Giving and getting

“We want to make sure that you’re getting what you want out if this,” Fran said to me back in January.  It wasn’t a conversation I was expecting, but one which one of the Directors of the charity I volunteer with broached on a windy morning, forcing me to stop and think.  I hadn’t considered what I wanted, beyond the chance to spend time with horses over the winter.  But at that point, it was becoming clear that I might be sticking around for longer, so it made sense that we consider the future.

Let’s take a few steps back, now.  I’ve always been a Girl Who Likes Things: I enjoy spending money; I like trying new food (preferably accompanied by good wine in a comfortable setting where I pay for the privilege of someone else cooking AND clearing up); I take pleasure in going shopping, whether it’s to find the perfect dress, shoes, handbag or pair of jeans; when I go on holiday, I’m happy to pay more in order to stay somewhere nice with good facilities and a breathtaking view.  Essentially, I’m materialistic.  And until even as little as a year ago, that meant (in my terms) that my time was worth money.  Because money buys Things, and Things are what I like.  Plus, I reasoned, I have talent and skills, those are worth paying for, right?

I even went as far as to tell friends and family that I would never work for free.  I didn’t mind working for low wages (if you want to get rich, you do not work at summer camps), but I did need to be paid.

I’m not sure I could tell you exactly what changed, so I think I’ll call it kismet.  It’s probably a combination of things: I found something I deemed “worth it”; I had time on my hands; I had another job which did pay me; I needed what was on offer… I moved the goalposts.  I volunteered.

I didn’t actively expect to “get” anything, partly because I already was: when I first went to see Fran and Jo upon my return to the UK last autumn, they invited me to ride one of their horses for them.  He needed work, I could (and wanted to) ride, it made sense to them.  For me it meant that I didn’t have to pay in order to do something I enjoy doing (my other option at the time would’ve been to go back to the local riding school and pay for lessons on their horses again, given that I don’t have my own horse).  I already thought I was winning.  In fact, the more I showed up, I knew I was winning, because they allowed me to assist on therapy sessions, something that I knew I wanted to ultimately do as my job, and an area in which I needed experience.  I didn’t think I needed any more.

But they wanted to give me more, and they wanted me to tell them what more was.  They wanted to make sure that I was developing, and that was purely out of the kindness of their hearts.  The way they saw it, I was giving them my time and some physical labour, and that meant I was due something in return.  I love this attitude, not because I stand to gain something concrete from it, but because it matches my own – that anyone who is even a millimetre ahead should be supporting those behind them.  Because that’s how we stabilise the future.  We shouldn’t be job-blocking or holding others back or – worst of all – de-motivating them; we should be encouraging and nurturing.

I’ve written before about how I’ve been inspired by some great managers (who sometimes work for not-so-great organisations), those who I thought managed talent well, and who helped the business they work for achieve its goals, but without ignoring the individuals who are there making it happen.  Because it’s not always about what the organisation needs: whether someone is turning up paid or unpaid, we all have different motivations, but as long as you tap into those drivers, you can help a team function effectively even though they ultimately want different things.

I genuinely believe that by protecting the good habits instilled in me by the managers I worked for when I was younger, I will hopefully be able to perpetuate them, and make the working world a better place.  This post may seem a little out of the blue: in fact, it was inspired by a discussion during #CharityHour, whereby a few of us became involved in a debate regarding support or help given to volunteers looking to advance their careers.  On one side was somebody who essentially said, “ain’t nobody got time for that”, and on the other side was me.  The other side said, “but we can’t have volunteers taking up the charity’s resources,” following which I exploded with apoplexy, because volunteers are a resource of any charity and, in fact, they are more than a resource, they are an asset and assets, as any businessperson will tell you, must be protected.

The other side reared up at my suggestion that volunteers at the very least be promised a reference, stating that they had known organisations whereby one person were responsible for hundreds of volunteers.  My response was that the responsibility should then be divided – provide training, I said, make sure people can do this; our saying within the horsemanship community is, “find a way or make one”.  Anything is possible (insert more cat-skinning related clichés here).  The sticking point for many – and I have worked for at least two enormous companies who have this rule – is good old arse-covering: in the UK, it is illegal to give a negative reference for an employee or volunteer.  As a referee, you have three choices – give a positive reference, a neutral reference, or decline (and the final option tells the person requesting one that, if you could, you’d be giving a bad one).

