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.

New YEAR fresh Start`

Happy New Year everyone!

Here we are then, January 1st 2019, and the world is full of possibility. Out with the old, good riddance, and in with the new. Bring it on! So what plans does everyone have for this year? Have you made any horsey. New Year resolutions?

I have lots of hopes for this year, lets face it I always do, but if I learnt anything from last years series of disasters, there are no guarantees. So this year, whilst, of course, I have made some New Year Resolutions, , when it comes to the horses and my riding , I have aspirations rather than fixed plans. Mind you, there are quite a lot of them.

1. Actually, this one is a resolution, and it will effect every part of my life. To lose weight and become fitter. For my health this is essential . I have never been so heavy, so unfit, or so unhealthy as I am right now. However, for my professional life it is essential too, I am not exactly a good advertisement for living the healthy lifestyle at the moment. I need to go back to practicing what I preach. In my defence, it has been a very difficult year, and self care has disappeared off the horizon completely. Not any more! In fact, away from the horses, this year is all about self care, and self love, I need to start looking after myself so I can look after everyone else. The horses will benefit as I become lighter, fitter, better balanced. It’s going to be hard worth, but I can’t see a down side really.

2. I’d like to do some very low level, very basic, dressage. I need to put some things in place, but potentially some unaffiliated and/or RDA /Para intro level competitions later in the year?

3. To keep Florence and Breeze healthy and happy, and in the best shape possible. Let’s face it, they are both 20 now. I suspect that Breeze may need to retire soon, she has a few issues after all. But , fingers crossed, Florence does seem to have plenty of life left in her yet. I love them both dearly, and the healthier and happier they are, the happier I am.

4. To go out into the world and be more out there in horsey society. This could be anything, but I’d particularly like to attend some of the stuff that the Riding Club put on. Let’s face it, I didn’t even get to the AGM last year.

5. To be more diligent about cleaning and looking after my tack and equipment. Let’s just say that standards have slipped recently.

6. To get back into having regular lessons. I was doing really well, but then life got in the way. I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys having lessons. I hope to be able to continue with Melissa, but I also want to get myself booked in somewhere to have some lunge lessons to help improve my seat, position and balance, but I need to lose a certain amount of weight first as I currently exceed most places upper weight limit.

7. To be better organised. Like the weight loss, this is something that will have an impact on the whole of my life. It’ll be a challenge though as I have very few natural organisational skills! However, possibly because last year was so disrupted, I have felt like I’ve been lurching around from one crisis to another and missing, or nearly missing important dates and deadlines. It’s not a good way to be.

8. To be more mindful. Again this is something that will influence my entire life, but when it comes to the horses, I mean that I intend to be there, in my entirety, in the moment, present, while I am riding and handling the horses, not just going through the motions while my mind is somewhere else stressing.

9. To continue to educate and inform the rest of the horsey world about Blind riders, our rights and capabilities, and to try to make the equestrian world more accessible and inclusive .

10. To be as supportive as possible to other equestrians, especially those who are new to the horse world, lack confidence, or for some reason find it difficult to fit in.

Hopefully it’s going to be a good year. The work starts today.

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

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!

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 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.

Day 18 – ‘Ere! Who are You Calling a Pumpkim? 😈

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.