Back to (a new) Normal

As I work in retail I have been furloughed for the last twelve weeks.  However, Monday’s re-opening of shops in England means that I have been called back in and have spent the past few days helping to set up the shop with its new social distancing measures in place.

That has meant some long, tiring days which has obviously curtailed my riding time.  The past couple of weeks have been wonderful – I was able to go out and ride or play with the ponies whenever I wanted.  It is going to be a bit of a shock going back to being restricted to before or after work only!

Even that hasn’t happened for the past couple of days – I have been drained at the end of the day and haven’t wanted to do anything beyond collapsing on the sofa.  Of course, once I’m back into the routine that will change but for the moment the ponies have had a few days off.  I don’t think they’re worried!

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Under Saddle Once More

With the changes to the lockdown which were announced last week, the BHS relaxed its advice not to ride.  I was of course delighted to think that I might be able to ride again.

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I started off by taking a couple of days to lunge the ponies under saddle.  I was fairly sure that I wouldn’t have any problem with them but they have had two months off and I didn’t want to take any chances.  A trip to hospital is definitely not desirable at the moment.  I also took them for a bit of a walk up and down the lane so they got the idea of that again too.

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Neither of those posed any kind of problem so actually riding was the next step.  Again, not taking any chances was the order of the day so I wore my back protector despite the fact that we were just going to poddle up the lane.  I was still fairly sure that it wouldn’t be an issue but I was also aware that I was nervous and that the ponies – especially Galahad – would be sensitive to that.

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In the end, both ponies were absolutely fine.  Galahad behaved just as usual and Cookster’s only problem was that he was trying to nap a bit more than usual.  That was only to be expected though – just a few days off can affect him.

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It was so good to be back in the saddle.  I had actually been intending to leave it another day before riding but in the end I couldn’t resist hopping on for a very short stroll.  We still haven’t ventured out onto the road or the open fields but nonetheless it was a simply wonderful feeling.

Sometimes there’s more reality than dream

For a couple of months every winter I can usually only ride twice a week on my days off.  It is almost dark when I leave for work and definitely dark when I get home so – as I don’t have floodlights – it is just not possible to ride.  Having said that, I did ride Galahad in the very, very dim the other day.  It was only around our fields and not on the road but was still rather nervewracking!

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This year I seem to be more than usually burdened (though they are not really burdens) with odd hours at work and extra rehearsals for Christmas concerts so that even when I have a day off I am still not free to ride in the daytime.  I am currently in the middle of what will be almost two weeks off for the ponies – something which can make me feel incredibly guilty, even though there is not really anything I can do about it.  It is what comes of having too many hobbies!

I have to remember that the ponies really don’t care if they don’t get ridden.  They have a whole field to gallop round and each other to play with so it’s not as if they are cooped up and getting bored.  In fact, it is quite possible that they prefer being left alone!

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It does sometimes seem as if I have all the hard work and none of the fun at the moment – the ponies still need mucking out and feeding even when they are not being ridden.  However, I do really enjoy all of that too – just spending time with them is wonderful and I wouldn’t want to ride instead.  Besides, I will get to ride soon!

Dressage Downpour

Yesterday the ponies and I went to another home riding club dressage event.  This time – for the first time – they were doing three tests as each had an individual test and we were also having a go at both the walk/trot and the canter pairs tests.  I don’t often get to compete both ponies so it was an exciting day before we even got started.

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Luckily, my ever supportive ground crew was ready to lend a hand!

First up was Cookster in the Intro B class.  He is starting to feel very nice in his walk and trot work and although his canter still needs work that obviously isn’t an issue in an intro level test.  I came out of the arena feeling very positive about our test but even so I was surprised to find that not only had we come second, we had managed to score 69.56%.

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I was then straight on to Galahad to warm him up whilst my partner for our pairs tests was riding the test with someone else.  A quick turnaround and we were into the arena for the walk/trot test.  We started this with a pretty major spook at the people watching by the gate but after that they settled quite nicely and even had moments when their legs were working beautifully in unison.

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We didn’t have long before the next class but did find out just before we went in that we had managed to win the walk/trot class with 72.87% – a good score for both of us which left us feeling very positive as we began the canter test.

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Unfortunately, there was an absolute downpour part way through.  I for one had a terrible time trying to stop Cookster from swinging his quarters round into the rain and our first canter circle was somewhat messy.  However, it still felt pretty good overall and I would have been pleased with it as our first attempt at a canter test even if it hadn’t been raining.  The judge was very nice about the way the ponies kept going and we managed to score 77.5% to win that class as well.  We were thrilled and just a bit surprised.  Also absolutely soaked!

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Before long I was up again and ready to do the Prelim 13 test with Galahad.  By then he was starting to feel a bit tired and although he did a pretty obedient test I was struggling to get him bending the correct way.  I finished it thinking that it had been okay but not spectacular – and not as good as Cookster’s test which is a first.  Still,  I was so proud of both ponies and how well they had behaved.  It had been a great day.

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As it turned out, Galahad and I came fourth with a score of 65.96%.  This was a bigger class than Cookster’s and we had scored almost as high as our last outing when he did only two tests.  It was a pretty successful day altogether and I can’t wait to take them out again.

Excursions

Once again I have been off gallivanting without Galahad to compete for the riding club.  This time I was taking part in an eventer’s challenge – a round of show jumps immediately followed by a round of cross country fences.

