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.

My New Hi-Vis

Throughout the summer I wore a pink hi-vis tabard whilst hacking out; which was great and fitted well over my t-shirt. However, you try fitting a small tabard over a jumper and two coats nowadays. I look like a rugby player squeezed into a tutu.

So I decided that I needed to get another. Perhaps an extra large tabard? Or with poor light perhaps I needed long fluorescent sleeves?

Then I thought that perhaps I should look at hi-vis coats. After all, any extra waterproofing is good with me.

I did some research, asked around, and finally plumped on the Equisafety Aspey winter jacket. Then of course I had to choose the colour. I decided that orange would be the best… different to pink anyway.

With a gulp at the price tag, I eventually ordered it. I placated myself by telling myself that the hi-vis was not just a hi-vis, it was also a waterproof coat. Of which I need a new one this year anyway.

A couple of days later it duly arrived. I have to say I was quite excited.

My initial impression was that the coat is nice and stylish. The black contours are quite flattering. All good for my professional image. From a practical point of view, the zips are tough, pockets are deep. It’s warm, with a satiny lining that feels very nice. I feel like I’m wearing quality. I don’t sit on the bottom when I ride, and the sleeves are the right length. It seems durable; I’ve not yet snagged it on the plethora of brambles, holly, and branches I pass.

However, it is very bright. Yes, I know that’s kinda the point. But I feel like I stand out like a sore thumb when walking around the yard in it! It definitely makes me tidy up after myself because I’m so identifiable to a passer by!

Someone jokingly said to me, when I appeared with it; “don’t wear that down the field, I’ve no time to fix all the fencing.” I must say that all the horses have been very accepting of my beacon-like appearance. Even the aptly named Spooks let me walk straight up to her in the field.

An unknown horse rider that I met out hacking complimented me on the effectiveness of my jacket. She’d seen me a long time before I’d seen her. 

A car driver also said that they’d spotted me in plenty of time and liked the jacket. I’m undecided yet as to whether I’ve just met more courteous drivers this last week, or the drivers are respecting the bright jacket. Time will tell!

Another comment I had was “well, it’s not burnt anyone’s eyes out yet…” as we contemplated the visual effect of it.

Overall the jacket has been a hit. I like to think that my clients are happier/more confident that their horses are in good hands because I’m trying to make myself as visible as possible so hopefully we are safer on the roads. I like wearing it and feel more confident on the road in my visibility; the fact that it is warm and waterproof takes the pressure off my other coats, and means I have a dry one in my car should I get a drenching. One small design flaw, and it may not worry most people, but when I hacked on Thursday and the wind was gusting, the triangle on my back started flapping violently. It made a fair bit of noise, which didn’t upset any of the horses I was riding, but potentially it could cause a problem. I’m not sure how best you would change the design, but I think if I was riding out again in windy conditions I would consider rolling the triangle up into the collar and forego the instructions to drivers. 

So yes, if it’s a winter hacking jacket you’re looking for, then definitely take a look at Equisafety’s range. I like the look of their mercury jacket, but just cannot justify the price tag. It is silvery reflective all over so best suited for half-light and nighttime. As I only hack during the day, I think the Aspey jacket is better suited because the colour attracts the motorist’s eye as opposed to the reflective bouncing back car headlights. Next up, I’ll need an exercise sheet that matches my jacket! 

Road Rage

Firstly, I will apologise now. For this is going to be a rant, but please continue to read and share, so that we can hope some non-horsey road users will read it and begin to understand the plight of horse riders on the road.

I do a lot of hacking. Today alone, I went on four hacks. On a weekly basis I spend about ten hours a week hacking. I don`t hack on the roads by choice; I am either using the roads because of vet recommendations, or in order to access the bridleways. The majority of the time hacking is a very pleasurable way to earn a living, but then other times it`s just awful. Many people I meet, in cars on or foot, smile and wave. Perhaps we exchange words on how lovely the day is. However, in the last week alone I have met several idiotic drivers who have almost caused me and the horses I have been riding to come to some serious harm.

They were lucky.

I was lucky.

