Dear Santa

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Please and thank you.

If anyone else would like to own this fabulous creation, you can buy it here.  This fantastic retailer (I ordered this item at 1007 on Thursday, it arrived via standard mail – free delivery – at 1041 on Friday) are also registered with EasyFundraising, so your purchase can raise a free-to-you donation for a charity who are registered with them (I highly recommend Equine Partners CIC, but feel free to make your own choice).

End of PSA.

Wordless Wednesday: it’s here

Yes, I’m still processing this, but receiving confirmation that I passed my courses and am now a certified professional has helped.  Opening this envelope was a very proud moment.

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Finishing touches

With half an eye on the future, and potentially wanting to do some cross country riding again one day, I got a new jockey skull earlier this year.  Safety regulations currently state that riders are not allowed to wear helmets with fixed peaks when riding cross country (seems sensible to me), meaning my existing helmet wouldn’t be deemed roadworthy for that activity.

Although I don’t typically ride around looking at myself (I hate arena mirrors!), I’m quite vain when it comes to helmets, and fully believe that safety can also be stylish!  So I’ve been hunting high and low for the perfect cover for my skull cap.  When I was a child, I always wanted a traditional “proper” velvet hunting-style cap, so I wore my skull helmet with a black velvet cover on it and pretended I was a show jumping hero.  I kind of wanted a silk as a child too, but could never settle on a colour which I liked and matched myself and my trusty steed, so I stuck with the velvet.

I’m still in the position where I don’t have a horse of my own.  Prince’s halter is red, and he’s got a Western saddle which has a green pad with it (pretty mismatched, I know!).  We’ve pretty much settled on blue as the charity’s colours, and the bridle I bought a few years ago has blue crystals and a bit of blue leather piping (it’s mostly black leather), which made me think that blue could be the way forwards.  But I of course wanted a particular blue…

I trawled the trade stands at Hickstead, but could only find what I termed as “boring” blue silks (the very darkest navy, with the alternative being a Team GB one, though I haven’t earned the right in my eyes to even wear a replica one of those!), or ones which were a mixture of colours.  I’ve got a think about wearing too many colours: unless it’s a patterned fabric, you won’t see me wearing more than three colours at once and, in fact, I’ll normally wear a mix of two colours with perhaps different shades of each.  I don’t want to look like a children’s TV presenter!

I rejected everything I saw, and could feel my sister getting bored by my browsing, “In this day and age,” she moaned, “there must be somewhere you can get glittery ones.  That’s right up your street.”  My eyes lit up and my heart leapt at the thought.  My sister quickly regretted opening her mouth.

Sure enough, when we returned home, the internet quickly delivered.  But, again, I was dissatisfied.  Everything I found wasn’t quite right.  Until I found CustomXC, fiddled with their design tool and came out with my ultimate hat silk ordered.  It arrived whilst I was away, and upon my return I wriggled it onto my skull cap.  It’s just what I wanted, and I’m already dreaming of ordering a base layer and a soft shell jacket to complete the look, and give me all of the glittery matchy-matchy equipment I could dream of for my next trip thundering through a field of fences.  Whether I’m aboard Prince or another horse, I know I’ll be pleased with my look.

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I haven’t forgotten my promise to blog about my exploits on my recent equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) training course, it’s just not ready yet!  The EAGALA training was fantastic, but finished less than a week ago and was pretty intense.  I’m still processing the experience, and will bring you a full update on it ASAP.  Stay tuned…

Horse play

Back in the spring, when it was still raining buckets and summer seemed a distant dream, we decided that in addition to the open days, we’d run two play days at the stables.  These kind of events are pretty unique to the natural community, and definitely sound strange when I explain them to non-horse people, but to others they hopefully make a little more sense!

Essentially, they’re like playdates, but without babies and toddlers (children are welcome!) and with horses.  A host will volunteer themselves, round up their toys, create an obstacle course, perhaps throw in a small jumping arena, prepare a few cakes and invite humans and horses over to play.  As with all things natural horsemanship, the only limit is your imagination.  There may be friendly competitive elements, and people and horses of all abilities are welcome.  It’s a chance to meet like-minded people, get new ideas and hang out with some horses.

When we set the dates, Jo decided that she wanted me to feel comfortable to ride Prince if I wanted to.  I had 11 weeks to get ready, at which point I’d sat on him once.  It seemed a tall order.

