10 Years of Otis

Today marks the ten year anniversary of bringing Otis home. It’s been a journey of mainly ups, but he’s given me so much. I know I’ve changed as a rider in the last ten years as a result of him, and it’s him who motivates me to learn more and further my career.

So I thought I’d treat you all to a selection of photos through the years. Apologies if there’s a photo overload!

Otis in 2007 or early 2008. A baby anyway! He was always very grown up around the yard and apart from tending to walk through you (personal space issues) his manners on the ground were very good. He used to see me coming up the field and march purposely over, bottom lip swinging. I’d catch Matt, and Otis would walk down between us, trying to get as close to me as possible. Once at the gate, I used to let him down to the yard and he’d walk straight to his stable and either go in, or wait outside, depending on whether the door was open.

As a four year old, Otis was very gangly – as you can see in the first two photos, but that winter he really filled out and matured. I was an apprentice then so got a lot of help with schooling him.

Otis had his showing debut with a friend of mine. The yard I trained at did “novice showing shows” twice a year which was really popular with the helpers and liveries. Not at all interested in it, I remember the autumn one when I first started working there. One helper had spent days if not weeks preening her ex-polo mare. And was gutted to be placed last in every class. I remember feeling so sorry for her because she’d put in so much effort, and it was only the mare’s old injuries and conformation – curb, thoroughpin etc – which let them down. So I offered Otis to her in the spring show. I can’t remember if they did the next two or three shows together, but they won or got placed in everything and she had a fab time.

Over the winter I’d done a lot of prelim and novice dressage with him, winning a photo shoot – see photo above – and we won the dressage rider of the year, so got a nice big sash, rosette and trophy. I can’t find the photo of that though.

My photos aren’t as well chronicled after age five (don’t expect any baby albums!) and it’s harder to tell how old Otis is in them, but here are some memories.

The August Otis was five we did our first one day event, getting second place. I remember being very surprised but pleased. It was our second attempt to get to one because the one before Otis had decided to scratch his ear whilst tied up and got rope burn around his hind fetlock – don’t ask … So I went on a friend’s pony, who is never ridden before!

We carried on with the novice dressage and did more jumping, which he loves.

We usually did well: being placed at dressage competitions and usually getting clear cross country, decent dressage and an unlucky showjump eventing. I did achieve my goal of being successful at elementary dressage and BE100, so I’m really proud of him for getting that far. Particular competitions that stand out were jumping clear at Hickstead, and completing the Blenheim eventers challenge for the riding club, but equally I remember a dressage judge getting out her car to tell me how much she liked Otis. The little comments and compliments, as well as his endless patience waiting on the trailer made competing really enjoyable.

The less said about sponsored rides the better. The more he did and the older he got, the more he would prance around, waving his hind feet ten foot in the air. I’m sure my friend will always remember our ride around Highclere, where Otis did airs above the ground for two hours. He sat back on his hindquarters, lifted the front in a levade, jumped forward, and kicked out his hind legs. The Spanish Riding School would’ve been impressed. I wasn’t quite so impressed when he did it going downhill! Needless to say, he loved hacking on his own or with a couple of others. So long as he was at the front!

On the ground, I don’t think Otis could’ve been anymore perfect. He’s incredibly patient, loves attention, fab to shoe, clip, vet, dentist, everyone, and is great in company. Although he will look slightly miffed if he hears me teaching and not working him! I think one of the best things about him is that he just goes with the flow, and doesn’t get wound up about coming in early or late, or having a field friend or not. So long as he has the odd polo and plenty of cuddles, he’s happy!

Ten years has flown by, and whilst the last eighteen months hasn’t been what I wanted, I value every lesson he’s taught me and have enjoyed every second of our journey together. I might not ride him again, who knows, but he’s given me so much and now he can enjoy time with his field buddies, listening to the baby (maybe he’ll understand when he sees her), crunching endless apples, and being there when I need him to let me escape from the world. Happy ten years Otis Motis!

Advertisements

A Good Walk

I thought I’d already done a blog post about the qualities of a good walk, but it appears that I haven’t.

So here goes, with the help of my little helper of course.

The walk gait consists of four beats, with each leg moving individually. The sequence goes like this: left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore.