So big companies permit only neutral references – the standard is that you will confirm dates of employment and sickness record, but won’t comment on an individual’s performance.  Johnny who turns up early for every shift, stays late and is your top seller whose jokes, patter and warmth your customers adore gets the same reference as Bob, who shows up five minutes late, nips out for cigarettes every hour, looks unkempt and is borderline rude.  In my mind, to go the extra mile for Johnny – who has gone several hundred extra miles for you – is not hard.  To provide training and regulation for those who will be giving references (to ensure that your arse is covered) is also not hard.  To give you another equestrian analogy (because they work, as horses are mirrors): “Never knock the curiosity out of a young horse” – Tom Dorrance.  We remember those who snub us on our slow and steady climb.  We mirror their habits.  Let’s breed positive qualities.

I am hopeful that, one day, I will create my ideal world: the one where I get to do a job that I adore (full-time, paid), and develop those around me in a way I would like to see things progress.  I once heard a riding instructor say that they are delighted when their students enter the same classes as them at competitions and beat them, because that’s how it should be – the next generation should ultimately improve on the previous one.  It’s called progress, and without it, nothing changes.  But without a little help – a leg up, a “thank you”, and an opportunity – it can’t happen.  I want to see positive strides, but they can’t happen without my support, so I will give anything that I am able to, whenever I am able to give it.

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A little guesswork…

It turns out that Susan’s question from Monday night was actually twofold.  She thinks that mine and Wiola’s Tweets look “cool”, and I think the ones in question are these:

Time to let you in on a secret: I have nothing to do with the image which comes with this Tweet.  Well, almost nothing.  It’s all to do with how you set up your post when creating it in WordPress.  I’m a huge creature of habit, and have a sequence to how I format my posts once they’re written.  My final job is to set up the tags, but prior to that, I make sure the settings for when the post will go live and how it’ll publicise itself are good to go.

Because yes, I also use Hootsuite to set up Tweets throughout the day (and sometimes throughout the week, though I’ve been slack with that lately) on days when posts go live, but there’s also a nifty little box within WordPress which enables you to customise the initial social media posts when the blog post first goes up.

Below is a visual guide to how to do this.  Again, it’s very easy!

1. Make your choices!  Ensure your social media accounts are all linked up to your blog (this is within your settings, you’ll have to give permission for the sites to interact) and make best use of the box highlighted in this image:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 1

2. Click “edit” and this is what happens:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 2This means you can choose which websites automatically publicise your post when it goes live (the text I’ve highlighted in the box is autofilled by WordPress – it’s the title of the post.  You can remove this if you want, I only do so if the title is really long and taking up a lot of characters).  And in the case of Twitter…

3. Make the most of it!  Go crazy with the hashtags (this works well for Tumblr too).  The box has a character count, so you know how much text you can put in, and it allows for the characters involved in the link, so you can’t go over the limit:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 3

4. This is an example of what I might put – I do more than this, but it then wouldn’t all show up on the screengrab!  You can tag people using their username, as well as making use of hashtags:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 4

And that’s all there is to it!  Wordpress does the rest – you have no control over the image that comes attached to the Tweet (as far as I’m aware!), but what you can change is the headline of the Tweet, and any other text (including tagging users or using hashtags) that is part of the Tweet.

Any questions, class?

By popular demand…

Horse Hour strikes again!  My friend Susan mentioned that, after I taught her how to embed YouTube videos into blog posts, she’d also like to know how to embed Tweets.  It is a nice feature, I think embedded Tweets (and other media) can look slick, and add a little colour to otherwise texty posts.

This is really simple, and I’ve taken four screenshots to illustrate the process (if you need larger versions, click the picture and it’ll open in a new tab):

1. Select your Tweet – if it’s part of a conversation, you can opt to include the “parent Tweet” too.  See picture below: identify the Tweet you’d like to use and click on the ellipsis button beneath it…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to 1

 

2. A menu will appear!  Select “Embed Tweet” (told you it was easy)…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to 2

 

3. Highlight the code (text) which appears, and copy it…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to-code-coding-copy and paste 3

 

4. Paste the code you’ve copied into your new blog post.  I’ve highlighted the post-editor you need in WordPress (there are two versions of creating posts: one which is suited to accepting code, and one which isn’t – switch to “text” mode as I’ve highlighted when you’re ready to pop your code in, then go back to “visual” mode to finish your post – the latter is much more user-friendly)…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to-code-coding-copy and paste-wordpress 4

 

And, suddenly…

…you’ve embedded your Tweet!  Congratulations.  Any questions?

