I really don’t know where to put this, so I’m putting it here. My virtual real estate is actually rather focused, and while I wish I could file under: Culture [RIP, ITM], I think we’re fine in my equine neck of the woods. I missed horseriding because of this, so you know it had to be worthwhile.

***

I had a notion that I would go to Limerick to see Royal de Luxe and their 25-foot-tall puppet, despite not being much of a marionette enthusiast. That wasn’t really the point, I didn’t think, that it was a puppet: it was the spectacle. The spectacle that had begun off the streets earlier in the year, with mass resignations by the top directors of Limerick’s 2014 City of Culture team. The spectacle that had, at its core, the disputation about this very event and the perception of it.

That was January; as it got closer to the time of the event, I started thinking I might like to see this in person. I started thinking, I might like to have a little day trip adventure. With a giant grandmother figuring largely [ha], and as my actual paternal grandmother was from the actual city of Limerick, this seemed like a no-brainer. Never mind that I was still taking it easy on the auld leg, or that if I went on the Friday, I would in all likelihood have to skip my Saturday lesson, it seemed foolish not to go along.

As with all good journeys, this one began in the dark. Read the rest of this entry »

photo 1
It’s almost time for the Dublin Horse Show, the annual trip to Nirvana for Irish horse people — not that there aren’t other shows in the country, I thoroughly enjoyed Tattersalls last year — but this is the biggie, and people attend from all round the nation, and indeed, the world, and there is so much stuff to buy.

I bought the above at last year’s show, and they are already falling apart.

1} This is good, because despite the two month hiatus, I am obviously riding loads.
2} Not so good, because it’s only been one year.

It may just be the bad luck of the draw. I mainly get my half chaps from justchaps.com, and am in fact in expectation of a happy event, being the delivery of a pair of mesh-y summer weight chaps, an exercise in optimism if ever there was one. One hopes, anyway, given the way the weather has actually been summery, that they will come in useful.

I did have an unfortunate experience with a previous pair I’d bought from the above, but they were totally cool about the whole thing and replaced the faulty set. Faulty, you say? Did my legs, like, not work in them or something? Nope: the tab on one of the zips snapped right off after almost no time at all. I got a replacement pair with no fuss, and continue to buy from them because their customer service is so good.

I got to thinking about the way I wear out my equestrian wear. And also: how much I have.

Hats: three on the go. Wow, wut? Seriously, okay, so, there’s the one that is perfectly fine except that I don’t like the nylon straps. I use that one for when I’m volunteering for the RDA [Riding for the Disabled Association} because I don’t ride that much, maybe just 20 minutes to get the horse worked in, and so there’s not enough time for the scratchiness to annoy me.

Then there’s my new Harry Hall, which I wear on Saturdays, because I’m trying to get a good run out of it and want to keep it nice. On Wednesdays I wear my other Harry Hall hat because I wear make up on Wednesdays, because I work in an office and so I ‘do’ make up, perhaps to — ha, ha — make up for the fact that I wear my jodhs, oh yes indeed and my half chaps, too. So, then, when I ride and sweat, the foundation on my forehead gets all over the inside of the hat. Which I don’t want to happen on my new one.

Still with me? Let’s not even talk about jodhs. My current favourites are the ones I got in Canada, which were 30% off the original Canadian dollar price, which was already 40% off in regard to my euros, so they were basically free. And they have a front zip pocket, because I hate the inside tuck-y pocket, out of which everything falls when I get the home and fold them up.

This post could actually go on forever. I’ve got The Fat Coat™, christened thus in honour of my nephew Thomas, who christened his own down jacket thusly — I’ve had mine for at least seven years now, and it is in bits, but it is warm, it has a hood, and it goes down over my bum. What more could a gal ask for? I don’t think I’ve had the same coat for seven years since… ever.

The rucksack! Actually falling apart from the inside out:
THE RUCKSACK
It used to have two inner compartments, and now it is one big one. I’ve also mended the place where the straps meet the top, twice.

I also got to thinking about all of this because someone finally made off with my long stick, which — hang on, there’s a link, I know — I had hidden successfully for three years. It had lost the flicky bit at the end probably five years ago, and the weave was starting to wear off in places, and sure, it was crappy — but it was my crappy long stick, and no one should steal things. But, if you picked something up that was clearly abandoned, that’s a different story…

Anyway! I’ve had a new long stick sitting around the place, which I haven’t bothered with because it is red — what was I thinking? — and sure, I didn’t need to use it because the other one was just fine. It’s now in rotation, but only on Saturdays because my pal has custody of it since she drives and can keep it safe in her car. On Wednesdays, I snoop around and do the thing where you pick up a long stick lying about and then you put it back where you found it, and hope it’s in the same general area next week.