The stride wants to be of an even length, relaxed, flowing and steady. Each leg should flex at the fetlock and knee/hock well, and be purposeful in stride. I often tell young clients to imagine their pony is walking out of maths on a Friday afternoon rather than into maths on a Monday morning. Yep, you’re imagining those teenagers dragging their toes on a Monday and skipping out of school on a Friday!

The hind legs should be placed in front of the prints left by the fore feet, which is called over tracking. I’ve just read that over tracking enables the horse to absorb shock from the hard ground better. A horse who over tracks is also lighter on the forehand, so is more likely to get concussive injuries on the forelegs and less likely to work correctly and develop the correct muscles.

The average speed of a horse’s walk is four miles per hour, and it should feel relaxed, with the back swinging with each stride. The head and neck swings with each step of the foreleg, which is why many say don’t use side reins for too long in walk, because it restricts the natural swing of the horse.

When walking, as with all gaits, the horse should move straight. This means that each leg is pointing towards the direction of movement so propels the horse forward in the most efficient manner.

The frame of the horse should be slightly poll low, rather than poll high because then there is less tension over the back and the horse will stay more relaxed.

The walk is the easiest gait to ruin and the hardest gait to improve. Carl Hester always looks for a horse with a good walk and canter, as training will improve the trot. But why is the walk the hardest gait to improve?

It’s the slowest and has the least natural energy, and if a rider is too eager to input the energy they will throw the horse out of the four beat rhythm, causing a choppy stride and tension in the body. Which then causes them to inhibit the natural movement of the head and neck by holding too tight with the hands in an attempt to control the new energy. If a horse is pushed out of their four bear rhythm they are liable to start pacing. This is a two beat gait where the lateral feet step forwards simultaneously. Often, riders feel they’ve got an energetic walk as their horse begins to pace because they are covering the ground quicker, but as the four beat rhythm has been lost it is heavily criticised in dressage tests.

A horse who is hurried out of their natural rhythm, will be out of balance. This means that subsequent transitions aren’t balanced. They will struggle to halt squarely, or to push off into a balanced and correct trot or canter.

Horse can also be allowed to dawdle, which is when they’re allowed to drag their toes. Here, they usually still have a four beat gait, but the cadence and length of stride has deteriorated. Consequently, horses are more likely to use their forehand in the transitions and to be stiff through their body.

Next up, let’s see how we can improve the walk. I find the best way to teach a horse to walk with more purposefulness and energy, is to use hacks because a horse is naturally more forwards out of the arena. Then you can focus on channelling the extra energy into quality steps without the horse rushing. Steep hills will encourage the horse to use their hindquarters more efficiently and strengthen their muscles. When they walk correctly up a steep hill you can really feel the back lift and the hindlegs engage.

Other exercises involve collecting and extending the walk, which improves their balance and coordination, but you want to stay focused on their rhythm and only make small adjustments so that they still over track and keep the four beats.

Polework can help increase the horse’s cadence, and circle work will improve their suppleness which will increase their range of movement within each limb so their stride quality will improve.

I also think it’s important to be consistent in what you expect from a horse’s walk. Even when giving them a break mid-session, or cooling them down at the end, you should insist of the purposefulness of the walk, and maintaining the correct rhythm as so often both rider and horse switch off at these times. When the horse knows they have to walk actively and correctly at all times it becomes easier for the rider to influence because there is more natural energy to work with.

Tug Of War

If a horse is strong; be it in the field, school, on the ground, jumping or cantering, a rider or handler’s natural reaction is to pull the reins or hold on tighter. This creates a static pull and unfortunately isn’t that effective.

For this post, we’re ignoring the rest of the aids and body language, because I feel that this area is often most misunderstood by novice riders.

Imagine you are trying to push someone over who’s bigger than you. If you just lean your body weight against them then they will adjust their centre of gravity and lean against you, thus making them more stable and harder to push over. This is exactly what happens if you pull statically on your reins, or the lead rein if you’re on the ground. The horse will lean against you akin to a tug of war. Because they are so much heavier (ten times is the suggested ratio) gravity works in their favour and ultimately you will lose.

Going back to pushing someone over. Tactically, it is much better to give a series of smaller pushes, so unbalancing them and preventing them securing their centre of gravity against you. Now back to the horse scenario. A series of squeezes/jerks/tugs, whatever you wish to call them, is more effective at directing the horse and monitoring their speed.