Happy birthday #HorseHour

All of a sudden, it’s been a year since a group of people started Tweeting weekly and sharing our horsey experiences.  We’ve discussed everything from bridle bling to how to choose a riding instructor, and I’m sure that most of us can’t remember what we used to do at 8pm on Mondays.

Participating in #HorseHour has allowed me to get in touch with horsey people I possibly otherwise wouldn’t have met.  The horse world can be very insular and technophobic, but the next generation are breaking down those barriers on Twitter: there’s a friendly atmosphere or people sharing opinions and advice, with the opportunity to get to know other equestrians around the world.  #HorseHour has introduced me to other bloggers, those working in the industry who are a source of inspiration, and people who have become friendly faces.  I can’t remember who exactly joined in at which point, but to name just a few, I’ve met Wiola, Ceri, Susan, Susy and many more.

There are times when I haven’t participated in #HorseHour as much as I’d have liked to – mostly when I was in the US over the summer: although I spent the majority of my summer on the east coast, meaning 8pm in the UK was 3pm for me, I was almost always working at the relevant moment.  It was nice to duck in whenever I could – if #HorseHour happened on my day off and I was near wifi – in order to say hello to the virtual friends I missed catching up with.  Although I wasn’t always directly present, I tried to be part of #HorseHour in spirit – the beauty of being able to use a service for pre-setting your Tweets!

Many equestrians also use #HorseHour as a promotional tool.  For me, as a blogger, this has meant that I’ve used the time (and hashtag) to raise awareness of my writing.  Sometimes, as with this post, I’ve written pieces to coincide with #HorseHour, but I mainly promote posts from my archive or my most recent horsey offering.

The geek in me loves looking at my blog’s statistics, but I’m guilty of remaining fairly short term in my horizons.  As #HorseHour celebrates it’s first birthday today, it felt like a good time to take a longer look back, and celebrate what’s been big on my blog this year.  When I looked at the stats for the year from today’s date, I discovered that most of the very popular posts were ones from the “non-horse” category on my blog (with several of them being my recent photo posts covering the summer of 2014).  Below is a rundown of my most popular horsey posts.

Fifth place
I’m very pleased to say that my post on International Helmet Awareness Day made the top five – thank you to everyone for recognising the importance of this topic.  Did anyone make the most of any of the retailer discounts?  I still need a new helmet, but sadly wasn’t in a position to spend that kind of money (even with discount) on the day

Fourth place – a three-way tie!
As these posts all have the same number of hits, I decided it was only fair to mention all of them.  You all enjoyed “Help me, I’m poor” (on the struggle with the expense of equestrianism), “I’d like you to push him” (a tale of woe about a riding lesson – how things have changed!) and “My kind of baby” (photos of a nearby Shetland pony foal) in equal measure

Third place – yellow rosette, please!
A post I wrote after a #HorseHour discussion on how to choose a riding instructor!  There were lots of opinions during the Twitter chat, and I came back with “Weights and measures”

Second place – taking home the blue rosette (just to confuse the Americans)
“Quit and cross” – timely, given that #NoStirrupNovember is fast approaching.  Anyone taking on the challenge this year?  If I can get the saddle time (and enough exercises), I might be tempted…

And the winner is…
“Being stretched”

Thank you to everyone who has supported my blog, especially if you’ve been here since the beginning and have stuck around!  #HorseHour continues to be a pleasure – I’m glad I’ve met everyone, and look forward to finding out about the people I haven’t yet introduced myself to.

Absent friends

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve blogged on my passion for Twitter.  My former-boss must’ve heard me a few times, as she eventually sent me on a one day social media course, and that’s where my “professional” knowledge comes from; the rest has been trial and error.  I can’t claim to be an expert, but I know enough to help me out when I need it, particularly in terms of maintaining my social media output without having to do so manually.  This is especially relevant now that I’m five time zones and a dodgy internet connection away from two rapidly-growing Twitter networking events that I like to take part in.

