All Things Welsh

Today is March 1st, St David’s day. Or Dydd Dewi Sant in Welsh. I’ve seen lots of social media posts wanting pictures of Welshies. I could spam you with that, so I thought I’d do a post on something a little different.

I grew up in Wales, granted it wasn’t a particularly Welsh part of Wales, being only a stones throw from England. As my primary school teacher used to say, I “could put one foot in England and one foot in Wales” I lived so close to the border. We did the curriculum minimum Welsh lessons, mainly because it had only just become compulsory and our teachers had to learn Welsh in order to teach us!

All I remember from twelve years of Welsh lessons are random phrases such as “mae’n heulog” (it’s sunny), “Pam?” (Why?), “ble rwy t’in blew?” (Where do you live?), “ga i ffindiau ty bach is gwelech yn fawr?” (please may I go to the toilet?), “diolch yn fawr” (thank you very much), “merlota” (horse riding), “cefyl” (horse), and “sbwriel” (rubbish. As in, it’s rubbish). Then there are of course, the words which are so similar to English you can’t fail to understand them – tacsi, bws, snwcr. It’s still compulsory to learn Welsh until the age of 16 in Wales, and I think the fact that teachers now have a basic grasp of the language means the level of teaching compulsory Welsh has improved. I have to say, that I think I have retained more Welsh phrases than Spanish ones, which I studied for a couple of years in secondary school.

In primary school we all did embrace our country and culture in March. On St David’s Day, or the nearest school day to it, we always held an Eisteddfod competition. This is a festival of Welsh music, literature, and performance. Each year group entered a number of competitions – recitation, handwriting, art, cookery (making Welsh cakes of course), music … there were others I just can’t remember them. I do remember one year in infants having to make a daffodil for the art competition. Dad and I stayed up late one evening crafting a giant free standing daffodil out of empty Stihl chainsaw boxes. It was almost as big as me! I coloured or painted it the appropriate colours and cut it out with Dad’s help. I remember the whole school’s artwork being on display on the stage (there were only eighty something pupils. Only 5 in my year) and the oldest juniors commenting on how good my daffodil was.

The best part about the Eisteddfod was the long assembly, listening to music and recitations, and waiting with baited breath for the results. Anything entered beforehand (such as the giant daffodil) was entered under a pseudonym so the result was always a surprise to everyone. We had certificates, and earnt house points which were put towards the end of term “scores on the doors” (a favourite quote from one of the infant teachers). There you go, another Welsh phrase – “ty coch” or Red House, which was the house I was in. In fact, I can probably remember the welsh version of “I can see a rainbow”.

On St David’s Day we were allowed to dress up in either the traditional Welsh lady dress, or in Welsh rugby shirts. With English unsporty parents I did no more than wear a daffodil on my school jumper. At the time, I felt a bit left out. But when the old photos appear on Facebook twenty years later, I’m secretly very relieved!

So I had the be content with wearing a daffodil. Not a leek, they weren’t as pretty. Talking of daffodils, let’s move away from primary school humiliation.

The five miles between my village (or more precisely, hamlet, as there were fewer than thirty houses or something) and the next village, was lined with daffodils. I’m sure I remember a story that a lady left money in her will for bulbs to be planted along that stretch of road. It is always beautiful to see each spring, and is definitely one of my favourite sights along the road. But did you know that daffs are poisonous? To both humans and horses. And probably dogs. So yes, don’t eat daffodils and don’t let your horse graze near them! I’ll just continue to enjoy them in the garden and along verges.

A riding school I worked at an ex-polo horse called Daffodil. As old as the hills, and with an interesting gait to say the least, she was the sweetest chestnut mare you could ever meet. You could lead the smallest child from her all day long, and she was perfect to hack so was a very popular hack escort amongst the instructors. We used to call her Daffy and I remember being very sad when she moved on, because despite the fact she wasn’t much of a looker, with lumps and bumps, and three unique gaits, she was such a gentle soul who had a niche job.

