We have been in lockdown for five weeks now and although riding has not been banned riders were asked to consider whether riding was really essential for us and our horses. Obviously, the answer is different for all of us but for me personally the answer is, ‘probably not’. The ponies are not hugely fit event horses and they have plenty of turnout so have no problem in stretching their legs. I have therefore not ridden since the morning of 23rd March.
That doesn’t mean the ponies are just lazing about getting fat though. They are bound to be less fit than usual – and I know I am – but I am trying to make a habit of getting them out to do some form of exercise or different activity every day. Mostly that has meant lunging, although we have been for some nice walks together over the fields and I am planning on building ourselves some trec style obstacles this week.
When I first started trying to lunge them years ago I had completely opposite problems with them. Galahad was so scared of me that he would take off, whilst Cookster would just stand and stare at me, completely bewildered. No amount of talking, waving or being led round by someone else had any effect – he would just stand there.
Now they are both much better and go round me quite happily. In fact, Cookster is now the one who can be a bit too forward and he has got very good at leaning out of the circle and pulling me with him if I’m not careful. I find that much easier to cope with than the nothing we had before though!
In a normal world I get Galahad a full clip around February time. Exmoors don’t tend to get clipped but he is so slow to lose his winter coat that if I don’t he still has the dregs of it in June and he gets far too hot when I ride him.
This year, however, his full clip got delayed until mid March and we all know what happened then! He is therefore left with just his original clip (done in November I think) and I have not one but two moulting ponies to contend with. Every time I brush them I get absolutely covered in hair.
On the bright side, I am at home all the time so it’s not like I’m short of time to groom them. Constantly grooming can get a little wearing though so I’m trying to spend just some time every day working at getting rid of the loose hair. Luckily the exercise they’re getting has dropped too so they’re not overheating!
Our work on the hedges is continuing apace. Our focus has shifted though – the hedge behind the stables had started to grow a bit close to the buildings and needed looking at. Then a very old tree stump collapsed against the wall of Cookster’s stable and we really did have to do something about it.
It is huge and very heavy so had to be cut up into smaller sections before we could move it. That was pretty time consuming and in fact we still haven’t finished – my Dad cut off enough so we could shift it away from the wall but it blunted the chainsaw blade and we have had to leave the rest for another day.
I had the far less impressive but very satisfying job of pulling all the brambles out of an elder tree. It is so good when you can actually see the difference you are making but it really is a never ending job. You turn around and more have sprouted out of nowhere!
It does mean that we spot the most beautiful things though – just look at these tiny little toadstools I found. They are so pretty!
This week has been an exciting one for the ponies – they have been spending a few hours each day in their summer pasture. This field has a stream in it and tends to be quite wet in winter so it can only be used when the weather is dry enough. We have been having such lovely weather for the past couple of weeks though that they have finally been turned out.
Only for a few hours each day though – they haven’t been in there for about six months so it it full of lovely, lush grass. The ponies love it but it would not do their waistlines any good at all if they were turned out there full time!
I thought this first turning out might be very exciting to see but it turned out to be rather dull. They weren’t at all interesting in running about – all they wanted was to eat that delicious grass. Very disappointing!
This weekend I should have been at the British Riding Club’s Novice Winter Championships but for obvious reasons that had to be cancelled. Instead, I have been spending the time helping out on the land.
My parents do a lot of work maintaining the fields and – although I would like to help more – I very rarely have enough time to do very much. Now, however, I have a lot of time and as the fields are right here by the house we can work on them without contravening any quarantine rules.
We have one hedgeline in particular which has been growing unchecked for several years. Our first job was to get all the brambles out, then there was a lot of sawing that needed to be done. We are getting a decent amount of firewood put aside for next winter and are shredding what we can of the rest to help with the mud situation (keeping any spiky bits away from the ponies) – although that has been drying up very nicely over the past few days.
It is a never ending job and once this hedge is done there will be plenty more to keep us occupied. The weeds along the edge of the stream may well be next – they don’t look much at the moment but they only take a few spring weeks to go mad.
The ponies seem to think that every load of shredded undergrowth – not to mention every opened gate – is meant for them and they have been following me about hopefully. I think their main aim was to be turned out into their summer field but it’s not quite dry enough yet. It won’t be long though!
It has been a very strange week for all of us but there have been some lovely, positive moments for us here as well.