I’m in the US until the end of September and, for most of that time, my working hours mean that I won’t be able to participate “live” in #EquineHour and #HorseHour, but I will be there in social media spirit.  Here’s how:

  • One of the easiest and most cost-effective methods of planning your social media posts is Hootsuite – the free functions are brilliant for the average blogger, and both the website and iOS app are easy to use (I’m an iPhone user, so can’t comment on the Android app, though it is available).  Below are iPhone app screen shots:

1b. hootsuite iOS iPhone twitter schedule message screen grab menu options compose

  •  Here’s what the dashboard looks like – you can link a variety of social media accounts (I don’t have Facebook linked, as I only have a “personal” account, which I’m not currently using to promote my blog).  I mostly use Twitter, but have recently set up a Tumblr account for my blog too.  The image below shows that I have Tweets set up to promote blog posts from my archive daily – I’ve done these manually, and when possible “throwback” or “flashback” to topics which are relevant on that day, as I know they’ll be popular on Twitter thus gaining me easy visibility (e.g. Mother’s Day, Olympics anniversaries, Christmas)

hootsuite dashboard social media guide help

Setting Tweets up

  • Select the social media channel from the accounts you have linked at the top of the screen

2. select social media channel twitter wordpress facebook

  • Compose your message!  Put web links in the small box and click “shrink” to shorten them and save characters (this also makes links trackable – Hootsuite provides data on which website people clicked your link from)

3. compose your message twitter tweet facebook status update

  • Schedule your message – ensure that it’s scheduled for after your post goes live, otherwise links won’t work!  When I started my blog, I researched Twitter strategies and learned that many bloggers Tweet at certain times to optimise visibility – on new post days, my account Tweets roughly every 50 minutes

4. schedule message twitter tweet social media

  • Learn by doing!  Try out different functions and find what works best for your blog.  Use the analytics provided – it’s what they’re there for!  Sometimes it’s best to Tweet in the early morning, when people are arriving at work but haven’t settled down for the day.  Lunchtime is a good time to transmit lots of messages, whilst the world takes a break.  Evenings and weekends may also be times when many people are catching up online for personal reasons, but it’s about figuring out what works best for you
  • You can mention others in timed Tweets – I do shoutouts to friends, brands and others this way.  Remember that if you want all followers to see your Tweet, start the message with something other than a message directed at one account: for example “@EquineHour excited for the next #EquineHour” would only be seen by that account, others among your followers who follow that account and anyone using the #EquineHour hashtag.  A better Tweet for visibility would be, “Excited for @EquineHour tonight – join in from 8pm #EquineHour”.  If I’ve mentioned brands in my blog post, you’ll see Tweets such as this:

 

 

As well as providing me with a tool on new post days, and for plunging into my archives daily, Hootsuite enables me to participate in Twitter events if I can’t be at my screen on time.  If I’m going to be absent from events such as #EquineHour and #HorseHour, I set Tweets to send four or five times throughout the hour to promote relevant blog links.  I sometimes do this even if I am participating, if there are particular things I want to make sure I flag, in case I get over-excited and forget!  It’s also a good way of setting up countdown warnings for fellow Tweeters – I often send messages such as “Looking forward to @HorseHour today, starting at 8pm #HorseHour”, between two and four hours in advance of the event.

Hopefully this gives a bit of insight – technology is a wonderful thing and, although this means you miss out on “live” conversation, it means you can be present in more than spirit at key moments!

Follow me

I missed an opportunity last week, this is my attempt to correct it.  Last Monday, my “personal” Twitter account turned five (which means it should be in school by now, but can’t do much else – sorry handle, another 13 years until you can vote, but it’s only 12 until you can drive!), and I offered an explanation as to why I’ve been Tweeting for so long.  What I didn’t do was suggest any accounts which are worth following, so here’s a list.  There are categories and everything.

For general entertainment
If you want high-brow news feeds, I’m afraid you’ll have to Google a different list.  I have no shame in admitting that my personal account allows me to keep terrifyingly-accurate location-based tabs on a huge number of celebrities (and their cats), when they last had coffee (and what they ordered, thanks to my ability to decipher cup-marking codes) and which device they used to communicate their 140 characters of wit.