I have to say, I’m delighted that I am getting the full use, and beyond, out of all this gear. I don’t know that it’s necessarily a product of the Current Economic Climate or not, but it’s so satisfying to have things that have been giving good service for a length of time. It may be because when I began, I had no idea I would to take to the horse riding as much as I have. So: sentiment? Maybe. I was going to replace my jodh boots because one of the pull-it-on-tabs snapped off the other week, but they’re so comfortable I forget I’ve even got boots on, so why would I want to mess around?

If it ain’t broken in, don’t fix it.

***

 

I just came across this, as a draft labelled ‘2013/02/06’* Is that June 2nd, or the second of the sixth? No, I think it’s February, as this is an American platform, is WordPress. I wonder why we do the dates differently, here? Today is the 24th of the fourth, or 24 April. As we would say.

Anyway, we did this last year. The lesson was indoors, so yeah, probably February, although after the weather we ‘enjoyed’ this winter — rain, rain, rain, which made sandy goop of the lower arena, which made no odds as we went out in it anyway — it must have been incalcuably miserable outside.

The fences weren’t big, but they were tricky:
THE SET UP

Because after the crosspole, you kind of had to jump sideways. Or maybe you ended up jumping sideways because you didn’t approach it correctly.
THE FLOW

What is amazing to me is that I look at it and I remember it, but I know if I had to do it again, it would be easier to do than trying to write about it.

If you do as you’re always told, and look at the next fence, your body sends much of the information the horse needs. Keeping the inside leg on would help here, as well. I remember there was a bit of confusion on the part of Connell and I the first time we attempted the right rein straight, a ‘Where did that come from?’ moment that ended in a cat-jump.

Looking where I was going really helped with the left hand straight. ‘Looking where I was going’ seems like a no-brainer, and it is, but you’d be surprised what happens when you get up the back of a horse, how common sense often goes flying out the arena door.

Going down to A and all the way back around to the right hand straight at M was easy peasy and made sense to both of us, and then made it easier still to do the whole thing over again, a little bit higher {probs no higher than 70, 75cms} {maybe 80?} — but then the added twist of having to take the crosspole in reverse pissed Connell off, who was using his head quite enough for one evening, and I actually couldn’t get him to do it.

I remeber it was one of those nights when a person new to the lesson was all, ‘I’ve never seen Connell go like that!’ — in fact, ah! he wouldn’t do the crosspole in reverse, and was feckin’ speeding away from it, and I said, ‘He feels too strong,’ and the person new to the lesson was gobsmacked. Which is good and bad.**

I remember also that the straights felt like they were that close to the wall, but there really was loads of room.

I love these sorts of exercises, because I do have to look where I’m going, and when I look where I’m going, I’m not so focused on trying to read the horse’s mind, and we just do the thing, and it’s liberating, and it feels like total collaboration. It’s like, we’re both just minding our own business, and it’s fun.

Less than a week to go…

***

*YYYY/MM/DD is in fact the international standard, says Google Answers. Huh!

**Good in that he was listening to me and being forward going, but bad because I wasn’t accustomed to said forward-goingness and I wasn’t very good at bringing him back.

***

Which, upon reflection, could go either way. The Universe is either conspiring to drive me demented, or is conspiring to tide me over for the next ten days-to-fortnight until I am back in the saddle.

Or, I am spending way too much time on t’internet… because I am still grounded.

Here are the top 11 movie horese of all time, via Digital Spy, and here is a time-lapse video of the construction of Andy Scott‘s public sculpture, The Kelpies, in Scotland. The film is by Walid Salhab.

This is better than browsing summer-weight turnout rugs, for a horse that I don’t even have…

***

I’ll just leave this here.

***

‘Whither’!

I should have just taken the fall. Read the rest of this entry »

01 KITCHEN WINDOW
That is Three Rock Mountain, as seen, with zoom, from my kitchen window. Located in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Co Dublin, and accessed through Tick Nock Forest, the summit is 444 metres/1,457 feet high. I rode it up once, and was preparing to ride up it again. Given my dread of hacking, the first time had been a big thing — somewhere in the back of my mind at least.

Exactly in the back of my mind, in fact, in my hippocampus, where all the data to be assessed for flight-or-fight resides. It was in there, that info, but from the moment I said ‘Yes!’ to the ride out, it just sat there, and didn’t interfere.

And fair play to it, because it has now been joined by a new memory, one of exhiliration, ease, and pure awesome sitting-on-a-horse, going-up-a-frickin’-mountain joy.

