IMG_6040

I reckoned something was wrong when she didn’t turn around in her stable to come say hello. Delilah stood facing the back wall, and when she slowly swung her head around to look at me, she looked like there was a world of hurt in her eye. She picked up a hoof and put it back down, and swung her head away again.

‘Is she okay?’ I asked, and was told she had laminitis in both her fore feet. Little relief to be had, then. The next week, she was nearer the door, and got treated to a few polo mints which she took with her usual delicacy.

Last Saturday, she was back facing the wall. I didn’t go in and part of me regrets it now, because she was euthanised early this week. The laminitis was a symptom of her heart giving out, and the yard made the best, most humane choice for her, relieving her pain and stress – but my heart gives out a little, too.

Delilah was no spring chicken, but even though she showed some signs of age, she showed almost none of slowing down. I can’t recall a time, ever, when she was off unwell, so if ever there was a horse who was going to work until the end, it was she, and so it proved. She was ‘my’ second horse, a true mare who elevated the grumpiness of her kind to an art form and she taught me how to be light and yet assertive, a lesson that I call upon every time I ride.

She is such a big part of of my horse story. From my first go on her, through the very first time I went showjumping to my very first rosette… to the time when I thought she was gone but she was actually off filming (and then when she came back she was ragin’ for like two weeks, having to be back in the school and not having her hooves painted every day, and being given who knows what sort of fancy feed), to the time when she deigned to give me a good grooming — Delilah figured largely on this blog and does so in the pages of my as-yet unpublished horse book.

This is the only picture I have of her. As part of my course work for my Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning diploma, we recently had an essay question about how to break the news of the loss of a horse to a client. One of the things I noted would be useful to do, in the run of the work, was to make sure that people had pictures of themselves with their favourite mounts. If you have a horse of pony you love, go and take some pictures now.

Oh, shoot, just came across this:

There is absolutely nothing like this in the whole wide world. I really feel like I’m riding, in total concert with the horse, heading in a smooth, flowing run, in command, sharing the control, telling the horse what to do, where to go, and she listens! And we do it! And I don’t think of anything but the course and the horse, there is nothing else but the next fence and Delilah, no self-consciousness, no thought but the one thought, nothing but the pattern and the sheer un-fucking-believable joy of up-and-over.

Finally: I thought I had written about the latter part of this anecdote but the first time I had Delilah (the full story is via the first link, above, but anyway), I tried to get her to warm up to me by singing that Tom Jones song to her. Oh, did she give me a dirty look! And I wasn’t imagining it: once, I needed some help in mounting, and the livery lady helping me said to her, ‘Oh, why, why, why —’ so I cut her off, saying, ‘She hates that song!’ and the lady said, ‘I know!’ and we both laughed and Delilah gave us both a dirty look and pinned her ears back, and I never so much as thought that tune around her ever again.

Will miss you, lady.

***

At the Dublin Horse Show this past August, I saw a bee-yoo-ti-ful pair of jodh boots by Ariat, which had a good heel and a lovely rounded toe and a zip. Loved them at first sight; at second sight, after a fumble for the specs and a discovery of the price tag — €279 {!} — I dropped them like a hot potato.

#FFSL. I couldn’t really justify them anyway, as my current pair of jodh boots have zero wrong with them, apart from the fact that I tore the fabric thingie, the thing that lets you pull them on easier, the thing that is at the top of the boot in the back? — that thing. It took me about two years to break those in, and it’s five years now at least that I’ve had them, and at the average of one hundred lessons a year, that’s five hundred outings. I’m pretty sure I’ve never worn anything five hundred times, although! I did recount the use I’ve gotten out of a variety of my horsey things here, so I’m pretty sure that the fat coat has been worn seven hundred times and counting. More than, because of the years that I was able to ride 4 times a week {at least two years} so that’s two hundred lessons those years — so I have worn the fat coat over one thousand times.

One. Thousand. Times.

Those Ariat boots were haunting me, so when an email popped up from my go-to equestrian outfitters, Robinsons Equestrian, not only giving me 5 free Rider’s Rewards worth £5, but also showing £70 off Ariat Borssard Paddock Boots — insulated! A good-sized heel! Lace or zip option! — I wanted to cry. I had already splurged on two new pair of jodhs that were on sale from this outlet, and I couldn’t really justify this purchase on top of the jodhs, since there was nothing much wrong with my current boots except for the pull-’em-on fabric thing.

But the weather has been atrocious and my feet have been like blocks of ice before I even put my current boots on, much less after a lesson.

And these Ariat boots are Thinsulated, if that’s a word.

But even though they were deeply discounted, they were still £69.99 {€97.27}. Even with all my Rider’s Rewards {£14.50, or €20.15}, what with shipping and all… nope, couldn’t do it.

Then my jodhs showed up and I didn’t like the fit of the ones that were £19.99 {€27.78}…

So! When I send back the ones that are £19.99, and use my £14.50 of free money*, that’s £34.49, which subtracted from £69.99 = £35.50, OMG these boots practically cost zero money.