Let me tell you about some of them. Yes, they are biased as they are from my point of view, but I don`t think many non-horsey drivers know how a horse rider is perceiving a situation, so it is important to improve their understanding so that they can make better judgements in future.

Last Thursday my friend and I were riding along a country lane; quite a wide, straight bit of road, when we met a man with a shotgun. He was walking towards us on our side of the road, so we moved out into the middle as we approached because there were no cars coming and it`s only courteous not to force 3/4 ton of horse too close to a strangers feet. The horses were wary of his gun, but he was very friendly and admired them both. We paused momentarily so I could ask him if he had finished shooting (I had others to ride out so wanted to avoid his party) when a car came out of nowhere and undertook us – driving between the horses and this nice gentleman. There was hardly room to breathe! I`m not sure who was more stunned, the horses or the man. Could that car not have slowed down, or waited for us to tuck ourselves in to the hedge, which we were about to do?

The following day I was hacking a mare around the village. On physio`s orders, we were in walk on the roads. As I came down a hill I could hear the sound of a mower in one of the oncoming gardens. Knowing this mare, I knew that she would not walk close to that garden with a funny noise behind the hedge, so after checking that the coast was clear I moved out towards the middle of the road. I didn’t want her to jump right into the road, and being a bit further away from the noisy monster I could ride her straight and felt better in control. I also wanted to discourage cars from passing me because I didn`t want to risk her jumping sideways onto the car. A car did come up behind me, as we were level with the noisy garden. But he overtook anyway, passing inches away from my right stirrup iron. Thankfully, she didn’t react, but it could have been so dangerous. Part of learning to drive is learning to read the road; if you see a horse positioned in the middle of the road the rider usually has good reason to be there, so take a moment, slow down and wait until they are safely out of the way.

An hour later. Well, less than that as it was the beginning of my next hack, I was crossing the main road with a friend. It`s a fast road, but straight so it has good visibility, and we have to ride about 50 yards along it before going up one of the lanes. However, a construction company have put up a little white sign, which all the horses peer around, checking for monsters. The horse I was on started to edge sideways around the sign, so I stopped before he edged too far into the road because a car was approaching. My friend`s horse was more reactive and started dancing sideways, additionally upset by the rapidly approaching 4×4. The car didn’t slow down until it had to in order to avoid my friend`s horse`s hindquarters, which were crossing the white line, despite her best efforts. My friend had signalled frantically to the female driver to slow down, which had been ignored, and when my friend asked her to wait a moment, the only response she got was a rude gesture as the woman sped off. What on earth could she have been in such a hurry to get to that she didn`t have time to slow down? Approaching more slowly wouldn’t have panicked the horse more, and would have meant that my friend could have kept him still while the car passed, and then when the road was clear we could skirt around the sign.

Thankfully I had the weekend off from hacking, but on Tuesday I was back at it once the fog had lifted. This time I was on a fizzy ex-racer, walking along the road when a teenager came into sight on their moped. I signalled them to slow down, but to no avail. They pop-popped past us at around 30mph, causing my horse to panic, spin and try to bolt with me – not fun! The act of slowing down, not changing gear as they passed me, would have made this situation so much safer. As well as respecting my hand signals.

An hour later, along the same stretch of road, a pick up raced up behind, slowed down marginally, and then it and it`s metal trailer rattled past us. Thankfully this horse just stood as the calves inside the trailer rolled around, bellowing loudly. The worst part here, was that even though the pick up was passing me FAR too fast, they still had the cheek to wave their hand at me. No – don’t have the arrogance to wave to me when you are going so fast I have to keep two hands on the reins and focus on controlling a potential explosion because you have terrified my horse! Think about the vehicle you are driving and if it may cause a problem because it rattles, or smells, or is a funny shape.

Today`s incident though, really takes the biscuit. I was crossing the road this morning. Again, a fairly fast road, but quite straight and I had good visibility. Two cars passed me while I waited on the verge, and then all was quiet so I started crossing. Suddenly a car came around the bend, very fast. And I mean fast. At least 60mph. Which is a bit silly anyway because he was approaching a double junction and an uphill bend. I waved at him to slow down as I was over the centre line, hurrying towards the woods. I didn’t want that racing past in this horse`s blindspot once I`d gotten off the road. To my horror, the car actually started to get faster. Yes, he was ACCELERATING TOWARDS ME! I kept waving my hand whilst kicking frantically for my horse to hurry up and get out of the way. As he passed me, he swore violently at me.