When we decided to go out again, the conditions were not those as reflected in the above photograph. Read the rest of this entry »

A DIRECT AND MEASURABLE RESULT of all this riding: I can haz long boots.

THE LONG BOOTS

I have had to shop, and very gladly with it, at justchaps.com, because they were the only crowd that catered to folks like me who are not in possession of assembly line calves. They do carry spectacular half chaps adorned with hi-viz stars, so I was happy enough — thrilled, in fact.

But, oh! how I wanted a pair of long boots. I had stopped trying them on as even the wide widths weren’t remotely near to zipping entirely closed, and I shelved the dream.

Only to take it down again when it became apparent that the first round of my chaps, which lasted years, were starting to creep down around my ankles. There was no more velcro left at the top to tighten them any further, and so I dug up a tape measure — no idea where I got one of those from — and came up with a number that that surprised me. I had gone down three categories. Maybe it was time to start looking for long boots once more?

The Dublin Horse Show as near as dammit has it all, and I wandered the shopping halls, searching for my long boots. Some of the boots on display were thinner than my feckin’ arm, and I kept walking. These ones were also amongst the most expensive. Funny how that works.

I’ve lost track of the number of vendors who knelt at my feet, yanking up zippers, and I was ready to give up. I bought a new pair of newly smaller neoprene chaps, and then wandered into the Holmestead stand. I had eyeballed a pair of Toggi Calgary boots on the Wednesday, and I don’t why I didn’t try them on then. No matter. One more beleaguered shop worker — God bless her — down on the ground, patiently insistent that the zips would close —

AND THEY DID. I bought them in a haze of delirium and panic — they were only €109, but I had only recently come through a tough financial year and one hundred euro was as much as one thousand, in my mind; I was wearing leggings, not jodhs, and it was tough enough to close them — but sure, they were leather, they would stretch, and these seemed so well made, they’d last me ages; even if they lasted only three years, prorated at only €36.33/year, that was a bargain! [<< WUT? Well, it make sense to me.]

I wore them round the house for a couple of days, ordered a long boot bag, sprayed them with leather protectant, and when I took them out for the first time, couldn’t believe how vital my ankles are, in the big scheme of things. The initial jumps in the lesson were not the prettiest, but we got there in the end. The soles are that tiny bit thicker than I usually prefer, but I’m getting used to that too.

All in all, I am so delighted to be wearing them, and fingers crossed, am looking at a winter with far less frozen feet.

LONG BOOTS TOO

… which is not entirely inappropriate, as our Mercury was a famous TV star, playing Henry VIII’s primary mount in The Tudors. The shrieks that ensued the first time I saw him on the telly! [Mercury, not Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.]

The sad news was shared in the yard today: Merc, who was probably around a thousand years old and crippled by arthritis, was put down this week. He was the first horse I ever rode in a lesson, properly; fittingly, here’s the first post I ever wrote on this blog, below. It’s seven years to the week that I took to horseback, and if it wasn’t for Mercury, I wouldn’t still be here writing about it all. Heart U, beastie.

***

9 SEPTEMBER, 2006 The wee girls circle round and round, legs pounding the sides of their ponies, and I am feeling breathless.

As excited as I was to take my first horse riding lesson, I’d actually have to be on a horse to take it, wouldn’t I, and they’re big, aren’t they, and watching those kids flying around the ring, I feel increasingly fluttery and anxious. As little as I know about horses, I knew this anxiety was a bad thing. On top of all this, I was already feeling under the weather: I had a headache, a scratchy throat, exacerbated by the heat of the day that had turned the number 63 bus into a trundling sun trap… ah, hell, I could always come back another time…

I can’t come back another time. I spent the entire week, in the run up to this day, talking about it to the girls at work. I have been yearning for this for years. A month ago, I got the yen yet again, and the day before I finally Googled equestrian centres in Dublin, I saw: horse statues on a house on the coast road that I’d never seen before; a horse trailer; an actual horse; and on the way home from work, my iPod opened the evening’s commute with Land from Patti Smith’s Horses.

Okay, okay. I get it.

So I’m here. I walked up the long, long road to a long, long hill. I don’t know where anything is, I don’t know who to make myself known to, I don’t— I need a helmet, I know that much. I wander a little; I’m an hour early, thanks to the bus. I’m intimidated by the thoughtless ease with which a clutch of girls in white hard hats inhabit the entrance to what must surely be the barn. I can’t go near them; I don’t have the right.

I drift back to the door of the inside thing, the ring, whatever. Parents chat amongst themselves and happily compliment their daughters as they pass. These kids are jumping, effortlessly. Jesus God. I drift away again.

