Shopping and a show

For the first time in a very long time (so long that I can’t bear to work it out), I went to the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead.  When I was little and we first moved to Sussex, our parents took their horse-mad girls for the day out a few years in a row – we had moved to an area which involved an international showjumping venue being on our doorstep, and I’m very lucky that our parents took advantage and, in addition to ferrying us to and from the stables year-round so that we could ride, they also endured blazing sun and sideways summer rain so that we could fill our boots with live, professional action once a year.  If medals were handed out for parenting…

Hickstead has hosted two international showjumping meetings since the dawn of time: the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) and the Derby.  Traditionally, the Derby was held in August, and RIHS in July, until about 15 years ago when the Derby got unceremoniously shunted to August thanks to broadcasting conflicts.  The Hickstead Derby is infamous – to me, it’s the summer version of Olympia’s Puissance.  As a child, I dreamed of sliding down the Derby bank atop a powerful horse, landing perfectly, seeing the ideal stride and sailing over the impossibly-close fence at the bottom, then completing a dream-like run through the venue’s other permanent bogey fence, Devil’s Dyke.  Of course, the reality is that I have neither the guts nor talent, but I did walk the course as a child, completely in awe of the fences.

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The Derby Bank – this is the “easy” side. It’s enormous. Perhaps one day I’ll do a post telling the full story!

So the Derby is The One.  It is on my doorstep.  And I was working on the day it was held this year.  So I settled for using one of my days off to attend the RIHS instead.  I missed my favourite day of this show, the one which hosts what used to be called the Eventing Grand Prix (a class which was invented during my childhood and had its glory days then).  Instead, I attended on a day when the Nations Cup class was being held.

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we were treated to this band too! Believe it or not, they played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”

My sister and I went together, both armed with shopping lists (hers in preparation for her upcoming year-long trip to New Zealand; mine in anticipation of a British winter spent facilitating equine learning sessions and running my seasonal version of Prince’s Boot Camp), food and a thirst for horse power.  The event manager in me is proud of the changes which have occurred at Hickstead since I last attended (it WAS this century, but only just!): a new grandstand has gone up this year (but, in kind of a cute way, the old covered one still stands… with rows and rows of plastic chairs painstakingly lined up and cable-tied together for the occasion) – there are lots of fancy bars now, plus another entrance has been created to ease queuing congestion.  The catering offerings have also joined the 21st Century, with options far beyond the standard horse show burger bar – there are fashionable food trucks offering cuisines from far-flung places such as Thailand, Mexico… and Greece and Italy (wood-fired pizzas they are, though).

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Hickstead’s quaint seating

Hickstead’s enormous shopping village defies the recession, and I certainly contributed to the economic upswing – I have prepared myself for our infamous weather by purchasing not one but two coats!  One of them makes me feel like a proper horse person – it’s a long windbreaker-style, and has more leg straps than horses’ rugs do.  Hopefully it’ll do the trick!  I also gained some much-needed new breeches, and a book I’ve been after for a while (no spoilers in case I decide to do a review).  Oh and I replaced Prince’s feed bowl, because he stood in his and destroyed it.  If that horse wore shoes he’d be truly dangerous.

It sadly wasn’t Team GB’s day at the Nation’s Cup (proving my theory that, unless the Olympics are on, we can only be good at one sport on any given day, and Friday 31 July belonged to the England cricket team) – they came sixth out of eight teams.  Ben Maher’s round was superb, the Italians had an even worse day than we did, and Switzerland only sent three riders in for the first round because they were all Just That Good.

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Ben Maher jumping for Team GB

It was great to be back among my people, it’s a very long time since I’ve been at a competitive horsey event (er, that’d be the Paralympics!), and the weather was kind.  Fingers crossed I can make a return to the Derby next year.  May be time to start looking at booking a day off work…

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apologies if you bought this saddle – I may have drooled on it

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Sunny Sussex

It’s been three years since I’ve seen a British summer, and I’ve noticed myself lately driving around as I go about my business, as if seeing the countryside and weather for the first time.  A change really is as good as a rest, apparently.

