Saturday, August 19, 2006

Hitting the deck, goals and rosettes.....

Stuff we want to achieve…

• For Herbs to walk past a local huge pond without freezing, walking backwards and snorting, and me having to get off first! Perhaps he can be trained to be more interested in the ice cream van, that might help
• To develop such horse and rider trust as to be able to jump a 3’ clear round without Herbs worrying about any jump but loving every minute instead
• Gorgeous roundness at the touch of a button

Accounts of unplanned dismounts (as beautifully named by Helen)

• Herbs got spooked round the farm in 2004, dumped me and galloped back home
• Spinning used to be very popular, once I got dumped on a bridle path as he span 180 at the unexpected sight of a dog
• Spun at something during a trot along a bridlepath – ate earth that day..
• Got dumped again in the sand school as a stray dog decided our lesson was interesting and joined without an invitation. Brain got rattled in my head and I still had the effects of concussion 5/6 weeks later
• Mustn't forget the 3 offs during out indoor jumping lesson - git. Rubber is NOT soft
• Rest to be posted as I remember – oh yes, there are many……

On a more positive note, the rosettes….

Top row from left….

  • BBAG Christmas ride 2004
  • BBAG Christmas ride 2005
  • Special for Mini show
  • 2nd for Most Handsome Gelding (ridden by Kirsty)
  • 2nd for Working Hunter (ridden by me!)
  • 3rd for Novice Rider June 2006
  • 5th for Most Handsome Gelding June 2006 (Kirsty again)
  • Clear Round June 2006

Second row from left….

  • Special for Mini Show
  • Pink rosette from a dressage clinic
  • The famous first ride. Down the ribbon reads "Battered but not defeated!" 31st May 2004
  • Clear round rosette - at Mini Show
  • 9th for Prelim 4 16th April 2006
  • Combined Training - when we were eliminated in the jumping. 2005

August 2006

We’re going on holiday!!!

This month I haven’t done anything very exciting. Just schooling in the week and hacking out at the weekend. The ground has been so hard it’s been a case of picking and choosing the ground and hoping for canter opportunities. On one or two occasions Herbs has behaved like a naughty school boy (of all the boys at the yard I think he can be best described at the one who acts firsts and thinks later and always has a runny nose) getting far too excited and squealing in anticipation of a canter. On one occasion we fell out when I let the others on the ride canter ahead and made him walk it. Well, as I've told him before “if you can’t do it nicely, you won't do it at all”). I think he’s rather enjoying the abundance of grass disguised as hay that in the field at the moment because more than once his “going home legs” have been working overtime on the way back from a hack.

However……… its booked… 4 of us from the yard are taking our horses away on holiday for a week in September. I promise loads of pictures and a full commentary as soon as we get back!


Until such time as those photo's are posted, here are a few that I've taken this month with my new camera. I'm getting a bit obsessed now I've got this blog going... enjoy.

The following pics were taken on Saturday 19th August. Sharon had gone to watch the gooooooooooooooooners and I was looking after Mr Coy as well as Herbs. I took the camera to the field and got accosted as soon as I got close enough for a picture. That’s what you get for giving ponies sweeties when you get them in from the field, bless…

Look at my fat belly mum!

Dan, Shaun and Stu love the dreads but seem to think the look isn't complete without a spliff!

Think I might just bite Mr Coy’s bottom.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The early months of 2006....

Jan - July 2006

Well, such is my memory, I cant remember loads of what happened at the beginning of the year. Here's hoping writing this brings it all back.

The winter, early months of 2006, were hideous. So bloody cold everyone at the yard was complaining and wondering when what felt like the longest winter in history was ever going to end. Frozen fingers and toes are just about the worst thing ever and its just no fun tacking up on a dark evening and not feeling your hands and feet before you've even got on board.

Well, Herbs and I got through the early months of the year doing as much work as possible and getting fed up with smelly rugs and muddy fields. I was looking forward to getting the lorry out so as soon as April came Sharon and I booked a jumping lesson at a nearby indoor school. Having never set foot (as far as I'm aware) inside an enclosed school before and certainly never having seen a black rubber floor I was quite proud that Herbs strolled in without too much of a drama. Even the mirrors on the walls and jumps propped up along the outsides of the school didn't put him off once he'd had a good look at them. He jumped really well, and fairly consistently given that his canter is still unbalanced. After the lesson we wandered off onto some of Sharon's old stomping ground for a hack, and then back to the lorry to pack up for home.

