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

Thirty Years an Owner

Thirty years ago today, a skinny 21 year old scrambled into the cab of one of the poshest horse boxes she had ever seen , and set off on a massive adventure. The journey took all day. The adventure still continues.

Yes, amazingly, thirty years ago today a man called Roger Arrowsmith, who ran the local garden centre and bred show ponies as a hobby, kindly drove from Plymouth to Honiton and back,to fetch my first horse home

Thirty years! How did that happen?

OK, I soon learned, as if I didn’t really know already, that a just backed, three -year-old, wait carrying Cob, was not the ideal first horse for a seven stone, severely visually impaired, Novice, who had only ever ridden riding school horses before. Jigsaw didn’t stay with me for long, but every aventure has to start somewhere.

I well remember that feeling, when we took him off the lorry, put him in his stable, and I looked at him, my dream come true, a horse of my very own at long last, and realised for the first time, that he was totally dependent on me for his well-being, and despite years of reading, and dreaming, I hadn’t got the first clue how to look after a horse! Thirty years on, and there are still times when I am completely out of my depth! . Lot’s of horses have come and gone, and I have experienced best and the worst but the horse world can offer. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without having a horse in it, and I really don’t want to find out. They say you never stop learning when you have a horse. I for one am looking forward to the next thirty years of education.

Glove Story

Suddenly the weather has become cold, and I am faced with the dilemma. To glove or not to glove. That is the question. You see I have a little bit of a love hate relationship with the humble glove. Whilst I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, as a professional masseuse and complementary therapist they are the tools of my trade, I cannot work safely if my hands get damaged, Open wounds and plasters are a no-no

, and soft skin is a must. As a colleague of mine said recently, are clients come to us for a nice relaxing massage, not to be sanded down. So I have a real need to keep my hands protected. However, my hands are my interface with the world. For me, wearing gloves is a little bit like being blindfolded. That said, having bear hands when the weather is subzero is just as painful for me as it is for anybody else.

Most of us who handle horses on a regular basis have long since lost any squeamishness we might have had when it comes to where, and into what, we stick our hands. Horrible horse hands, with sore, dry, cracked skin are all to familiar, and beautifully manicured nails are akin to unicorn horns in their rarity. So, here is where I put my professional head on, and offer some winter skin care advice.

Your skin isn’t just the thing that keepss your insides in. It’s the biggest, and one of the most important, organ in the human body, and as such has a variety of very important functions.

Therefore, we should really view looking after our skin as being as important as looking after our heart, liver, lungs, kidneys etc. . Yeh right, how many of us do that? Whilst I am really concentrating on the hands here, most of the following apply to your skin as a whole. .

Before I go on, I think it’s important to point out that, if you have any conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis, it is absolutely imperative that you continue to follow the regime as set out by your doctor or dermatologist. For the rest of us though, The following will help protect your hands from the ravages of winter weather.

Protection. Whenever possible where gloves. However, if like me you find this is not always practical, then use a protective barrier cream. Anything which is mineral based, like Vaseline, petroleum jelly, the majority of baby oils, and Bio Oil are excellent. Mineral molecules are two big to be absorbed through the skin, and therefore leave a protective layer on the surface. In cold and wet weather, keeping your hands in your pockets can also be a real benefit. In fact many specifically out door Coates have what they call hand warmer pockets for this very purpose. Remember to thoroughly dry your hands after washing them, and moisturise them as well..

Moisturise. Unfortunately the popular mineral based hand creams, whilst being excellent for protecting your hands, aren’t the best thing to use to moisturise the skin. As I mentioned above, they don’t get absorbed by the skin. They protect, but don’t do anything to add moisture. In fact, in extreme cases of overuse, they can actually dry skin out even more. For moisturising look for products that contain plant -oils as these have smaller molecules, and so are more easily absorbed.Be careful though if you have a nut allergy, look for products that contain evening Primrose, starflower real, marshmallow,honey, seaweed or aloe Vera instead. Don’t forget that you need to moisturise from within as well. Most externally applied moisturisers will only be absorbed into the top layer of the skin. The best way to help keep your skin soft and supple is to make sure that it is not dehydrated.Make sure you are drinking plenty of fluid. Don’t be obsessed about drinking a certain amount of water, as long as you’re taking on water, and not drinking too much tea, Coffee, fizzy drinks, or alcohol.

Nourish. Remember that your skin needs full range of vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy fats. Try eating a varied diet, which incorporates plenty of vegetables fruit, pulses, nuts, seeds and Olive Oyl. Current dietary guidelines recommend eating not more than two portions of oily fish a week, and this is another source of beneficial healthy fats.

