to be by the sea, and it was really only a short trip up the lane from our house and you were on open moorland. When I first started having riding lessons, at the age of nine, I very rarely rode in a school. My lessons took place on the Moor. At first on the lead rain, and always with a fully qualified instructor, but usually on the Moor, occasionally around the lanes, but hardly ever in the school. On my first ever riding lesson, we were indeed take into the school, and taught some basic skills, how to hold the reins, how to adjust the girth from the saddle, how to adjust our stirrups from the saddle, and how to fall off. I didn’t have another formal lesson in the school until I was about 14. Admittedly I’ve never been the most stylish of riders, but these early lessons taught me more than how to make a pony walk ,trot ,canter ,turn ,and stop. From the earliest I learnt that ponies are unpredictable, they will react to different situations in different ways, and are affected by their surroundings as much as we are. Without realising it I learnt to judge ground conditions, to be aware of my surroundings and what was going on around me, and toThink ahead and anticipate how my pony might react to something, and take evasive action if necessary. I learnt safe practice, and how to behave around , and how to be respectful of and considerate towards others whilst riding. Opening and shutting gates from horseback became second nature to me, and I learnt the basics of Road safety where horses are concerned. I also learned how to stay on, after all, it can be a long walk home after a fall, especially when your pony has legged it back to the yard without you.

I was absolutely horrified the other day, when I learnt that many riding schools, do not allow children to hack out off the lead rain until they are 14. Words fail me! Apparently this is due to constraints on their insurance policies. How is anybody supposed to learn? Real horsemanship isn’t only about being in the manรจge, It’s also about horse and rider in partnership enjoying the freedom of the countryside. It seems to me that, children like I was, Who did not come from a horsey family, are being excluded from The very real positive benefits of horseriding. It could even be said that they are being discriminated against, on the grounds of insurance and health and safety. That’s not only bad for children, but it’s bad for the future of horse riding. Total stupidity!

I think one of the real reasons why so many people dislike hacking out, is the increasing necessity to deal with traffic. Roads are becoming busier, drivers are becoming more impatient, horses are seen as a nuisance, but off road riding and decent bridleways, seem to be coming less and less accessible. The area where I currently live is a prime example. This is a small , isolated , rural community, we are basically 10 miles from anywhere. The village is surrounded by farmland, and the nearest A road is 5 miles away. There are a great many horses in this area, but there is absolutely no off-road riding! Well to be honest, there is one bridlepath. It’s about a mile and a half from here to its nearest end, it’s quite long, and goes from a to be. So if you want to use it, you either have to do A there and back route, which for me would in tail 3 miles roadwork, or a very long, several hours, Circular route, with at least 5 miles of road work in it. Now admittedly, compared to some, these are not busy roads, but they are narrow and frequented with large agricultural machinery, and huge lorries. Now to be perfectly honest, possibly because I always hack out with somebody walking on foot, I find the majority of these drivers to be patient and courteous at all times. I rarely have a problem with traffic. That isn’t everyone’s experience though sadly. Riding on the road when it’s busy is hardly relaxing. I love living in the village, and having my own land and yard is a blessing I thought would never happen, but I really miss being on the Moor, and the availability of so much accessible off road riding. Personally I think some of the landowners around here are missing a trick. I would gladly pay to be able to ride on their land. In the meantime though, whilst I’m lucky enough to have my own school, I will still be hacking out around the lanes on a regular basis. Not because my horse and I are less capable, but because both my horse and I enjoy it.

Day 18 – โ€˜Ere! Who are You Calling a Pumpkim? ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

It’s fair to say that I have never carved a pumpkin In my life…i don’t even remember doing it at school. Mind you, , growing up in Plymouth, it would have been a turnip anyway.

Now I live in a village which has the dubious responsibility of ensuring that the devil does not walk this earth anymore,, and the whole business of Halloween and the subsequent turning of the devils stone, which takes place on the 5th of November, is taken very seriously indeed. Trick or treatingis a very serious thing in these parts. However, even the most ardent sugar addict will not knock on a door that doesn’t display a lit pumpkin. For the first few years we lived here we scrounged pumpkins of people, but last year we got our own. Well actually we got a pumpkin shaped lamp, but it sends out the same signal. Treats available here!

Actually it’s been pumpkin shaped things that have been worrying me lately. I’ve alluded several times over the month to Florence is excessive weight. I haven’t been very well, nasty cough, and post viral fatigue, so Florence has had more or less six weeks off. Hardly ideal. During this time she has had her blood taken to test her ACTH levels. Something I have done every six months as Florence has Cushing’s and is medicated. This time though, my vet was so horrified by the size of her she also took blood to test her insulin levels. Thankfully every thing came back within normal parameters. However when I did try to get on Florence roughly 10 days ago, she felt really wrong. Not lame, but as though it was as much as she could do to put 1 foot in front of the other. No heat in her feet, I couldn’t feel a radial pulse, mind you, I doubt I would find a radial pulse even if it was sending out a Cyran tone , vibrating ,,and shouting I’m over here, no strange stance. Eating, drinking, wee, poo, all normal for Florence. She definitely wasn’t herself though. I decided to take her for A walk in hand, and if she was still struggling the vet was going to be coming. Struggling! She walks off full of her usual enthusiasm, down to the Village Square, , A quick look at the devils stone, and then back up the hill to home, Hal guiding me, me leading Florence. There is nothing wrong with this horse! She is huge though. have had to dig out one Magnum’s Girth’s for her. Magnum was a 16 three Irish draft horse, Florence is a 15.2 Cob.

It started today. I actually woke up feeling much better this morning. My farrier has been, and unprompted by me, declared quite loudly how good Florence’s feet are looking. When I told him how relieved I was to hear that, and explained how worried I was about her getting laminitis, he couldn’t have been more reassuring. After he’d gone I scrambled of bored and went for a short. Florence was back to her old self, and practically skipped along with a great big smile on her face. Phew!

Mind you, when it comes to needing to lose weight I have no axe to grind, i’m pretty dam huge myself at the moment. It’s a good job that Florence is it chestnut, and I no longer have my orange fluorescent coat, or from behind we look like a pair of pumpkins stacked on top of each other.

Day 13 – Such a Perfect Day

Today is not a perfect day. It’s still howling with wind, and pouring with rain, and I have been stuck indoors most of the day.

A perfect day involves being outside for most of the day. It involves playing with my horses, going for a walk, going for a ride, going off on adventure. I don’t actually have to ride For time with the horses to be enjoyable and worthwhile. Don’t get me wrong, I’d ride every day if I could, but I ride to be around horses, as opposed to being around horses in order to be Abel to ride. So I get just as much pleasure from handling them on the ground, or just being around them, as I do from riding; sometimes even more. I am actually one of those people who takes a perfectly rideable horse for a walk in hand from time to time.

Let’s face it. Six years ago I was struggling to keep two horses on livery. Whilst I dreamt about having my own little yard and land, if you had told me how quickly that would become reality I would’ve laughed in your face. So excuse me if I sound a little bit too smug here, but I am living the dream. Yes there are some difficult days, and no I don’t like this weather, but only have to walk out of my back door and my horses are there. What could be more perfect than that?