Riding in Cape Verde

I guess it was inevitable really, but the last few days I’ve started missing the horses. After all, by the time I get home it will basically be a month since I last rode Otis due to his well timed abscess. I think my body has rested enough and is ready to go back to work, judging by my returning thoughts to the horses at home.

Anyway, this morning I went for a ride at the only stables on the island of Sal, Cape Verde. We got picked up at 8.30 – not usually early for me but it did come as a slight shock to the system. Thankfully it was overcast so I didn’t feel too silly in jeans. It’s amazing how quickly your legs acclimatise to wearing shorts and that freedom, and how even my too-big skinny jeans feel oppressive around my calves. I didn’t have anything more than pumps though, so I had to hope for the best!

First thing you should know is that Sal is basically a desert with a beach around the perimeter. The ten horses of the island are kept in the botanical garden, so as close to greenery as possible. As far as I could see they were all fit and well – lean, but they are very fit and in this climate they won’t be carrying excess fat! The horses are all rescued; mine was from France, several were from Portugal, so are a right mix. I thought this was quite commendable; whilst the rest of the world is overbreeding, a country with no native equines is choosing to improve the wellbeing of horses rather than create their own breed. 

I’m babbling. It was interesting to see the tourism industry from the other side – but I was pleased that the tack was in good condition, fitted, was clean and the horses immaculately groomed and obviously well cared for – one had the remnants of iodine spray on his leg for an invisible cut. We also had to sign an insurance form and had hats fitted. 

As I qualified as an “expert” (2 years of riding weekly) I was given a French Warmblood called Chad, who fidgeted while I waited for my guide, Elton, to mount. The two of us went alone, as the other tourists were beginners. The first thing we did was cross the dual carriageway. In fact, the only road in Sal (others are dirt tracks meandering through the desert). Then we rode through the desert, passing the salt mines, which is Sal’s only export.

      
   
Then we reached the best bit! The beach! So Elton could check that I wasn’t bluffing about my riding ability we had a steady canter in deep sand. The horses were used to it, but it was definitely hard work for them. I obviously passed as we had a faster canter back before heading to the shoreline. 

By this time both horses were dancing about, knowing what was coming next. Elton gave the word and we were off! A flat out gallop, head low to avoid the salty splashes of sand kicked up by Elton’s horse. Chad really went for it, splashing across the waves! We pulled up near some kids flying kites and because we had some difficulty getting the excited horses past them Elton suggested just galloping past! So off we went at breakneck speed. 

At the end of the beach we turned round and I led the way back in a steadier gallop before we walked back across the desert with our prancing horses. Chad jiggled and bounced on the spot, trying to find the next place to gallop. I think Elton enjoyed our fast ride as much as I did – he had a lucky escape as I saw one guide traipsing through the desert on foot leading one pony and child.

One thing I took away from today was the age old problem that I used to encounter on a daily basis, of people overestimating their ability on horse back. I would not have liked to have been someone of much less confidence than me riding the excitable Chad home, and when you factor in the language barriers, bigging yourself up before you mount leads to an unenjoyable  and potentially dangerous ride.

   
   

Otis’s Diary

An extract of Otis’s diary whilst I am away.

Dear Diary,

Breakfast turned up a bit earlier today which is just as well as I had munched my way through the half slice of hay. I blame those woolly jumpers who ate all my grass!

The groom removed a large wheelbarrow load of old hay from the other side of the bitey fence – at least I assume it bites like the other tape fences – but there is still a lot more to pick up. He also muttered something about a few more warm days and the docks will have enough new growth to spray.

He said that there is no proper tea on Cape Verde so does that mean mum will be back very soon? – I’m missing her.


Dear Diary,

The groom is getting better – breakfast was at 8.30 although he did complain about the traffic. I suggested he got up earlier and returned to his paddock (or garden as he calls it) via the lanes.

It was a lovely sunny day although there was a biting wind which made him wish he had a hat on.

I walked the groom to my stable and let him practice his grooming. No where near as good as mum of course.

  

Dear Diary,

 Well, today has been interesting! My servant was a bit earlier but apparently there was lots of traffic – at least that was his excuse. I could not say too much though as I had had a bit of an accident when I was practicing my emergency stops. My front driver’s side shoe came off and the groom spotted it sticking up out of the ground as he brought me my breakfast. He rang my friend who was luckily at a nearby stables and took me in to my stable where he abandoned me for the morning.

The groom apparently drove to pick up replacement “bitey fence” posts. Note to self – do not let him choose rug colours as I have now got one orange post and 9 white ones so heaven knows what colour rug he would get.

Anyway the farrier turned up 10ish and replaced my shoe and I ate hay until the groom turned up again at 3. I decided to tease the groom a bit on the way back to the field by stopping every so often and just gazing around at the view. He kept on looking to see what had caught my attention.

I don’t think mum has a very good hotel whilst she is away as, unlike me, she has to walk to her food and does not have it delivered like I do.

I think the groom looked a bit tired when he left so I might give him an easier day tomorrow – that is if he brings me some more carrots.

Good night diary.


Hands and Feet

Many of you may remember my woes of having “working hands” a couple of months ago in my post Effortlessly Glamourous. Well on the way to the airport I thought I would share the results of my first manicure (I declined the hand massage part though) and pedicure:

   
 
I was even complimented on having healthy and attractive hands and feet … So perhaps all is not lost for us equestrians!

Things Grown Ups Don’t Tell You

When you’re a kid going on holiday means pulling out the suitcase, finding an old, crusty sock from last holidays, and packing your clothes. I remember my brother, aged seven, packing his case to go and stay with Granny for a week … He’d packed one tshirt, three pairs of shorts, and two socks!

