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A busy summer for Lisa and Chatty successfully competing in Le Trec


Chatty and I have been pretty busy. We have been to Derbyshire and to Blandford in Dorset. In Derbyshire the x country/obstacles were set out over a long distance, all around lovely headlands (the optimum time was 20 minutes!) so we got brave and cantered around a lot of it. The photo of the "dragon" was the mounting block. The rider has to walk up the steps, leading the horse with them and the horse must keep straight and not move away. We got maximum marks and was very pleased with Chatty.

In Blandford I decided it was about time that we attempted to canter the 150metre slow canter, although it was arranged as a horseshoe and not a straight line. We were a little fast but kept within the narrow lines and kept going on the downhill section so that was another first under our belts. On the obstacle course Chatty was brilliant. We trotted under the low branches, walked over a narrow bridge, she stood on her own without moving for 10 seconds for maximum marks and the piece de resistance was the corridors. Normally we have an obstacle of parallel poles very close together that you walk, trot or canter through (the faster the pace the more marks). At this competition 3 corridors were laid side by side and you chose which one to walk through. the maximum 10 points was gained by walking through the first corridor which was right next to a huge x country jump with plastic bags, huge cuddly toys, blowing flags all attached to it, a lady with an umbrella and lots of plastic windmills stuck in the ground along the whole length. We walked around the corner and I was saying to Chatty, just look where you're going, have a good look, thinking if she was very spooky I would choose a corridor further away from all this madness but I suddenly realised she wasn't going to look so just took a chance and we walked on through without faltering. What a good girl!

The other photo is of us just before heading out on the orienteering. Chatty is demonstrating how chilled she is. I was a bit concerned at this event (the last we went to) as she was sooooo chilled I thought she was under the weather. However, the minute I got on to ride out she was more than up for it. The same as when I ride into a check point. The minute we arrive she dozes off. I am sure she is getting to know her job and realises she needs to conserve her energy.

Continuing Lisa and Chatty's busy summer

Chatty and I enjoyed a lovely ride at Bishops Stortford this weekend. The ground was so good after all the rain that we had been having that the organisers had upped the speeds on all sections so we had far more cantering than we had been used to. Chatty stepped up to the challenge and was forward going, without being strong, for the whole three hours. She was tired afterwards though and chilled in her coral for a few hours.

Then, the night ride. What fun that was. Everyone looked like moving Christmas trees and I was amazed to find that the horses act no differently at night than during the day, even when pheasants and rabbits suddenly flew up beside us and ran across our path. I am sure their night vision must be better than ours. My partner and I mainly used red light to ride by as white light destroys your night vision but when you are trotting through wooded areas along bridleways you feel pretty blind. At one point I was leading the way on Chatty and thought the path went straight on when she took quite a sharp turn right and I nearly lost my balance but she was right, the path did indeed go round to the right. We had to follow a fairly straight forward route and identify certain objects and information at various grid references then had to hand in our maps and ride a bearings test. Unfortunately my partner did fall off at one point in the middle of a ploughed field when her horse spooked at a check point but she is ok.

However, I made a stupid, stupid mistake with Chatty! After we finished the day ride I thought ahh, she had worked so hard and had to go out again that night, surely she would need some hard feed, rather than just hay. I did it. I not only gave her one handful of feed, I gave her two. Well, halfway through the night ride Chatty started to go very light in front, not going into a contact and became very jumpy, trying to rush off. Then, the next day when we had to do the obstacles, she was back to "had too much feed Chatty". Again, it was if she had a headache - would not go into a contact, throwing her head up and down and every time I closed my legs around her she acted very uncomfortable and actually grunted a couple of times. What a silly, stupid thing to do. She is very hard to ride like this with any confidence as she struggles to listen and work with you.

Never again. I have taken the feed off the trailer so I will never be tempted again. She really doesn't seem to be able to tolerate any feed or lush grass at all. She is a simple soul and survives quite happily on grazing and hay. It worries me that she will not have the energy she needs but if I am being honest, she has coped so far. She travels for hours in the trailer then competes all weekend before travelling home again.