Once I started working again, the time flew by and the date had suddenly arrived.  I’d ridden Prince only a handful of times with varying degrees of success.  I wasn’t too bothered, as the day after the play day, we had an instructor scheduled to come over and help us out with some lessons (brilliantly, she also came to the play day, off-duty and accompanied by her own green horse, which was great to watch).  So I walked into the play day with little expectation from Prince.  In fact, I thought I’d spend most of the day working or stewarding, rather than playing.

We helped our visitors to settle in, showed them around and left them to play, assisting when they wanted the clear round course changed or offering a score when they wanted to be judged on their abilities with the obstacle course.  We’d managed to come up with some inventive things: we’d built a small ball/sand pit for the horses to explore, created a “log walk” (designed to mimic the conditions you might meet out on a forest trail) and rigged up one of my favourite holiday souvenirs (a sheep bell from Greece) for people to park their horse next to and ring.  It’s all about figuring out what you and your horse can do, whether you do it online, at liberty or ridden.

Having watched our visitors get going, I was starting to itch for a play, so I retrieved Prince.  We got off to a terrible start: I had to walk him through the “warm up” field where some obstacles were laid out, and he took particular exception to an umbrella.  I honestly didn’t think I’d get him past it at first, and once I did, my game plan changed.  I spent some time grooming Prince and plaiting him up (even though I had no intention of riding) before taking him back to avenge the ghost that was the umbrella.

Some snorting ensued, and I almost had a 15hh, 550kg cob jump on top of me (not cool, I told him, as I promptly sent him back out into his own space, to prevent myself from being crushed).  It was Prince’s first experience of a play day too, and I was glad it was on his home turf, though it meant that home had changed significantly with the addition of lots of obstacles and some strange horses.  Fortunately, with a few clever games played, he settled quickly and soon touched the umbrella with his nose!  After he marched confidently through our “car wash” obstacle (which he’s seen and completed before – it’s a plastic frame with strips of fine plastic hanging from it which were blowing in the breeze), I knew he was ready to take on the new obstacles, so off we went to play.

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sand pit: no drama

Prince began to really impress me by staying relaxed and connected – nothing fazed him.  He happily tackled the sand pit (we think most of the horses were fooled into thinking that the balls were apples), successfully negotiated the log walk, weaved in and out of the straw bale squeeze with me stood on top of one (he wiggled all around in every direction I requested), and rang the bell using his nose!

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chilling in the hay

As we were working our way around, my brain was ticking over, and I wondered what would happen if I changed the game slightly… I tacked him up.  We tackled the obstacles from the ground: complete relaxation, no change in approach, no big deal for Prince.  So I fetched my helmet and climbed on.

Under saddle, I met more resistance, but only with open spaces.  If Prince had an obstacle in front of him, we were absolutely fine, and he did me proud.  Walking to and from the arena was different – all jolty stop-start gaits that I’ve experienced my last few rides, and I was glad our instructor was there to see what I meant!

The final challenge I gave Prince was a bit of a laugh – we tackled the clear round.  All of it was small enough to step over, or hop from a standstill.  I wasn’t expecting even a trot out of him, and sure enough he demolished most of it.  However, I did manage to get a trot going at one point, and the little horse surprised me yet again by rewarding me with two proper jumps!  Our friends who were watching cheered as if we’d slid down the Derby Bank and successfully cleared the rails at the bottom, and I suspect the grin on my face told the same story.  Prince and I received a rosette for our efforts, my first since I was a teenager!

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winning!

The day was an enormous boost to my confidence in terms of my relationship with Prince and what we might achieve.  No, we still haven’t been out on a hack (a lack of companion is partly what’s slowing us down there), but he remained calm and did everything I asked of him last weekend.  I really couldn’t have asked for more.  It felt like the holy grail of my horse saying, “the answer is ‘yes’, what was the question?”.

Six weeks until the next play day, and this time, I’ve got aspirations for an actual clear round…

Dreaming

The wait for my first horse continues.  I still haven’t even started saving yet, but the conversation over what kind I want is a frequent one between myself and a particular friend.  As I grew up staring goggle-eyed at my favourite event riders, my heart is still somewhat set on a big, shiny sport horse (Thoroughbred, Warmblood, Hanoverian, Trakehner… something with that kind of stamp to it has always been my fantasy).  They can be impractical, delicate creatures, because I would also like a horse who can be a horse: one who can cope with living out at least part-time year-round, who hopefully doesn’t need five rugs, and I’m quite keen on the idea of him being barefoot (curiously, the gender of my horse is the thing I get teased for the most – I’m absolutely determined not to have a mare, and my friend is now convinced that’s what I’ll get).