We booked again in May however that was a rather different experience. Spring fever got the better of Herbs and after I fell off once when he ducked out of the second part of a double he then proceeded to buck me off rather splendidly as I brought him round for another go. Then the little sod took a sharp turn after the second part of the double on another attempt and I was off for the 3rd time. A rather more graceful fall on the 3rd though - I slid off as it was easier than hauling myself back up from the half on position! We had planned to hack out again after the lesson but to be honest I felt so battered and bruised I didn't bother.

On Sunday 25th June 2006, I took Herbs to a local show. I was hoping that the recent jumping lessons I'd had would pay off and wanted to ride a clear round (whether or not we went clear would be another matter but I wanted to have a go anyway).

Whilst really enthusiastic about going to shows, the biggest pain is the preparation beforehand, what with plaiting up, washing his tail, washing off the poo (a never ending job with a grey) and giving tack the once over, all this has to start the day before. Then, when a show starts at 8:30am it still means arriving at the yard at about 7am to get loaded, wash off more poo and redo all the plaits that have fallen out over night. None of this I mind at all, but doing this on a regular basis whilst keeping a full time job is tiring and consequently I don't do it as much as I'd like to.

Anyway, we arrived at the show on time, first box there! Got the horses off to settle a bit and put entries in for the classes. I'd chosen to enter a clear round, and the novice riding, then Kirsty from the yard was going to enter him in Most Handsome Gelding for fun.

I was delighted during the warm up because Herbs was so strong in trot but lovely when I asked for canter and we even managed to jump the practice jump in canter a couple of times. That's the first time I've cantered in warm up as I always felt there was a risk Herbs would just get silly and bolt because of the show environment so even if we didn't do any classes that day I would have been pleased.

Anyway we went clear in the jumping (the judge let us off jumping the last from the wrong direction so I'm not complaining) and even though the wall was a little scary (again), Herbs didn't actually step back so the halt before jumping wasn't classed as a refusal. Happy happy me, I really really didn't care what happened after that and actually we went on to get 3rd place in the Novice Riding class. There were a few in the class but Herbs behaved impeccably walking, trotting and cantering as a group. I even think we may have done better if our individual show hadn't been so long - sorry Herbs! The final event of the day was Most Handsome Gelding for Kirsty as I'm a little old (you have to be under 16 and much as Id love to I cant fool anyone) and they got 5th place. All in all, we had a wonderful day and I couldn't have asked for a better behaved boy. Go Herbs!! Mwah!

Here are some of the pics I took at the show...

Herbs looking rather gay!!!!

Sharon with the boys...

Among lots of hacks at the weekend and schooling during the week, I have also had 2 lessons with an instructor at a nearby stable yard. This was extremely useful albeit very expensive so I've tried to remember all the points made and will continue to work on improvements at home. Happily, in July I tried another rather well qualified instructor who came to the yard to give me a lesson and I was rather pleased that my position has improved so much and that I'm not heading Herbs off in any dodgy training directions. I got some great tips from Sarah and in the week or so that I've been putting them into practice I can really feel an improvement.

Oooh, I've missed something hysterical...

I reckon it would have been sometime in May that Sharon and I took Herbs and Coy to a local dressage show. Neither of us had learned the tests (we hate full time work) but we enlisted the help of Megan (chief caller) and knew she would save our embarrassment. We arrived, got a lovely parking spot where the boys could munch happily and I started to get Herbs ready as we were first on. Well, forget the warm up - completely impossible. As soon as they were separated the boys kept yelling at each other across the show ground, thus stuffing any chances of concentration. The whole day was completely hysterical because this just didn't stop and as soon as either of us headed off to do our test the boys would start yelling all over again. In the end, Herbs and I didn't get placed in the first test but did achieve 9th in the second so I was very pleased considering I'm not really competitive and kept collapsing with laughter every time one of them neighed. Bless.

So, how are we riding now??

Generally we went into 2006 with a good walk and trot and a sometimes rather hurried canter, albeit much improved. From about May, I've been trying to concentrate on achieving roundness and we are getting there. Ivy had a few jumping lessons too which had helped to improve his concentration and steady the paces a little.