If like Hal, you suffer from conditions such as Raynaud’s disease, or your hands become extremely painful in cold weather, you might benefit from trying some handwarmer pouches. It’s possible to get reusable ones, which are activated by pressing a disk within them. They heat up quickly and stay warm for a good few hours, and are reset by boiling in hot water.. However, you can buy massive boxes of disposable hand warmers called Little Hotties, from Amazon much cheaper. Just shake them and they stay warm for hours. Slip them into your pockets, or even your gloves. Earlier This year, when it was snowing, Hal slipped some under the water buckets In the stables to try to stop them freezing. It worked a treat!

I hope the above tips are helpful. In the meantime, next time you wake up to a crisp frosty morning, please spare a thought for those of us you have to put their bare hand into a freezing water bucket to judge how fullit is.

Winter Draws On

As I was feeding the dogs last night I heard the phone ring. Like Hal and I, my Dad had just seen Country File, and, like me, . Had winced when the Weather Man said the S word, and then went on to say that snow showers could potentially occur as far South as the Moors of the far South West.

Gulp!

No, OK, we aren’t actually on the Moor here inn Shebbear, but we are invetween Dartmoor and Exmoor, in an area known as Ruby Country. We don’t actually get much snow here, but we’ve already had more than our fair share back in March. I truly think that if we do get a lot of snow this winter it might just finish me off! If you want to know why, please read my post from 2nd March this year entitled “Blind Man’s Fog”.

Dad really wanted to know if we’d brought the horses in. Yes we had! In fact yesterday was the big day. The change has now been made from Summer to Winter routine, a whole 25 days later than last year – and we’ve actually still got some grass left.

Usually the decision is made based on how wet and boggy the ground has become. This year, while the ground is a bit wet, it’s down to wind chill, and Vreeze struggling a bit. Poor Breeze, she was very stiff yesterday. Not exactly lame, but definitely not sound. It was like all her joints needed oiling. Mind you, she’s not The only one. I’ve never really been convinced the weather does have an effect on my arthritis, but, oh my word, am I having a flareup at the moment!

Thankfully this morning, whilst the wind can’t be bothered to go around you, there is no snow around here. Long may that last. I’m hoping for a short winter. I personally don’t mind it being cold and dry. In fact I love cold frosty Krispy mornings, kind of morning when I imagine everything is sparkling like diamonds. Pleased though, no snow!

Three Years of Joy

It’s Florence his third Gotcha anniversary today! It feels like she’s always been with me.

Florence came to me when I was going through an extremely stressful time. In all honesty I really should not have even been thinking of buying a horse just then. I was taking part in a clinical research trial, and sadly things have gone slightly wrong for me, and Hal and I were making the journey from North Devon to Oxford on an almost fortnightly basis, I ended up having four surgeries between September and February At the same time we were also being filmed for a television programme. An experience which I never want to repeat. I had been told earlier that summer that my beloved Magnum had a serious heart problem, and therefore could no longer be ridden, so I started window shopping for horses as a distraction. My friend Amy sent me a link to an advertisement on the website pre-loved for a 16-year-old piebald Cob mare that she thought might be eminently suitable. As the horse was not particularly far away from us we decided to go and have a look. The rest as they say is history.

Although Florence arrived in the November, because of the ongoing problems with my eyes, more surgery, an absolutely appalling weather, I didn’t actually sit on her until the beginning of March the following year. O’Boywas that leap of faith! Florence was amazing though, if you didn’t know, nothing in her behaviour would have told you she hadn’t been sat on for four months. It’s fair to say that up to that point Florence and I had not been getting along particularly well, and there had been more than one occasion when her bags had been packed and she was going back to her previous owner. However, every time Hal talked me down and convinced me to give her another chance. Poor Florence

, it must’ve been extremely difficult for her to move from her secure home of eight years, into a completely alien environment, with an owner who seem to keep disappearing and reappearing, and who must have been radiating stress, anxiety, and unhappiness like the Sun radiates light and heat. I truly believe that she could either here or smell the implant that I had in my I, and was very very aware of the problems that I was having, because she kept trying to bite my face. Believe me when you can’t see it coming, The snapping together of huge great horse teeth just millimetres away from your face is quite alarming! My theory about this was backed up by the fact that, as soon as I had the implant removed, in the middle of February, the attacks on my face stopped. Another problem we had when Florence first came to me, what’s that had not appreciated that she has extremely sensitive skin, and is extremely ticklish. She is a great big enormous hairy gypsy cob, but underneath all that black and white fur she has a thoroughbred skin I’m sure.

