Today being the first of December – and also Advent Sunday – I allowed myself to bring Galahad’s Christmas ears out of storage. After all, we can use them for such a short time, we might as well make the most of them.
As usual he did not object to them at all, despite the fact that I made a complete mess of actually getting them on in the first place. Those pom poms can be tricky to get under the bridle!
We went out for a ride with my sister and Cookster and had a lovely time, singing as we went. The ponies seemed to enjoy themselves too and were bouncing along until Cookster got spooked by a pheasant flying up behind him. He’s not normally a spooky pony but he didn’t enjoy that so much!
On our way back to the yard we stopped off at the house for some Advent carolling and the ponies were rewarded with some lovely looking apples. We, however, had to wait until we had sorted the ponies out and got back inside for some delicious cherry shortbread stars and hot chocolate to warm up. It was a good day!
With all the extra competing I have been doing for the riding club, I have been making sure to have lessons as often as possible – and on horses other than my own two ponies.
Before I had Galahad I used to ride so many different horses and it was such a good thing for my riding. When i competed at university (where we had to ride unfamiliar horses at a yard near the host university) I had a huge advantage over the riders who only ever rode their own horse and didn’t know how to cope with one which reacted differently. Not that I won but it did give me a head start!
Since I started riding Galahad though, I have ridden far fewer other horses. I hadn’t realised what a difference it made until I started practising for my first riding club competition earlier this year. I suddenly found myself sat up on a strange horse and I didn’t have a clue how he would react. It was quite scary and is part of the reason I have made sure I kept having the lessons. Of course, the extra practice also makes me much more likely to do well!
Incidentally, this pony was pretty much my dream horse as a child. I was hooked on Patricia Leitch’s Jinny and Shantih books (although I was quite scared by some of them) and so I always dreamed of a chestnut horse.
The other day Cookster and I went for a little adventure in a neighbour’s field. I had ridden Galahad in there before but it was all brand new to Cookster and he was more than a bit excited. He is not usually the most energetic of ponies but on this occassion he was offering me a canter every time I asked for trot.
This particular field slopes steeply down to a stream with very marshy banks. The hill is almost terraced by a path zig-zagging its way up the slope so we skirted our way round the marsh and set off up the hill.
The path isn’t particularly wide and the hill is very steep but I was still enjoying myself immensely. Then I got to the top and had to come back down and I realised that the branches I had happily avoided on the way up had become much more intimidating. Ducking under branches when riding downhill is pretty nerve wracking anyway but I was suddenly very aware that I was sat on a pony who has occasionally been known to nap and try to canter home. It was amazing how such a small moment could rob me of all confidence.
Of course, Cookster was in fact perfectly well behaved and my momentary panic was a complete overreaction. It made me very aware though of how fragile a thing confidence can be.
On Friday evening I went out to see a demonstration by Emma Massingale. I have been a fan of hers for several years now but had never managed to see a demo so I was very much looking forward to it – I bought the ticket way back in May!
I had wanted to get a hot chocolate to keep myself warm but I only had five minutes to spare when I arrived and didn’t want to miss the beginning. It was so cold though – it took me ages to warm up when I got home.
The demo was brilliant. The bond Emma has with her ponies is wonderful to see and something I would love to achieve with my own ponies. Not that Galahad and I don’t have a bond but it could be so much more.
Emma worked with several ponies individually to show us their various stages of experience. She reinforced something which really I already knew but which is easy to forget sometimes – it is much better to stop working on something once it has been successful than to keep repeating it because the first time might have been a fluke. I can certainly be guilt of doing that sometimes.
She also said something which I found very interesting – she doesn’t want to be the herd leader because, although the other ponies do what the leader tells them, they don’t actually like him very much. She had left her leader at home and the ponies she had brought didn’t really care. Emma said she wants to be the ponies’ friend and that seems like a much better attitude to me.
The work with the liberty team was great to watch too. The way she can get the ponies to work together and then send one off to do something by himself is just incredible.
I had such an enjoyable evening (despite the cold!) – if you get the chance to see one of Emma’s demos I would highly recommend it.
Today was very exciting for me – I wore my riding skirt out on a pony for the first time since last winter.