The shipping was less than a fiver, which I am not gonna query, and even with the return postage on the jodhs — let’s just round up to £40, which = €55.59, so I’ve already knocked off €40ish, and that’s not even taking the list price into consideration {£139.99/€194.54!!! holy moly}.

And even if I only get like two hundred lessons out of them, that is €0.27/lesson. These boots are free, basically. Plus, I got the ones with laces, because I’d had a couple of pairs of zippy boots in the past, and the zip always goes, so the laces are a better long-term investment.

Look:
HELLO GORGEOUS
Totally worth it. Welcome to the family, Ariat Brossard boots!

***

*Rider’s Rewards are, of course, based on past purchases, so I realise that I am fooling myself. To an even greater degree than I already am.

 

…ahhh, just can’t resist, though.

I am off for The Christmas in seven weeks. I have — hang on — 12 lessons left. ‘Sue!’ I am shouting at myself, ‘Don’t!’

I have only come off Connell three times this year. I came off Connell three times in one lesson, once. Holy moly, that was a bad hour! It was a Tuesday night in winter, the floodlights were on, and there was something up, all the horses were acting up, even the most reliable ones were stopping at the double over X, and we were making up stories/excuses about the shadows being cast between the fences…

Anyway, despite there still being a healthy number of hours left in the year: only three times. One fall taught me to show him a fence if I thought it might look funny to him (and to me); one was when he seemed to have taken against one of the cross country fences, unbeknownst to me until the last minute when he ran out and I went flying; the last was my bad decision to let him go at another fence in the field and he slipped. The last two, I was off balance; the first, I am sure I communicated my own nerves to him and he just went, ‘Eh, no.’

The thing is that after that shin tear/pull from last year, it is as though I have started from zero again, in the best possible way. I feel like having to take my time with myself in order to stay healthy has finally dropped a load of pennies and my riding’s improved, I’m more clear and definitely stronger in the leg, and we just… go, and we jump and we’re fine. Canter transitions: excellent. That dressage test in the summer: wowee. Flat work: has come on immensely (leg yielding is still something of challenge, but turning on the forehand is getting there.) I’ve been a bit wary of participating in the showjumping league lately, so I have to get my head right before I give that a go.

12 to go — I think we’re going to be grand!

***

Very new ones, in fact. Here’s a feature I wrote about what it’s all about when you work with horses as therapeutic partners. I’ve just finished a diploma in Equine Handling, Husbandry and Instruction with ELISTA Education and am preparing to do the progression course in Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning this autumn. It is amazing stuff, and I’ll start posting about it soon. I was so caught up in learning about something that I love — feeding! trailering! diseases! — that I didn’t have time to ‘talk’ about it.

It is great stuff. I went to an EAGALA [Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association] conference years ago, and what I saw and learned has stayed with me ever since, and I’m keen on learning more about this work. #ExcitingTimes!

***

Received wisdom has it that if you hold up a hand in front of a horse, it will investigate it with its mouth, mainly to see is it edible or not. They like to have a good sniff of a head collar, bridle, or any implement of grooming, juuuuust to make sure — even though it smells totally familiar — that the thing is absolutely not a carrot in disguise. In particular, they can’t resist a camera, or indeed, the person who is wielding it.

In the past, when taking selfies {holfies? equies?} with beasties {belfies?}, they try to eat the phone. Not Connell.
CONNELL
At first glance, this looks like he’s giving me a smooch in the head, but in fact he is trying to avoid the whole procedure. Not into it a’tall! I was moving all around the place trying to keep him frame and this was the best I could do. When I tried this with Simba, it was all I could do to avoid him inhaling my handset.

Nope, not Connell. His eye be like: just, no.

***

Noooooooooooooooo!
NOOOOOO
Not the temperature, because sure, why wouldn’t it be borderline freezing in August in Ireland? And not really complaining about that so much as regards Connell, who is happier in the cooler weather and less sticky.

I am sad because every day, the sunset occurs a couple of minutes sooner, so that means: no more Wednesday night ride outs. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m on one of my thrice-yearly tears, throwing stuff away, giving stuff away — clearing out. Someone looking round the place might be surprised by this, because even I’m a bit ‘Eh, really?’ but there have been three large bin bags that have made their way out the door. We’ll see, there may be more to come.

And then I find something like this and hope I haven’t thrown out anything I may like to come across at some future date.

PRIX CAPRILLI

This was one of those tests for which we did a dry run in our lesson and never got around to ‘doing’ properly, with the white boundary markers and the marking. It is so old that I was riding Delilah at the time — so this is like, 2007 — I am pretty sure I moved on to Rebel at some stage that year as well, so it must have been winter.

I also remember how good Delilah was at this particular test, and thinking that maybe she liked doing it, without really being sure why. Now I think that horses ‘like’ dressage because the rider {me} is giving the aids clearly — the way they should always be given, whether or not one {me, again!} is being given a number grade for every transition.

