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.

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.

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