I actually don’t wear it riding as much as I would like because I love to wear it as an ordinary skirt so much and it isn’t really sociable to wear it around town when it smells of horse! Today though it was raining and I decided it was time to take it out.
We had a beautiful ride as all the leaves are turning and the countryside is a blaze of colour. My sister and I turned a corner and it was like we came out into the light – we were surrounded by bright orange leaves. It was absolutely stunning and we sat there for a good five minutes just drinking it all in.
I love autumn!
I have written several times about fighting my way up the lane when it gets overgrown – it’s incredible how fast everything can grow in the summer! For a few weeks it got so overgrown that Galahad and I could not force our way through at all.
However, my parents have recently been doing a lot of work outside and also got a man in to help with cutting the undergrowth in the lane and scraping the surface back to its original stone level. There is even a new gate at the top so I don’t have to get off to move the hurdle any more. Such a luxury.
It is all looking a lot better, if still a little muddy. The grass will grow though and I already have access to the longer rides we have been missing (and an indoor school just up the road!). We have a lot to look forward to.
Every autumn I dither about when to start bringing the ponies in at night. Yes they are Exmoors and and are perfectly capable of staying out all winter but they do get fat on thin air and need their grass intake to be monitored somewhat. Besides that, it helps to save the ground a bit.
Throughout the summer I go out to do evening checks on them in the field. Often they ignore me, sometimes they skitter away as if they think I might actually make them do some work and sometimes they come to say hello.
However, for the past couple of evenings the ponies have started whickering when I go out to see them and even run over to say hello. Then they have followed me back to the yard and stood about looking hopeful. I’m pretty sure they were asking for dinner!
Therefore they came in for the first time last night. It does mean a bit more work for me but there is something very cosy about having the ponies all tucked up in bed. Autumn is a lovely time.
Last Sunday was our area qualifier for the novice winter dressage championships and I am pleased to report that my superstitious hacking in my show gear did the trick – I did not fall off!
I had never actually represented the riding club in dressage before so I was pretty nervous. I enjoy dressage but it isn’t my strong point as I am not very good at maintaining the correct outline. Nevertheless, I was determined to do my best and not let the side down.
I started off with Prelim 18 as a warm up class and although I felt it could have gone better it was at least not as bad as I thought it might have been (our practice the day before had not been great). We ended up with a score of 67.88 and eighth place which pleased me immensely. I even won my first goody bag!
For the qualifier itself we did Prelim 12 and while it was still not perfect it felt a lot better than the first test – until we started centering and he threw his head right up in the air. Still, we scored 67.59 and came sixth which was very exciting.
My team mates did well too and we came away with team fifth. No qualification this time but I was pleased and I think they were too. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and, as we all know, that is the important thing.
When I was a teenager I noticed that I quite often fell off when I was wearing new clothes for the first time. A new t-shirt or jumper was usually okay but specifically horsey things like riding hats made me fall off. Once I wore a new hat cover and carried a new whip at the same time. I was bucked off whilst out for a hack by myself.
I have no idea how many times things like that actually happened but it was enough for me to develop a superstition about it. I had to make sure that if I got anything new I did not wear it for the first time at a competition. That would just be asking for trouble.
Of course, the rational part of me knows that a new hat will not make me fall off. However, I also know that the mind is incredibly powerful and if I think I will come off it makes it much more likely that I will. Which is why this week I found myself hacking out in a new hat cover and new (to me) show jacket.
It felt a bit odd but also as if I was in one of Ruby Ferguson’s Jill stories which I love so actually I was very happy. Perhaps we should go back to hacking in hacking jackets!
I have been working very long hours this week – almost double what I normally do. I am utterly exhausted now but I have actually had a great time working at the Appledore Book Festival and I wouldn’t want to change it.
However, it has meant that I have had to neglect the ponies a bit. Obviously I have made sure that they are fed and watered but that has been about it. My Dad has done a sterling job of turning them out and bringing them in when necessary.
I think they have been a bit lonely though – they have started turning up at coffee time looking for company (and possibly treats!).
This coming week should be more normal and I am looking forward to getting back in the saddle. First though I need to sleep!