There are lots of parody accounts on Twitter, and I enjoy that kind of humour.  Equally, there are some poor efforts.  Here are some of the things I find amusing or heart-warming

@FloridaMan – not only one of the finest biographies on a Twitter profile that you’ll ever see, but also an amusing collection of news stories courtesy of the stupid things men from Florida do.  Perhaps not so entertaining if you’re a diehard Floridian male.  Sadly, @_Flor1daWoman is not as funny

@DMReporter – three words: Weekly Cancer List.  You’re welcome

@EmergencyPuppy – because the Internet would be a much smaller place without animals doing cute or stupid stuff

@PreschoolGems – example tweet: “I’m sweaty for lunch” #kidssaythefunniestthings

For (serious) sport needs
@clarebalding – nailed on for a Dame-hood at some point and Tweets about walking and Gogglebox.  Absolutely nothing to dislike

@matthewcpinsent – tall Olympian who now broadcasts and makes jokes about Dame Clare’s hair.  Enough said

@blowersh – brilliant if you want to know about cake, butterflies or the number 43 bus.  Not so hot if you actually want the cricket score (see @Aggerscricket for that and pictures of Blowers’s trousers)

@Pearcesport – the man who helped many people get Olympics tickets when LOCOG failed (see @volshy and his blog post on @OllieW’s site for further details) as well as being broadcaster extraordinaire

For (not so serious) sport needs
@BBCSporf – sadly, but probably intentionally, this is just another Twitter account about football.  But it’s nice to know that not everyone who likes the game takes it seriously

@TopTopPundit – this account was much funnier when it was @LiterallyJamie, but that was prior to the nanosecond when Twitter’s administrators promised to crack down on parody accounts which were imitating real people (@KaiWayne is another example).  But, Jamie Redknapp is literally the funniest thing ever to happen to football punditry and I’m literally over the moon that there’s a corner of the Internet which celebrates his top talent

@PseudoFed – I’m biased here, as anyone who knows me well is aware (I’ve been brought up to be a tennis fan, and for nine years and counting, I’ve come down firmly on the other side of the greatest rivalry in tennis).  This account took complete and fantastic advantage of the real Federer’s refusal to engage with fans via Twitter.  Great potential for amusement when Mrs Federer gives birth to the potential fourth coming of tennis next month

For the horse lovers
@ASPoliceHorses – the equestrian version of @EmergencyPuppy, I’ve fallen totally in love with these Police horses.  Regularly updated with through-the-ears shots of Police horses on patrol as well as living their lives at the yard, you’ll want one as much as I do

@RolexHusband – very much a new kid on the block so I’m a little hesitant to give this one a mention, but it’s been amusing so far.  Stay tuned…

@HorseHour – this was tough, because I’ve met some brilliant horse people through Twitter and WordPress since starting my blog, and I’d recommend anyone I follow… but it seemed unfair to mention a couple of individuals and leave others out, so instead I’m going to suggest that everyone gets to know each other for themselves!  Come and join #horsehour – it’s for businesses and equestrians just wanting to connect, Monday evenings from 8pm UK time

Which are the Twitter feeds you check daily?  Put your Twitter handle in a comment so that we all know who you are!  Or let me know who I’ve missed – I’m always looking for more people or brands to follow, whether they’re horsey, news-based or otherwise

All of a Twitter

Five years ago today, I opened what I refer to as my “personal” Twitter account – I feel like I owe the internet an apology, but #sorrynotsorry is actually more appropriate.  I’m inching closer to 36,000 tweets via that handle and have 181 followers (a good percentage of which are probably spambots that I haven’t weeded out), but I don’t have a number for the importance that Twitter has in my life.

During the past five years, I’ve used the site to gather information, connect with established friends and find new ones, and discover all sorts of things.  I’m absolutely in the camp who believe that Twitter is now one of the world’s best news services: as a live, publically-populated micro-blogging site without a filter, it’s sometimes the most efficient way to follow current events.  Of course sometimes, the world gets carried away or barks up the wrong tree – this is what happens when you’re not waiting on mass media conventions such as double confirmation – but given the volume of users and traffic it supports, Twitter doesn’t often get it wrong.

Those of us who’ve been around for longer than a few minutes have, of course, experienced frustrations – you may remember the #failwhale if you experienced Twitter pre-server move – but with my physical network of friends and interests increasingly scattered across the globe, it’s a service I value highly.

Particular highlights during my five years as a Tweeter have included:

  • winning tickets to Hummingbird Bakery’s opening/Christmas preview party in Spitalfields for myself and a plus one

 

  • having one of my Tweets discussed by Aggers and the TMS team live on air during the Boxing Day Test of 2010 (and yes, some of my Twitter friends were listening and congratulated me in the appropriate manner – via Twitter)

When I started my blog, it wasn’t a question for me of whether or not I’d link it to Twitter, but of finding an appropriate username on both my blog’s host site and Twitter in order to have a coherent brand name.  Both accounts continue to be important to me, although my usage of my “personal” five-year old account has dwindled recently in favour of my blog’s Twitter (and because it’s spring and there’s nothing good on TV).