I grew up in a small village, and as a child I found it boring.  As a horsey kid, it shouldn’t have been that way, it should’ve been wonderful.  But my loan pony didn’t live within walking or cycling distance (if he had, I suspect I’d very rarely have been at home), and none of my school friends lived in our village.  The day I passed my driving test was when I won my freedom, and from that point I stopped caring so much about being cut off from other people.

That cut off feeling has returned somewhat during recent years: I sold my car when I moved to London just over four years ago, and promptly used the takings to pay my rent when I quit my job a couple of weeks later.  Some very big mistakes were made that year, ones which I’m still feeling the repercussions of!  So two years ago, when I dropped everything, moved my belongings home and ran away to join the circus, there was no money to have my own car and certainly no money for one.

Upon my return in autumn, I was able to borrow my Mum’s car occasionally, but it was just a means of getting around – my surroundings don’t look very inspiring in winter, unless it snows or there’s a heavy frost.  I spent two winters surrounded by brown and grey, with the odd hint of blue, and two summers in a completely different world, creating a new temporary home for the bulk of my trips, then taking in a huge variety of places on my travels.  I’ve seen red cliffs and black sand, several different types of turtle, a gorgeous pink sunset and some concrete jungles.  But none of it looks like home.

The countryside has bloomed from grey to green, driving along the roads feels like a sweeping rollercoaster of leaves and grasses, with trees reaching out across the lanes, rather than just nakedly poking out of the ground.  The countryside really is rolling around here, and I often feel myself sitting taller in a vain attempt to see over the hedges into fields beyond.  This technique works when you’re on a horse, not so much in a car.

I’ve been to some stunning cities, and there are some great ones near me.  But nothing compares to the emergence of my local summer from the curtain of rain, wind and grey skies of winter.  I swam through our clay-based soil throughout the winter, it’s fantastic to be able to drive with the windows down, sunglasses on and fully-bloomed countryside around me, the comforting hug of home re-born, both in real life and my memories.

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

 

 

 

 

Memory lane

I found myself in a bit of a surreal place last week, as I attended an events industry conference primarily to be part of an alumni event.  It’s five years this summer since I graduated from university, and nine years in September since I began my degree course… I’m not sure where those years have gone!

I can’t remember the first time I attended Confex, which bills itself as the best events industry trade show in the UK, and I’m actually not sure how many times I’ve been… one trade show tends to blur into another, and there were times when I went to at least four in any calendar year!  Now, Confex and another have merged (whittling things down to three shows overall), and I’m told the best one to go to now is one which was still fairly new back when I was still in industry.

Confex has shrunk considerably as organisations choose to use their marketing budgets differently – once upon a time, it was two three-day shows and was absolutely enormous.  Companies pretty much threw free canapes and gifts at you (particularly cotton bags, at one point), and if you wanted to, you could get pretty tipsy without spending any money (even more so if you were in control of your organisation’s annual budget or venue sourcing…)  Now, it’s down to two days, and there was a lot of stand space (at what is comparably a small venue) which had gone unsold.  The show didn’t feel as vibrant and interactive as it used to, which I found strange, because the events industry isn’t exactly a sad place to be at the moment.

The experience served as a reminder that I did the right thing – events will continue to be a part of what I do, particularly if the summer goes according to plan, but it’s an industry that I can no longer see myself in full-time, or as the main thrust of what I do.  The skill of organising things and making stuff happen is innate for me, I don’t think I’ll ever fully leave that side of my personality behind, but I am relieved not to be doing it 24/7 anymore.  It is also nice to have transferrable skills which will be useful to the organisation that I currently work with, and ones which I may work for in the future, and that’s one of the best things about the apparent death of jobs for life: many of us will make career transitions, absorbing new skills and taking them with us through different paths in life, and allowing us to benefit different people in different ways.  Maybe it’s how I’ll help change the equestrian world for the better, by helping to galvanise and adjust the culture in order that equestrians can provide a higher quality of service and become more business-minded.