I wonder how many owners of horses overfeed their animals and wonder why they are having problems with them. We think we are being kind but really, we are potentially harming our relationship with our horse.

Had a lesson last week with Debbie who, at last, saw Chatty in her unsettled state. I had allowed her one night of grass a few days previously to test whether it had lost its potency (it hasn't) but she was still not quite back to normal. I had hacked her out ok but once in the menage her freshness showed. She is now pretty fit and at the moment Chatty does not know how to channel her energy, I think. It was a good lesson as I had to quietly insist on good behaviour and to concentrate, which she was not keen to do. She spooked a couple of times, grunted a bit, used her shoulder to block me - you name it, she did it. However, patience won the day. Afterwards I realised that she had been more off my leg and more inclined to go forward so we are slowly getting there. It is only in the menage that she switches off and doesn't want to know, I have no trouble getting her to go forward out on a hack so I still do a lot of schooling out and about.

We have had a brilliant weekend. Took Chatty to Luton on Saturday, to stay over then compete in a trec comp on the Sunday. Our first proper level 3 class which included a bearings section and grid references. In the morning we cantered along the whole of the 100 metres, not spooking at scary stuff along the marked path, although we were too fast to get any points. I was so delighted with her that she felt my euphoria and in the fast walk, jogged. She never jogs normally, I know it was just my excitement, so we didn't score then either. In the x country section she was brilliant. We got max marks for the S Bend, the immobility, the ditch (first time we had done a ridden ditch and it was more of a cat leap but she hardly hesitated and it was quite a wide coffin ditch, not a natural one) and a proper jump. We attempted everything else and only got zero for our terrible rein back! More practice needed. I was amazed to find we were over time so got time faults but our best effort yet, nonetheless.

The orienteering ride was amazing. Lovely ride. 26km long and for the first time she had energy left in the tank at the finish. She is getting much braver at cantering alongside scary hedges and through woods and past monsters and happily takes the lead. We even went past a field with pigs in, however, the wind was blowing towards them so she could not smell or hear them.

Chatty travels like a dream now and considers the trailer a place to relax and munch her hay in which is just as well as we are out again this coming Sunday. The last orienteering ride of the season in Surrey. Will have to spend the winter practicing obstacles and rein back!

Chatty's last competition this year 2010

Chatty has been brilliant this weekend. Stabled her on saturday night as had to be away by 7.15 sunday morning for our orienteering comp at Bookham in Surrey. Despite the fact that she thought she was going to be turned out first thing she happily plodded up the ramp and tucked into her hay.

I needed to have taken the Ark with me as it rained hard all day. Started the ride in wet weather gear but was still totally soaked at the end of it. The ride was up to distance after all - all 30 kms of it including a bearings test and grid reference test which covered a lot of ground. Chatty never put a hoof wrong. Endlessly patient when I was checking the map and standing still while I recorded information and ticket numbers. My partner, at one time, was standing directly behind Chatty resting her map case on her rump, plotting our next course while I sat on Chatty and held her horse. We trotted a long way, sometimes covering nearly 2 kms at a time over varied terrain, sometimes slippery and through huge puddles and expanses of mud. Sometimes she indicated she wanted to stop to drink from a puddle which I allowed. At one time I left her tied to a branch with some twine while I found a large bush to go behind!

The box parking was very wet and slippery when I arrived in the morning and I had had to drive nose in as the trailer was slipping too much when trying to reverse. When I got back to the trailer someone had parked so close to me I couldn't tie up so up she walked and stood in the dry while I untacked her and put a light sweat rug on her. I then unloaded and walked her to a friends box where she drank all the water on offer and tied her to the side of her box. Then I went back and turned the trailer round without the weight of Chatty in it before driving to her, dropping the ramp and loading again.

