What’s In Store For Us?

I had a bit of an epiphany earlier. Or rather a realisation of what’s to come.

Now the kids have gone back to school it’s quieter. Well, I’m not sure if it is quieter or if it just seems quieter as things get back into their normal groove. To fill my time, I decided last weekend that I would repaint the garage door frame. And next weekend the door. Of course, living in Britain the weather never helps us fulfil our plans, and it ended up being too wet to prep the frame over the weekend, so the job is dragging into this week.

I’ve just put on the first coat of gloss, and as I put everything away I realised that I had more paint on my hands than on the frame. It’s a talent worthy of Britain’s Got Talent really, that I can manage to make that much mess and make it to adulthood.

Anyway, as I was in the bathroom scrubbing the white gloss off my hands with a pumice stone, I suddenly remembered the time when I was seven.

I’m sure this story will still be etched crystal clear on my parents memory because it’s perfectly clear in my mind!

My Dad was painting the side door one March Sunday, while I cycled my bike up and down the drive. I loved my bike, it’s yellow and purple was my pride and joy. Dad was supervising me. Or perhaps I was supposed to be helping him. But if you know my Dad, you don’t want to help him painting because he’s very particular about not dipping your brush in too far, or not brushing the wrong way, etc etc.

Anyway, with a burst of inspiration, I asked if I could paint my hands. Dad said “yes, yes”. In hindsight, he most definitely wasn’t listening to me.

So I cycled over to the tin of white gloss and proceeded to dip both hands in it, all the way up to my wrists. So with hands that resembled Caspar’s, I proudly showed my Dad.

I think he took it pretty well, because I carried on cycling around while he finished painting, covering my bike handles in white.

Once he’d finished the side door, we went inside and tried washing my hands. Half a bottle of fairy liquid and my Dad’s best attempts with the pumice stone, and my hands were no longer thick with gloss, but rather a washed out, sticky off-white. My finger nails being edged with white.

The only problem? It was school picture day the next day!

Despite my parents’ best attempts, my hands were still off-white the next day, which is why one of my school photos has me with my arms cleverly folded to hide my hands.

Today, all I could wonder was what scrapes and predicaments am I going to see, be the rescuer, or have to prevent? And that’s just my husband, let alone the baby! Perhaps I’ll be starting a new blog to record it all!

Bilingual Horses?

Sometimes I wonder if horses do understand English better than we give them credit for.

Last week, for example, I was cantering around the outside on the arena on the left rein, opening up the canter with some rising and using the scattered poles to get the mare thinking forwards.

As I cantered towards this lone pole, on a perfectly straight line as I followed the fence, a woman in the middle of the school shouted to her friend, “now ask for a right change”. Simultaneously to her instruction, I was going over the pole and I felt the mare change her canter from left to right underneath me.

Weird! I definitely hadn`t asked for a change, if anything I was thinking of turning left, and the mare isn`t really educated enough to know changes, or the aids, or to be balanced enough to do them cleanly. However, she had definitely done a clean flying change over that pole as per the lady in the middle`s directions.

I don`t think the other horse got the requested change though!

As I started writing this I had a flashback to over a decade ago (not that makes me feel old…) when I was still on my little grey pony and in fifth group (we had six groups of lessons, with the sixth group being called top group and the ultimate aim of all of us) – I was between eleven and thirteen years old. We were in one of the far fields because it was too hot for a proper cross country lesson, so we were doing banks and ditches. We had meandered though three fields, jumping the stream and navigating various tracks along the stream and tree line. In the final field, with a derelict barn at the end, we had to canter along the bottom of the field, up the slope next to the barn, along the top fenceline and then down the steep hill back to the rest off the group. It was an anti-clockwise direction and one of the older girls went first. She was at least one generation of helpers older than me, and had recently returned with her horse to the yard (perhaps after university?). Any ways, she and her horse cantered easily around to the top fenceline and she brough him back to trot to come down the hill.

As we watched her lean back and steady the gelding, our instructor jokingly said “And sit down Maldwin”. To which, the large horse did indeed sit down and slip the rest of the way down the hill! His hindlegs were completely underneath his body and his quarters grazed against the grass until he managed to stop and stand back up.

He and his rider were completely unhurt. I`ve a feeling she fell off later in that lesson but that part is a bit hazy. I just clearly remember Maldwin seemingly understanding our instructors words.

After School 

The last couple of days I’ve been racing against nightfall to teach. Tonight wasn’t so bad as they have floodlights in the arena, but yesterday’s clients unfortunately don’t.

As we finished the lesson the bats were coming out, and it reminded me of our after school races against time.

In the spring, summer and autumn, there used to be lessons after school so we’d either join them or hack, and there wasn’t as much pressure, but at this time of year we used to fight the losing battle against darkness.

My comprehensive school finished at 3.25pm so we would meet and walk half a mile to a house – the one of the girl who lived the closest – get changed, and take over the living room, watching kids TV – Balamory was a favourite because of the catchy theme song (…what’s the story in Balamory? Wouldn’t you like to know?…) – until 3.50pm when we would be picked up by our riding instructor in her discovery. We’d all pile in for the short journey to the yard, where we would spill out like worms out of a can at 4.05pm. I’ll always remember watching the older girls tumble out of the car when I was in primary school, yearning to be like one of them!

Then we would throw our school bags in the tea room before hurtling up the fields. And I mean fields, not these silly paddocks we have nowadays, we had 40 acres to scour for our ponies. 

In the summer we would often be allowed to ride in the 4.30pm lesson, which meant we really got a wriggle on to catch, groom and rack up in 25 minutes. We daren’t be late though!

So in the winter we’d try and do the same, riding at 4.30 because at least we had half an hour in the outdoor before being consigned to the small indoor. We also had bigger feeds for our ponies, which meant we wanted to have finished riding and be feeding them by 5.30pm in order to be picked up by 6pm. When the horses were stabled we would usually have at least one more stable to do, usually for a friend, and we all used to pull together to muck out and carry waters before 6pm.

My parents were notorious for being tardy though, so I used to ride for longer. I can remember still being at the yard, albeit up the house with our instructor, at 9pm in January because my parents were late closing the shop, collecting my brother, and running errands.

Another poignant memory I have was one February when the bugs were rife. Instead of eight of us being picked up there were only two of us. We still rode for half an hour, caught everything before dark and mucked out ten boxes by 6pm!

Things got easier when our school changed its timetable and we finished at 3.10pm, and the house we’d used was no longer available so we walked to a corner shop and got picked up earlier – giving us an extra ten minutes at the yard! Later on we got picked up from outside school and were much earlier at the yard, but I don’t think I ever lost that feeling of racing against time.

One of the best feelings when we were on the way to the yard was the announcement by our instructor that “so-and-so had followed her in” which meant that if our pony was indeed so-and-so, they had been in for a few hours, had a feed and were dry! If we were lucky we’d sit, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, knowing we didn’t have to run up the field!

From my after school experiences I never understand how kids can faff around and end up riding in the dark and cold. But I think unless you have those pressures you don’t learn to walk quickly or to be efficient.

By the way, are you singing the Balamory theme tune? I’ve had it in my head all day, since I drafted this post in my head!