Taking Stock

Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock, especially when you are feeling a bit like you are lost in the wilderness, which is exactly how I have been feeling for a while now. So today, when I was browsing Social Media over my early morning cuppa, and one of those ‘Face Book Memories’ came up on my time line, it gave me pause to reflect and get some perspective..

Today is the 5th Anniversary of the day that Hal and I first came to view what is now our home.

So, as we were waiting for Steve to deliver some hay this morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on the past 5 years, and thinking how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve learned. Back then, having pulled out of a purchase on legal advice, and, only the day before coming here, viewed an almost derelict dump of a farmhouse, which seemed to be all that was available in our price range, we were beginning to believe that we were on a fools errand. Our dream of having our own little equestrian property was beyond our reach. Now though we have our own little yard with a lovely school, and have plans to get our own transport later this year.

Ok, so at the moment, we have 2 unrideable horses; but 5 years ago, I was in danger of not having anywhere to keep the 2 horses we had back then. Also, even if neither Florence nor Breeze can never do a stroke of work again in their lives, they will still be here. Having our own yard and land means I do not have to make that horrible choice between having a ridable horse and keeping the now unsound, older horse that I love. That single fact alone is enough to make all the hard work, sacrifice, financial hardship, and difficult decisions, worthwhile.

Yes, doing it yourself is extremely hard work, and it’s poor Hal who has to bare the brunt of it. We haven’t had a holiday since we moved here. Apart from the fact that we can’t really afford it, it’s a question of what we do with the horses if we go away. Yes, if we have to be away for a night or 2, then we are lucky in that Amy will take care of them, but leaving them for a whole week, or a fortnight… Well that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. All our money goes into the horses and maintaining th yard. We have invested a lot in building the stables and school, neither of which existed before we moved here. Also, we haven’t really recovered from taking a hit when that crook stole our money instead of building stables, and yes, this is a choice we have made, and I’m ot complaining, after all, what else would I be spending my money on? Horses are my passion after all. However, Hal and I are not rich, in fact, if people knew how small our income atually is they wouldn’t believe us, so there’s not a lot spare for luxuries, or for that matter even essentials. Even if we didn’t have our own place, and kept our horses on livery somewhere, we’d still have to make difficult decisions from time to time. We’ve had to have 3 horses put to sleep since we’ve been here. In each case, being kept on livery would have made absolutely no difference. We had good support and guidance from our Vet in each case, and we can rest assured that in each case we did the best thing for the horse. In fact, for me personally, whilst having to make that ultimate decision is the most horrible thing you can think of, because I was confident I was doing the best thing for the horse at the time, whilst it was heartbreaking, it wasn’t entirely unbearable. This probably sounds very strange, and maybe a bit heartless, but I actually coped worse with the planning process for the stables and school. I think this is because it was a much more prolonged process, and other people’s opinions could have made a difference to the outcome. Ultimately I was in charge of the decision to send the horses on their final journey, but, having submitted planning applications, I had no control over what happened at all. Applying for planning consent is probably the most stressful thing I have ever done. I’m glad we did it though.

Hal and I have been lucky in the support we have had since we have been here. However, we haven’t had things handed to us on a plate. I truly believe that we wouldn’t have the support we do if we weren’t prepared to put in the graft. If something is important to you, then it’s worth the hard work.

5 years ago today, as we drove across Dartmoor in a snowstorm, little did we know that we were driving into the amazing dventure that the last 5 years have been. I love living here. My happiest times are when we are down on the yard. Yes, sometimes it feels like a struggle, and yes, sometimes I feel like I’m stood at the bottom of a mountain with only a very thin piece of rope to help me up to the top. However, these are just passing qualms. If you told me even 7 years ago that this is where I’d be I’d haved laughed at you. Living here is a privilege. Life is good. Here’s to the next 5 years. Bring it on.

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

Laying Down on the Jov

It turns out that Ben’s Mum, Helen, is a very good rider. She used to ride as a child and In her teens, but life, and motherhood, took her in a different direction. However, Ben’s interest has gradually lured her back into the saddle.. She began to have the occasional lesson with Melissa. Occasional morphed into regular. Then, a couple of months ago, she had a go on Breeze. . One go became two goes… Well, you get the picture. It’s a win win situation as far as I’m concerned. Helen gets to endulge her newly rekindled love for riding, Ben gets to share something with his Mum, and Breeze gets some much needed exercise. What’s not to like?

The trouble is, Breeze doesn’t see it that way. Vreeze is a real sweetie to handle, and, although she can be a dominant bossy boots towards other horses, doesn’t have a nasty bone in her body. However, she is very resourceful, has a will of iron, and, as far as she’s concerned, came here to retire. She also has a few tricks up her sleeve from her trekking centre days. I know from personal experience how easily she can slam herself into reverse, and how quickly she can go backwards.

So far Helen has been treated to; Breeze refusing to approach the mounting block. Helen took the block to Breeze instead.

Breeze going to the block, but then swinging her backside out just as Helen is on the point of mounting. Hellen is remarkably agile, and has mounted from all sorts strange angles. By and large Breeze now stands quietly at the block for Helen to mount..

Breeze is not above putting in the occasional fly buck. However, Helen always picks up on the massive, telegraph like signals that Breeze obligingly sends before doing it.

It really does seem that Breeze has to argue and complain as a matter of principle, but Helen is always ready with a counterargument; or at least it did until last weekend.

Last Saturday afternoon Breeze’s inventiveness surpassed all expectations. She stood to the mounting block nice and quietly whilst Helen got on and adjusted girth and stirrups. She then did some very nice work both in walk and trot, all the time with what seemed to be a happy relaxed smile on her face. Ben, slowing to halt, and looking like she might want to have a wee, she slowly and gracefully sank to the ground. Helen calmly stepped off her, expecting her to roll. Not a bit of it! Breeze just lay there with an expression on her face which clearly said “beat that!”.

Helen responded bye waiting for Madame to stand up, taking her back to the mounting block, and hopping on her from the strangest angle yet. She then made her to5 more minutes work, during which there were no more issues.

On Sunday Helen came and rode Breeze again and produced some of the best work they have ever done.

I truly believe that, whilst neither of them would admit it, they are both secretly enjoying the challenge.