She is now an old hand at travelling and displays no worry at all. She seems to view the trailer as a place of comfort and relaxation and never looks anxious or worried. She is definitely a very good trec horse in the making and she loves it. Phew, 30 kms and she could have gone on. Will let her down a bit now for the winter as I won't be able to keep her so fit in the bad weather but intend to keep her ticking over so that fittening her will not take so long next year.

chatty jumping

At home with Penny and Beau

It's lovely to keep in touch with the horses we train. What better way to catch up than to meet their owners again and find out how the partnership is going?

For our first visit we went to Penny's home. She kindly talked to us about the first two years of life with Beau.

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oxo 2

Oxo's new mum is a nervous rider who relies on the horse to give her confidence. Sam kindly describes how she manages her fear levels.

Well – I’ve done that first ride. Not as easy as I had hoped! I got a complete panic attack about 10 mins before I rode, having thought all day that I would be fine. Not helped by Oxo not wanting to stand still when I mounted (she did eventually), and then going to shoot out of the yard with some excitement. I wanted to go out alone the first time (trying to take a leaf out of your book!) but asked one of the grooms just to hold her for the first 10 yards as she felt quite strong. Then she was fine and he dropped away at my request, and off we went.

Avril, I was truly terrified. Oxo called several times and each time I asked her not to, and then each call got a bit less vocal. She was quite looky and the route away from the yard is full of barns, some with rattly roller doors, and other with no doors but full of dark and tractors. I concentrated on keeping my leg on and keeping her head straight. I chose this route because the first 10 minutes of it aren’t hedges, which I know she is more cautious with (though the whole farm is lots of hedges). But she was fine, and didn’t seem to mind me singing – the whole way round (What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor – I told you, I was desperate).

There were a couple of times when she thought about turning round and one mini mini spook at an unexpected pigeon. But we did a couple of very nice trots, including on the track that runs through some woodland and eventually I began to ease a bit. On a wide path between fields I did a couple of little bits of leg yielding, which she did beautifully – and then I thought she was listening to me. And finally we were home, with me truly exhausted from adrenalin and Oxo hot (its been 29 degrees here today) enough to rub her face on me. I shall do the same trip tomorrow and see how we go – hopefully it will get a bit easier each day. We did meet two horses out today – in the distance a bit and Oxo was pretty oblivious.

She has been interesting in other ways. She went out in a field on her own today. She was quite happy – pottered off and just went straight to munching. When I came to bring her in to ride she came straight to me, which I was interested to see. But this evening she did show more interest in the other horses on the yard and was calling from her stable a bit. Though the farmer, who lives opposite her stable, said she didn’t call at all last night. Having said that she got through all her hay last night and was munching on it tonight before I left.

Thanks for the reassuring words. Today wasn't much better and then was a bit. I have been nervous all day but went to ride this afternoon. It must be so hard for Oxo to be in a strange place and have a nervous wreck on her back. We had the standing still problem again so I just kept walking her round the mounting block - which only took 3 goes and she stood still. But she then wants to be off and won't stand while you check the girth etc. Again I kept turning a circle - with some but not full success.

Having said that our hack was good. No calling and we met six of those cross country motor bikes. Oxo stopped dead but walked on as soon as I asked and the bikes stopped and waited for us to pass and bless her Oxo just walked straight past them, with the engines on - I asked them to leave them on (Toby's Diary strikes again!). Then we had a little canter - such a good girl - forward going but steady - and I was just thinking we should come down to a trot and hey presto we had.

I have spent today telling myself that if I can't crack the nerves then I shall have to give up - but the fact that I so don't want to give up is what is making me keep going. I so hope I can work through this. And I am convinced Oxo is the one to do it with. Overall a good hack I think today then.

Back at home she showed some interest in Bertie so I took her over to say hello as he is v laid back. One sniff of noses and she put her ears flat back but her stable manners have been fine and she is clearly laying down at night and very settled in the field.

Another day another hack. I went to the yard today and saw Oxo in her field happily grazing. She is looking pretty chilled in her field to be honest and everyone at the yard loves her because her manners are so good.

She didn't really want to come in and walked away from me so I stood still for a while and then approached her more steadily a few paces and then a few pauses. That was more to Oxo's taste and then we came in.