Think of it as a give and take, or squeeze and release. You maintain the contact, be it lead rope or reins, but use your hand to apply pressure, then as the horse responds (however marginal) you relax the fingers. Don’t push hands forward because that will allow the horse to rush again. The release rewards the horse for his slight reaction, and reapplying the pressure repeatedly stops them leaning against you and means that they maintain respect for the aids.

From a driving perspective, you want to imagine you’re slowing decreasing your speed. So from 60mph, to 55, to 50 and so on. If you squeeze the rein yet drop the contact between squeezes it’s like alternating between the brake and accelerator. Some horses, like when you’re driving downhill, need frequent taps on the brake (half halts) to stop them rushing out their rhythm.

It’s a hard thing to get your head around, especially when faced with a horse who doesn’t want to stop cantering across the field, because it’s an automatic reaction when self preservation kicks in, but ask your horse to steady in small increments with a series of half halts rather than trying to win a tug of war and bring them to an emergency halt. Practice in the school, in a simulated environment so that you feel more confident out hacking and in open spaces, as well as training your brain.

Exploring New Places

One of the horses I ride has moved yards, and I’ve had the fun of exploring the local area. This sounds a bit weird, but I do so much hacking around one village, the postman always stops to chat (usually when it’s raining) and tells me about his holiday to Majorca. A change of scenery is always welcome!

Anyway, the first time I went to the new yard I kept a close look out on my journey for bridleway signs or woods with potential tracks. That day we went left out of the yard to a large field with a bridleway around the edge. It’s actually a really nice track that is fairly flat so it will be a good work out when I get to know the ground conditions because we can get some long trots and canters to get her fit. I think I can go further afield from this track, but I want to get to know the area first.

The next time I went right out of the yard, and did a predominately road hack. Keeping the active walk, with a bit of terrain, made her work surprisingly hard, and I came across a few byway and bridleway signs en route. I’m always checking my watch when exploring new territory so I can gauge distances and begin to put routes together and know an approximate duration. I’d like to say I use a compass to keep my bearings, but I’m not that Famous Five, and have a fairly good sense of direction. Plus Google maps on my phone …

After I’ve got my bearings around the immediate area I get out the Ordnance Survey map to see if there are any other tracks that I’ve missed, or ones just beyond the boundary I’ve explored. Then I feel more confident going further afield.

It seems the routes I’ve found so far haven’t been used recently. I had to duck under some pretty low branches, squeeze between the hedges and brambles. Regular use soon pushes back the undergrowth, so hopefully the routes will get easier.

Last week I found an overgrown bridleway which started off overlooking the road and fields before turning into a valley. It felt a bit like Gandalf and Shadowfax traversing Middle Earth as we explored this track. Then we found a fallen tree and couldn’t get past so had to turn around.

We then went the other way along the bridle way until I found a hole in the hedge leading to a large field. It was irresistible, so we headed out and went for a trot and canter around the edge. I think I was accidentally on a footpath – judging by the arrows I could see. At the top of the field I found a bench. It struck me as a bit odd. A wooden bench at the top of a field. But then I clocked the view. And I could totally understand why a bench was there. It was beautiful. The valley dropped away in front of me, hedges lining the view. It must have been someone’s favourite spot to sit back and enjoy the British countryside. Unfortunately the mare was too fidgety for me to take a photo – next time! I think it will actually look more picturesque in a few weeks when the leaves turn orange.

We continued around the edge of the field, definitely on a footpath by now, but I kept close to the hedge so we didn’t damage the crop. Then we squeezed through another gap in the hedge back onto the bridleway and went home the way we came.

It was a really nice hack, and now I know where to go and what the ground is like we can have more trots or canters en route and perhaps venture further along the bridleway.

While I was riding, I was thinking of our hacks at home. Maybe it was the lack of mobile phones, or indeed their signal, but we had names for all our hacks. The Wildings, which was a bridleway through a stream and surrounded by old trees. Wern Ddu, which circumnavigated the local golf course. The West, which went through fields and past the drive of the said house before going back along the lanes. The Pink House, which went past a pink house which has been painted white for the last decade. Bryn-Y-Gwenin, which went through a nearby village. Crow fields… which I was never quite sure how it got it’s name. When we left the yard we told others which hack we were doing, so they knew how long we’d be out and where we’d be if they needed to come and find us. None of the hacks I go on now have names. We just use vague directions – such as going to the woods, or round the village. At each location there are several routes.