Rather than setting my heart on a colour, breed or age, I’m trying to consider what I’d like to do with my mythical horse.  Though “like” and “achieve” are clearly different things here.  I still quite like the idea of sailing around Badminton, but I have neither the talent nor guts, so I needed some other ideas.

“You know,” Jo said to me one day, “one of my friends describes her horse as a ‘performance trail horse’ – she can take him down any track and get through anything.  He’s just a really great horse for riding out.  There’s no shame in that.  There doesn’t have to be a goal.”

And I was sold.  Because, although horses are my future career, does it really have to be super-technical all the time?  Is it not supposed to be about what I enjoy the most?  And if that is simply to be able to see over hedges and not have my horse fly sideways if a bird pops out at him, is there a problem?

Then Jo sealed the deal by showing me this:

Done.  Sign me up.  But, oh, the internet is a dangerous thing, because another friend showed me this:

At this point, I’ll throw in that I don’t condone the helmetlessness of these riders, and that I fully intend to continue wearing my helmet (I see no problem with dressing up and putting a wig on top of my helmet to complete any appropriate look!).  But Western riding is so much more than I ever gave it credit for.  Laura Sumrall’s ride has gone somewhat viral.  The thing I took away from watching further videos of that particular competition was the parallels to freestyle dressage, but the huge differences – how great is it that the crowd get to cheer, and show their appreciation during the performance?!  You can see horse and rider lift themselves when they get that feedback, and they look so excited, rather than stiffly focused as riders often do during a Kur.  Riding is fun!  If we look like we’re enjoying ourselves, how many more people might we inspire to take up the reins?

So much like the eyebrows which go up when you see a coloured horse or pony glide into the dressage arena in a perfect extended trot, I may well garner some surprised looks if freestyle reining makes it to the UK and I perform a sliding stop on either my current ride (a 15hh Irish cob who looks like he’s the horse from Disney’s Brave) or my hypothetical future ride (a 17hh European sport horse), that’s something that I think would be a lot of fun.  As well as being to ride him out with the peace of mind that, if something does surprise us, we’ll cope and carry on.  Or that we’ll go backwards across a wobbly bridge without a bridle.  Or that, like the man in the video below, I won’t need a step ladder (because I’m horrible at taking leg ups) to mount my horse bareback:

For now, it’s time to step away from the internet before I get too many ideas…

Progress

It’s poor form for a blogger to take an unannounced hiatus, but it had to be done.  My life is still pretty unremarkable, in that the debacle with my new job failing to be able to give me a start date rumbles on, so my days are actually startlingly empty, but that perhaps is an explanation for the impetus to blog being lacking!  Not that I intend to blog a lot about my day job when it finally starts, but when you have very little going on, motivation towards other things tends to drop too, and that’s the hole I fell into.

Happily, the equine side of my life is only getting busier.  This continues to shock me, as well as delighting me: when I chose to stick in the UK for the year, I didn’t think I’d get this far with what I’m trying to do, but circumstances have dictated that I’m suddenly heavily involved in a project I really enjoy!

During my time away from the blog, the charity I’m working with have scheduled their events for the summer, which sort of means I’m a little bit out of retirement.  We’re running two open days in June, and two play days (one in July, the other in August) – those are exactly as they sound, a toddler-style play date, except we bring our horses and play horse games rather than bringing children!  Well, children may well come with their ponies, and some of our kids on our programmes will hopefully be in attendance, but it’s about playing games with your horse and having fun with friends.  And eating cake.  Because, why not?

So preparations are well underway for those, with me busily contacting media outlets (if you’d like to cover our events, please let me know!) and getting quotes for branded t-shirts and proofreading our new website (hopefully coming very soon).  And on top of that, I’ve still been trying to get to the yard twice each week in order to help with sessions and develop the horses.  Then around all of those things I eat, sleep and try to maintain a social life without an income – it’s a tough job sometimes!