I have been nervous all day about riding (and taking the homeopathic Rescue Remedy!) I decided that my nerves mean Oxo doesn't stand still and then I get more nervous so I decided not to have a battle but to ask Abi (a lovely groom) to hold her instead. But when it came to it Oxo seemed pretty chilled and I thought I would give it one go without help first. Of course she stood stock still while I mounted, did my girth etc !! All because I knew I had an alternative plan and ao my nerves were less.

Today we did a different route - partly as on Sunday she was a bit speedier on the way home and I didn't want a habit there. Also she has been reluctant to stand when out. So today we passed a man up a tree on a crane and a big skip. Oxo knew they were there but wasn't fussed. She did her come to a dead stop bit - I thought because of the big silver container up ahead, and that this was going to be a big test for us. But then I realised it was for a poo and she walked on immediately afterwards!

We had some lovely long trots - I didn't feel the need to canter today. She hasn't quite got the hang of my aids but is trying hard to get them. So when I try to remember to keep my leg on she wonders if I want a trot. I asked her to stop a couple of times when we weren't on the home stretch and she was perfect. When we did get to the homeward bit that she knows I decided to be a bit contrary and give a long rein. She speeded up fractionally and I think she worried that when I checked her slightly I was going to ask her to stop but when she realised I wasn't she checked quickly. I did this a few more times and we had a pretty chilled walk for the last stretch. I told her what a good girl she was and gave her girth and saddle area a sponge down and off she went to her hay.

I am hoping that as our easy hacks continue and we build our confidence in each other so my nerves will diminish - not least because she is such a good girl! I was a pretty happy bunny when we got home.

I rode on Saturday – I have noticed that my nerves start a little later in the day, though I still spend too much of the day worrying about my ride. Nonetheless I remain determined to ride on my own – per your own comments on the forum – so that any confidence I acquire (eventually!) is a real confidence and not dependent on others, and so that Oxo and I build a relationship.

Bless her she stood still for me mounting and we had a good ride though Oxo felt quite fresh – perhaps in reaction to my nerves or perhaps because she hasn’t been ridden since Wed. This manifests itself with her walk being a real route-march type walk (though she walks out very well anyway, so I am getting used to that) and sometimes it becomes quite a bouncy walk as she gathers herself up. I am concentrating on trying to be relaxed in the saddle and keeping her on a light contact.

On the way home we met the skip again only this time it had magically filled, acquired an Oxo size pile of sand next to it and a digger on the other side of the road so we had to walk between them. This did surprise Oxo and she lifted her head to look at it all. She also hesitated slightly in her walk so I put a bit of leg on and she carried on beautifully. I decided to take a leaf out of Toby’s diary and asked her to stand between the skip and the digger to let her absorb it all, which she also did perfectly.

This is really odd because we were about 200 yards from home, which was within sight, and previously when I have asked Oxo to stand on the homeward stretch she has been reluctant to do so. But I think this time as I wasn’t thinking about home, and her hesitancy about standing, but was thinking about giving her a chance to register the hazards around her, it did not occur to me that she would not stand. So perhaps it didn’t occur to her either! I hear Avril saying “that’s because you had the intention” – and indeed as I help my 6 year old daughter get her pony into canter I say to her “really mean it” and suddenly off he goes!

When I caught Oxo she was shaking her head a lot and I think the flies are bothering her ears. In the yard she was very keen for me scratch all round her ears and even in them, dropping her head low and pushing against my hand. Although this is simply because she was itching I saw it as a small step in Oxo accepting a bit more interaction with people. She was happier on Sunday in the field though with a fly guard on her ears.

Sunday – the nerves didn’t kick in until I set off for the yard. I have been concentrating on a couple of things – moving very slowly around Oxo is one of them and this seems to be paying dividends– I see less ears back when I approach. I have also been hanging up her girth rather than draping it over the saddle, and doing it up very, very slowly and by degrees, which she has shown no objection to either.