With regard to the roundness, Herbs kinda knows what I want but as his back isn't rounding he is not on the bit properly. This will come and I have lots of time to practice. I've set myself a goal of achieving true roundness by February 2007 so watch this space to see if I achieve it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Year 2 dramas

So, for the first few months of the year I concentrated a lot on school work, trying to get to the point where I established a nice canter.
I think I attended some dressage clinics in the first part of the year but all the work was pretty much about training and hacking rather than showing.

This was going well until the saddler came up and announced (as I had predicted) that Herbs’ saddle no longer fitted and that he was back sore in places (didn't know about that bit though!). I was horrified that I had hurt him but also know that he would have shown more signs of discomfort if it had been very bad so I decided to get a bit of a grip. A year later I would know Herbs so much better as to know that most of this was down to his sensitivity and wasnt pure pain. Anyway, I booked the physio and until he was fine couldn't get a saddle so it was lungeing for us for a few weeks.

Well this improved the canter no end, and once we'd bought our lovely new Bates Caprilli we were ready for action. At this time, I started a new job after having 8 months off so it now starts to become a bit of a shock to ride again in the evenings.
Dressage and Working Hunter
At some point in the year we went to another show. This was both a hysterical giggle and a very proud day. Some friends at the yard had kindly offered to bring us home in their box so Sharon and I entered the dressage classes at a show and intended then to go on and do some showing classes.

The dressage was a complete washout, with us arriving at the showground after a bloody awful hack filled with scary things and horrible traffic to find that they would let us ride the test that we were late for as long as we got in the arena immediately. Neither of us knew the test so we arranged for the delightful Molly to call it for us. Well, ahem, lets just say that Molly’s calling skills need a little fine tuning as both Sharon and I were eliminated for errors within about the first minute of the test! Lots of giggles later I entered the Working Hunter class and Sharon the Ridden Cob. This is where I get very very smiley indeed.

First, we jumped a couple of rustic fences and that separated those that would go through to the next part of the class and those that wouldn’t. We did just fine albeit my steering was rather dodgy, still, we were through. The class was very busy and so was split into two classes, one for Ponies and one for Horses. I think there were about 8 in the horse class after the jumping. Individually we had to show all four gaits and demonstrate the ability to come back to walk from gallop without a struggle (or tanking off out of the arena!). Well Herbs did me proud, we got the gallop and came back to walk quite nicely, whilst some of the other riders didn’t establish the gallop or were a little more ungainly. Consequently we came away with a rosette for second place and a massive grin.

Straight on from that Kirsty took Herbs in the Most Handsome Gelding class and got us another lovely 2nd place rosette.

As for Mr Coy, well…… unfortunately the Ridden Cob class was the last of a long day and Coy behaved impeccable during the class until the lap of honour. 2nd place rosette flying proudly he decided to jump the arena rope and head for freedom with a very determined looking Sharon on board! Bless him, once he gets something into his head there’s no negotiating – he is after all, a typical Cob!

Unfortunately, whilst there were lots of time for fun, 2005 will forever be known as injury year.
During 2004, Herbs had a couple of injuries. One time he came in showing 80% lameness but a couple of day’s box rest and he was fighting fit. I think it was just a pulled muscle and as he was so unfit and poor the larking about in the field took its toll.

Another time, he had a kick to his near fore and had to have xrays just to check there was nothing serious and then rest whilst it healed. This was a bit of a drama because as soon as the wound had started to heal he decided to nibble the itchy bits and opened the whole thing up again so it was a case of starting over. I did find some great stuff to slop on it though to stop it drying out so quickly and this seemed to do the trick.

Whilst frustrating and worrying, these injuries were nothing to what we went through in the 2nd half of 2005.

First Herbs got what looked like a barbed wire cut on his chest. He had staples and dressing over it and fortunately didnt chew at it (unlike the leg injury - little sod) so it healed really nicely and I could still ride as it hadnt affected any muscle areas.

Next he got a similar wound under his chin, just missing where the cavesson goes. This again needed staples and Herbs had to be tied up at night to stop him scratching his chin on the wall. He bore this pretty well but I hated having to do it. Again, I could still ride with the nose piece off the bridle so he still got exercised after a couple of days and once the initial swelling had gone down

My worse nightmare came one Sunday when I brought him in from the field with a very bad cut to his near hind fetlock joint. Joint fluid was oozing so the emergency vet was called again. She declared that he would need to go to hospital and there followed the worst week of my life followed by another horrible 10 weeks.

