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 manège, 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.

4 Years!

It’s 4 years ago today that Hal, Quincey and I moved to Albert’s Bungalow. 4 Years! In many ways it feels like we’ve always been here, but in many ways it also feels like we’ve only been here 5 minutes.

I still love living here . I still think this is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever beeen. No, it’s not perfect, but nowhere is. Yes, there are some challenges, but isn’t overcoming challenges what makes life interesting? OK, in an ideal world a couple extra acres of grazing and some off road riding wouldn’t go amiss, but now I’m being greedy.

I still have to pinch myself regularly. My own little yard, and now with my own school – your having a laugh aren’t you?

I’m definitely living the dream.

Don’t give up on yours

Menege of Dreams

The school is built – and it’s brilliant!

I can not recommend M&S Plant Hire, from Ashwater, Devon highly enough! By the way, they’re nothing to do with the well known high street retailer with the same initials, or, or at least, I don’t think so. The man who did the lions share of the work, Mark, is one of the hardest working, and most conscientious people I have ever met. . . He didn’t just go the extra mile, he went whole extra marathon.

Got a little bit of cosmetic work to do, but the school is ready for use.

So today we introduced the horses to it. We didn’t do much, just walked them round a couple of times on each rein, just to get a feel, and a smell of, the place. The school is surfaced with sand and chopped rubber, and at the moment it does smell quite strong. All of them took to it really well, and Florence has the dubious honour of being the first to poo in it..

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get to ride in it. I couldn’t be happier

3 years!

I’m a bit late writing this. I’m struggling a bit at the moment. I have absolutely no idea why. Anyway…

Last Tuesday, 30th May, was the 3rd anniversary of us coming here!

3 years!

So where did that go then? In many ways it feels like the last 3 years have flown by. In a strange, and very good way though, it feels like we’ve always been here. .

So, I’m reflection would I change anything? Well yes. A couple of extra acres wouldn’t go amiss. I’ve blogged before about how we horse owners are never happy with the amount of grass we have. . We never actually meant to have 4 horses though, so really only have enough room for 3. We wouldn’t be without any of them though.

Another thing I’d do something about if I had a magic wand is the lack of off-road riding around here. There are a couple of bridlepaths, but you need to do a lot of road work to get to them, and then they just link 1 road to another. We’re lucky, our 2 rideable horses are both rock solid in traffic. Sadly though, it seems that many drivers haven’t got a clue how to drive around horses. It would be a real benefit them, if there was somewhere a bit closer where we could get off the road.

My magic wand could also sort out Hal’s back for him. He’s in a lot of pain, and it’s getting him down.

Would I want to be anywhere else? Absolutely not! This is a lovely village full of good people. I love it here. This is home.

Rocking Hors Poo & Hens Teeth

Things are good at the moment. Although Sapphire is still slightly lame, she seems happier in herself, and all the others are in rude health. . Florence seems to be responding well to her medication, although she seems reluctant to start shedding her coat. She had blood taken again last week, and we’re waiting to hear if her ACTH levels have dropped. She’s certainly peeing and sweating less..
Breeze is doing well too. It’s like a knob has been turned in her head, and the stress and anxiety has been turned down. . She’s beginning to be interested in things, not scared of them..
On top of all this, Hal is talking about getting back in the saddle!

So with all this positive energy around, my desire to go further, both geographically and activity wise, with my riding, is increasing. I have now become classified as a blind rider through British blind sport, and I’m in the process of getting that recognised by the Riding for the disabled Association, with a view to doing some level RDA dressage. I would also really like to take part in some of the clinics that my local riding club hold. However I have hit a small problem. Well actually, quite a large one. I intend to start having lessons again soon. I want to go back to Melissa as she is such a brilliant teacher, but I also want to start having lessons on Florence. However something that was really holding me back last year in my lessons, was my inability to see the dressage markers around the arena. Let’s face it, I can’t actually see the horse that I’m sitting on. I really feel that this is holding me back, and it’s certainly going to prevent me from proceeding further with my dressage ambitions. You cannot possibly cross the school accurately KXM if you don’t know where K or M actually are. Also, if I am going to take part in any kind of clinic, I need to be able to orient my way around the school. I need to find a way of making the dressage markers audible to me. I have asked the Riding for the disabled Association for their advice, but they’re rather on helpful and practical solution was to have 8 people standing at the markers calling out The letters as you approach them. Oh that’s easy then, because obviously I have8 people hanging around with nothing better to do than wait for me to get onto horse so they can stand outside shouting letters. Yeah right. Actually, I have used this system in the past, and it is excellent, because you only get the letters if you need.. However it presumes that you will only ride in organised large groups, or on large commercial yards, where there are plenty of staff and volunteers to hand. It doesn’t take into account the requirements of loner Mavericks like me. Many years ago I belonged to something that called its self The Blind Riders Group. Sadly it is now defunct. Every year they used to have what they called aBRIDGE event where blind and visually impaired riders of all ages and abilities, got together for riding tuition stable management tuition and a dressage competition. They used the people around the arena method, but they also had what they called ‘Talking Lettdrs’. This was a system of what were essentially old fashioned tape recorders, each placed at a marker, each with a continuous loop recording of their respective letter. At the time I hated them because they were so loud. What I wouldn’t give to be able to get my hands on a set now! You would think that there was an obvious need for some kind of sound beacon to make life easier for us blind types. Something robust and portable that could be put somewhere so, when you turn it on it makes some kind of noise, so you can hear where it is, and make your way back to it. How many uses could something like that be put to? No such thing appears to exist. . I’ve experimented with some PIR doorbell type things, but they have not proved to be at all reliable. So now I’m looking for cheap, I need 8 of them after all, continuous loop recorders. Rocking horse poo anyone?

The other thing I am trying to find, and that is proving just as elusive, is some off road riding locally. There are 1 or2 bridlepaths in the area, but these are few and far between. There is also some amazing forestry, moorland,and beaches, that would be easily access a ball if we had a horsebox. However in the immediate locale we have only road riding. Actually the roads around here are fairly quiet rural lanes, and both Florence and Breeze are as rock solid in traffic as a horse can be. However as the holiday and at silage making seasons approach, it would be much safer, and more relaximg, to be able to get off the roads a bit more. It would be better for Hal’s anxiety levels too. One of the local yards has very kindly offered us the use of their schooling area, and we will certainly be taking them up on this, but what we really want is some leisurely off-road hacking. Hens teeth would be easier to come bye.

Hal and I have just got back from checking out a place that someone told us about. Again though there
Is a lot of road work involved before getting there. What a beautiful spot tough! We walked there with the dogs today. Definitely going back on horseback.