Despite having been at it for almost a year, I feel like my blog’s Twitter account is still growing into itself, but it has been incredibly useful for building links and bonds – the immediacy of the service and ability to spread a message has again proven critical.  I’ve read a little into how other bloggers use Twitter to push their websites forward, which has been useful in starting to help me grow, and I’ve given in to the idea of using pre-set Tweets so that even if I’m not available, my blog and Twitter accounts can work for me – with a little help from HootSuite – to soldier on without me.

Nobody could have known what Twitter would become when it first began, years before I was aware of it, but it continues to grow and positively impact the lives of users everywhere.  For those who understand it, it’s a powerful tool and valuable resource in promotion and keeping up with news – whether it’s politically important or trashy gossip.  And to those who have yet to be converted, you don’t know what you’re missing (hint: free cupcakes, pictures of what people are eating for dinner, and my vitally important opinions of everything from Aldi adverts to sporting events).

Twitter welcomed me with open arms five years ago, and there’s no way I’m leaving any time soon.

What I did and why

Today’s Zero to hero assignment is to unpick the reasoning behind the author’s chosen post from day 19.  On Monday, we were asked to use a different posting format from the norm, so here’s the story behind my first gallery post.

As I mentioned in the post, this one had been bothering me for a while.  I posted the same series of images back in September, and the layout quickly went awry.  I tried to wrestle the code into submission and failed (and got very frustrated, because I do know a little about code and thought I’d be able to fix it).  I was then put off using images other than as a header or a footer, until I was challenged to push myself on Monday.

But the regeneration of my photos came at a good time: I look back on these pictures regularly, and they bring a smile to my face.  They remind me that, although last summer was hard work and this summer will be too, it was worth it.  It reminds me that this is what I have to do, that I need to make this my life year-round, not just over the summer, in order to be happy.  I tend to experience a different memory every time I look at any photo, whether they trigger something someone else said, how I felt when it was taken or something which happened before or after.  It’s a nice way to remember the moments.

I also looked over the pictures because I’m working on trying to display some of them at home and am figuring out how to get them on the wall and make them look nice.  And because I started an office-based job on Monday for the first time in a long time and I needed to pick myself up after the culture shock which came with those hours.  So there were lots of reasons that this became really good timing for me.

The post has had some good feedback: three likes (two from new visitors – hello, if you’re watching!), two retweets of the link I tweeted upon posting (I fortunately managed to time my post to coincide with HorseHour, which is an event I’d highly recommend to any equestrian service provider, supplier or blogger) and my Nana now thinks she’s famous (I think it’s sweet that she thinks more than four people read my blog).

One of the reasons behind this post is meant to be increased social media engagement.  Regular followers will know I’m a self-confessed Twitter addict: all of my posts get tweeted immediately, and for those who are interested about how I manage my blog’s social media interaction, I use Hootsuite to schedule Tweets when I can’t be online.  I love that Hootsuite creates trackable links, so that I can geek out over where people have clicked through from.  I’m a big fan of hashtags, and on days when a new post goes live, I schedule Tweets hourly to continually publicise my blog.  I also try to participate in major hashtags such as Throwback Thursday and Follow Friday in order to increase my visibility.

Over to you now.  Be bold!  Let me know what you think about any of my posts, whether it’s a comment on the blog itself or sending a Tweet my way.  Would you like to see more pictures?  If so, what of?  Do you have a Twitter handle I can follow?  

Homecoming

My riding drought ended last week.  I hadn’t been on a horse since I before I left camp, and I finally carved out time in my schedule and found somewhere I’d be comfortable riding, booked a slot and went.  It was also the first lesson I’d received in about five years.  I knew it’d be tough, and I’m possibly being typically hard on myself, but I found it brutal.

As usual, I currently want the moon on a stick when it comes to the thing that I love most, and it was always inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to achieve everything in one go as I had hoped.  I went riding at the school I spent most of my childhood learning at, though the centre had sadly become livery-only whilst I was at university.  Thanks to a new colleague revealing their own horsey background, I discovered that the centre had re-opened as a riding school as well as livery yard two years ago, and I instantly knew that I’d found the place which could help me tick off one of my goals.