I have also been worrying that our half hour hacks haven’t been enough for her so decided to go for a bit longer today. I was worrying because I haven’t cantered her for a few days and thought I should – stupid really – I should just take it as it comes. It made me feel a bit low on the way out though as I wondered whether I will ever get over the nerves and what I am doing taking on a horse at the age of 46!. But then there is really nothing to be nervous of around Oxo – her version of a spook is a mild muscle twitch! And as I have concentrated – per your advice - on not reassuring her at all when she sees something surprising, and as she gets used to the environment, even those are less than the first time we went out.

We had her route march today but barely a glance at the skip, and then a couple of lovely trots, though the first one felt a bit of a run and I checked her a little – her aids are the softest I have ever known. I asked her for a canter and she could feel the hesitation in me and didn’t immediately until I gave her a clearer aid. Why I worried I have no idea – she has the most steady but forward going canter I have ever known and it was wonderful. Such a feeling, there must have been a smile on my face. With that out of the way I stopped worrying and noticed a swallow in the field of wheat – I remember - that’s why we go out riding. Lovely potter home, all the outward bound worries forgotten.

Today I crossed a whole number of bridges with Oxo, some I didn’t even realise until later. The first was getting out of the office in time to ride after work. My last meeting over-ran, the train was late, my daughter wanted to show me her homework … and so I was stressy (despite the very patient husband). I was also a bit worried about no-one being at the yard, as I do worry about going out with no-one knowing where I am. But Oxo doesn’t like frenzy and so I have to consciously park my frenzied life when I am with her and as I approach her stable I make myself slow down.

In fact there were people around at the yard – there is a health and safety training day on the farm tomorrow for 150 people so the farmer was finalising things. He asked if Oxo would be alright if he got the tractor out to move the muck heap and I said it was fine, he didn’t need to wait as Oxo would be fine. As I said it I realised what a luxury it is to be able to say that (apart from how kind of him to check also). In fact we got chatting and so he didn’t start the tractor engine until I was just walking past it – but Oxo didn’t blink.

It was glorious to be out – almost no nerves, just with my thoughts, not even the need to sing. Today’s wildlife was a goldfinch and a black rabbit (have never seen wild black rabbit). Sometimes it felt slightly surreal – was it really only 2 weeks ago when I was asking myself whether I could ever get to a place of no nerves. Oxo did a spook at a pigeon and the nerves came back but only momentarily – and I am not sure she noticed.

Then I phoned our lovely groom who had kindly offered to wait for me, to tell her not to bother – we were very chilled. Such I tiny thing but I have never had the confidence (or co-ordination!) to make a phone call on horseback. I felt ridiculously clever! And one of the other liveries said the minute she heard I was on the phone to Abi she knew we were getting along fine! Perhaps my next target should be to do it at trot!

On the way home we had two events – the first a ‘Road Closed’ sign on one of our lanes, ready for tomorrow. Oxo wasn’t thrilled at this as it has never been there before and I had to use a little more leg. She went past but with a bit of a banana shape (as Avril describes Toby) so I thought rather than breath a sigh of relief that we were past it, I should go back and walk round and past it again. This time no banana shape and Oxo had stopped her mini huffing at it.

Then we saw the lorry which had just dropped off the portaloos and I thought it would be a good idea to walk past those too. Oxo did not like the lorry at all, with its hazard lights on and doors open. Here she was much more concerned, backed up a little and tried to turn her head each way. I concentrated on keeping my leg on and her head straight. And after a few seconds she walked down the 4ft space between the portaloos and the lorry.

Unfortunately my schooling whip brushed the loos and made her jump, so we walked round and did it again with no incident. Big pats for Oxo and off to her hay. But astonishment for me – what possessed me – this shivering bag of nerves? Oxo is such a good girl that even her fear is pretty easy to manage. I guess what possessed me is that I have started to trust her and wanted to build on that.

One little footnote: I mentioned that my schooling whip knocked the portaloos – I never used to carry a stick but on Avril’s advice now carry one all the time. I never leave home without it, as it were and now like the fact that I have a little back up to my aids if I need it. As Oxo tried to move away from the lorry, just knowing that I could tap her behind my leg helped me. And I do use it quite often to get rid of flies on her as we hack through the woods!