I doubt I’ll find myself booking venues, numbering poster boards or setting six-foot rounds for five course dinners (with seven pieces of glassware) again, but if those things do turn out to be necessary, I’m ready.  And I’m ready for all kinds of other things too…

What I was doing while you were breeding – book review

Don’t worry, I’ll stop showing off soon.  I’ve now finished all of the books on the “books I was truly excited about reading” list, so things are bound to slow down now.  Or maybe it’s time to make good on my promise to review the Ladybird book I got for Christmas…

Last September, my friends and I spent a night at Portland airport.  It was no accident – we weren’t victims of cancellation or horrendous delays, we just had an early morning flight and saw no point in spending a precious $30 each on accommodation and breakfast when we could bunk down on the concourse for free.  We had blankets, snacks and each other, what more could we want?  And besides, PDX has been voted America’s best airport two years in a row, so why not take advantage of the supposedly-brilliant facilities?

I remember catching up on quite a bit of blogging that night, and dozing in a corner with my friend Eva.  But I also, of course, ventured into every shop in the airport in search of entertainment.  One of the perks is that one bookstore sells second-hand books, although I didn’t buy any.  I did find a book I knew I’d love to read, though, but rather than buy it at the time, it promptly got added to my wish list and showed up on Christmas day.

What I was doing while you were breeding is the sort of book I’d one day love to be able to write.  I won’t, because my life isn’t as adventurous as the author’s, but the title alone was something I related to straight away.  Although I mostly forget that I’m almost 28 (much of the time, I convince myself I’m still 21 and that there’s plenty of time before I have to grow up), there’s an increasing frequency of reminders that my peer group are overtaking me in the grown up stakes.  Thanks, social media, for the slew of engagement announcements around Christmas (no doubt there will be more in the next couple of weeks).  Thanks also for the unmitigated (and, frankly, horrifying) week-by-week pregnancy updates.  These days, I feel like I’m the only one whose updates still revolve around bars I’ve visited and bottles of wine I’ve consumed, rather than number of night feeds and childhood diseases.

But this book is a reminder that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, that I’m not alone in seeing out my twenties without marrying or buying a house.  A lazy reviewer’s description would be that this is Eat, Pray, Love for girls under 30, but that’s too simplistic really.  It’s more about working hard, playing harder and learning how to compromise but not settle.  I didn’t really want the book to end: I laughed, then I laughed harder, and I wished I had it in me to live the author’s dreamy lifestyle of undertaking a well-paid job for eight months per year, enabling myself to travel for a chunk of the rest.  Those kind of roles are a rare thing, and I’ll just have to stick to what mere mortals do – enjoy the job I have, and save up to take some time out and see more things.

Above all, I’ve started a new list, using one of the sentiments from the book which struck the strongest chord with me: the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it.  Newman explains it as doing the typical thing relating to the place that you’re in – riding Icelandic ponies across a frozen plain in Iceland, for example.  Or going to a luau, perhaps.  It’s a “when in Rome” sort of concept, designed to make sure you fully absorb the culture of wherever you are.  Many of us don’t do it enough, preferring to stick to our comfort zones, but if that’s the approach we take, we’re neither breeding and settling like our friends, nor living as we’d perhaps like.

Have you done The Thing in The Place?  What was it?!  And if you’ve settled down already, what’s the greatest adventure you wish you’d taken beforehand?

Killer questions

In an uncharacteristic move, I was unprepared for a situation I found myself in the other weekend.  Back in December, I had a message from the director of my summer camp to provide dates of recruitment fairs she’d be attending in the UK and Ireland – former staff were invited along to say hi and help out.  There had been one such person two years previously when I was hired, and I thought it’d be a fun thing to do (plus I needed to see the director and discuss what may or may not happen in 2015), so I agreed to attend one of the London fairs.

Having witnessed someone else do what I knew I’d be doing, I didn’t think about it too much – the day I was hired, a friendly girl (who, as it happened, had done two summers in the horseback department) was essentially entertaining the queue of waiting candidates.  She wasn’t assessing anyone, but she was available to ask any of the more informal questions an applicant might have.  I assumed I’d be in the same position, so I didn’t prepare myself other than remembering what I might get asked.