Back to the subject of all things Welsh! Shall we move on to the equine side of things? I learnt to ride on Welsh ponies, and will always have a soft spot for them. But I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I always think the cob part in the Welsh C and Ds name lets them down because many equestrians assume they are novice rides, plodding, and suitable for beginners. They aren’t. They’re very sensitive animals, who have a big personality so need a confident handler to keep them in line and to keep them confident. Unfortunately I see too many inexperienced owners and riders with Welshies who are out of their depth until they get some help to understand the highly strung, sensitive nature of a Welsh Cob. Then of course, there’s no stopping them because they begin to harness the full potential of their Welshie and have great fun.

Welsh ponies, on the other hand, are best suited to confident children and best kept with plenty of turn out and lots of varied work so that they don’t become too cheeky and energetic. They can be great fun all round pony club ponies, but they do need to be kept busy!

New Passport Regulations

The Welsh Pony and Cob Society have been ahead of the game for years in terms of having a record of equines. Years ago you used to get stud books published every few years which were an index of all registered animals. I remember the glee of us girls when we found a horse we knew if the stud books. Now of course, it’s all online. I’ve also always like the fact the genealogy is usually fairly complete. Together with the stud prefixes you could easily identify your pony’s relations. Which is very exciting!

Of course years ago, the WPCS relied on owners registering their animal for the status it brought, the ability to show at county level, and the advertising it did for their breeding. Then, from 2004 all owned horses were required to have a passport, which resulted in many older horses receiving blue passports from The Donkey Sanctuary – which was a bit of a knock to their ego, I’m sure.

However, many breeders who (and I’m going to make a sweeping statement here) bred from mares with questionable breeding/temperament/soundness because they had no other use for the mare did not bother to passport foals until they were sold as yearlings, two, three or four year olds (I can only assume that is because there is a risk of a horse dying before it reaching adulthood and if that happens then time and money has not been wasted on passporting them). So the concept of all equines having passports and reducing the overbreeding of horses didn’t really work, and was difficult to monitor.

Then in 2009 this law was strengthened in that all foals born after 1st July 2009 had to have a microchip and passport within 6 months of birth or by 31st December of that year, whichever was soonest. Any horses applying for new passports (those who had slipped through the previous net) had to be given a microchip too.

This makes passporting horses more expensive, which I think deters responsible horse owners from breeding with their mare, but it still didn’t stop those who breed casually. Even the £1000 fine per unpassported animal didn’t deter many, as the UK still has a massive overpopulation of equines.

Now, as a proud owner of a mare, I find myself wondering would I ever breed from Phoenix. I highly doubt it, although I don’t think she’d make a bad brood mare as her conformation, movement and manners are all great. I just don’t think I’d want to risk putting her through it (because there’s always a risk) for an unknown result. When I could just go to the Brightwells sale in October at Builth Wells and view hundreds of weanlings and take my pick there. If I so desired to have one so young. Anyway, for now she has to concentrate on her ridden career.

As the passport and microchipping laws haven’t really had the desired effect, and with all the different passport issuing bodies (each breed society issues passports for their breed, plus the cross breed passports you also have) it’s very difficult to regulate. At competitions you can monitor passports, but given the number of equines stood in fields, you are only seeing a small, and very biased, sample of the equine population.

From 1st October 2018, it has become compulsory for all equines to have a microchip, as well as a passport. Owners have until October 2020 to ensure this is done. In addition to the microchip, all equine details will be stored on the Central Equine Database (CED).

Luckily for most of us, the passport issuing bodies are still the main point of contact for change in ownership, change or address, or death. They will update the CED.

We can only hope that having all equine details in one area will mean that disease outbreaks can be controlled and reduced, and stolen animals found and identified quicker as hopefully the middle man has been sacked.

Thankfully, DEFRA does admit that in order for this new law to be effective, it does require owners to be responsible and play their part.

Unfortunately though, I think there are too many numerous-horse owners (even at riding schools) where the paperwork and cost involved in microchipping all their older animals makes it very unlikely that they will follow through with it unless necessity requires it. Perhaps there is a window here for passport issuing bodies and vets to provide discounted microchipping and passporting rates to encourage multiple horse owners to step into line.

I’m still not sure how it’s going to be regulated, because so many horses stay in their field or are only ridden at home. Competition horses, particularly affiliated ones, will be fine, but the geriatric companions will go under the radar.