Absolutely horrendous behaviour. I was horrified. Scared. It`s the sort of inconsiderate, rude, dangerous, I would expect of … well I wouldn`t expect it from anyone. Slowing down when he first saw me would have meant I would have gotten out of his way in plenty of time and he wouldn’t have needed to slow down that much. Perhaps he would have been a minute late to whatever life-changing event he was racing to. But I highly doubt a minute would have been the difference between life or death.

I think some of the other motorists I`ve seen over the last week have been ignorant, but today`s man was a jerk. A first degree jerk. He didn`t care. I felt he actually would have hit us, he wouldn’t have tried to avoid an accident.

But perhaps that is what motorists are after. For there to be a severe accident; for a horse to lose it`s life; for a rider to sacrifice themselves? I don’t know. But for those un -horsey,  imagine you are walking along a country lane. Now imagine the feeling as a car roars past you at 60mph. Then again at 50mph. And 40. And 30. Even 20.

Now imagine that you are sat on a prey animal. One with a natural instinct to flee. Now do you have some idea, an inkling, of how we feel as you roar past; too fast and too close. This is why the British Horse Society is constantly campaigning for drivers to pass horse riders at 15 miles per hour – Dead, or Dead Slow? – it is not because we feel it is our right to have everyone bow to our needs. It is because we have the right to have respect, as road users, on the highway. It is a safety point, someone could be seriously injured if you scare the horse by driving dangerously. It doesn`t have to be the horse or horse rider, it could be another vehicle, or a walker, or anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. Furthermore, you can be prosecuted by the police, be fined and receive points on your license.

Like I said at the beginning, horse riders don’t want to spend time on the roads, it is a necessity to access the off road tracks and trails, so please take a moment to stand in our shoes, and think about how we might be feeling as you screech past us on your way to your oh-so-important destination, not caring if we or the horse are physically or mentally damaged.



Building Confidences

Today I took a horse out for a hack who was very nappy when his owner first got him, rearing and spinning round to head home, but she`s done a lot of hacking in company (sometimes with me) and he has settled and been much better recently, taking the lead and not being silly once.

Now I have taken this horse on to hack on a weekly basis, and couldn`t find myself a hacking partner today, so decided to just see how we got on going solo!

I`ll be honest, I was feeling like a limp lettuce after riding six horses beforehand, and still nursing aching muscles and ligaments from my flying lesson a couple of weeks ago, so was hoping for an easy ride. We set off along the drive, I tried to sit with a “don’t care” attitude and light rein contact because the horse seems to relax when we take this approach.

We didn`t get very far along the drive before he stopped and tried to nap. I sat very still, didn`t let him turn to home, and waited until he stood still. He didn`t rear, just threw his head around a bit. When he was standing I stroked his neck, and told him he was a good boy. Then, with my voice and leg, asked him to walk on.

He was still reluctant to go along the drive, so I pushed him towards the woods instead and we left the yard along the wooded track. He was quite happy with this, and even walked along the lane with only a glance towards the drive as we passed the gates. He was thinking about home, but it was no more than a passing thought. However, about halfway along this lane he suddenly realised he`d had enough. There was no reason for it, nothing spooked him; the lane was quiet.

While an oncoming car waited patiently, I sat quietly until my horse had stopped faffing. Then he happily walked on from my voice. I carried on talking to him as we passed the car, thanking the driver. And I carried on my one-sided conversation along the lane.

We had two more moments, where he stopped for seemingly no reason, reversed a little,  shook his head, and bounced on his forefeet, trying to turn for home. Each time I waited for him to stop, gave him a moment to think, and then asked him to walk on.

It seemed to me that whilst this horse isn`t the spooky type, and not that reactive to his surroundings, he lacks confidence, especially whilst hacking alone. His little tantrums are moments when he feels out of his depth, loses confidence in the hack, and needs some guidance.