Having a new area to explore makes me realise how lucky I am to get to explore so many parts of the UK on horseback and how we take our countryside, and the byways and bridleways, for granted.

Slightly Defeated

I took one of the horses for a hack earlier this week and had a slightly bittersweet time. It's been a couple of weeks since our last hack, and she's not the bravest of souls. But I was disappointed when she flat point refused to go past a monster that has been there for weeks.

The track is very familiar, and she had been past this dumped feed sack, full of weeds, a few times. However, last week's rain had flattened the bag. I guess the weeds have also started to decompose too. So the bag was less visible; invisible until we were level with it.

As she spotted it she stopped politely, and reversed in the most beautiful rein back (far straighter than our attempts in the arena). Once we'd stopped, I asked her to walk on. She did until she got to the same point, and then she reversed in a more committed manner, refusing to walk on.

We had a quiet battle for several minutes, where I coaxed her in shoulder in towards the bag, and she would calmly rein back. There's no point getting angry at her, I did bring out the stern voice because forty strides of rein back really is excessive! But this mare was adamant that she was not going past the monster.

Getting her as close to it, and standing still, as possible I gave her a small pat. After all, we were approaching the monster and not turning tail. I dismounted and led her past the monster. Of course she didn't bat an eyelid, and stood perfectly for me to clamber back on from a nearby bank.

I felt like a bit of a failure. Disappointed in myself. After all, I'm training her, and I've not managed to train her to unquestioningly do as asked. Dismounting on a hack always makes me feel this way.

But then my logical brain kicked in. What is the situation from the horse's point of view?

Horses are followers, and they accept their riders as the herd leader, or at least higher up the hierarchy. So they gain confidence from them. In the wild, if they come across something unknown, the leader or dominant horse will approach first, with the submissive ones seconds behind.

This horse didn't want to go past the monster, but when I (the leader in our relationship) took the lead, and went between her and the bag, she instantly felt safe. After all, I was protecting her.

I still felt that my training was lacking slightly because I hadn't given her enough confidence from on board to pass the bag, but I was mollified later in our hack when we had another monster.

We needed to cross the road, but a large banner had been put up on the opposite side. That was scary. Added together with the large puddle on the side of the road, it took my a few attempts to cross the road. In the end, I turned her away from the banner, so she could concentrate on negotiating the large puddle. Which she did happily. Then I double backed along the road and entered the woods calmly next to the banner. All very calm really.

I should stop beating myself up really. Not long ago, this mare wouldn't have passed the bag with me leading without snorting and prancing past. And she would never have walked within touching distance of a large, white flapping banner without kicking up a fuss. So she's definitely growing in confidence.

Surely the point of training a horse is to develop the relationship and rapport that means they will do anything you ask calmly and happily. Therefore, surely the ultimate test of good horsemanship is the ability to bond with a horse, who has a very strong flight instinct, and to face their fears is the total opposite of their character, so that you can ride them past monsters and in new situations with them calm and relaxed?

So I'm not quite there, because I had to dismount and show her that the bag wouldn't eat me, but we are definitely making progress because her reactions to scary situations and less extreme, and more "I'm not sure about this… I'm a bit worried" rather than the "oh my god it's gonna kill me!" response that we used to get.

Day One of Pony Club Camp

Today was the first day of Pony Club Camp, and I realised that in order to successfully teach and enjoy Pony Club you have to change your attitude.

When you teach clients on a weekly, permanent basis, you have long term goals and iron out any faults immediately as you try to mould your riders. You get to know both horse and rider very well and can plan lessons well in advance.

At Pony Club, you have a group of unknown children and ponies for a short term basis. The aim of the rallies or camp is to have fun, improve, and to stay safe. In that order! As instructors, we're told to give these kids the best week of their summer holiday.

My ride this year are seven years old, most having done junior camp before. So they have some independence, but still need their parents for help tacking up etc. They all have their own ponies, and varying number of lessons through the year so they won't all follow the classic BHS plan of "when a rider can ride sitting trot without stirrups they can learn to canter" or any other recommended stepping stones. These kids will love jumping, be confident, but not necessarily have a good command over the basic position, which can lead to some hairy moments. But you have to learn to close one eye and let it go.

I have a bit of a proven method now for getting started with Pony Club now. My first session today was Handy Pony. This rarely fills the whole allocated session, so I took the opportunity to have a thorough assessment of them all.