One of the constants in my life since November has been my work with Prince.  The initial reason for me being asked to ride him (because that’s always been the intention, I’ve mostly been unable to due to our lack of riding surface over the winter) was that he’s a horse who needs to be in work, but his owner has taken a hit to her confidence.  Prince therefore underwent a full re-start with a Parelli instructor, then was handed back to us to continue with his journey.  As the winter trundled on and I wasn’t able to ride, we all doubted the timing of the re-start, pretty much wishing it had been left until the Spring, so that I could then retain the momentum which went with it, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!  Instead, I plugged on with what I was able to do, which was lots and lots of ground work.

The ground work has improved enormously with the recent beautiful weather – I’ve been able to work for longer periods outside with him on a longer line (you really are limited with what you can do when you’ve got an anxious horse who has a huge capacity for work on a short rope), and a few weeks ago, my friend’s bareback pad was duly retrieved so that we could build up to getting him back under saddle.  Despite having had nothing around his (massive) belly since early November, Prince reacted well to the cinch and bareback pad, and I carried on for a few sessions, waiting for the saddle to also be produced from storage.

That happened last weekend, and I got a refresher lesson in tacking up – Prince’s saddle is a Western one, and much fancier than the ones I’ve used at camp!  It’s got lots of latigos (leather strings which are used for tying all of your kit to your saddle… I assume for cowboys, this is things like tents.  I see them as useful for hooking up things like my lunch) and a breastplate (I’ve never fitted an English one, nevermind a Western one).  And we didn’t have Prince’s proper cinch, so it took a bit of adjusting to use the one we had, but the intention wasn’t to ride, so I wasn’t bothered about it being perfect and rideable, I just wanted him to wear the saddle and be comfortable in it, then put him away again.

The biggest challenge was swinging the saddle on from the off side!  It’s the Western way, because you have more stuff attached to that side of the saddle, so to swing the cinch, breastplate and other detachable bits over the horse doesn’t make sense.  I’ve got a great rhythm and muscle memory for swinging Western saddles on from the near side, but it’s weird to reverse the action.  So that took two attempts.  Fortunately, Prince is only 15 hands, so it’s less height to have to throw it than some of the 16.2 hand horses from camp, but I’m definitely out of practice!  The best news is that he reacted well to being saddled again, so off we went to do some work.

It’s probably the best session Prince and I have ever had.  From the word go, he was relaxed and connected, giving me what I asked for and showing some confidence.  Although my plan hadn’t been to ride, it felt right to hop on for a few minutes, so with a little help from Jo to play around with me stood on the mounting block, I soon got on.  I took my time, having Prince relax by the mounting block and rubbing him all over before mounting up – and when I did, I took the time to hang over the saddle and rub him again before swinging my leg over and settling down.  Almost as soon as my backside hit the saddle, he blew out and relaxed – Jo and I almost cheered.

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I had Prince amble across the field in his halter, asked him to back up, requested a bit of lateral flexion, posed for some pictures and then dismounted again.  We got a highly positive five minutes of saddle time – another building block on the way to future success, and the first time in 2015 that I’ve sat on a horse!  It was a long wait, but now we have a new target in our sights: 12 July sees us host our first play day at the yard, and I may even be so bold as to ride him in neither a bridle nor a halter…

Phase four

“It’s okay,” they said, “we understand that sometimes you have to go to phase four.”  Prince and I got a workout in last week, and I had some questions.  Namely: “has it got to the point where he’s now taking the mickey out of me?” and “am I reading this correctly?” (the answer to both was yes).

The session led me to notice a few things: Prince has got to the stage where he’s confident enough to push me – he learns quicker than I do, and figured out that if he does a certain thing, I interpret it in a certain way and go easy on him.  So that has to stop, and the new habits start this week – he’s become bolder, so I have to change my behaviour too.  I’m guilty of being told something and holding onto that knowledge, rather than watching things change and coming up with a new strategy.  I also need to try more things: I sort of learned this a few weeks ago when it became apparent that we were both a bit bored, but it’s also the case with developing our language, the way we communicate with each other.  I have my own natural gestures and body language, but sometimes he doesn’t get it.  So it’s time to invent more words.

The good news is that he’s become much more connected to me, and that’s partly down to the fact that he has to be, because I’m mixing it up more.  We most commonly play the circling game, because it’s what he needs to improve his confidence (and, these days, take responsibility for himself), but I’ve recently added a lot more yo-yo… as the send part of circling game is the same as the beginning of a yo-yo game, he has to pay more attention, rather than assuming I’m going to put him on a circle.  Last week, it got to the point where I was using tiny gestures to get what I wanted, and had his ear the entire time.  He looked more genuinely curious and engaged, which was a relief to me – I don’t think he considers me to be a fun partner most of the time, so it’s nice to see those moments.