The worst thing I could do would be to get angry or reactive. That will only panic him and cause him to lose faith in me, his rider. My voice was probably my strongest tool, and chatting to him helped relax him and improve my bond with him.

For him to improve and become good at hacking alone he needs to bond with his rider and learn to trust them implicitly. Then when he had his moments of self doubt he can overcome it easily and continue his job. Which should also help his cross country rounds. 

The second half of the hack was absolutely foot-perfect. It was a hack he is familiar with so he should be confident in the surroundings which will increase his self confidence. 

Over the next few weeks I think the horse will benefit from slight variations on the hack that he knows, so that he doesn’t become too engraved in his route. Because he also has the tendency to nap towards home it’s also useful to reverse the route, and use different entrances and exits to the yard. I’m looking forward to seeing him progress and grow in confidence.

Dogs and Me

One of the things I hate most when hacking is meeting dogs. Which is really annoying because they are one of the most commonly encountered things whilst riding out.

I`m sure many of you are wondering what has happened in the past, and there have been a couple of incidents, that Matt kindly reminded me of. Just for the record, he didn’t do anything, his presence reminded me!

We used to hack through a village, which was a lovely single track, straight hill. We`d encounter various spooky things, and it was always a good spook-busting hack. At the top the lane turned into a green lane, ironically with National Speed Limit signs at the grassy cusp of the lane which bordered the local golf course. We`d walk down and through the twisty wooded track before turning on our heels and bombing along, ducking branches, skipping over the stream that ran in winter. At the end we had to slow down, turn a sharp right and gallop back up the hill to the National Speed Limit signs, dodging stray golf balls as they flew over.

The last house in the village had a stone wall around the garden, which was at the side of the house. Every time a horse (and probably a walker) passed, the resident dog, a large black Labrador, would bound out over the wall and bark loudly at us while the middle aged owner mildly called it to heel. And every single time without fail, Matt would jump a mile.

I remember I used to anticipate the dog as much as he did. Then one day, the dog went too far. He bounded over the garden wall, barking loudly, and ran straight over to Matt. Who kicked him pretty sharpish. The owner looked quite upset, so I just shrugged at him. He hadn`t bothered to train the dog properly! After that, the dog didn’t go further than the wall when horses passed, so it obviously learnt it`s lesson!

Another Matt story, which involves a dog, was one Christmas. I had cycled to the yard so it must have been the holidays and a weekday because Mum was visiting Granddad and Dad was working. My friends and I decided to go on a pre Christmas hack, one of the longer routes, but still a favourite because it included the Green Lane and the hair-raising track to the village on the way home. There hadn`t been any snow yet, so the world was muddy and dreary.

We blasted along the green lane, spraying mud at the one behind us, and then calmly walked past the little house (which we were always convinced some sort of hermit lived in) before turning right. We walked up the lane, then down the lane, past some sheep peeking through the fence, around the corner and …

As we passed a stone wall and gated drive a sheepdog suddenly started barking, nose sticking under the gate. We all jumped. Matt especially, and as he landed he slipped on the mud at the side of the lane and down we both went, my leg squashed between road and pony. He got up, unhurt, but my leg was pretty painful and numb. So we had to try to get some phone signal to ring for help, and I got a lift back to the yard, while another friend rode Matt back. After the bag of peas treatment and rest, my leg was fine.

However, my stirrup iron was bent! The bottom of it was almost at forty five degrees from where it had been squashed, protecting my foot. I only realised how much protection the stirrup had given my foot when I was working without stirrups in the indoor arena a couple of months later and a dog emerged from the shadows. We were on a corner, so obviously Matt slipped as he shied, and this time I had a very squashed foot! Sidelined from games for a few days, much to my netball coach`s disgust if I remember correctly.

So yeah. Dogs and I don`t really go well together. I feel better when I see owners holding them, getting them to sit, or putting them on leads, but I still have to make an effort to squash any anxiety so that the horse I am riding stays unperturbed.

Only a couple of weeks ago I met someone walking five dogs in the woods, and she clipped all but one onto a lead, holding the other one. Once I`d gotten around the corner and down the hill a bit I heard hysterical screaming. The dog was only chasing me and my horse! Thankfully, the process of me turning the horse to face the sprinting dog was enough for it to stop, cower, and turn tail.

