As with many horsey people, I also love dogs. The idea of roaming the countryside with my pony and my dog is a dream which seems just perfect. Unfortunately, my dog is a spaniel cross and she will go off after any smell which takes her fancy. On foot I can keep her in check but I would not feel at all happy on a pony, especially if we were on or near a road – which we would be.
However, she has learnt to be sensible and look after herself when she is around the ponies in the yard. I used to have to shut her up away from the ponies and their dangerous feet but her sense of self preservation has finally kicked in and she is now more or less sensible about keeping her distance. Of course, I still keep an eye on her but I can now be much more efficient than I was.
The ponies are also very well behaved around her. They are used to dogs running round at my instructor’s yard so they barely react to them now. As long as the dog doesn’t do anything to startle them they pretty much ignore her. Which is exactly how I like it – we can all just get on with our own thing. It is wonderful.
This week I have been working several twelve hour days in a row so I have seen very little of the ponies. My parents have been looking after them for me and my Mum has written a guest post.
As our daughter is spending a week working very long hours, it’s fallen to us parents to keep an eye on the Exmoors. I suppose this is reasonable really. It was me that suggested we buy them for our teenage daughters – it seemed a good idea at the time.
I say us – in reality it’s my husband who does the hands on stuff. I am one of the world’s organisers. I have the bright ideas and others carry out the hard work. Hours in the cold and rain helping my youngest daughter to catch half wild six month old colts fell to him. I put the kettle on for when they finally succeeded. He has spent many days over the years supporting our eldest daughter competing in jumping and dressage competitions. Anxiety stopped me from following his example. I stayed at home waiting for the text saying all was well. On the days I plucked up courage to go, I have been known to hide behind the tea tent or walk the dog while she was competing. I am getting better at this now. She looks so good when competing, it is a pleasure to watch her – if only between half closed eyelids or from behind parked cars.
So this week, after our daughter has fed and mucked out the ponies early in the morning, it is up to us to put them out to their fields at the right time and make sure their grass intake is restricted so they don’t get fat which they will do without any encouragement at all. It’s me who reminds my husband it’s time to let them out of the yard. He who has to stop whatever he’s doing to let them out. Me who decides which grass they should be grazing. He who has to move them to the right field.
Our reward for all this is the pleasure they give my daughters, the sight from our windows of two beautiful Exmoors grazing in the fields and the way they wicker at us when they think it’s time for food. Also some beautifully rotted down muck, just ready for putting on flower and vegetable beds over the winter.
We don’t have a trailer we could use to collect the hay ourselves so we asked our neighbour to deliver it to the end of the drive for us. Then we used the lawn tractor’s trailer to ferry it all down to the hay store.
I did some of the driving but mostly I enjoyed having a ride on the trailer – although I did learn the hard way that if you stand right on the back of it you will bend it. We had a bit of a job getting the sides back on!
It is very satisfying to have the hay store filled with hay for the winter. It smells wonderful and I’m sure the ponies will think it delicious!
The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted that recently I have been riding Galahad without a noseband. I actually quite like the look on him but I didn’t decide to do it to make him pretty!
I realised that Galahad had developed a small bald patch on his face and, although I am almost certain that it wasn’t caused by his noseband (which is so loose that it basically does nothing), I took it off to remove any chance of it making the rubbing worse.
It is in fact probably caused by his fly mask which I have now also taken off. It is very odd – this year both ponies have grown some white hairs where their fly masks sit, even though they have never had a problem before. Thankfully neither of them are showing any signs of sore spots so hopefully they haven’t actually been hurt by the masks.
The fly season is now drawing towards its close so I can leave the fly masks off without causing a problem. We will need to think of a new solution for next summer though!
I am always trying to find new things to keep the ponies interested in what we’re doing. They don’t want to be doing the same thing all the time any more than we do so this week when my sister came over for some socially distanced riding my parents and I set up some games for us to play. They were a medley of gymkhana games and some trec style obstacles which were a lot of fun and were also good for the ponies.
Anything that involved me on Galahad picking up a pole was obviously scary for him, although the flag race went pretty well. Our version of tent pegging however took us a long time to get through. Perseverance did pay off but it’s never going to be something he’s desperate to do!