I remember coming over the jump #2 and leg-yielding her over to M, and thinking, ‘She’s actually letting me leg-yield her over to M!’ — and also the way she really went for the last change of rein over #3, from H to F.

I can’t predict how Connell will approach those fences — and I immediately stop myself from visualising anything but a strong result. Let’s do this!

***

For those who like a nice cross-reference: that nail polish is spoken of here.

***

Ever done correctly, that is, with the white things down on the ground, and the silence.

There have been any number of times in which instructors have tried to incorporate a dressage test into a lesson. Sure, we do loads of flat work in the warm up, but the flat work never gets its own time to shine, unless we try to do a test. ‘Try’, because what happens is, we get the test, we go away, we come back the next week and all get a chance to do it with the instructor correcting us as we go along… except one or two haven’t shown up that week. So we resolve to do it all over again the next week — and those one or two show up, but the weather is dreadful, so it has to be put off.

And then one or two others don’t show up the next week, or all the arenas are booked for something else, so the white things can’t be laid out properly — and then the week after that, there’s a course still set up from pony camp and we’d all rather do that

So it never gets done.

We had a test, a simple pre-novice sheet, and we did the thing where we all did it in the lesson, and the ones that hadn’t gotten it, got it, and we were all meant to do it the next week; cue all of the above, and after IDK, six weeks, we forgot about it. I had the sheet folded up into 8ths in my pocket, and then gave up and left it home — and then our teacher sent us up to the upper arena to do it.

Gahhhhhhhhhhh.

The test is simple, and I had spent a lot of time during my commute drawing it on my palm: enter at A, track left at C, 20 metre circle at B, etc. There was always a bit where it felt like my brain went on hold, after the canter — when do I walk? — and the picture in my head went all fuzzy the way TVs used to do when the signal went out. And then I’d somehow pick up the signal again, which luckily I did on the night.

It was exceptionally like the way I imagine a proper competition to be. We didn’t warm up as a ride, we had to cope with the nerves, we had to line up outside the 20×40 metre area and trot around before we entered… I was going second and I was glad I was getting it over with. The night was warm, Connell is ‘black’, the sun was glarey — oh, the excuses were mounting!

I felt confident, though. I had run through it in my mind when I was taking Connell through some transitions, and he’d been actually pretty good when we did the practice, even though he tried to canter every now and again when he felt like it. Off we went, too early trotting around the arena because I had no idea that it would take that much time for the comments to be written out, but eventually we were trotting in at A.

All I could hear was my breath and the beat of Connell’s hooves. The space felt super-extra-small, since we’ve never ridden within the proper dimensions before. For all I knew, he could have spooked at the white things and just walked all over them; this inspired some if the best outside leg I’ve ever applied. I had to do all the thinking since no one was hollering advice or correction from the ground, and I think we both liked that. There were a couple of times I felt like we’d messed up — at once stage, he did almost step on the white things [from the brain to the rein, Sue!] and I wasn’t crazy about the way we got into the canter on the left rein between A-F, but otherwise: delighted with the circles, especially the ones in canter, we both kept those going smoothly, and that halt at X was a combination of precision and relief.

And then we got our sheets at the end, and it was all I could to wait to add up my marks. When I saw those 10s, though. OMG.

MY FIRST TEST
The perfectionist in me is always going to respond to a good score [177], but the rider in me was purely ecstatic about the progress Connell and I have made. I’ve been riding him for the guts of four years now, and I remember a time when he wouldn’t even canter past the ride, much less in a 20 metre circle, much less halt square. I know that my riding is improving when he does what I ask, because I am finally asking properly. Added to this, I can feel my legs back from last year’s injury, maybe at 90% at this stage, and that physical strength informs my mental toughness.

Connell was getting one anyway, but that night’s Pink Lady apple was very well earned.

I want to do a Prix Caprilli next…

***

‘WHAT DID I JUST SAY?’ As a media professional, I should probably know more about Jurassic World than I do, which is mainly not much, which is because I squealed and jumped and hid my eyes so much during Jurassic Park that I am maybe too scared to go see it.

Then the internet lead me down the garden path via the clip of Pratt ‘doing’ his acting faces in the movie [funny] to the trailer itself [okay, so, that lady that got snatched up by a flying thing? Ahhhhhh] to a featurette [boring] to a scene in which Owen Grady [Irish!] rescues somebody who’s fallen into the raptor pit.

I had no idea Pratt was playing a dino whisperer. The scene is like, basically every day with horses: don’t do something bad that they’ll remember, but don’t taken any sh*t from them either. Use firm, declarative sentences, don’t be afraid, and don’t leave on a bad note. This is like Monty Roberts for prehistoric reptiles. Cool!

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 13.03.58

Hey – hey!

^ And then he says, ‘I see you over there!’ to the cheeky one that’s trying to sneak up on him. It’s like me and Connell every time.

I may go see this now, but maybe by myself so only I know how many times I dropped my popcorn.

***

Clip is here.

***

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 »

FIGURES OF EIGHT

Ten 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.

TACK ROOM

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