As a guide, you want to order them biggest pony to smallest, which gives you a starting point. Staying in walk and with a couple of questions, you can soon assess whether your lead file is suitably qualified – they have to be able to maintain trot, steer reasonably, understand basic school movements. While they're walking I can usually tweak the order too. If one little pony strides out well, or one rider has the tendency to daydream and get too close, or if one can't keep their pony up with the rest of the ride.

Once I'm happy with my order, I'll organise the first trot. I send them in pairs, or possibly threes, making sure the fresh ponies or weaker riders have bottoms to follow. Then of course, I have to find the right place for them to have a trot – just in case a fresh pony or keen child gets carried away. And the ponies are always fresh in the first session on grass! I try and pick a short stretch, or a uphill slope, with a clear marker where they should be walking again.

So I sent my six riders off in pairs, fairly successfully. At least, I'd managed to put the more able riders at the front of each pair so it didn't matter that one rider set off with long reins, or one pony cantered two strides before trotting. This is another Pony Club technique – learn to quickly shout "shorten your reins" and to stay calm while the pony speeds off!

After a couple of pair trots we trotted all together, which is actually very stressful because there is invariable corners cut, ponies getting too close, ponies walking, and overtaking attempts. But I count it as a success when we have the whole ride trotting for a couple of minutes at a time. Little things! If I'm feeling brave, and can find a nice short space to canter, then I'll do that individually with them too.

This is also the time to wear the ponies out, keep them trotting so they won't be so fresh for the Handy Pony part. For the riders, I work out the one think that I need to improve; what will keep them having fun, improve them, and keep them safe? After all, I've only got a short space of time, and by the time we've learnt dressage tests, musical rides, hacked, jumped and done stable management there's not that much chance to work on basic improvements.

Often there are general position pointers for everyone; heels down, look up, shoulders back, shorter reins. But I always try to find a specific area for each child so that they take something away from camp. So for example, one of my riders this week needs her stirrups dropping a few holes and needs to learn to sit up tall. I've already dropped her stirrups a couple of holes and explained to her the importance of not leaning forward to help keep her in the saddle (especially when her pony lowers his head into canter!), so by the end of the week I want her to be more aware of when she leans forwards and to be riding with longer stirrups. Another rider is very gung-ho and her trot gets faster and faster, so I want her to learn to keep a better rhythm. Another rider is slightly behind the movement with her hands in her lap, so I'm going to get her more in sync with her pony. Another gets a beautiful extended trot from his pony instead of canter, so we're going to work on those transitions. One stands up in her stirrups in downward transitions.

By giving each rider a little goal, I feel that they will finish camp having improved their riding, whilst not taking away any of the enjoyment (because let's face it, I would love to drill them without stirrups for an hour a day) and these tweaks will keep them safe. For example, sitting up straighter with normal length stirrups will make her less likely to fall off over a jump; riding a downward transition correctly improves her level of control; getting a canter transition on cue means he'll negotiate the dressage test more successfully.

I also feel better with a specific aim for each rider, and it helps me plan my warm up. For example, my warm up for dressage included practising downward transitions so that one rider didn't feel picked on, but it improved her as well as giving the rest of the ride something to think about. Tomorrow, we will discuss and practice canter transitions to help the rider who struggles with that. Then we may do some sitting trot for the rider who leans forward. They will all benefit from the exercises, but some will take more away from each one than others.

I think my kids did very well today; we had some good attempts at the dressage test, a very successful Handy Pony session, and we managed to spend longer trotting as a ride by the afternoon, as well as lots of smiles and laughter. Tomorrow we've got showjumping, mounted games and musical ride practice.

Only a Short One …

This is only a short post because I’m tired from dressage camp and still have a lot of unpacking and organising to do.

Dressage camp was at a large centre with an excellent cross country course so yesterday afternoon a friend and I went for a leg stretch around the cross country course; walking through the water and generally building up the bravery of the horses. 

The Diva, that I was riding, started off by mincing through the water, and shying ten foot from, with eyes on stalks, the ornamental camel, but with time he was trotting confidently through water and even gave the camel a kiss!


This morning we decided to actually go cross country. Yes, I know it’s a dressage camp, but it would have been rude not to given that the facilities were there. The ground is exceptionally hard at the moment, so I decided to only do little fences, and concentrate on the ones around the water and on all surface tracks. The aim being to give the horses a break from dressage, to have fun, and to build their confidence around the water and with steps and ditches. 