However, I forgot that things have changed slightly in the meantime – I initially turned down the opportunity to return to camp in 2015, deciding to stay in the UK and start to get my life back on a permanent track.  Some good things have happened this winter, and I wanted to stick with them.  Then my boss also said she wouldn’t return, and the carrot of a promotion was dangled in front of me.  My decision was on the rocks.

Nobody at the recruitment fair I helped at was uncertain.  Once the doors opened, we were inundated with enthusiastic applicants.  I duly triaged the queue, turning away anyone who was seeking a position we’d already filled, and warming up those who we could potentially take.  As I was chatting away, my director grabbed me and asked me to speak to an applicant she’d already approved of – our first candidate for horseback.  I was excited to finally talk horse with someone, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I’d have to vet their skills!  The director had decided she was happy with the person – not an easy feat, she’s justifiably a tough woman to please – and I was to make a call as to whether their horsey experience was sound.

I explained a little about the department – one of the problems we often face at camp is that whoever hires people (a selection of directors travel around the world, and none of them work at the barn) doesn’t know a huge amount about what we do and how the day works, so they aren’t able to answer detailed questions.  Sometimes, it’s clear staff have been accidentally misled, and they get a big shock.  They’re normally told it’s hard work (which any horse person should already know) and long hours are involved (but again, it’s camp, not a holiday – you’re there to work!) but sometimes they seem to show up assuming they’ll ride several hours per day, or during their breaks… not the case!

It’s difficult to give an accurate representation of what it’s like without scaring people off, but I tried my best.  Anyone who loves horses and wants to work with them shouldn’t be phased by the hours, the poo picking and the grunt work, but some are.  So I was fairly gentle.  I made sure to explain that the majority of riders are beginners and that it’s therefore very repetitive.  I laboured the point that if you get an hour in the saddle every two days, you’ve done well.  But I did also point out that none of our horses live in unless they’re seriously ill, so although there’s poo to pick, there are no stables to muck out.  And they all remained keen.

Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t ask them too many questions – the thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that people can talk a great game, have brilliant experience with horses and know their stuff, but when it comes to teaching… that’s a different thing.  You honestly can’t properly tell how someone is as a teacher until you see them do it.  So I didn’t ask for any detailed philosophies there, but I did ask two questions which, to me and the way our barn runs are critical: how confident are you handling horses on the ground; how good are you at picking out hooves?

Those questions sound basic, right?  They should do, but they aren’t.  We do always get a variety of levels of experience (see previous regarding the type of person responsible for hiring staff – non-experts), but it amazes me how many staff seriously lack confidence when they’ve got an excited or flighty horse on the end of a lead rope, or who are reluctant to bend over and pick out eight hooves first thing in the morning (that’s all they have to do once we’ve tacked up!  Each member of staff is responsible for two specific horses – if you as a person do the same two horses once or twice per day for 13 weeks on the bounce, if those horses don’t have at least the fourth hoof in the air waiting for you, you’re doing something very wrong).

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I vetted and accepted enough staff to fill my department, and they’re all lovely.  It was very exciting to take people through that process and see their reactions.  But I did walk away a little disappointed in myself for only thinking of two killer questions – I used to work in recruitment for goodness’s sake!  Anyway, it’s done now.  I got excited about camp again.  So my 2015 is still to be confirmed…

If you’re looking for grooms or junior instructors, what’s the most important horsey quality for you?  Clearly, something else of great importance is that someone has the confidence to speak up when they’re uncertain, rather than do something wrong, but that goes for any job… Do you look for champion hoof pickers, strong biceps for lugging water buckets or another type of X-Factor?  Let me know in the comments!

Throwback Thursday – memorabilia

It’s almost two years since I left London behind and moved back in with my parents.  It’s my second “boomerang” (my first being when I left university and didn’t manage to get a job straight away, thus not having the funds to support independent living), and as I have lived away from home, I have far more stuff than is able to fit properly into my childhood bedroom.