I’ve always believed that, Magnum, being a very old and wise horse, New that his time was coming to an end, and understood that Florence and come here to take over from him. I am quite sure that he explained the situation t her to look after me. You see, on what was probably the hardest long weekend of my entire life, we had Magnum put to sleep on the Friday, and had the implant removed on the Monday. From the moment I got home from hospital Florence and I began to build and understanding and bond. . I am so glad that Hal convince me to keeper. I trust Florence completely, I know she has boundaries, and I respect that. She does not have a nasty bone in her body, but she does not give her trust automatically. Yes she can occasionally be rude and pushy when handling her on the ground,

but when I’m sat on her back there are no limitations,? The world is ours too own. Florence is an extremely intelligent horse. She has the ability to read her rider, and adjust her way of going accordingly. This year she has carried my extremely capable writer niece Hannah, 11 year old Ven, my 87 year old Dad, Hal, and me, and been a total lady with us. She hates being on her own, and gets terrible separation anxiety. However, she has always been the bottom most ranking horse in my herd. She hates water,really hates having her legs touched, and can be a little bit girthy. Florence is completely unflappable, and extremely nosey. She is the kind of horse who would rather investigate something instdad of run away from it. She can be very impatient though, and doesn’t like standing around. Florence is quite vocal, and has an endearing way of wickering and snickering to me. Someone once connected that they thought Florence spoke to me like I was a foal. I just adore her!

So here’s to the next three years – Big beautiful black and white horse

Personal Hero – Lest We Forget

Sometimes chance has a way of shining a light on something, or indeed, someone, that you have previously been oblivious to, but , when you do discover it, or them, it has a profound effect on you.  It was just such a chance, in the shape of a couple of randomly selected Talking Books, sent to me from the RNIB’s Talking Book Library, which lead to me discovering the story of one of the most fascinating, and to me personally, inspirational, people i have come across. As we are approaching Remembrance Sunday, and this gentleman was a soldier, Who was injured during World War II, and subsequently held as a prisoner of war, I thought it might be relevant to tell his story here.

Many of you may already be familiar with his name, but until about 20 years ago, when the books ‘ Leopard, the Story of my Horse’ and ‘Soldiering On’ landed on my doormat, in the form of two Daisy Talking Books, I had never heard of Col. Sir Michael Ansell.

A career soldier and committed horseman, Mike Ansell was commissioned into the Enneskillans after passing out from Sandhurst in 1924. During The 1930s, he not only served as a cavalry officer, gaining command by 1935, but was also a successful showjumper and international polo player. . During World War II Mike Ansell became The British Army’s youngest commanding officer, when in 1940, he was given the command of the first Lothian and borders horse. Shortly after this he was awarded the DSO. Sadly though, he was injured, in what would now be called, A friendly fire incident, and was subsequently taken as a prisoner of war.

In 1943 Mike Ansell was repatriated. He went on to have an illustrious, and highly influential career in the field of equestrianism.

Shortly after his repatriation, Mike Ansell was invited to become the chair of the British Showjumping Association, and has been credited with revitalising the sport. From 1945 until 1957, not only was Mike Ansell Chair of the British Show Jumping Association,  but he also Chaired the British Horse Society.  Mike Ansell restarted the Royal International Horse Show, and initiated The Horse of the Year Show. He was also the first Chair of the British Equestrian Federation.

Away from horses, Mike Ansell became the High Sheriff of Devon, living in Bideford, not a million miles away from us here in Shebbear. He was also the president of St Dunston’s. Now, here’s the thing, the reason why I am so interested in, fascinated by, inspired by, and, frankly, in awe of this incredible man, is because Mike Ansell’s support of St Dunston’s, now Blind Veterans UK, came from a very personal place. Mike Ansell was blind. The accident which lead to him being taken prisoner, not only resulted in him losing all of the fingers on his left hand, it permanently, and totally, blinded him.

All the work which Mike Ansell did for BSJA, BHS, and BEF, as well as the work the Royal International Horse Show and Horse of the Year Show, his work as High Sheriff of Devon, and as President of St Dunston’s, was all achieved after he lost his sight. He also wrote several books, one of which was, at the time, reputed to be the definitive work on Show Jumping. All of this was done without the benefit of the technological advances which make things so much more accessible for blind and visually impaired people, like me, today. He was a truly remarkable person.

Col. Sir Michael Picton Ansell CBE, DSO, 26th March 1905 – 17th February 1994

I salute you Sir.