Firstly, Galahad has a cheerful new set of ears which is really brightening up our hacks.
Secondly – as you can see if you look closely – the pussy willow is coming out and spring is definitely springing. It is always a wonderful feeling.
Today has been utterly glorious, with blue skies all day long. I managed to sit outside with my cup of tea and even felt like I was running the risk of burning. The dog had some time in the sun and Galahad enjoyed a day without his rug. I’m pretty sure he appreciated that!
Horses are a great leveller. Three weeks ago I had a great day competing and qualified as part of a team for the British Riding Clubs’ Novice Winter Championships. Last week we went to a combined training qualifier and I fell off in the warm-up for dressage. Horses will never let us get too big headed!
He had felt quite tense and bouncy when we first started but I thought he had settled and he was actually working very nicely in walk and trot. Then I asked for canter and he took off across the arena and exploded. I found myself on the floor.
I was only winded so we carried on but did not get our nice frame back before we had to go in to the test. It was not very pretty. The canter was far too fast (the judge said there was ‘much confusion’ in the transition) and he was resisting my aids the whole way round. We did get round though and the judge was very kind in her final comments, saying that perservering will be worth it.
He nearly threw me off twice more in the show jumping warm-up which was not encouraging but as before I was hoping that the extra space and the ability to keep him moving forward in the competition arena would help me out.
Thankfully, that did prove to be the case. We were rather too fast and overshot many of the turns but all that practice keeping my eyes on the next fence no matter what really paid off and we managed to clear all the fences in the right order. That was despite our stopping dead for no apparent reason as we went past a fence we had already jumped. I can only assume that he thought I was asking him to jump one of the huge cross country fences around the arena and didn’t fancy it!
About to stop dead!
Of course, our poor dressage performance meant that we stood no chance of a placing but it was good to finish on a positive note. If nothing else, it reinforced what I already knew – I am much better at jumping than dressage!
We have had rain nearly every day for weeks. The fields are absolutely sodden and the ponies are very often dripping when they come in.
However, we do have the odd day when we can really feel that spring is coming. I rode out on Tuesday in beautiful sunshine – it was still rather cold but perfect weather for hacking out.
Galahad and I had a lovely time pottering along the lanes. The primroses and daffodils were out looking cheerful and making life feel good. It is amazing how uplifting a bit of sunshine can be!
A couple of weeks ago my riding club got to visit a local event rider’s yard for a demo. I jumped at the chance to go as I love watching how other people ride. You can learn so much from them – one of the most interesting parts of the Wilton Horse Trials was watching all of those very famous riders in the warm-up ring and seeing what they were doing.
It was a fascinating evening. We had a little course walk and were given some tips about working in the warm-up ring at competitions. We also watched two horses being ridden – one much greener than the other – and it was very interesting to see the way they each developed.
As you can see, the light was not great for photographs!
It was a freezing cold evening so I was very grateful for the hot cup of tea in a warm room halfway through! I was also encouraged when things went wrong – not the fact that they had gone wrong but the way any errors were explained. For example, when a pole was knocked down we were told that it was because the horse hadn’t been presented quite straight at the fence. I always appreciate riders who don’t blame the horse for any errors and of course it is always good to know that mistakes can happen to anyone.
It was a great evening and I do hope we will have more like it.
Today we got to compete in the showjumping qulaifier which should have happened two weeks ago – Storm Ciara had other ideas then! As ever, I was looking forward to it and rather nervous at the same time. The early morning did not help either – I never like getting up but half past four is just too early!
It was still blowing quite strongly even today but we made it to the show safely and in plenty of time to walk the course and get ready. My horse was feeling rather bouncy and full of beans but I was hopeful that when we could keep going around the course – instead of doing single practice fences – he would settle down nicely.
That did prove to be the case and in fact we achieved a clear inside the time which I think was a first for us in competition – we are not generally very fast but have been working on it!
The second round also included the jump off phase so there were several more jumps to navigate (and remember!). I was a little worried about losing my way but managed to pilot us round without error. The horse was amazing and jumped everything I asked – we rattled the last pole but thankfully it stayed up and we were again within the time.
We were still nothing like the fastest combination but we were one of only two double clears which meant we were placed second individully. Even better, we came first as a team which means we will be going to the winter National Championships next month. I could not be more excited – and, naturally, terrified!