Many of my things live in the garage, but that’s mostly large items like kitchen equipment, all awaiting their next starring moment when I manage to break away again, currently neglected like abandoned toys.  The remainder of my possessions are crammed into the bedroom which has been mine for 20 years this summer.  When I say “crammed”, I’m actually very lucky to have a pretty sizeable amount of storage: our house is what my Mum refers to as a “modern box”, and thus comes with fitted wardrobes.  Mine is the second of our four bedrooms and – a little perversely, I’ve always felt – somehow has the largest wardrobe (I managed to land the second bedroom because, in our previous house, I had the smallest room in the building, so it was my “turn” to have the larger room.  Sort of sucks for my sister that my tenure in the smallest room was two years, and my stretch in the bigger room is 20 and counting…).

My return to the nest in the spring of 2013 was less than two months prior to my departure for my first round at camp.  During that time, I spent a week in Greece, a weekend away with university friends and a lot of time stressing about my visa, packing and what the hell I was doing.  As a consequence, I spent zero time attending to my bulging wardrobe, straining under the weight of a set of clothes which had previously been housed across two abodes.

I failed to address the situation last winter when I was home, mainly because I was confused.  I had managed to slim my wardrobe down a little, partly because I’d slimmed down, and some of my clothes therefore no longer fitted (and I had no intention of allowing myself to get big enough for them again).  I had also cut back my business-wear section (as I had no intention of returning to a full-time office-based career ever again), but had been conservative in this cull, in case of an emergency.  Said emergency did occur last spring, and I was relieved that I had enough clothes to get me through a temporary stint in an office… though resolved that I wouldn’t even do a short-term run of that again.

I finally cracked for two reasons: I was struggling to both find and house clothes; I threw away a pair of jeans which had become too loose, and thought “Well, why not tackle the rest?”.  I approached the first section, and duly got a little emotional, and a lot amused.  It was one of those things which could easily be a chick flick movie montage, because I started with my dresses.  Some of them I’d owned for over six years, most of them purchased for nights out to celebrate friends’ birthdays at university.  I thought back to the person I was, tried each dress on and alternately laughed and cried.  There were some surprises amongst the dresses, but more surprises when I got to a couple of boxes of, well, junk, at the bottom of the wardrobe.

There’s a lot of old paperwork – former household bills, contracts and other bits – which I need to shred or burn, but there were also some gems.  Here’s what I found:

Olympia ticket and Puissance start list

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My sister and I were really geeky when we went to professional competitions.  We liked to make little notes about the combinations we saw.  Some of them were nothing more than “horse had swishy tail”, others related to jumping faults or what we thought of the rider.  Either way, I’m glad I kept these.  Sadly, I don’t remember much about the evening, other than being really excited to finally be attending this famous show.  It’s my only visit to date, but I’d love to go again.  In the meantime, I have these mementoes

Show numbers

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Competing wasn’t the main thrust of what we did when we were kids.  We were nowhere compared to the flashy Pony Club types, and I’m actually glad of that.  We just went to enjoy ourselves.  Our ponies normally had stable stains and green lips.  Most of the show jumps we attempted could be cleared from a backwards amble.  We were entered into classes such as “Prettiest Mare” and “Handsomest Gelding” (I know – cringe).  But we enjoyed ourselves.  On the back of each of these, I’ve written the date, venue, classes I entered and how we did (spot the Event Manager-in waiting), but I’d totally forgotten I kept them at all.

Dressage test sheets

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These are probably the most embarrassing items.  They’re the only two dressage tests I’ve ever ridden, on my shared ex-racehorse who thought he was a giraffe.  After the second one (the one with the lower score), my instructor’s comment was, “I think next time, you’ll ride in spurs.”  There was no next time, but I didn’t mind.  They’re definitely experiences which framed my opinion of dressage as a waste of time – I’ve progressed a little since then, but it’s still not my idea of fun.  Probably because I never removed myself from the memory of being towed around by a horse who was completely behind the bit and wouldn’t canter when asked (but would probably have quite happily galloped).

So there’s a glimpse into my past!  Which mementoes – besides photos and rosettes – have you kept from your early horse days?

Room with a view

There seems to be something about this time of year which makes me crave a miniature change of scenery.  Or it’s that during the post-Christmas tidy up I pull my finger out, look beguilingly at my Dad and he grits his teeth and fetches his hammer.