This is by no means me having a go at dog walkers, it is just a trip down memory lane, and an explanation as to why I will always pull up and wait for dogs to be controlled before I get too close.



Sponsored Rides

Have you been enjoying the countryside from horseback all summer and now decided to take the next step and enter your first sponsored ride?

I know a few people who have either done their first one this year or are about to embark on it. They’re a lot of fun, but the only way to enjoy the spectacular scenery is to go prepared. Then you’ll spend less time worrying about the what ifs and more time enjoying your horse and company.

My first fun ride was as a sixteen year old, taking three nine year old girls round on their ponies. Now, I don’t think I would like that sort of responsibility, but ignorance is bliss and if I remember correctly we had a great time.

Yesterday while I was riding I was thinking of a few ways to prepare, and then a few tips, for first timers.

  • Firstly, pick your company wisely. The more people you go with the more excitable things can be, so I would always limit my groups to a maximum of four, and then I would make sure I’d hacked my horse in a group of four beforehand so he was used to groups. Go with people who want to travel at your speed, and are able to. I mean, you don’t want to go with the long striding, bouncy ex-racer on your dumpy, steady cob because either you will be continually jogging to keep up or they will be constantly stopping to wait for you. Likewise, if you want to take it steady go with someone else who also wants to take it steady.
  • If you or your horse are a first timer it’s alway worth telling the other person that, or going with someone who’s happy to look after you and has a sensible horse who won’t be upset if you have to stop for a bit or your green horse has a wobbly. 
  • When you get to the sponsored ride it’s worth setting off at a steady pace – most horses are fidgety with so many others around them, but having a good trot or canter away from the start can get rid of the excess energy and means that they are far happier to walk the majority of the ride.
  • Beforehand it’s worth going on a long hack to make sure you’re both fitter and used to being out for a bit longer. After all, you’ll be spending two and a half hours in the saddle. If your saddle is really uncomfortable after a while then you’d better splash out on a seat saver!
  • It’s also worth going for a fast canter in an open space. Regardless of how steady and sensible your horse is, a canter in an open field will always feel faster than a canter in the arena or along a track in the woods, so you don’t want to feel unnerved by the increased power and speed. Popping a little log will give you the feel for jumping in the open but don’t worry if you don’t want to because all fun rides have optional jumps.
  • This is also a good time to test your brakes. There’s nothing worse than having your arms pulled out of their sockets for twelve miles because you kept your snaffle on. Some horses will be fine in their normal tack, but if in doubt then I always think a Dutch Gag is a useful bit to take because you can adjust the position of the reins on the day, which gives you a bit of flexibility and so confidence.
  • I would also invest in a grab strap. Or “chicken strap” as one of my friend’s mother called it! It can be a martingale strap or an old stirrup leather round the neck to give you some security should you feel wobbly.

I think that’s all the preparation you can really do, but remember a sponsored ride is all about having fun, so make sure you go at the pace you want to, and don’t feel that you have to jump every fence, or that every field must be cantered through. Supportive and experienced friends are a must, to give you that extra boost of confidence. And don’t forget to collect your rosette at the end!

Common Courtesy 

I don’t usually get angry, but yesterday I was not very impressed.

I have been hacking out an ex racer who reared and spun for home randomly. It’s been a slow process of hacking in company, going solo, and the last month he was been foot perfect on every hack.

We were walking along the lane, at the beginning of our ride, when a rattly car and trailer appeared behind. Naturally, the horse got uptight with the noise behind, but the driver was great and waited way behind me until I found a lay by to position myself so that my horse could see the vehicle clearly. He was much happier as it passed, and we carried on calmly.

Then a few minutes later I heard hoof beats behind me. A rider and horse came into view.

“Do you mind if I go past?” She asked. Points scored for being considerate enough to ask.

I shook my head; she was obviously in a hurry. 

They went into walk as they neared and I moved over so there was plenty of room for the unknown horse to pass. I slowed my walk and as she drew level with me she trotted off. All previous points earned erased.