Poor Oxo’s leg is still not right but she is not in pain and is not lame. And feather mites aren’t helping. I have a scrub to go on her feet for 5 days. In some ways this is quite nice because although Oxo was really not quite sure what I was up to initially, and was a bit wary, as I started rubbing the wash in, and giving her a real scratch all round her heels she decided that this is what I am paid to do and I could just carry on as long as I liked while she stretched her neck out and did funny things with her top lip in pleasure. She quickly learned this was all more lovely if she didn’t pick her feet up but put it back on the ground – and then I would carry on.

Although she is a little bit poorly, giving her this relief is a nice way of spending some time bonding with her, when in other circumstances she doesn’t really want company. She even put her head down and gave me a tiny groom as I did her front feet on the second day.

Nonetheless, at the vet’s suggestion we are still going out for walks and she is still behaving perfectly. When I rode yesterday, in the early evening she stood perfectly still while I mounted and adjusted her girth. She has been doing this for a while and she gets more still each time as my nerves are less and less. I still get a mini-flutter as I tack up and mount but then it goes quite quickly and it is nothing like the early days, when I battled with myself about whether I could go through with my ride, or should just give up.

I heard later that someone on the yard commented, after I had gone out that it was like watching a different person. “She just got on and headed off” he said. And its true and I cant quite believe this is what Oxo and I do now. I think him noticing is a measure of how far I have come seemingly in no time at all. (And it is also lovely that people on the yard are so pleased for me – it is very supportive in that sense).

Oxo did spook at some pigeons today – they are a bit deceptive at the moment because the wheat is long enough for them to be invisible but they do fly up just as you draw level. Normally in these circumstances I would leave it for a moment and then ask Oxo for a bit of a trot to take her (and my) mind off it. I cant do that at the moment because she isn’t quite happy with her gammy leg, in trot at the moment. But I do religiously look the other way and say nothing, as though her spook hadn’t happened.

The other funny thing that happened was a friend of mine asking if I wanted to hack out with her. In fact I couldn’t as, although it was my day for working at home I had so much work I couldn’t take any time out of the day at all. I will go out with her soon – she is a very considerate companion to ride with and is completely in control of her horse so I should be quite confident going out with her. But oddly I have decided I want to carry on riding on my own for a bit. It has become so lovely to be out, on the farm, with the sun on our backs and me just able to turn over the days events in my mind, and enjoy Oxo’s company. I cant describe that feeling, where the only noise is birds and Oxo’s feet clip-clopping along. And I have wanted to be doing this for so long, that now I feel quite possessive about that time!

It did strike me as I drove home though, I am so glad I started out this way, firstly because I think I have acquired my trust in Oxo much quicker than I would otherwise have done and secondly because if I had been riding in company I would still have that dread of going out on my own, hanging over me. Now I have the luxury of knowing I can do it, and I can do it whenever I want to. And it seems to make me feel closer to Oxo – as though we have achieved this together (though she knew what she was doing all along of course!). I feel very lucky.

I do still have some challenges ahead – I am very nervous of going in the riding school for example – its where I had a bad fall 18 months ago. But all in good time.

My nerves returned a bit yesterday – I was disappointed to find this.

The reason is that the day before I took Oxo out and on the way home we have a long straight stretch of road with a nice wide verge. Home is within sight along this farm road. I took Oxo onto the verge and asked for a trot – which she was keen to do. Her trot then felt much too strong for my liking. I think the combination of not having had a lot of work, being on a lovely springy grass verge and homeward bound brought this out. My first instinct was to come back down to walk but I quickly decided that it would be better for us if I checked her into the trot I wanted. Initially Oxo resisted this; she wanted to carry on heading for home too fast so I repeated the check more strongly a few times, but tried to resist just pulling. After a few checks she did come into a nice steady trot. I kept her in this nice trot for about 100 or 150 yards and then asked for walk. After a little while of walking I moved her back onto the tarmac and we did a good trot there for a bit.