When I got my first iPhone five years ago, the amount of photos I took on a daily basis increased rapidly; when I re-discovered my ability to leave the country two years later, I went a little nuts, and I suddenly have a vast collection of digital photographs, rivalled only by those who have children.  It’s kind of fascinating that, not only have photos gone from being an extravagance to normality, but that it’s also become far more difficult to take bad ones (bad in terms of the actual quality of the shot – it’s arguably far easier now to take pictures which are poor in terms of composition, and that are unflattering to the subject).

I can pinpoint the reasons for my own excitement about photos easily: my trip to South Africa was largely funded by a generous gift from my grandparents, and as a sign of gratitude, as well as a nod to the fact that it was a trip now beyond either of them given their ages, I made sure that I documented the trip heavily.  Given the volume of output I create, I sometimes find going through my photos and choosing ones to print a chore; depending on my mood, it can also be a sad task to trawl my pictures and be reminded that the fun is over for the time being, but I try to remind myself that it’s not forever, and there is more to come.

At some point, I decided to try and up my game a little, and Googled basic tips on composition.  I can’t remember the source, but the top rule I found is the “rule of thirds” – this is the single easiest rule not only to remember, but to implement effectively.  Here’s what I now try to do:

  • Place the main subject of your image in a third, rather than the centre – your images instantly become more interesting, as the viewer’s eye is encouraged to look at the surroundings as well as the subject. It gives better context, especially with subjects who are moving (horse people listen up here!)
  • If you aren’t great at fractions, most devices will have a grid mode – play around with your phone or camera until you figure out how to make it display a grid, which then allows you to really see how your image breaks down, like an extra viewfinder
  • I most frequently find myself applying the rule of thirds laterally (so I place my subject towards the left or right of the frame, whether it’s a landscape or a portrait), but often use it vertically too (meaning the subject is in the top or bottom of the frame, as opposed to the middle), and occasionally use both (subject is in one of the extreme corners)
  • Of course, there are exceptions to every rule – sometimes your subject is enormous, and there just isn’t a suitable spot for you to take the photo from in order to change the positioning; sometimes, it just looks right for it to be centred. But next time you’re taking pictures, just give it a go.  Particularly if it’s a stationary subject, like a landscape – take your picture as you normally would, then take another shot applying the rule of thirds and compare them

I didn’t mean for this post to be a photography lesson, but somehow it happened anyway!  My main point was going to be this – show you all the views I currently wake up to.  Because, for me, one of the beautiful places I’ve been to just isn’t enough:

display-landscapes-scenery-pictures-photos-memories-travel-south africa-safari-greece-melissani cave-cave lake-hawaii-oahu-rainbow-memphis-portrait-camp-team-summer

Above: these frames were hung this time last year, and I’ve just switched two of the original shots out for other prints – the small silver frame on the left now contains a shot I took last year in Hawaii (which completely disobeys the above rules!) and the one at the top in the black frame was taken in Greece (I’d forgotten about it, because it’s hidden away in an album!  It was my sister’s idea to bring that one out).  I’m really pleased with how this now looks, and can’t wait for the new pictures to go up alongside them…

memories-photos-friends-selfie-portrait-beach-hawaii-oahu-scenery-landscape-riding-horses-trail-san francisco-california-las vegas-holiday-summer-camp

…and above are the new pictures waiting to be hung!  I’ve made a classic mistake though: we only have one picture hook in the house, so “buy picture hooks” has added my “to-do whilst waiting for new job to start” list.  These are all photos from 2014, and I took all but one of them!  The “between the ears” shot is also the one I use for the lock screen on my phone, and it gets better every time I look at it – there’s a lot of movement in it which brings it to life, and helps keep the memory powerful in my mind.

photo-horse-riding-display-swimming-river-portrait-america-usa-western-summer-camp-rosettes