My horse tried to trot with her, I said no. And he flipped out. Started spinning, reversing, panicking. I tried to calm him, talking away to him, stopping him running home. We could still see the horse trotting away, and the racehorse instinct was kicking in. 

She must have heard the clattering of hooves, my voice, my horse neighing. But she carried on, oblivious.

Thankfully it wasn’t long before they disappeared around a corner and only then did I manage to get the horse to stop fidgeting and stop panicking. But by then he’d planted himself and it took me another couple of minutes to persuade him to carry on. He felt tense for a long part of the ride, only relaxing on the way home.

I was gutted, I felt like all of my work from the last six weeks had been undone. Would he try and turn for home on our next hack? Would he be difficult when we next passed a horse out hacking? The only positive I could find was that he’d relaxed for the second half of the ride and been very well behaved for that part.

To me, it’s common courtesy to ask if you can pass, and just keep to that gait until you round the corner or are far enough away that the other horse won’t be affected. Ok it may make you a couple of minutes late, but as you’re passing an unknown horse you don’t know how they will react, or the competency of the rider, and it’s better to be safe than sorry – I wouldn’t have liked to have fallen off onto the road! 

Thighs In … or Out?

Last week I read an article, by a blogger who I usually find very informative, but to my surprise I was left very confused. The article is here.

I think many other readers were also confused by the article, judging by the conflicting comments flashing across social media.

So I stored it in the back of my mind until I was out hacking on Thursday, when it popped back into my head.

If you`ve just read the article you will have seen that the author is pro thighs in.

I didn`t want to judge, I just wanted to know where my thighs were, and the effect of moving them had on the rest of my body.

Firstly, my thighs were relaxed – I could wobble the muscle easily with my hand. I could feel my seat bones, I felt quite central and sat tall. My knees and ankles were soft and slightly flexed. My feet were horizontal – it was a dressage saddle and I hadn`t bothered to shorten the leathers by a single hole, but I was still comfortable and safe – we weren’t on a gallopy hack!

I turned my thighs out. My lower leg came into closer contact with the horse`s belly. Imagine sitting on a ball; as the knees come out the ankle closes. My gluteals contracted and my seat lightened. I would have also found it more wobbly if we had trotted.

Then I put my thighs in. My knees gripped the knee rolls, the angle of my seat changed and I felt like I was blocking the movement of the horse, limiting him. My lower leg also came away from the girth, making it harder to apply the leg aid. I think the tension in my thighs would have caused me to become unstable in the saddle in trot and canter.

My humble thoughts on whether your thighs should be in or out? They should be sitting on the fence in the middle.

You don`t want your thighs tense, bringing your centre of gravity higher up your body and making it harder to absorb the horse`s movement, yet you also don`t want floppy thighs which make you sit like a sack of potatoes and destabilises you. Your thighs, in the ideal world where we all have toned, cellulite-free legs, should be relaxed yet engaged, causing them to drape around your horse`s barrel. In a similar way that a strong core is not difficult to maintain and looks effortless, your thighs want to be self-sufficient and holding themselves against the horse`s sides with just the muscle tone.

Some people have narrower hips than others, some have legs which turn inwards slightly; both aspects make it harder to drape the leg around the horse. These people do sometimes have to think about relaxing the knee, and letting the thigh roll out for a few strides to prevent them gripping too tightly, to drop the weight into the foot, and to allow their muscles to develop or change. Other people, perhaps those duck-footed or with bowed legs, sometimes have to think about closing the thigh in order to correct the position of the lower leg and seat, and again to improve their muscle tone and the way they carry themselves so that the whole of the upper thigh is in contact with the saddle, ready to apply aids and adjust to the horse`s way of going. The contact between thigh and horse should be uniform (both legs gripping to the same extent), enough that he knows you are there yet will not so heavy he becomes dead to the leg. It`s like holding your hand on the detonator button – ready to blow up your enemies at a moments notice, yet not blowing up your allies.

In the end I decided that I didn`t fully agree with the article because thighs should not be either or; they should be closer to the median because at different times in your riding you may need to adjust the position of your thigh to stabilise you in that particular moment on that particular shaped horse. He does highlight the errors of both ends of the scale though, and it`s a useful exercise for getting the rider aware of their body, position, and self carriage.