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.

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.

The Dilemma

, So, it’s Saturday afternoon. You bought your horse in from the field at about 10:30 that morning, but decided not to ride until late because of the weather being too hot. When you bought her in she was perfectly sound, but now you’ve tacked up, mounted up, taken three strides, and can’t ignore the fact that she is hopping lame. So now you have the dilemma. .having gone back to the stable, untacked, and done a fingertip search of her legs and feet, it’s clear that she’s very lame, but there’s no obvious cause. You think you should get the vet out, but it’s coming on 5p.m., now, it’s Saturday, and your vet is on emergency call outs only. What should you do?

Is this really an emergency? Yes, there’s obviously something wrong. However, your horse is bright, interested, eating, and full of cheek.

Just very, very lame. All those magazine articles that you have read, and all those Vet Talks you have attended over the years, in which the message is very clear, “if in doubt get the vet out”, run through your mind; But then though, you vividly remember the times you have been stood in the stable with a desperately sick horse watching the clock till the vet arrives. This is not one of those times. What to do for the best?

You could turn her out, and observe her, then call the vet out on Monday if she’s no better. She is very lame though, so something is definitely wrong. After all this is the first time she’s ever been lame since you’ve had her, and she must be in pain. What if you leave it until Monday, and the vet says, you should’ve called us sooner, we could’ve done something then?

This was the quandary I found myself In yesterday with Florence. I did call the vet to ask their advice, expecting them to tell me to do something to tide us over and that they would come and see her on Monday. In fact, because she was lame in walk, they decided it would be a good idea to come and take a look at her Then . However, The poor emergency weekend duty vet, was having such a busy day, that she didn’t actually get to us until gone 10 o’clock last night! She was exhausted!

The vet is of the opinion that Florence is lame on her front right leg. However, like me, she was unable to find an obvious seat of pain. Therefore, she has prescribed a short course of anti-inflammatories, and asked me to keep her on box rest for a few days. Hopefully that’ll do the trick. This means that, as Madame gets very upset when she’s left in the stable on her own for any length of time, Breeze is confined to barracks as well. .

. Mind you, when I went to feed them first thing this morning, there couldn’t have been two more content horses.

I had a lesson booked on Tuesday, and was planning on entering my first ever on-line Dressage competition next week.

Oh well, the best laid plans. So long as it really is nothing serious.

Taking Stock.

It’s incredible to think that last week marked the 4th Anniversary of Magnum and Sapphire joining us here. What an adventure the last 4 years have been! I still have to pinch myself from time to time to make sure this is really happening. OK, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, sadly Magnum, Sapphire and Leonie have all taken their final journey, now it’s Florence and Breeze who greet me in the mornings, but, whisper it quietly, I’ve never been so happy..

Flo and Breeze seem very settled and content, and, again whisper it quietly, are glowing with health.. We must be doing something right.

Hal and I have started to have lessons at home. Having our own school is a blessing. However, do to Breezes propensity for laying down on the job, we are both riding poor, long suffering, Florence. . We’ve had two lessons so far. It was supposed to be more, but a stupid tandem accident, and the uncharacteristically hot weather (this is Devon in July, it’s supposed to be raining, not wall-to-wall sunshine and 28°), have been cramping our style for the last couple weeks. However, Hal is already trotted Florence, whilst I am working towards doing my first online dressage competition.

Despite her evident lack of desire to do any work, Breeze is proving to be a total sweetheart. She is lovely to handle on the ground, and has the kind of personality which makes it very difficult to get cross with when she is messing around. She’s a gentle soul and very easy to love.

Since Leo left us, quite a few people seem to have an opinion as to whether or not we are going to get another horse, or even whether we should. Some people asked the question. Other people tell us what we should or shouldn’t do. . Although I have to admit that it annoys me when, without being asked, people presume to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, I am touched that so many people care. Yes, there will be another horse. As long as I am able to look after them properly, there will always be another horse. Mot yet though. Mostly because we can’t afford it right now, but also because, despite what Breeze might say, both our girls are rideable, so we don’t need another riding horse. Sadly, Hal’s back problem prevents him riding as much as we anticipated he would, and if truth be told, the whole Leonie situation has seriously damaged his already fragile confidence.