Another very good game was a kind of maze made with poles on the ground. That was excellent for the ponies’ flexibility and it was gratifying to see just how bendable they are.
My favourite activity though was riding under low branches. When we first approached Galahad was having none of it but we worked patiently and before long we could canter through. He does work so hard and makes me very proud!
The ponies being the colour they are, they very rarely get bathed. Even when we go to a show, a proper bath isn’t strictly necessary to get them properly clean and, of course, this year we haven’t even had shows to clean for.
Even so, I do like to bath them sometimes – Galahad can get quite dandruffy and Cookster’s mane gets very greasy over time. Obviously I don’t want to overdo the bathing – they do live out after all – but I have been meaning to bath them for a long time. Sadly, when I’ve had time to spare the weather tends to be cold and windy – the hot, sunny days are all very busy!
Today though, the ponies had got very hot and sweaty on a long hack so they needed washing down anyway and I took the opportunity to give Galahad a proper bath (my sister was in charge of Cookster). It felt amazingly good to be doing it (nostalgic too – it took me right back to my childhood) and it certainly made Galahad look very sleek and shiny.
He was very well behaved too. The last time I bathed him I had a terrible job rinsing out the bubbles – he wouldn’t let me near him with a hosepipe and a bucket of water was even worse. This time he thought about panicking but actually just stood still and even relaxed reasonably well.
Bathing is tiring work!
Naturally neither pony stayed clean for long but I was very pleased to have finally got round to it and it was a lovely way to spend the morning.
As I am not spending any money competing or going out with the ponies at the moment I decided it was time to treat myself to some new show jump wings. I have been wanting some for a long time and finally had the impetus to do it.
They came flat packed but were easy to put together. Cookster was very interested in the process!
It is lovely to have some extra fences up and it has made me feel able to use two whole sets of wings for a small spread fence. The ponies have both jumped fences like this in lessons and at competitions but we have never done it at home before. The added variety is good for all of us and the ponies seem to enjoy it just as much as I do!
Despite that, Cookster decided to put in a very dramatic stop in front of a fence he’s been jumping quite happily for weeks. For a moment I thought we were both going over.
That didn’t stop me having a fun evening playing with both ponies and I can’t wait to do it again!
We have been having a run of very hot and muggy (up to 99% humidity!) days so we are surrounded by people making hay at the moment. The field up behind us is being baled as I write and the ponies have been taking a great interest in that. On the day it was cut Galahad thought it was very interesting and was tryng to eat it through the fence. I’m not sure he was particularly successful though!
The ponies quickly got bored by the whole thing and have been largely ignoring the tractor buzzing about. Of course, they still have moments when they run around but I’m sure that a lot of that is just for fun.
This year I have even been getting involved in the haymaking process myself. Or rather, my neighbours made the hay and I went up to help load the bales onto the trailer and then unload it again at the other end. It was hard work but it was good to be involved in the actual production of the ponies’ feed for a change. It feels almost like proper self sufficiency!
We do not have the best hacking out here. Everything involves a long trek on a road and there are no bridle paths near us. I have, however, been very lucky with my neighbours and a couple of them let me ride over their fields.
Unfortunately those fields have both been sold but I have relatively new neighbours in the other direction who have now given me permission to ride in their fields.
This is a lovely space for riding and I am so grateful to have access to it. We can wend our way round several fields (and a bit of woodland!) and make a very decent length ride with only a short amount of roadwork to get there. It is wonderful.
It has been a long time since the ponies last had a jump. We stopped jumping in October or November when the field got too wet to be safe and of course we had a long gap over lockdown when first I wasn’t riding at all and then I was being extra careful when I did. Now though, I have finally made the effort to set the jumps out again. Typically, the dog was the most excited about this.
I wasn’t quite sure how Galahad would react to jumping for the first time in about nine months. He loves to jump and can get very strong and over excited. There was every possibility that those months off might mean he was unmanageable to start with.
Of course, as is pretty much always the case, I need not have worried at all. Galahad behaved impeccably and was even a little sluggish to start with – but then schooling on the flat is not at all exciting as far as he is concerned. He perked up once we actually started to jump and by the end he was starting to get a bit stronger and I felt I was having to hold him back.
We had a great time and I am looking forward to a lot more jumping over the summer.
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