Which we did. There was a lovely selection of small fences around the water complexes and on the tracks. The horses felt great and The Diva even jumped into the water and cantered up a step the other side very happily.


Afterwards, we were talking to the owner of the centre and he had some gems of knowledge to share.

Currently he is trying to put people off from coming cross country schooling because the ground is so hard, but he thinks they’re busier now than when the ground conditions were ideal. Perhaps not good business sense, but good horse sense.

He went on to say that the main test in eventing is the width of the fences. Most horses can jump the height required, but few can jump the width required. Take for example, at BE100 the maximum height is 1m, but the maximum spread at the bottom is 1.8m, and 1.1m spread at the top of the fence. Here comes the facts. When jumping on hard ground, horses are more likely to jump with a steep bascule, i.e. up and down with very little distance covered. On landing, they don’t like putting their forefeet down first or opening up at the shoulder and thus loading their heels, so they tend to land steeply.

This obviously doesn’t have such an effect over little fences, but if you consider the competition rider training on hard ground then they will be changing their horse’s jumping technique which will mean they aren’t as economical with their gallop as they shorten their stride, and will lose time as they aren’t jumping the spreads out of a flowing stride. Additionally, they may lose confidence with the spread fences because they don’t want to take a longer bascule, or they associate it with jarred limbs.

So whilst it’s never been advised to do a lot of jumping on hard ground because of concussion risks, it’s interesting to know how it affects the mechanics of jumping and goes to show that it could actually be more detrimental to your competition performance by training over hard ground than by substituting it for some other training on a surface. 

Tickling Their Bellies

Whilst chatting to someone this week, they told me that one of the benefits of a water treadmill (more on this another day) is that the water splashes up onto a horse’s belly, which causes them to tense and engage their abdominals.

Thinking about it, when I’ve been waist deep in the sea, or another cold body of water, and tried walking around splashes invariably land on my torso, and I’ve felt my stomach clench in anticipation or dislike. It must be the same for horses.

Then today I was hacking one of the big horses. He can sometimes be a bit lazy in his posture, and I find him very big to correct, or support him. We were going around the mown edge of a field and it suddenly occurred to me that I had heard a long time ago that long grass tickling a horse’s belly can be useful in engaging their abdominals.

So I gave it a go; we ventured off the path and did some walk and trot in the long grass, that came up to my stirrup irons. He definitely seemed to float more, and I could feel his body working harder. He was exhausted by the time we had trotted halfway up the hill, and I was surprised by just how much of a workout it was for him, whilst being comparatively easy for me.


We can’t always use long grass to do our training for us because of the time of year, but it’s definitely something to bear in mind when I’m hacking at the moment. Plus we saw so much wildlife around – the swallows swooping around as we walked, and the deer that challenged us to a stare off, and the fox hiding in the woods, as well as the bird of prey that flapped frantically to hover over us in the middle of a vortex when I turned him out.

Location, Location, Location 

If Kirstie Allsopp ever leaves Phil Whatshisname then he should give me a ring. In fact, budge over Kirstie, I’m what Location, Location, Location needs.

I’ve been doing plenty of hacks around the local villages over the last few weeks and have discovered I’m a bit of a property connoisseur. With expensive taste.

There’s a half timber, Tudor style house that I really like. It’s not black and white though; the timber is natural and the rest of the wall a warm cream colour. Much more tasteful. Another property used to be the village shop, and “General Store” is still legible in the brick work on the second storey. Peeking through the windows I can see the white railing and half step that would have denoted the counter. The windows have those swirls in some panes, typical of shops. I love these sorts of  houses embedded with history. Another house I pass used to be the forge, and there’s a row of rusty horse shoes on the lintle. You can see how the garage and lean-tos have been adapted from the original buildings. The house itself is double the original, I noticed last week, with a true to type full size extension at the back.


I spend quite a lot of time looking at the extensions and gardens, noting the features I like. I’m not convinced by the giant stone pear in one garden, but I do like the wisteria that has been grown into the shape of a porch. I admire the brave people who planted pampas grass in their small garden, and I like the rustic wooden fences with bent, au natural planks. I try to work out if the numerous wells in gardens I spy are authentic, or modern features. I like the house with the massive window, displaying their mezzanine floor. However I’m not sure that I like how public it is – it’s mere feet from the lane so can’t afford much privacy. I’m no so fussed on the new build bungalow that has just been completed, but I don’t understand why there is a different number of gaps in the new hedgerow each day – I have visions of pensioners (which seems to be the average age of the population) digging up the baby shrubs each night, leaving plant pot sized holes behind.