It is a positive that vets can check the microchip and positively identify a horse and treat accordingly, even if the passport isn’t present. Where do you keep yours? Technically, it should be at the yard but I for one am not keen on giving the yard owner my actual physical passport. I’d prefer to give them a photocopy. I don’t take my passports to the yard daily either, so getting there and having to call the vet for an emergency means that either I’ve got to leave my horse and go and get the passport, or send someone to dig around the office to find where I’ve secreted them away. The CED is a definite positive from this angle.

I like to think that being able to trace horses to owners makes them accountable for welfare issues or abandonment, but in order for that to happen they need to have chipped their horse in the first place. And if you’re a candidate for neglecting your animal, are you going to bother getting them chipped, and updating existing passports? I’m yet to be convinced.

In the meantime, go to The Equine Register and enter your horse’s microchip number to check that they are on the CED. Phoenix’s is as she was born after 2009, but Otis’s isn’t on there. He had a microchip inserted five years ago, and was registered with an animal microchip database as recommended by the vet, but the CED only takes information from passport issuing bodies, and Otis’s chip has not been linked to his passport. I’m sure this has happened to numerous others who tried to get ahead of the game years ago. So it’s definitely worth checking out. You can guess what my job tomorrow morning is!

On The Brink of Extinction?

Whilst searching around in my tired brain today (personally I blame the four little girls on the pony day and the seven am farrier appointment) I suddenly thought that I hadn`t written any blogs about breeds of horses. I tried to steer myself away from the beloved Welsh Cob, when I came across a website which described the rarity of Equine Breeds. Indeed only the Shetland pony and Welsh pony and cob are not endangered.

I was shocked to see that most of our native breeds are on the endangered species list, and those who still survive owe it to the leisure industry and the amateur riders. But with the importation of Warmbloods and other foreign horses, who are becoming more available to the amateur are the native breeds in decline even more?

 

Critical Endangered Vulnerable At Risk MINORITY
Cleveland Bay Dales Clydesdale Fell New Forest Pony 
Eriskay Exmoor Dartmoor Highland  
Suffolk     Shire  
Hackney horse & pony        

Eriskay? I hadn`t even heard of that breed before. Well, now I think about it the name seems vaguely familiar but I think I had the same reaction last time it was brought up.

Eriskay

Watchlist; Category 1, Critical.

Throughout the 20th century the ponies which were found in the Hebrides were known as Western Isles Ponies. These docile animals were the working ponies of the crofters.

They were invaluable to the island inhabitants who used them to carry pannier baskets of peat for winter fuel and seaweed from the shore to fertilise the land. They were also used for light ploughing.

With the onset of mechanisation, and a decline in the local population as people moved to the mainland, the breed steadily declined in numbers. By 1968 the only Western Isles ponies left were on the islands of Uist and Eriskay. The Breed Society was founded to conserve the remaining animals, and the breed name established as the Eriskay.

The Eriskay is a grey pony although occasionally other colours may be seen. Newborn foals can be black, bay or roan in colour but this gradually fades to the grey coloration seen in the adults. They have excellent temperament, and are strong and sturdy, standing up to 13.2hh, and ideally suited to the harsh environment of the Scottish Western Isles.

 

I was surprised the Cleveland Bay was on the critical list, as I thought it was enjoying a rise in popularity at the moment. But then I think some people may cross the Cleveland Bay with a finer animal to create more of a sports horse. For this reason, I also believe that the pure Hackney Pony is becoming rarer.

Breed Societies seem to work for the promotion of the breed and to encourage correct breeding so that the population doesn’t`t rise too much or the quality of horse is not jeopardised. Certainly, in Exmoor the locals take their ponies very seriously and the wild herds are monitored and rounded up regularly to check their health and to ensure there is no inter-breeding. The Queen does a lot for promoting Highland ponies, and even has her own stud in Balmoral, which should help support and popularise the breed again.

Due to mechanisation there is no requirement for horses in industry, except for the old-fashioned museum farms (Beamish in Newcastle was a childhood favourite of mine) and I have read of a couple of woodland farms which find it more efficient to have horses than tractors, and more eco-friendly. This means that all the heavy draught breeds suffered a decline, but recently the showing world has encouraged the Shire and Clydesdale back into the amateur world. Unfortunately, the heavy, ugly Suffolk has not enjoyed the same rise of numbers.