With re-gaining my jumping mojo being high on my wish list, I knew it was important that I found somewhere which made me comfortable, and where better than the centre at which I actually re-discovered my nerve the first time I truly lost it almost 15 years ago?

My first assessment of the way I rode was that I did a terrible job: I knew I’d picked up bad habits – I’ve barely ridden in an arena for years, having spent most of my recent time in the saddle on trails either on holidays enjoying myself or supervising kids rather than focusing on my own riding.  So it didn’t surprise me when the instructor commented that I was leaning forward a lot (I’ve done a lot of cantering in a light seat recently, so that it’s easier to keep an eye on those behind me, as well as riding up many hills), and that I realised my ability to bend a horse around my leg has decreased significantly.  I’ve got a lot of work to do!

That said, as the ride progressed and I got to know my mount better – something I took into account later when analysing my ride, the fact that I spent last summer riding the same horses repeatedly, got to know them very well and, ultimately, rode them far better than I could ride any horse when sitting on it for just half an hour – he did come down into my hands.  This was a great thing to feel again: most of the horses I rode last summer suffer from a drastic lack of schooling, as they aren’t ridden year-round, and there’s only so much you can do when your priority is keeping the riders on the trail safe, rather than ensuring your own horse is moving in a balanced manner.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I need to go a little easier on myself, take it slowly and make sure that each ride is an improvement on the last.  As long as progress is made, it doesn’t matter to me how long it takes for me to achieve what I want, really.

The absolute best thing about my ride is the fact that the next day, when I really thought about it, the old magic of being on a horse was still present for me: for half an hour last Thursday morning, I thought of nothing but what was going on beneath me.  My mind emptied of everything which wasn’t connected to the saddle and bridle, and I concentrated fully on what I was doing.  This is genuinely rare for me, and although I was annoyed with the state that my riding has gotten into, I was completely focused and relaxed.  Once again, riding is my successful escape route from everything else in life, my slice of “me time”, and something which is eternally precious.  I’m already excited about my next getaway.

Ponies of the past – #horsehour special!

Following my post on the horses and ponies who changed my life as a rider, I put some similar questions to my sister.

Emma has ridden since she was five years old, and throughout our childhood we had lessons together.  However, we both see things through our own lens, and we generally rode different horses and ponies (although we are sisters, there is a significant height discrepancy!  And we look for different things in our mounts), so I was keen to get her memories.  Here, Emma shares the ponies who were important to her.

My first favourite pony… was my loan pony, Chocy.  I developed much more of a bond with him than any other pony.  I knew him.

The pony I didn’t get on with… having always been quite small, there have been a lot of times where I haven’t really felt in control of a pony.  Katya was a pretty smart pony, because she took full advantage of the fact that I wasn’t in control. She ran off with me once during a hack.  I didn’t fall off or get hurt, it just upset me that I couldn’t seem to communicate with her.

The pony I wanted to ride and couldn’t… I watched in frustration when my friend was bought a pony for her birthday.  They were poorly matched – sometimes bringing together an inexperienced horse and rider works, but on this occasion it didn’t.  I was desperate for the chance to work with a younger pony and develop together, and I was disappointed that my friend wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity, as her knowledge and skills weren’t at a level where she could do that yet, plus she wasn’t offered the necessary support.  In hindsight, I’d have been little better – I wasn’t sensible or experienced enough, and I don’t consider myself a strong technical rider, so I think the horse would’ve learned a lot of bad habits from me.  But at the time, I envied my friend her chance, and wished it could have been me.

The horse of my dreams… is probably a bit Quarter Horse or similar.  Not very tall – more pony than horse – and light on her feet.  In my mind, we go riding all over the place, a lot of trails and exploring, and especially adventures because I’d like to do things like ride the Oregon Trail.  She likes to go fast, but is equally at home taking her time and enjoying the scenery. We spend a lot of time together, roaming the countryside, and though she can be a bit crotchety, we understand each other and she doesn’t snap at me all that often.

I’d like to thank Emma for her contribution – I knew two of these ponies, and it’s interesting to view them from someone else’s perspective.  I’d love to hear similar stories from my readers – whether it was the first horse you owned or the one you’ve ridden most recently, which animals have made the greatest impression on you?