I have only done a few cross country courses over the past couple of years and those were on Galahad so the jumps were very little.  I probably haven’t jumped a big round of cross country fences for about ten years so I was more than a little apprehensive.

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The horse felt quite tight and wound up underneath me and we had a couple of argumentative moments in the warm up ring which did not help my confidence.  However, I am nothing if not determined and we made our way into the ring.

Of course, we had to have a very good look at all of the scary tents and vans along the edge but once we were past those I asked for a canter and he shot off at top speed.  I felt like I had no brakes at all but we had gone through the start so I could hardly turn away from the first fence to settle him before we began.  I just had to commit to the jump and hope for the best.

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Look at his tail fly!

Thankfully once we were over the fence he started listening to me and we finished the show jumps at a much more respectable speed.  In fact, it would have been better if we had gone a bit faster but I was just grateful I wasn’t being carted away!

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Show jumping immediately followed by cross country means cross country colours all the time – no show jackets!

We finished the show jumping with no penalties and moved on to the cross country fences.  Suddenly we found our rhythm and the scary, solid fences flowed beautifully.  We had an unfortunate stop at one of them – the team had noticed that several people were having trouble with horses ducking out to the left at that particular fence and I think I overcompensated and sent him the other way – but he jumped beautifully and I found myself enjoying it more than the show jumping.

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Professional photographs are from Dorset Photo Event

We even managed to clear the tricky joker at the end of the course – a show jumping gate 10cm higher than the rest of the fences.  I had the most wonderful day and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  It is so good to be part of the team again!

Adventuring

This morning dawned beautifully foggy but once it cleared it was a simply glorious day so Galahad and I went exploring.

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We couldn’t get along a lane which was blocked with a van but had permission to ride in some new fields which was very exciting – we don’t often have new places to ride.  These fields are incredibly steep but are shelved, making handy tracks to ride along.  They can be a bit unnerving though – I was very aware that one spook could send us down the hillside.

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Nevertheless, we were having a lovely time.  It was wonderful to be out hacking again after a long week at work and we were very much enjoying ourselves in the sunshine.  Then this happened.

I somehow failed to duck properly under the tree and a branch caught me round the face.  I genuinely thought I was going to be pulled off backwards – I stayed on but I have some very impressive scratches which look rather like cat whiskers.  They are just a bit sore too!

Things got even more exciting on our way home.  I stupidly let go of Galahad when I was closing the gate back onto our land – it’s an awkward gate which needs two hands.  Galahad thought it would be a great idea to canter home and caused great consternation when he arrived with reins and stirrups flying but no rider.

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All in all, it was a lovely ride but I was quite glad to be home!

Reliving My Childhood

As a child I loved to ride my instructor’s ponies in from the field (and indeed back out again) bareback.  It was something everybody did in my pony books and it was the best feeling.

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On a visit to Scilly I saw a girl riding her pony bareback along a road in flip flops and that seemed like the ultimate goal for me.  I should mention that this was one of the islands with no cars and obviously I am not advocating the wearing of flip flops around horses – it is dangerous.  To a child it seems idyllic though!

I have always wanted to be able to do the same with my own pony but Galahad has been too tense and spooky for me to feel safe. The trouble is that if I’m nervous he can tell and it makes him nervous and tense which makes me worse.  It’s a vicious cycle.

The last time I tried it I ended up being thrown into the fence which is never good.  It was a shame as it was going so well before then but he did not react well when I got unbalanced.  That was two years ago now though so I would really like to try again now.

In the meantime, I have Cookster to ride and he is not fazed by much.

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Riding a pony in from the field at home is every bit as good as I imagined.

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Welcome Visitors

We have some new lodgers!

This is the third year we have had a nest in the stables – we have had wrens and swallows before but this year we have a much messier nest.

Visually this is the most boring video but the sound is what told me that we actually have some chicks.

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It took me a while to discover what kind of chicks as the parents always flew off too quickly for me to get a good look at them.  One of them very obligingly perched on the gate the other day though so I can definitely say they are sparrows.  I feel very honoured!

On a slightly related note, we also have a colony of snails in the gate post.  It is very interesting but I’m not sure they are quite so welcome!

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Double Trouble

While the ponies were away I did a bit of riding and leading with them.

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This isn’t something I do often.  For one thing, the hills at home are pretty steep and I do worry that the ponies will wind each other up, especially if we meet any traffic.  However, I have less time at my disposal when the ponies are away and I knew that other people were riding and leading them with no issue at all.

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I needn’t have worried either.  The only problem I had was that when we pulled over for cars it was very difficult to stop Cookster (being led) eating and that seemed like a minor problem.  We even managed to ride past a huge car transporter  (not something we usually see!)  barely rushing at all.  I actually very much enjoyed my time with them both.

Beautiful Bank Holiday

As we had a bank holiday on Monday I was working slightly shorter hours and just about had time to ride before work.  I almost didn’t make it – I am not really a morning person – but I am so glad I did.  Galahad and I had a lovely hack and we got to watch the sunrise which was beautiful.

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Galahad’s antlers and tinsel are all packed away for the year now but there is still rather a lot of glitter around.  Not so much on him any more  (although there are a few traces in his mane and tail) but it seems to be all over the floor.  The yard looks quite magical!