Suffolk

Watchlist; Category 1, Critical.

The Suffolk Punch is the oldest breed of heavy horse to exist in its present form and the earliest Stud Book of any heavy horse breed, and all modern Suffolks are descended from just one horse, Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, which was foaled in 1768. The modern Suffolk is taller than its forbears standing 16-17 hh, whereas Crisp’s Horse stood only 15.2 hh.

There were many thousands of Suffolks throughout East Anglia before the First World War as they are immensely strong and an ideal horse for working the land or carting goods. They are capable of working for long periods without rest, making them relatively cheap to keep. The Suffolk was hard hit by agricultural mechanisation as the flat arable land of East Anglia was well suited to steam engines or early tractors. The breed declined rapidly, and in 1966 there were only nine Suffolk foals registered.

The Suffolk is always chestnut in colour (always spelt without the “t” when referring to this breed), although the shade can vary from dark liver to a light mealy colour, occasionally with a white star but no other white markings. The legs are short, strong, and free from feather which was a useful advantage in the heavy clay soils of East Anglia.

In fact, the only native breeds not to make it onto this list are the Shetland, Connemara and the Welsh pony and cob. Shetlands are popular for small children, as well as being a useful companion as they don`t take up much space. My only conclusion to the popularity of the Welsh breed is that Wales is a notoriously patriotic country, and so tend to keep their breed alive and well. Hopefully the equine world will retrace their steps and move away from the Warmbloods and Hotbloods, instead making use of the variety of versatile horses and ponies we have in this country already.

As Good as Any Medicine

Today I never really got going. I woke up feeling a bit “meh” and never shifted the weight of the world. The miserable January weather didn`t help either. After an extremely long drive to the yard, avoiding the numerous flooded roads, I was officially in a bad mood.

A friend had turned out this morning, so I had my lie in, which wasn`t really a lie in because I was still awake at 6.30am. I only had to muck out, catch, and ride. So once I`d done the stable I tramped down to the field through large puddles and trying not to do too much mud-skating. When my field was in sight, and there was a break in the wind I shouted “Come on!” to O. He looked up, and turned away from him bag of hay at the back of the field and started trotting over.

Instantly I felt a bit better, he often looks up and ignores me, unless he sees an orange feed bucket of course. He trotted over, his new rug still fairly respectable, but the wind blew down his neck, getting under the large neck cover of his rug, making him look about 18hh, and have the neck of a Welsh stallion. He stomped up the track, with me skating behind, and we reached my friends horse`s paddock, where O stopped and nickered gently. Her horse came over and I put his headcollar on and continued being towed back to the yard.

A groom and a cuddle later I was ready to ride. There was a horse on box rest being walked in one arena so I asked how long she would be and if I could come in and start walking.
“Five minutes, and I can`t guarantee how well behaved we`ll be”. True, she had been walking her horse along the tracks a couple of weeks ago, as it`s more interesting that the arena, and he had gotten free and jumped into a neighbouring paddock.
“That`s fine, it will make me do more walk work. I`ll stay out your way.” I try and spend ten minutes in walk at least, but in chilly weather and the evenings it`s very easy to move quickly into trot. My walk work is mainly done on the roads, leg yielding or half passing round parked cars, shoulder in or travers along the kerb. So I was diligent, and spent a long time walking, riding transitions, doing a bit of lateral work and circles. I could also feel the effects of my new years resolution of sit-ups and improving my posture, which is always good news.

Once the other horse had left and I`d walked evenly on both reins I picked up trot. O felt quite forwards and elastic so I rapidly rode some movements on both reins before stopping and taking away my stirrups. It makes me work just a bit harder and stops my cheating in the transitions. It all went smoothly, rein backs, direct transitions, leg yield, shoulder in, travers, half-pass, we did the lot, combining different movements and generally getting him completely focused on me. Then I picked up canter and he was pretty soft and balanced. I stayed on a 20m circle around X; which everyone finds notoriously difficult, moving in and out, shoulder fore, sitting to the odd buck as he tried to change (he seems to have flying changes on the brain at the moment) Again I did some direct transitions. Recently he has discovered the power in his hindquarters and when he`s not sure what to do with it he just does mini bucks on the spot! It makes walk-trot transitions more interesting …

I had a bit of a light-bulb moment whilst cantering. We were doing 10-15m circles and I was finding he was falling out. Then it twigged; my inside leg was keeping his inside hind engaged but was shifting my weight to the inside thus pushing him out of the circle. As soon as I sat up and transferred my weight to the outside our circles were accurate.