Florence and Breeze are an easy going pair, and for now Hal and I are just enjoying having these two lovely mares in our lives. Who knows what the future holds? For now I’m quite content with what the present has to offer.

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.

Something New Every Day

A wise man, or indeed it could have been a wise woman, once said that you never stop learning where horses are concerned. How right they were.

Two weeks ago I finally started having lessons again. At the moment I’m going over to Melissa’s and having lessons on dear old Goldie. , but I intend to start having lessons on Florence soon, she just needs to be a bit fitter. . She’s not the only one!

One of the great things about Melissa is her open mindedness. I’m not sure if she’s ever net anyone who is blind before me, let alone give them riding lessons, but that hasn’t stopped her pushing me. She’s even had me jumping!

This week we introduced my Riding School mount, a rather gorgeous 16hh Palomino mare called Goldie, to my Talking Letters. Bless her, she didn’t turn a hair. It must be very confusing for a horse, suddenly being inside a ring of visembodied human voices, all shouting letters at the top of their voice. Frankly it amazed that any horse will put up with it. While Breeze won’t even enter the school with them running quietly, it seems that Florence, and mow Goldie, are prepared to give it a go. This means that I cam concentrate on what me and my mount are actually doing, rather than worry about where we ‘re going quite so much.

I’ve had another new horsey experience this week too, but this time with Florence. Bizarrely, despite having had Flo for 2 1/2 years now, and even though this area could rightly be described as horse infested, I have never yet another horse while out riding Flo. Until Saturday that is. . So, when, on Saturday, Hal told me that we were about to pass to who were approaching us, I had no idea Florence was going to react. So I sat up, gathered up my Reims, put my leg on, and said “Good girl, walk on!”. I needn’t have worried. Bless her, she just carried on as if they weren’t there. Now even dear old Magnum would have let me down in the circumstances. He would always walk past the other horses, then when my guard was down, throw in a U-turn, and start walking behind them.

. It didn’t how prepared I was, or how hard I tried to ride him forward, when 16.3hh of ex riding school, Irish Draught, decides it’s time to joithe back of the ride, there’s nothing 5ft 3 of overweight, under fit blimd can do about it. You can take the horse out of the Riding school, but you can’t take the Riding school out of the horse. It could be a bit embarrassing really.

We met them again later. This time in a much narrower lane. Once again Florence was the epitome of politeness. She’s such a lovely horse..,n

The Beast is Back

I’m really losing the will to live. So far , in every aspect, this year has been a total … I actually can’t think of a printable word to describe it. I feel like all I’ve done this year is run round after other people, done the right thing, been sensible, been understanding, put others first,been the bigger person. In return I’ve made to feel like some kind of evil ,selfish bitch. I’ve lost a horse, and I’ve hardly had any time for the others. When I have had time to ride it’s either chucked it down with rain, howled with rain, or snowed!

Florence and Breeze didn’t cope very well with losing Leo. All Friday after she was collected, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday, they just kept calling and calling for her. It was totally heart rending to hear. By mid week they begun to relax again, and yesterday Hal so then eating from the same hey Kyle. Something that has hitherto been unheard-of.

The weather has actually been very nice this week, okay a bit damp, but there has been some warm sunshine, and it’s actually felt like spring be around corner. Perhaps I might be able to start doing things for me, spending some quality time with horses, having some nice hacks out, and maybe start having lessons again? No not a chance! It hasn’t stopped snowing since yesterday lunchtime. It’s a total whiteout out there. It’s back to stumbling around in the W and hauling water to the stables. Frankly I feel like it’s not worth trying to achieve anything.it either goes wrong or gets thrown back I’m your face.as far as I’m concerned this year can just do one.