This is still a good lesson – yes, even and especially the part that happened in the actual arena — and I did a quick scan of the last few years and realised that the stronger I get [mind, body, spirit] the less hard I have to work. There’s a difference between working hard and working well, and the latter only comes with repetition and practice and breakthroughs and mistakes and plateaus. And those last two are the frustrating places where the transformations take place…

***

So, despite my promise to write about the myriad books I’ve read about horses, and natural horsemanship, and the esoterica of the mythology of the horse, etc, I haven’t, but believe me when I say that I’ve read a lot. I read before I rode. I read before I do just about anything, to be honest. So I’ve been through your Monty Roberts, your Linda Kohanov, your Chris Irwin, your Linda Tellington-Jones. I’ve absorbed the teachings, and would have been trying them out, all this time, but hey, no horse, and it’s unfair to schoolies to give them a little bit of something without consistency. I’ve ridden a variety of horses over the past two and a half years — I think the count may be up to fourteen? Fifteen? — and I haven’t encountered the kind of horse I’ve been reading about, the kind that is sensitive to me, as rider and as person, and who will demonstrate, to me, in a holistic, yet non-nonsense, and if I’m being truthful, creepily prescient way, how I need to grow.

I’ve never met that horse, until now, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Read the rest of this entry »

Rebel figures largely in my book, which is based on many of the events I recorded on this blog. This is one of many crop posts — there’s an entire category called The Crop Chronicles; none of those anecdotes made it into the final draft, but as I toy with ideas of what the next horse book is going to be, there may be scope to talk about how something can someone [me] confidence without even having to use it much. A metaphor waiting to happen…

***

Utterly Changed

It’s only 43 inches of flexible plastic covered in a polyester weave, but let me tell you something, sistuhs, this long stick has effected an utter transformation. Read the rest of this entry »

I went on a horseriding holiday very early on in my career, which, now that I look back, was fairly daring. I’d do one again in a heartbeat and while I have successfully pitched feature stories about cattle driving in Montana, I have yet to have a tour operator snap me up…

This post is about the first day hacking in Epona Equestrian Centre, outside of Seville. The journey to get there took most of the previous day, and entailed almost not getting on the plane at all; hanging about in Malaga a late train; collecting a few fellow tour-attendees from somewhere; and then driving for what felt like forever…

***

The Reins In Spain

The Epona Equestrian Centre, Seville

STAY MAINLY IN… ER… LOS MANOS? NEVER MIND: 24 DECEMBER, 2007 Breakfast at nine, first trek at ten. I hate to eat first thing in the morning, and this morning, forget it: too nervous. We’re all chatting away at table— there are eight of us, the perfect number that I’d had in mind— and I nip off early, one more loo break, some deep breathing… I feel like I haven’t ridden a new horse in months, and it is kind of true; I had some lessons during a visit to the States in September, but the unfamiliarity linked with the fact that we’d be on the trail for three hours, and given my inherent dislike of being on the road… what had I gotten myself into?

I drifted out to the forecourt of the hacienda. A string of horses were being tacked, held in place by their head collars. One of them, a big bay, skittered around a little, yanked his head, snapped the rope, and had to have his head gear replaced.

Hope I don’t get him.

Fernando, proprietor of Epona and tour leader for the week, started dispensing horses. One by one, my fellow riders mounted the block — a wall, really, that allowed one deposit oneself in the saddle without so much as a stirrup — and then my name was called out. I leapt up onto the block.

One of the women lead the big bay over.

Shite.

‘He’s called Barry,’ she said, smiling up at me.

Irish? Okay. Well, he’s big enough.

‘It’s short for Barishnikov,’ she added.

Mierda. Read the rest of this entry »

Literally: ten years ago to this very day, I took my first proper riding lesson [as opposed to the improper ride out that resulted in a bruised tailbone][mine, not the horse’s] and started down a road that I am still on. This is pretty significant, as I don’t think I’ve ever done anything for ten years… except for writing, in all the shapes and forms it has taken over time. On Flying Changes, those two have met, and frankly the riding has been more consistent than the writing.

Below is my very first post on this blog, begun one year also to the day that I started horsing. To celebrate this milestone, I’ll be re-posting some of my favourite anecdotes and events; some may come as a surprise to me as I haven’t reread the entirety of the blog since I began work on my book Many Brave Fools: A Story of Codependency Recovery Through Equestrianism. The book is yet to be represented/published; several of the stories on this blog appear woven into the narrative about how I took up horseriding after leaving my marriage and discovered that the horses were as big a part of my healing/recovery process as any of the other therapeutic stuff I was doing. (The book is funny! Not at all po-faced! Promise!)

Enjoy! I’m off to find the next re-post…

 

There’s Always a First Time

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, well… I’d actually have to be on a horse to have it, and they’re big, aren’t they, and watching those kids flying around the ring is making me feel increasingly fluttery and anxious. As little as I know about horses, I knew this was a bad thing. Already feeling under the weather— headache, 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 four years. Why, I don’t know, but I have. In August, 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 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 inside thing, the ring, whatever. Parents chat amongst themselves and happily compliment their daughters as they pass. These kids are jumping. Jesus. I drift away again.

Then a bunch of riders come back from somewhere, the horses enter the 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 a guy is there, and I say who I am, he says, ‘You’re late,’ and a helmet, stinking with hours of other ladies’ 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— a black horse, big— 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, ‘Feck,’ and he takes another and I think, ‘Fecking hell get me the feck offa this feckin’—‘’ and another step and another and I am no longer a human woman but a sack of frozen potatoes sporting a stinking black hat.

I can hear myself breathing, air is whistling in and out of my nose. I can hear myself breathing 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… 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, maybe 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— 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.’ ‘Okay!’] and I can sense that my lesson mates are still where they’re meant to be, on the back of their horses, no writhing around on the ground clutching shattered limbs… and I relax.

This relaxation, and the action of the calf tightening, the action of taking a decision at all, 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 my palms surely must be bleeding.

And then the 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 the honest sweat of women like me, women who have ridden a horse, I haven’t 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 whole life.

***

RIP, Mercury.

MERCURY and ME

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 »

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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