After I`d been without stirrups for about 40 minutes I took them back for some medium work. I`m dedicated, but not stupid! His medium trot was fantastic! So powerful behind, really pushing through, and taking the contact forwards whilst staying in balance. So I began to make it a little harder and rode some small circles at either end of the school before medium trot down the long side or across the diagonal. I`m really looking forward to seeing his extended trot if this is only medium.
I repeated similar exercises in canter, moving it forwards and bringing it back. He`s not quite got the push of the inside hind at the moment and tends to drop the bridle, but its coming. Very pleased with him, I let him do two flying changes before we finished.

I`m not sure whether it was him picking up on my dampened spirits and wanting to cheer me up, or whether it was the effect of not working and having a bit of daylight to ride, my new improved core muscles, or just all our work coming together. Anyway, I was happy by the end of it!

BHS Exams

I heard from a friend that Huntley School of Equitation is closing, which saddened me greatly as I took my BHS Stage IV there. I was also quite surprised as it seemed to have had a lot of money invested into it, and had a range of good quality horses. It got me thinking about my exams though, so I thought I`d share my experiences with you.

I remember my Stage I exam in great detail; I had been fast tracked into the higher level college course, which meant that I had to take my Stage I in November, so I could concentrate on my II in July. So one of the lecturers at college found me a space at a nearby college and off I went. It was nerve-racking, I had to drive to the middle of South Wales (Pencoed College) by 8am. I don`t think I got lost, but I definitely would have liked a sat nav! I didn`t know what to expect, but found my way to the candidates waiting room and sat down nervously.
I had been assured that the Stage I was easy, and that no one ever failed, so you can imagine my horror when two middle aged ladies sat down at my table and asked “So, how many times have you sat this exam?” It turns out they`d both failed their riding twice!
We were introduced to our examiners… I looked up from chewing my finger nails to see another of my lecturers! She ignored me, and after a moment it twigged that I had to pretend I didn`t know her either. We were split up into groups, and given those annoying armbands with our number on. They were always either too tight and cut the circulation off in your arm, or too loose and spent the whole time by your wrist. The first section was the grooming and tacking up. I dutifully remembered to untie my horse before going under his head, picking out his feet, removing the rug, putting on the saddle etc. It was a weird exam and I think I started to enjoy it, but the questions threw me because they were so easy. Yes of course I knew which one was the body brush, and what a running martingale was. The hardest part was remembering to do things the “BHS way”. Next we moved onto the riding section. I think I was most looking forward to this part, although I don`t remember much about it except at the beginning when the horses were lined up and we could choose our mounts. The girl next to me whispered “I only like riding little ponies, I want the smallest one.”
“Good luck” I thought “that one`s got a standing martingale on!” Sure enough, he was the whizzied horse in the arena, and I noticed he was taken away before the final group rode. I think I had plain trusty cobs.
The rest of the exam went quite smoothly, I remember being the last to say the rules of feeding, which meant I had to come up with the boring one that no one else could remember.

Needless to say, I passed my Stage I and could start preparing for my Riding and Road Safety and Stage II.

Both the next exams took place at my college; Road safety at Easter, and I don`t think I have ever looked over my shoulder so much in my life! As a driver, the theory is always a lot easier. In preparation for the Stage II exam, in June, I did a lot of riding with the Stage III girls, rode a lot of the tricky horses; including my favourite, a black Welsh Section D pony. I had to jump him round a showjumping course to make sure he would be OK for the exam. He was a reserve, but if possible they wanted him put in for me. I always preferred the quicker ones. As it turned out, the horse I had to ride in the open field and round the jumping course was my least favourite mare, a rocking horse ironing board mare. I dreaded it, I knew she wouldn`t show me off to the best of my ability. The care and lunging part went without a hitch I believe; I think the tail plait I did was the worst one I`ve ever done. But that`s what happens when you`re all thumbs. It all went well though and I passed my Stage II first time.