I’ve seen what I find a very ugly house, white washed, with a flat, timber roof akin to Spanish villas. I’ve also discovered that I dislike pebble dashing, and post war pre-fab houses. And the dilapidated bungalow with rotten wooden outbuildings would be demolished as soon as I collected the keys!

One house I absolutely adore is on Millionaires’ Row, with plenty of palatial neighbours with manicured gardens. It has a circular drive surrounding a large well, sandwiched between 100ft high conifers, and a beautiful lawn, electric gates, and large, simple, white house. I looked it up on Zoopla. In preparation for when I buy my winning lottery ticket … I only need £1.8 million – gulp!


Another aspect of houses that I ponder about, is the naming. Does Steep Wood have a steep garden, or woodland, at the back? Is Foxwoods named so because of the foxes who lived in nearby woodland? Should The Firs change their name now they’ve cut down the fir trees along their boundary? Little Slade obviously can’t be named so because of the small house as I think it’s at least four bedroom. But then I remembered that slade means little valley, and this house must have stunning views of the valley behind. I can see why they built a small balcony to the rear. Cauis Cottage sounds rather ostentatious, but I like the way it rolls off the tongue. The series of semi detached numerical cottages must have been some kind of residency for the farm labourers, especially as the plaques are identical.

Perhaps when I get bored of horses I’ll digress into property. On which note, I’m going to catch up on last nights episode of The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes!

Uncommon Sense

Please may I let off some steam?


Earlier this week I read, on a coaching forum, about a road traffic accident witnessed by a coach. A girl had been riding her horse past a school at pick up time, and it had spoiled, bolted and crossed the road into an oncoming vehicle. Horrific, I know.

This coach was suggesting that the Riding Road Safety legislation should be altered to explain the possible hazards of hacking near schools.

I was aghast. What is the world coming to? Do we have to spell everything out to everybody? Am I part of the last generation with any common sense?!

I don’t know what part of your brain says, “I know, let’s go for a hack today. Yeah, we’ll go past the primary school… oh, it’s 3pm? Doesn’t matter, it will be fine”

It’s not just your horse that you are stressing and putting at risk by riding in places that are known to be busy at particular times. It’s parked vehicles – do you want to pay for that scratch of the 66 plate BMW that your whip caught? It’s the public themselves – kids run out of school, slam right behind a horse. Horse kicks out in fright. I won’t continue. Parents have an awful habit of pushing prams in front of them as they cross the road – horse spooks, rider falls off, loose horse amongst hundreds of children. 

You get the idea.

We have a bridleway near us that goes alongside the playground and comes out next to the school gates. It’s the ideal length for me to walk with Otis at the moment. But I won’t. Because I walk him out between 7.30 and 8.30am – prime going to school time – and between 3 and 4pm – picking up time. Whilst he is ok passing the playground as I have accidentally ridden it during break time, I don’t want to risk him getting scared by a child and causing an accident, and I don’t see the point in causing more of a traffic jam then there already is with dozens of cars parked on one side of the road and other road users trying to pass them. It’s a weekend route for us, and when I’m riding him again it will be light enough for me to ride that route at 5pm, once everyone has gone home.

I totally understand that you want to ride your horse, and that for some people hacking is limited. Some like to expose their horses to as much as possible, but don’t go looking for trouble! I’m sure you can adjust your day to hack before or after school time – perhaps ride in the morning and muck out after, or even muck out in the afternoon. Or you could change your plans for the day to hack a route that will avoid the school run, or if you have to exercise your horse at that time then lunge or go in the arena. Hack another day!

It strikes me that as much as horse riders play the victim, with fast and rude drivers, we also have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe by avoiding congested routes, not hacking out in fog (don’t even let me get started on this stupid act. I saw someone hacking from the yard a couple of months ago in such a pea souper of a fog I couldn’t see from one end of the arena to the other – a hi-vis does nothing to help you when light doesn’t penetrate the atmosphere) or dangerous ice, dark (another subject not to get me started on), and wear hi-vis clothing.

Perhaps the riding and road safety legislation should spell these things out to riders, but it saddens me that common sense is becoming more and more uncommon.