Then an older bunch of riders come back from somewhere, the horses enter the inside ring place, everyone slips effortlessly to the ground, ponies are lead away, voices are raised simply to be audible, I back away — I need a helmet. I go to the portakabin again, and the guy in charge is there, I say who I am, he says, “You’re late,” and a helmet, stinking with hours and hours of strangers’ sweat, is jammed on my head and I’m told to go back to the arena (ah), and I do, and the teacher asks me who I am and have I done much riding, and I tell her my name, and none, and she says get on up on a black horse, and I do, and she shows me how to hold the reins, and I hold them, and she tells us all to walk on, and—

And the horse takes one step, and I think to myself, “Fuck,” and he takes another and I think, “Fucking hell get me the fuck offa this fuckin’—” and another step and another and I am no longer a human woman but a sack of frozen potatoes sporting a fetid black hat.

I don’t even know the horse’s name — how am I supposed to bond?

I can hear myself breathing, air is whistling in and out of my nose, and it’s about all I can hear. I hear a voice shouting but it’s not language: it sounds like short, sharp raps, there’s a sensation that it’s the same series of sounds over and over — rap rap rap. The other people understand and are obviously responding to these sounds, because one minute, we’re going in one direction, and then we’re not, we’re threading our way from one corner of the arena to the other and going the opposite way — and I’ve yet to fall off.

And with maybe fifteen minutes to go (I can’t glance at my watch, because if I move my hands, or waver in my unstinting regard of the back of the horse’s head, something bad will happen) it occurs to me to maybe relax my stiffened legs a little, like, even grip the sides of the horse, with my calves? Is this is a good idea? It may have looked like I was doing it— my legs weren’t sticking out at ninety degrees from either side of the horse— but it sure hadn’t felt like it, so I do it, and I’m no longer hyperventilating. The teacher doesn’t seem bothered that I won’t do anything but walk (“Sue, want to give the trot a go?” “No.”) and I can sense that my lesson mates are still where they’re meant to be, on the back of their horses, not writhing around on the ground clutching shattered limbs… and I relax.

This relaxation, and the action of the calf tightening, the action of this intuitive (common sensical!) decision, results in a somewhat straighter spine. I’m sitting better, and I can hazard a look around, and drop my elbows, a little, although my arms are so tense you could break concrete breeze blocks on them, my hands so thoroughly clenched on the reins that I have surely broken all my finger bones.

Suddenly, those staccato sounds become language: “Turn in and give them all a big pat— feet out of the stirrups— swing your leg around the back— drop down,” and I’m on the ground and a there’s a name tag on the horse’s bridle and I whisper in his ear, “Mercury. Mercury! You are great!”

I walk down the long hill to the long road, my hair having fully absorbed, via the helmet, the honest sweat of women like me, women who have ridden a horse. I haven’t got a trace of flu, of a headache, of a sore throat, nor of a single critical thought, of a single bad thing to think about the thing I’d just done, swaggering like a cowboy (there’s a good reason why they walk like that) and all I think is I did it, I did it, I did it!

I’m fairly sure I’ve never been so delighted with myself in my entire life.

***

MERCURY and ME

Merc: well known for his dapper mustache.

***

I knew something was up, that something was out of joint: I have been out of ‘real’ time for the last while, between bereavement and jet lag — a lethal combo, do try to avoid it as best you can, is my advice to you — so I knew I was in trouble the moment I opened my eyes Tuesday morning.

I woke up, and immediately began worrying about how I was going to get to the yard later than day.

I had a launch to attend in town and I knew I’d have to do a drive-by as it was far enough away from the LUAS to be an issue; but the 44 bus has a stop near the hotel in which the launch was being held, so maybe I could grab the bus there and then get a taxi? But that was a total waste of money, even if it was going to save me a few steps. ‘Steps’ entered into it, as I am back on shanks mare {ha, ha} and walking up the laneway again; ugh, but having to walk alllll the way from the LUAS? That’s like 20 minutes, up a gradual incline of despair, which I was not in the mood for; if I skipped the launch, I could just get the bus to the end of the lane; but I said I would meet some pals at said launch; but; but; but —

Then I considered skipping the horses altogether, but I had overslept on Saturday, and missed the bus, and missed the lesson, and I really needed to go, to have a go, to move myself forward in some fashion.