Once term had finished I started an apprenticeship at a busy riding school, and continued my training towards my Stage III. My exam was in the following March, and a lot of my training was done with Patrick Print; I also had to ride horses on the flat and over jumps in front of various universities at BUCS competitions. Doing that is great for nerves! Especially when you`ve never ridden that horse before! It was at another nearby riding yard that my Stage III was held, and again I had the stress of negotiating a new route. I think I got there about 45 minutes early… which meant a long time sat in the car getting increasingly nervous! I remember Dee Roth Brown was the examiner for one of the care sections, and terrified me. She never seemed pleased with my answers and always had a counter argument to make me second guess myself. I wasn`t my most confident through that. The riding part was OK, but I remember on the flat being intimidated by a couple of very dressagey riders, who cut me up and generally made me feel in the way so I couldn`t concentrate.
Probably the part which stands out the most for me is the showjumping phase; I was already a tad nervous, and the chief examiner lined us up near the horses. “Who`d the smallest? He asked. You can have the little black” The little black was a nippy looking Friesian, so my hand shot in the air and I had to stop myself shouting “me, me, me!” I rode him anyway and he was lovely. The only problem was I couldn’t then take him across country! The cross country phase was fairly straightforward, anticlockwise round the field, jumping whatever was in the way. The horses were on auto-pilot, so I just concentrated on my position and looking confident.
It was a nerve-wracking wait for these results, because I really hadn`t felt confident through most of the exam. But I passed.

So, on it was to my PTT. I`d been training for it alongside my III, hence why only 2 months later, I found myself driving another unknown route (I had a sat nav this time!) to get to the exam centre. This exam was probably the one I felt most worried about. I was still at that awkward teenage stage when talking in public is terrifying. So, I had prepared my lectures, so that I pretty much had to read the handout. It was OK, though I think there was only a couple of other candidates. Once the lecture was done I had a lead rein lesson. This is definitely the preferred option; the lunge lesson leaves too many uncontrollable factors (lunge line, whip, horse). I think I was most worried in my lunge lesson, about the fact my rider could ride, and that I took him off the lead rein quite quickly. This turned out to be a good thing, as it showed progression.
For the last part I had a group jump lesson. Not my favourite choice because I was still struggling with striding distances. If I got nervous or carried away I would do massive strides and end up with long distances. I think I warmed up through the lesson though and managed to end on a fairly good note. Then I had the joys of trekking home in rush hour.

News came two weeks later, that I had passed. Immediately I was pushed towards training for Stage IV.

My exam was booked for October, and then I had my first real bout of exam nerves. I kept having melt downs in the middle of teaching, I cried in my training, I was a wreck. I didn`t want to do the exam at all. As I previously said, this exam was held at Huntley, which was midway between where I was working, and my parents, so I went home the weekend before and had a few days chilling with my Mum, teaching her about the ligaments, and systems of the horse (usefully, this was much the same as what we covered in college). Exam day dawned bright and early and Mum sent me off with a cooked breakfast keeping the butterflies quiet. When I got there I walked the courses; the showjumping was on grass, and pretty high. I was trying not to compare the oxers to my height, when another candidate said to me “these aren`t up to height, are they” They were flipping big enough!!
The candidates waiting room was in the grooms house, so it was a bit weird to start off with. Strangely enough, another girl there was from the year above me in college. She was only doing the riding part. I think I had the lunging section first; and I remember watching the first two of my group, and I recognised the big black warmblood. It turns out it was one of the horses at my college! Thankfully I knew how to handle him, because he could be a big bully! He was already threatening his current candidate. I didn`t have him, however, but a more docile bay gelding. The lunging was fine, then it was on to the riding. We rode in double bridles, and the horses were typical school masters, I don`t remember much about the flat part. For the jumping section, I was given a 16hh hairy cob. I was less than confident, thinking “this is supposed to jump THAT?” But then common sense told me that they wouldn`t be allowed to use a horse incapable of jumping the requirements for Stage IV. The cross country was a bit like my previous exam; up the hill, along the ridge, down the ditch, along the hollow, down the hill. I`m sure if you`ve been to Huntley you know exactly what I mean!
Again, the care side went quite smoothly, I think my lack of competitive experience and gift of the gab, showed up quite a lot. But news soon came that I had passed.