Herbs spent a week at the equine hospital after an operation on the Sunday night when 9 litres of saline was flushed through his fetlock joint. This was to flush the infection which was found by testing the fluid when we first got to the hospital. During that next week I visited Herbs every afternoon (work were great about it) and finally on the Thursday he was allowed to come home after much dressing changing, litres of antibiotics and sufficient further joint fluid checks to prove that the infection was definitely gone.

Herbs came back home on the Thursday night and I was just delighted to have him home.

Our discharge notes ordered a 10 minute walk twice a day but otherwise box rest for 6 weeks. Sharon helped relentlessly with the bandage changes which Herbs was initially not too chuffed about because he’d been poked and prodded so much already. Within a couple of days he relaxed though and like the good chap he is, just trusted us and let us get on with it.

Well I wont bore you with the following weeks dramas suffice it to say that I had a bit of a looney on my hands from being kept shut in a stable all day and some people at the yard were less than sensible around him, including those that sent him doolally by loading their horses right outside his stable.

The good news came in 5 weeks when the vet confirmed he was fit enough to be turned out and so, sedated, he started being able to graze in the sick paddock. A week or so later I had my first ride in the school and he was as good as gold. I progressed through a programme of slowly bringing him back into work only for him to get another injury above the knee (typical, he wears sexy boots in the field now but somehow I knew an injury somewhere else would blinking happen) 2 weeks after going back into the normal grazing paddock and we were then into more staples and 10 days box rest with no riding.

So, as you see, 2005 was a traumatic year. I did buy a horse box in October as Id got sick of not doing shows because of the hassle of hacking there so the latter part of the year was spent getting to grips with driving it and trying to keep Herbs injury free.

Ozzie, the 'orse Box - so named by my work colleagues who spent an entertaining afternoon putting names into an empty chocolate box. Ozzie was the first name out and let me tell you I am soooooo glad it wasn't some of the others!

After a nightmare time at Christmas and New Year when I was constantly having to drag Herbs out of the field because he simply would not stop playing I ended up cutting his feed down to nothing to see whether that had any impact. This, combined with having him dragged in from the field at the first sign of naughtiness and a huge dose of growing up he has now settled down quite a bit. I just hope it continues.

Our first year

Now then, this is history and I have a useless memory so trying to capture everything will be hard. I will do my best to get it right!!

Kathy agreed to give me lessons on Herbs and sorted out a second hand saddle and bridle to get us started.

I had my first lesson on Tuesday 3rd February 2004 and after declaring the saddle and bridle fit for purpose we quickly realised that Herbs wasn't used to (correction, didn't have a clue about) mounting blocks. I can't quite remember how we managed to get me on but it certainly took a while.

Once mounted Herbs proved to be quite spooky and sharp and, typical of an Irish inexperienced horse, didn't have a clue about leg aids. Essentially, everything was about speed, and we were only walking and trotting, no chance with canter as there was pretty much no steering in walk and trot. Purely and simply, he was scared. Brought to this strange place, with new sights, sounds and smells, and different friends in the field, I didn't expect anything less.

Over the next few weeks I had lessons twice a week (for my confidence as well as his). I remember riding alone one evening and Herbs spooking awfully at one end of the school, turning on nothing and heading flat out away from whatever was scary. I felt so awful about pulling him up as this was the most pressure I had ever put on his mouth. I agonised about it afterward but of course these things happen. It was just that it was so early on and I felt rotten.

The mounting was solved over a number of weeks by Kathy kindly lending me a small plastic set of steps that we could take to Herbs and move around as he did away from them, rather than expecting him to line up perfectly next to the static block in the yard. Perseverance paid off and within two to three months; he was lining up perfectly for me to mount. Yes it took a while, but patience makes perfect and to this day he is absolutely fine, even while out on a hack, he never moves when I'm getting on.

So, the first year was a mixture of lessons and hacking. The first time I cantered was out hacking and I remember thinking then how lovely his canter gait was and time and again I marvelled at the thought that he was mine.

Had to put this picture in... its shows just how messy Herbie's tail was back then because half of it had been hacked off when he was clipped before I got him.....

It would take until January 2005 before I was confident cantering in the school, until then Herbs was so wobbly and unbalanced and couldn’t keep the pace that it was really hard work. It seems ages, but there is never any point pushing forward if you're not confident with what you’ve achieved so far and I was happy to wait until we could get it right. More about that in "Our Second Year".