And all of this got me thinking about what it’s like to work with someone else’s horse.  It’s not the first time I’ve done it, through one scenario or another, but I don’t consider myself qualified to really do so.  I don’t, after all, have any equestrian qualifications to my name, all I have is the fact that I can (mostly) stay on a horse.  That said, there’s a difference between being a paid professional and being a friend who helps out or is offered the gift of free rides.  I’ve always fallen into the latter category – I’ve never undertaken or sought paid roles in terms of exercising or training horses, so does that mean I am entitled to feel less duty-bound?  I don’t think it does.

Any horse person will tell you that horses are precious.  We spend a lot of time and money on them, they are meant to bring us happiness and fulfilment.  Handing over your horse’s lead rope or reins to someone else is like asking someone to help you raise your children – it takes a phenomenal amount of trust and there can be a lot of pressure to do things exactly as the owner would like to do it themselves, and not to outdo the owner.

My first experience with riding someone else’s horse came when I was about 14: the owner had recently had a baby and kept her horse at home.  Her friend, who lived along the same rode had bought a pony for her own daughter, who was only little and so the pony needed more exercise – enter my sister to hack out the pony, and me to ride the horse.  My sister and I hacked out together regularly for a summer, with the two women riding out occasionally on weekdays when both had horses available.  When I arrived to hack out one morning, the mare’s owner commented that she’d hopped on for a toddle out with her friend that week to find her horse really striding out and marching along, when the mare was normally a little lazy and she and her friend usually just ambled around the lanes a bit aimlessly.

“Sorry,” I winced, “force of habit, I like whatever I’m riding to be doing something, and working actively even if we are hacking.”

“Oh no, it’s absolutely fine,” the owner replied.  “I’d like her to be back in proper work, so thank you for getting her going, it was just a shock!”

I hadn’t realised I’d been quite so forceful with the horse, and I’d certainly never asked her to do anything she was incapable of.  But it was a lesson in the fact that I was perhaps more capable than I knew, and that I had to remember I wasn’t riding my own horse…

These days, I definitely worry about getting it wrong with someone else’s horse.  Which is funny, because it’s actually quite hard to do given that I’m mostly supervised and very well-supported.  But I’m acutely aware that it’s not my horse, and how much he means to the people who are responsible for him.  Getting to do the work that I do and aiming for the goal we have in mind is fantastic experience for me, and it all means that I don’t feel the need to be rushing out and buying a horse of my own – I’m in a very fortunate position that I have a horse who I’m not responsible for financially or on a day to day basis, but who I have access to and permission to work with.  And yet something still holds me back.  Would I still have these insecurities with my own horse?  Probably.  But if I got something wrong with my own, I think there’d be less guilt – I’d feel bad for the horse that I messed up, but I’d know that it just meant it were my responsibility to correct whatever I’d done, no matter how big or small.  When someone else is involved, it’s another person to have been let down.  And that’s another lesson to learn.

Riders, owners, trainers: how do you cope with both responsibility and relinquishing it?  Do you prefer to work in collaboration with the owner/rider or work alone in order to get things ready for them?

Turning ten

When you grow up as a typical “girly girl” who appreciates the shiny things in life and have a magazine journalist for an auntie, it’s sort of inevitable that you’ll inhale glossy publications alongside your daily dose of oxygen.  I’m choosy about my literature these days, but there was no way I was leaving one of my favourites on the newsstand last month when I saw that it was said publication’s tenth anniversary edition.

As I flipped through my copy of Grazia once I got home, the articles got me thinking – something I suspect Jane Bruton and her team will be proud of – about how, in a way, I too am 10 this year.  I turn 28 this week, which means I am 10 years an adult.  If I’m honest, I wasn’t part of Grazia’s true demographic when it launched, but I read it anyway, as there was occasionally a beauty product featured which I could afford.  The greater relevance I saw of this magazine 10 years ago was that it was an insight and guide to the life I would soon be living – would, not might, because I was certain that I’d be a high-flying career girl before I was 30 – and so I’d better know what I should be doing.