Those of you who know me well will have noticed a very important picture was missing: that’s because it has a special home.  Above is possibly my favourite shot of the summer (I’m sort of sad I didn’t take it, but that’s because I’m the subject!  I’m eternally grateful to my friends James and Eva, who were shooting “my” horse and me from the banks of the river that afternoon).  My Mum repeatedly says that the only time I smile is when I’m on a horse (it’s not true, I swear!), but I defy a horse person not to smile when they see this – I’m grinning, the horse is engaged and enjoying himself, the sun is shining, and I remember being in the saddle that day thinking “I get paid to do this”.  I was trying to figure out how to position my new frames, and then I glanced up and remembered there’s a huge chunk of real estate on one side of the room that I haven’t touched.  There was also a vacant picture hook (abandoned from the days when I last hung a clock there many years ago) begging for attention, and the fact that it sits above my rosette board?  Well, that just felt like a sign.  I will never win a rosette with that horse, but that picture deserves many prizes in my book.  Now I just have to save some money so that I can fill the space around it…

This was the year you loved

This is it!  2014 ends here.  It’s been my first full calendar year as a blogger (Kicking On began in May 2013) and I’m glad I still have readers.  I was proud to be nominated as a finalist in Haynet’s Blogger of the Year competition – thanks again to those who voted, although unfortunately there was no rosette for me on this occasion.

I’ve spent the past few days on Twitter counting down my most popular posts of 2014, but I thought I’d also list them here for posterity.  Here’s a look back on what you (and I) enjoyed this year:

  • fifth most popular was Premature (the Tale of the Trail!)
  • in fourth place was Not to be missed (the story of my last-minute whirlwind pre-US trip to the Hay Festival)
  • yellow rosette (third place) goes to Being stretched (my weekend of being schooled by Wiola!)
  • at number two is Rubbing shoulders (the day I met Paralympian extraordinaire Lee Pearson)
  • first place goes to… Turned off (my thoughts on British Eventing’s knee-jerk end of season ruling on helmet cameras)

After a bit of a crazy patch with work and a few other goings on, I’ll hopefully be back on schedule as of next week – 2015’s coming whether we’re ready or not, and here’s to the next year.

Flashbacks and fast forward

Vague plans have been afoot between myself and a few friends for a little while, because 2015 is a landmark for us: we’ll have been friends for 10 years.  For one reason or another, I don’t have many people outside of family who I’ve known for that long, and although we live in a world where it’s easier than ever to keep in touch, it also feels like it’s very easy to pull away from people, so I put huge value in the friends I’ve retained – I feel like it must be for a good reason.

I hadn’t heard from one friend of this circle for quite some time – this isn’t unusual for her, nor when you consider the fact that I’ve spent eight months of the past two years out of the country – until her husband tagged her in a post on Facebook two days ago.  It was to announce the birth of their daughter.  I’m not a broody or maternal kind of girl (unless you present me with 17hands of Warmblood, Thoroughbred or Trakehner, which is when my ovaries start making funny noises and my wretched bank account drools), but I burst into tears of joy over this one.  Everyone has That friend, the one who they think deserves this more than any other; the one who has fought many battles, lost faith or hope and come close to not making it.  But finally, through much adversity, this friend has made it.  She has many new battles ahead of her, but I know that these will be happy ones.

As I drove to the yard to see Prince that morning, I couldn’t keep my friend and her daughter out of my mind.  Although our contact can be sporadic, we’ve shared many experiences – adoration of a favourite band, whose reunion tour we attended; selection of our retirement hometown, thanks to a last-minute magical mystery tour; support of a beloved sporting hero in a fairly intimate and hilarious setting; her wedding, the reception of which she spent debating whether it was me or her hairdresser who would win the award for best legs on display (I’ve never been so flattered in my entire life).

There have been those moments when we’ve shared few words, but each has said to the other, “yes, I absolutely hear you.  I feel that,” and one of the most profound incidences of this for me was when she shared with me a short story she had read.  It’s a story I relate to heavily in parts, one which I return to time and again although I know parts of it through intuition.  It reminds me of what it is – as I see it, anyway, because we all identify differently – to be a woman in a variety of ways, and what it is to have soul sisters.

Thank you, Clara, for sending me Sam Binnie’s The Dress.  Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, and here’s to friendship – dresses and things don’t always last, but memories and friendships can.