Anyway, we’re going on holiday for a fortnight from this weekend – apologies in advance for a quiet blog – and I’ve suddenly realised there’s a lot more to going on holiday as an adult than I thought …

  • Who is going to feed the cat? Now Princess Penny is quite spoilt unfortunately, and needs feeding twice a day, and the cat flap locked overnight. Two weeks of feeding twice a day is a big ask, so I rounded up a handful of volunteers and created a rota. Then of course we had to make sure there’s enough cat food, cat litter, treats …  

 

  • Who’s going to look after Otis? The answer is obvious – his chauffeur. But with Otis’s recent foot problems his chauffeur needs prepping; and the first aid kit restocked. Plus the fact that strangles is rife at the moment, he needs briefing on the symptoms and protocol. Again, I had to stock up on feed, and get the rugs out that may be needed – it could be medium weight, light weight, or fly rug weather over the next fortnight.

 

  • The lawn needs mowing. It was done on Easter weekend, and we won’t have time to do it before we go, so it’s going to be a jungle when we get back. And we’re not mowing it straight away after our holiday after a friend did the same and mowed over his flip-flopped toes, causing a dash to hospital. So I did some gardening last weekend.
  • A fortnight is a long time for the houseplants, so someone needs to water them. Then of course are the flowers in the garden. There are a few new ones, and some pots so hopefully we don’t have a drought or frost so they survive…
  • Make sure the neighbours know we’re away and will put the bins out.
  • Will all the parcels arrive in time? Or more to the point, don’t order anything online the week before you go away!
  • Are any bills due? If there are direct debits will they go through alright?
  • Money needs to be exchanged so we have spending money on holiday.
  • Run food stocks low. But not too low as you need food when you arrive home. But you don’t want to come home to a fridge full of mouldy carrots.
  • Unplug appliances. A family I know recently had a devastating house fire, so I will be making sure everything except the fridge is unplugged.
  • Make sure you’ve done the washing. You don’t want a pile of smelly clothes hanging  around, and you need to have clothes to wear when you get home! Never leave clothes in the washing machine damp either …
  • Most importantly – packing bags without packing the kitchen sink!

I’ll be glad to get on the plane!

Forwards and Back

If you ever have the feeling that your canter is lacking power and fragile, then maybe you should try this exercise.

The aim of this exercise is to make the canter adjustable with the horse staying in balance, off the forehand, and responsive to the aids.

Cantering large around the arena, open up the canter down the long side by gently closing the leg. It shouldn’t be rushed, otherwise the horse will fall onto the forehand. At the corner ride forwards to a ten metre circle. If you think of slowing the canter down for the circle you’re likely to overuse the reins and cause the horse to hollow and unbalance. 

The circle will collect the canter for you, and bring the hind leg underneath, so engaging the hindquarters and generating a more powerful canter. Initially you may find a ten metre circle too difficult for your horse and they fall out of canter, so ride a twelve metre circle and progress to a smaller circle.

With practice, the canter will extend to medium canter, and condense to collected canter easily and immediately. You should feel that with the adjustability the canter should feel less fragile and stronger. Then the canter should feel more uphill and elevated as the hindquarters engage, which subsequently gives you a powerful canter that is much better for jumping.  I’ve used this exercise recently with horses who tend to lose their balance, so that they learn to go forwards from the engine. 

  

Hill Starts

How many times do you see someone getting on a forwards going horse and trotting off, getting faster and faster, spiralling out of control as you cover your eyes and peer through your fingers?

I met a new client last week who has been struggling with her horse. The mare is forwards going and ultimately the problem they have been having is that the trot gets bigger and bigger, like a ball rolling down a hill, and they run into canter. And the cycle continues…

  
The first thing I did was to get her to shorten her reins. 

When you ride a forwards going horse you have to compare it to driving a car. And hill starts particularly. If you just use leg and no hand, it’s like pressing the accelerator hard and speeding down a hill. If you have too much hand and leg then it’s like revving the car with the handbrake on. If you have a little bit of hand and use the leg at the same time you can get a smooth transition into the perfect gait, akin to a perfect hill start. Ultimate control.

Back to this horse rider combination. With a better rein contact the walk-trot transition was immediately steadier. Then we looked at the different ways of slowing down, and maintaining the desired trot – upper body position, slowing the rising, half halts, circles, transitions. 

Gradually the mare started to listen, and soon my rider managed to maintain the trot, prevent the mare running into canter, and keep a steady trot.

With a forwards horse half the secret to keeping a lid on the speed is to stop the horse anticipating the next move – so use circles, changes of rein, transitions, serpentines, to keep the horse on their toes – waiting for instructions from their rider.

Once I’d educated my rider in using all these tools they both settled down into some lovely flat work, which proved to me that the mare has had a good education and by riding her as if you are doing a hill start. She seems happier with a rein contact to guide her, as she’s a little worrier, and needs more leg when it’s there. 

Just a couple of sessions later my rider felt much more in control, and could generate a specific trot, keeping it for longer and longer. The circles became more balanced because my rider prepared for the movement and gave the mare the support and guidance she needed. The canter was more controlled too, but that will improve further as the trot progresses. The mare moves better, in a softer frame and less on the forehand, but most importantly she seemed happier. I think that she is a submissive horse, who seeks confidence from people, which is why she gravitates towards people standing in school. Now that my rider was sitting more positively, keeping a rein contact, and has taken more control over where they go the mare is listening more and is more confident going to the far end and doesn’t rush back home. Hopefully they can continue this, and their partnership will grow so that they can tackle new things, like traffic on the road.