So that was my apprenticeship finished, and all my Stage exams, plus a recently completed AI portfolio, and I was ready to face the big bad world. Only now, a couple of years later, people are asking when I`m taking my next exam! Not for a while is my answer; several reasons, I have enough to do with my current job, I feel I need more experience, particularly in the teaching sector, and the cost of the higher exams is phenomenal.

Naming your horse

They say it`s bad luck to change a horse`s name; but some nowadays have such long winded unpronounceable names we have to shorten it or give them stable names! It`s beyond me how people come up with these nicknames. Sometimes they`re obvious – if the passport name has Duke in, it makes sense to use that. A friend of mine called their horse Brenin, as his show name was Cefyn Ddu Brenin Ddu. Logical, yes? His name suited him too, Black King of the Black Ridge. He`s a black, very regal gelding, who`s been shown very successfully.

So how do people manage to call a horse Tymor Del Piero?! It`s the surname of an Italian footballer. Granted a very famous footballer, but still! The horse is a Welsh Cob. And then, they decide to nickname him Otis. Where`s the logic in that?!? Another pony I knew had a lovely Welsh name; Tirieve Seren Ddu, but instead of her owners calling her Seren, which means star, they called her Soxie. Because she has four white socks. Following that logic most horses I know should be called Blaze, Star, Snip, Stripe, or Socks. The other day I heard of a Jack Sparrow, and throughout the season I heard a fair few weird ones. And that`s coming from me, who is used to the Welsh tongue twisters.
I used to ride a friends pony called Llynos (pronounced Clin-nos) and the number of commentators who called her Lions or Lyons …

I`ve met a lot of riding school horses with such a variety of names, usually the more recently they`ve arrived the wackier the name; Tinsel springs to mind, as does Spring come to think of it … Nessie … MK (Magikel with a K) … Brie (yes as in the cheese) … Dingo (as in the dog, because no one could pronounce his Argentinian Polo Pony name) … Pete the Pony … Clip Clop … Sidney …
The list is endless and I guess it is only bounded by our own imaginations. But it`s nicer to have an easy-to-shout name when you`re tramping across the field, or one that is satisfying to curse with when they stand on your toe.

On the other hand I can`t think of anything worse than having a horse with a common name; it`s like people with common names, you get so confused! At my yard there are 3 Millie`s! 2 George`s, 4 Jack`s, as well as a host of other common names; Harry, Bonnie, Percy …

Best Friends

Isn’t it funny how some horses or ponies are best friends, and some are a bit of a loner. But how do they pick their friends?
I guess sometimes we almost force a friendship by, say riding with one of our friends and their mount, or maybe the horses befriend each other because they know they have a chance of coming in for food with that person? My mum has a welsh cob and he is always in the field with her friends mare. But the net result is that my mum can’t bring Matt in without Chelsea following. But the funny thing is that before mum rode Matt, when I had him, he never looked twice at Chelsea!
Horses are clever though, in the autumn when they start to get hungry my mum will go up to feed Matt and end up bringing Chelsea in, as well as another three belonging to her other friends!!
We always think its cute when two horses are inseparable; until we want to separate one that is! When I had Matt he was BFF with another similarly aged and sized gelding, Geraint. I used to dread getting Matt in! I never did anything with Geraint but he certainly knew who I was! I’d sneak up the field after school but as soon as Geraint saw me he would march over and walk next to me, attached by an invisible lead rope. The trouble came at the gate when he used to barge his way through, march into the yard and find someone’s open stable door! I wasn’t physically big enough to stop him and it went on for two years until he was sold and moved away.

No other horse has ever filled me with dread in catching than Geraint!

At my current yard we have two ponies, Pops and Harry, who are best friends. They share a stable even! Once when we were catching we only needed Pops so duly caught him with a couple of others, then as I was walking back towards the gate and there was a shrill whinny. Pops turned as Harry galloped over crying loudly. They had a goodbye whicker then I had to be the meanie and separate them! I wondered if it was the fact that they are a similar size and age which sparked their friendship, or whether it was the fact they were often on lessons together, sometimes shared a small paddock, or if they are just two old men who like to put the world to rights!