Even once I decided to head into town and figure it out as I went along, well, I kept figuring out all the variables, and it was exhausting, and I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to have the energy to ride the horse. Which horse? Ha! Add this into the equation. I was fed up with Connell when last we met, and had gone back to Simba, but I still felt wobbly, and reckoned I’d rather have Connell if we were doing flat, but was not going to jump him, no way, in which case I would take Simba — or maybe even Delilah, because she knows when you’re a bit off and can take good care of you, but only if she’s in the mood —

So: I raced through the launch, got to the LUAS, used my Hailo app to get a taxi from Ballyogan to up-the-lane, rocked up to the office to pay for the term, only to discover that my usual lesson was cancelled.

{Cue laughter, somewhat demented.}

Would I just go in the 8pm lesson? Uh, no: it was 6.20.

Could I just mooch around on Connell? Yes, okay.

And thus began my very first time as a lady who is on her own, on a horse.

***

The very first time ever in my life that I had to get up on a horse all by myself was when I showjumped, also for the very first time; that was a lot of ‘firsts’ in one go. I can get up on Connell on my own, so that wasn’t the issue. The issue was: what was I gonna do? With him? Like, what? Mooch, as I had said, up and down the infamous laneway? Go down to the outdoor arena, and then mooch? It was perfect mooching weather, bright and clear, and not too cold, as excellent a spring evening as one could conjure.

But Connell can be a real slow coach on a walk, and I didn’t fancy the outdoor, even though it was gorgeous out. I didn’t really know WTF I was doing, and I didn’t want to make a big show of it.

Except I found that I did know what to do.

Connell greeted me with perked ears; I rubbed my face all over his neck and he thought that was hilarious, and demonstrated this by nipping me on the bum. He was saddled, I bridled him, I joined a Livery Lass in the indoor, I got up there, and I started going.

I decided to practice riding a little longer in the stirrup than I have been. I mean to do this every lesson, but then I feel the pressure of being in the lesson, so I don’t. The thing is, a longer leg means better aids, and better response, and better posture, but I always feel too wobbly. So I took the time to do a longer leg, at my own speed, and worked on my balance, and we went great. Then I did a whole bunch of transitions, and then I did the reining-back-into-canter thing, and then the Livery Lass, who’d put her horse back up, came in again and asked did I want to jump, and I said yes.

So I jumped, and he only stopped once, which is still enormously irritating, but in the main, we did really well. There was no one there to tell me what to do to get him to do something, so I had to do the things myself, and it was incredibly satisfying, to be able to do something — anything! — because I thought of it myself.

Then he was so sweaty and steamy that I took him for a walk, in hand.

It was still gorgeous out, maybe even better since the sun was starting to set, a misty red haze in the west. We both took our time, and both stopped at one stage to look at something. I can’t even tell you what, I mean, the mountains are always there to be looked at, so I guess we both stopped at the same exact time and looked at the exact same mountain? It was the most peaceful thing ever. Just standing, shoulder to shoulder, setting sun, brisk air, green fields.

I chatted with other riders along the way, and it was like… it was like I was Livery Lady, doing the Livery Lady thing.

I rode for the guts of forty minutes. Now, when I warm up the Big Horse of a Monday, when I volunteer for Riding for the Disabled Ireland, I am only getting warmed up in my own brain after fifteen minutes, then it’s time for me to get down and hand him over. Just as I am beginning to understand what might be good to do — leg yielding, maybe? Work on that wonky rein back? Canter transitions? — there’s no more time to do it in. This was the perfect amount of time to do an amount of work that added up to a good work out.

Le repertoire, though, he is limited:  I would need to be stocking up on things to do, on my own. Swot a dressage test, maybe? I’ve got a book of jumping exercises, with many, many things to do with poles on the ground, working your way up to actual jumps… There’s a mental fitness that you get, I am thinking, when you have to think for yourself. I am sure that there is a many a day when you just want to hang out with your horse, and do some serious mooching, but there’s also all sorts of planning that enters into it, which I hadn’t known.

If you had told me, seven years ago, when I wasn’t even able to get up into the saddle by myself, when I didn’t even know how to pull the stirrups down the leathers, that I would have gotten to this stage — well, I don’t know what I would have said. Not out loud anyway — but in my heart I know I would have been shouting Yes, pleeeeeease! How soon? Is it now yet?!? I would have immediately begun worrying about whether or not I’d ever be good enough, and how long it would take, and how could I get there more quickly and easily — and as it transpires, it took no ‘time’ at all. It’s now, now, and it feels like it hasn’t taken that long, after all.

***

FIGURES OF EIGHT

Eight years on from my first ever riding lesson, these posts are still wandering round and round, a figure of eight starting with today, probably, and yesterday, definitely. It's the antithesis of how I usually do things, but... that's horses for ya.

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