Grazia is still one-of-a-kind, a lone weekly glossy among the gossip magazines on the same cycle.  When it launched, the strapline was “a lot can happen in a week”, and now here I am, reading the tenth anniversary issue and being reminded that an awful lot can happen in a decade.  When I flicked through the first edition of Grazia, aged 18, I still harboured dreams of being a journalist: I’d applied to journalism degrees – and got rejected by the universities – and had no backup plan.  I sat my A levels that summer with no idea what would happen afterwards, other than that I was booked in to hospital to have surgery on my back, and that I had no true idea of how long it would be until I felt “normal” again (answer: approximately nine weeks, which is when I first swung myself back into a horse’s saddle – don’t try that at home unless your surgeon gives you permission, kids).

And change absolutely became the theme of my decade: every time I thought I had things figured out, organised and handled, life would shift again.  Sometimes, that meant sending out yet another job application, or looking for a new place to live.  On other occasions, it was about handing my notice in and booking a flight in order to start the next stage of my life.  And most of the time, I felt like I was failing: people are very conscious of what they don’t have, and we live in an age where we constantly compare ourselves to others.  When people around me, from cousins to colleagues, were busy doing very grown up things like settling down and buying homes and climbing the career ladder, I was, at best, going sideways, and horrifyingly occasionally going backwards.  I felt like a bit of a loser in the game that is life.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Twice, I’d sat down and mapped it all out, putting together my grand plan of how I’d take on the world and win.  In the earlier one, I was at the very least married and a home-owner by now, and I was definitely winning in the career stakes.  It’s taken me a long time to learn that goals are fine, and even achievable, but big grand plans to conquer the world and having your life mapped out year by year?  Not so realistic.  And although it’s happened to us in different ways, I’m not the only person I know who’s come to this realisation.

Friends of mine have said premature goodbyes to family members, or seen their own lives overtaken by illness.  Others have supported partners through redundancy or grief.  Some have picked up and moved to the other side of the world, thriving in their new surroundings.  And others have stuck to the traditional dream and plan of buying a home, getting married and, no doubt filling their lives with children.  I don’t have any of the traditional elements of an adult life – my first career is behind me and my second is only now starting to take shape; I haven’t even started saving for a home of my own, nevermind actually picking up the keys to it; wedding and baby plans also aren’t on the horizon (though that I’m more than happy with) – but thankfully, I also haven’t experienced the reality of other adult issues.

When I thought about what I haven’t done in order to craft this post and report on my first decade as an adult, I began to feel pretty despondent, like I didn’t have much to show for myself.  So I started to think about what I have done, rather than what I haven’t done, aided in part by a friend’s theory that our five years post-university are the times when we go through the greatest personal change, or rather, they’re our actual growing up years.  A bit like the common wisdom that you truly learn to drive after passing your driving test.

If my baby adult decade were put together in a highlights package, what would they look like?  I had the driving thing nailed already, but in terms of everything else…

  • I got my degree. It felt like a minor miracle (especially having almost fallen asleep whilst standing up when waiting for my dissertation to be bound – don’t try and write it in four days)
  • I went on holiday by myself. There were strangers when I got there, almost all of whom weren’t alone – my first lesson in adventure and being bold
  • I worked, and climbed, and fell… and got back up again. Essentially, I persevered.  Until I felt I could no longer…
  • …and then I came up with yet another plan. Except, with the realisation that the previous plans hadn’t worked, I settled on an idea and allowed it to flourish
  • I lived and worked in another country. I made friends there.  I explored, on a shoestring and by the seat of my pants sometimes.  Which means I observed my comfort zone a few times (from a cosy distance)

I don’t have a house, husband or horse (still.  Guess which one of those annoys me the most?), but I do have stories to tell and lessons learned, the biggest one being that if a lot can happen in a week, good luck on guessing what can happen in a decade.  I’m making no bets on the next ten years, and I’m making the shortest plan I’ve ever had: I’m dedicating my time to being happy.  Because I’m not interested in just ticking boxes any more.