Today

Today was a busy day for the riding school; to begin the dentist was coming at 9am for 10 horses so we had the logistics of bringing in horses from the other side of the farm. For 7 horses you need 3 people … plus someone to give them a lift (in their defence it is about 2 miles across the farm) Have you ever tried getting four members of staff in one place at the same time? You get two then the third comes back from turning out a livery only to find one of the others has gone off to catch a pony from a nearby field, then you can`t find the keys for the vehicle… Anyway it happened! And none of the horses needed sedating… another plus! I`m curious though, domesticated horses seem to be forever seeing the equine dentist; but how do they cope in the wild?! I know there`s the hard feed and bitting factor, but I know an amazing number of grass kept or unrideable companions, who live on forage and STILL need to see the dentist every few months. I remember when I was younger, with my first ponies, we never even considered that they might need their teeth seeing to, it was only when my first Welsh cob was four that my instructor suggested he was done. A few years later one of the ladies at the yard caused a hoohah by suggesting an annual dental check! But today went smoothly, a few sharp edges, so hopefully a few happier ponies. How old are horses when they completely lose their teeth? We have one who only has a couple of useful teeth, but we`re not sure how old he is. Still full of life though!

Moving on with the day it was a busy one with me teaching; a lady with a dressage lesson, who connected with her horse within 20 minutes, and it was only when she made the transition of “riding the aids” to “thinking the aids”. From that I mean instead of naturally riding a circle or turn, she used too much leg, causing a beautiful travers, then too much hand, causing a pogo stick ride. Once she sat more and relaxed she had a straighter horse, with a much bigger more even stride.  It`s so easy to over ride and create a tense, vicious circle. When I find myself doing that I go straight for a hack to chill out! Next was a lady for the mechanical horse and then a lesson on a real four legged donkey. With 30 years of bad habits for me to try and undo. I tried. Then I taught a very nice couple who came for the day; a lesson followed by a hack, and then after lunch they had another hack. I like these days if the clients have a bit of knowledge to start with, and I also get a bit of fun on a hack, and don`t have to walk round the woods leading them! Selfish I know, but little things make the day run smoother.

I think my last lesson of the day was the most enjoyable; two bubbly kids who never stop talking! As requested, their Mums came prepared with electric tape for the reins because last time I was fed up of their hands ending up on the buckle, and their hands by their ears! So the lesson progressed with lots of rising, then sitting trot, arm exercises, pushing the pony forwards with their hands, not curling up like a hedgehog. There was a bit of improvement, but like any kids they lack the muscle for the correct position. So after a quick whizz round the world (if you don`t know what that is you were brought up in the world of Health and Safety) I asked their Mums for assistance. “Right girls, next we`re going to ride bareback!” The look of terror on their faces made the three adults laugh. so they hop off and we whisk the saddles away and I turn round to find them running away from their ponies! So I run after them, scoop up the first and lift her onto her fat skewbald pony. In terror she grips the mane! Next one on, onto her slightly thinner Section B. “It hurts!” She cried pointedly. “Shut up” says her Mum. So we spent a few minutes walking round on the ponies, feeling the stride and the footfalls. gradually letting go of the mane and showing brilliant positions! Then I announce we`re going to trot. And the waterworks come on. So ignoring the sobs, the mums take them for a little jog down the long side. The grins said it all! They loved it! But best of all showed really nice positions, good balance, and not relying on their reins at all. Not technically H and S correct, but it worked! They even wanted to do round the world without saddles! We led the ponies back to the yard, and when we were back Eva turned to Lottie and said “I`ll brush your bum down if you brush my bum” Lottie was aghast and said “NO!” indignantly. Eva`s jodhs were beige, and she`d ridden a predominantly grey skewbald. But Lottie had black jodhs with a chestnut pony! She definitely got the short straw there …

So my lesson for today, was that bareback should still be an important part of lessons, and hopefully the girls can build on their new feeling and seat next time! Tomorrow brings the livery lesson and a whole lot more!

The Bareback Instructor