So, the events of that year among the lessons are:
May 2004

I found out about a pleasure ride locally, a ride around privately owned countryside and thought Id give it a go. Helen agreed to take me there in her trailer and the week before we just checked out that Herbs would load ok. He did, beautifully.

So, the day of the ride, a few of us turned up and we rode off in a group of 5, not my ideal, to be honest I was hoping to be with just one other horse but hey ho. We set off uphill at walk and decided to have a canter up to "get some energy out of them" which I think to be honest was our downfall. After that was a fairly steep downhill ride through woods and after deciding he would have the lead Herbs lost his head and cantered it. Unfortunately I fell off whilst avoiding a tree, not a nice fall but I was ok.

At the bottom of the hill once we'd re-grouped I was considering riding on and then madness unfurled. A horse going on from us had an energy fit, bucking like a looney and chucked his rider who needed medical treatment. Unfortunately, her horse took a shining to one in our group and kept galloping over and wouldn't be caught. It was a while and many rein burns for the handlers before he could be walked back to his group and by then I'd had enough. I got my first rosette that day for falling off after 10 minutes – the back reads….. "Our first outing – beaten but not defeated".
Can't quite remember when, but....

In the summer, I decided to enter a riding club combined training competition at a nearby equestrian yard. Unfortunately most of the events near to our yard are a fair hack away so these competitions are not easy to attend on a regular basis. Well the dressage went ok. It was in a marked out grass arena and we did stay inside the markers so that was an achievement. Next came the jumping which was a 2’ course with typical show jumping rules. As we were scared stiff of the wall and the spotted poles we had enough refusals to be eliminated and were therefore eliminated from the combined competition. I had no great expectations of Herbs that day; everything was so new there was every chance he would freak out at all the activity and yet he behaved impeccably, so we rode home very pleased with ourselved and with Herbs a little more grown up for the experience.
These pics were taken on the day....

The wall - repeated

I did go back to that yard on 25th June 2005 when there was a show on and decided to enter a clear round. I think I entered a walk and trot test again that day as well??? Anyway, the organisers were great, Herbs had the usual concerns about the wall and spotted pole but they kindly let us have attempt after attempt until we came out having jumped them all clear. 6 attempts at the wall and a huge leap gave us our first successful jump of the scary plastic red thing. Yay!! All credit to that yard for giving riders and horses the chance to try, try and try again. Without this those without similar jumps at their home yards simply wouldn’t get the chance to train their horses over scary obstacles.

We got a pic of that first time over the wall, thanks to the Equine photographer at the show.

September 2004

A mini show was organised at my yard so we had a go at a walk and trot test and clear round. We didn’t get placed in the test but did come 7th (probably out of 8th but who cares) and this was Herbie’s first experience of riding within dressage markers and with a jeep in the school so I was pleased. We got a rosette for taking part but when I look back at the pictures now I cringe. As a team we look awful! All out of balance and messy! Still, if I look on the positive side at least I have those pictures to see how far we’ve come. The clear round was a success, we went clear even though the jumps were about bottom hole. I had intended to jump them small just so that when I went in later to do another round at 2’ ish he would have seen them all already but to be honest after the test and the first clear round I thought he had had enough for one day. That was Sept 2004.

November 2004

In November, I entered a local showjumping show to ride a clear round. This was rather nerve racking as my boy couldn’t cope with cantering in an arena full of jumps, partly because he got so excited and also because he was so unbalanced. Trying to get him together in a new environment was just too much to ask. So, we entered the clear round class in walk and trot – who cares?? Ok so some riders are there looking cool, calm, in control and rather posh but they still had to start somewhere didn’t they???

Well I was very proud. Herbs refused the practice jump three times at which point I gave up – I think the barrels frightened his socks off – so we just had to go for the course and see what happened.

I think there were 9 jumps. Herbs refused one and I cant blame him because it certainly looked the most scary – the bright red brick wall - again! - (ok, for all you non horsey people its all made of plastic and doesn’t hurt but its still bright red and it still might jump out and bite us if we get too close!) and I think we had one other down – a fab effort from my young man, we hacked home very pleased with ourselves and with a challenge to get him over a wall the next time.

I guess from then on we concentrated on getting through a typical British winter and just training as and when possible in the evenings. The year did end with Kathy getting drenched on New Years Eve cantering Herbs around the sandschool in an attempt to establish and maintain some sort of rhythm. I was determined that my goal for 2005 was to have Herbs cantering nicely in the school and me feeling in control.