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the degree: graduating in 2010

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the career: I’ve never forgiven that stranger in the background for mugging. Or myself for not learning sooner that day five of an event requires more makeup than I was wearing

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the adventure: South Africa and going it alone…until I got hold of a horse

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the unknown: living and working somewhere different. With different people. And doing something different

 

 

 

 

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For one reason and another, Prince and I hadn’t worked together for almost two weeks.  When I arrived at the yard last week, I almost cried with joy: there were no puddles in the lane; the passage between the lane and the yard was no longer a thick and muddy mess; the field was even starting to look… dry.  January was full of hope for me: there’s no arena at the yard, so the horses have had the winter off from ridden work (non-ridden therapy sessions for clients continue, and I’ve been doing ground work with Prince), and they’ve lived out together in a ten acre field.  But things looked good in January – it had been a very dry winter, the field was looking great… and then February happened.  February felt like April, meaning that I could probably count the non-rainy days on the fingers of one hand.  We’ve still been fairly lucky – there were few days where all I’ve done is stare at a sheet of rain, but it’s been more than enough to completely soak our clay-based fields, and got me thinking that I’d be lucky to saddle up before the end of April, when I’d been hoping to ride in March.

So to see no puddles and far less mud (and that when I did walk on the mud, I didn’t sink into it, that it’s started to solidify)… I almost threw myself face down onto the field to sob in joy.  But I restrained myself.  Instead, I fed the horses and set to work.

Thursday was a weird day: it’s normally a busy one full of therapy sessions, but the good weather meant less moving around in order to work indoors, so my assistance wasn’t as vital.  Plus we had an additional volunteer on hand for the day.  So I was able to get some time in with Prince.  I decided that the best thing to do was still work him in the already-torn up ten acre, rather than the nicely drying paddocks, so I collected my kit and headed out for business as usual.

As it had been a while, I decided to start with him on a 12-foot line… big mistake – it’s definitely spring!  Prince is a heavy cob and almost wrenched my arm from it’s socket with his enthusiasm, so I quickly took advantage of what he was offering me and swapped to the 22-foot line, as I like my arms attached to my body.  Whereas I can sometimes struggle to get him to volunteer a trot, he was giving me big canters – and the odd cheeky buck – so I was kept on my toes (good job they weren’t sunk into the mud!).

Prince feeling the effects of spring grass was nice enough, but what really surprised me after a two week break was how he reacted when he got stuck.  In order to establish his trust in me, we mainly stick to one game, and during the last few times I’ve played it outdoors with him on the long line, he’s gone for a certain length of time before getting stuck.  My friend refers to it as him being out on the edge of a cliff, and he’s waiting to see if I’ll throw him over it or let him come back to me.  Of course, I always do the latter: it’s almost as if he’s a computer who suddenly gets overloaded and has to process a few things before he remembers that we’re attached, looks to me for an instruction and listens to me again, rather than being stuck inside his own head.

Previously, he’s stood on the edge of the cliff for a good few minutes before giving me an ear or dropping his head, taking a breath and appearing ready to move on.  Last week, I don’t think he was even stood for 30 seconds, before his ear flicked round, I pointed and he contentedly walked off.  So it took him far less time to recover, and a much softer signal to the one I usually have to give.  And it happened twice.  Had it happened once without a witness, I probably wouldn’t have believed it happened at all, but as it is, I’m really pleased with his progress.

What with the weather improving and Prince having more confidence in me – and me also having a little more in myself – it feels like a matter of time before the saddle will get dusted off and we’ll have a whole load of other challenges to work through.  If anyone needs me, I’ll be Googling for rituals to bring on the fair weather.

All angles

In my attempt to make a decision on how to spend my year, I’ve had heart to hearts with friends, made a pros and cons matrix (a list would be far too simplistic), drunk a lot of wine and noted the things I’d like to achieve in either situation (improvements I could make, procedures I could implement, and fun things I could do).

It got to the point that I’d agonised so much that I just wanted it all to be over, and one of my closest friends demanded that I just pick, because the whole thing was clearly making me uncomfortable.  I’d lost count by this point of the amount of people who told me to flip a coin or pick one option out of a hat, and that my reaction to that game of chance would tell me how I really felt.  Unfortunately, my brain is not so easily fooled – there really is nothing in it when it comes to this contest.  I’ve got two great options to choose from, both beneficial to my future, both things I’ll enjoy doing, and both opportunities which of course have down sides.

And then I received a truly great piece of advice.  “Which one frightens you most?” a friend asked.  I answered quickly.  “That’s your answer,” she smiled.

She had a point.  We finished our cups of tea, trudged through a muddy field and returned with two horses to work, and I mulled it over some more.

As I played with the horse, a lightbulb flickered into life.  I was wrong about which choice really scared me.  It wasn’t that the answer I’d given was wrong, just that it, in reality, is mildly less scary than the other choice.  I figured out that I was scared of both, for different reasons (of course).

And again, the waters were muddied…