One of my difficulties is that I cope ok at the time but then once the problem, whatever it is, has gone my imagination starts to run riot and I am seeing all sorts of nonsense – in this case us bolting home and getting feet stuck in the cattle grid at the end of the lane. This is what gives me the shakes afterwards and what stops me thinking “ well I did cope so I can cope again ”. I have always found that coping with incidents doesn’t reinforce my confidence it just gives me a new bunch of scenarios to worry about, and is a feature in my life more generally. And for this reason I don’t find any of the articles in magazines about getting your confidence back, remotely helpful, because they look back not forwards.

Having said that I rode Oxo today and she was quite sluggish – a relief for me – so much so that she didn’t want to leave the yard. Partly I guess because the fields were full of horses who had been put out for the night and we were going past them all, which we don’t normally do, and also heading for the skip. The skip is beside a new garage being built so of course that looks different each time she goes past it. I had to use my stick (glad I had it even though Avril says I barely tickle with it!). We had a good trot on the verge going away from home and so that helped me get going again. We were fine then until we got to the Cinder track where Oxo had clearly heard something which I didn’t initially hear. When I did I understood Oxo’s concern – it was a dog whistle which must sound very loud to horses. This really bothered her and she stopped two or three times and I had to urge her on quite strongly. I wondered about letting her stand and listen but she was turning her head to right and left and I wondered if she might try to turn her around so I decided I had to take the lead and give her something else to do.

She of course was worried about the whistle but I was worried (given my imagination) that it was so frequent that an owner had lost his dog, which would, at any minute come crashing out of the undergrowth and give us both the fright of our lives! I kept Oxo going forward with lots of leg, and a little bit of stick until we saw the owner (a lady in fact). Oxo’s head came up as the lady came into view but then relaxed a bit as she recognised human. I had a quick chat with the lady as we walked past and then saw the dog. A diddy jack russell. I was pretty relieved that it wasn’t going to be 3 huge labs coming at us from the hedge!

Isn’t it stupid how something so small can become so scary. But the rest of our ride was uneventful and we had another nice trot and pottered home, back to slightly sluggish and me pushing he on a bit – though in the boiling heat, so not too hard. I tried a little canter but Oxo’s leg wasn’t keen on this yet, so I will save it for next time. Oxo is really a very good girl, but I guess even for her there will be new incidents or experiences which will surprise her and what I need to do is recognise is that if I give her direction then we can get through them. I am convinced that if left to her own devices she would have turned round and gone the other way (not bolted, but certainly chosen a different direction) and it is at these times I owe it to her to give her a lead, given that most of the time she gives me the lead!

Firstly I am so sorry I have not updated my story with Oxo for ages. Work has gone mad, and various other demands on my life have made it hard to find the time – and also sometimes to find the time to ride her.

I had a mini crisis with Oxo. I got myself a bit stressed about doing a canter, and stupidly decided to go ahead and try one, when Oxo was clearly telling me things were not right. She was shaking her head up and down constantly, snatching at her bit, and this was much worse at the trot. I didn’t understand it, having never experienced this before and didn’t know what to do. She also kept trying to put her head down between her knees. Because I always assume the worst I thought she was cross with me and was going to do something bad. When I asked for canter I thought she gave a couple of small bucks – which is very difficult to compute because Oxo has never been known to buck in her life. I stayed on and came back to a trot and then asked again; then she did go into a canter but still with the head shaking and feeling strong. So I came back to a trot and just walked til we got home.

This really knocked my confidence and so with Avril’s advice, and some from our yard owner I decided a) just to walk and trot for a bit and b) to try to think about it to work out what had gone wrong. One of the things Avril said is that if you are holding onto your horse when also asking for a canter this can be very hard for the pony as they have nowhere to go. This rings very true for me – because I had got in a stew about asking for a canter I know I was holding on to her.

I have carried on riding, albeit with a lot of nerves, but gradually those have been diminishing again. I have also been trying to think about whether my hands are causing the head shaking. But this weekend I took Oxo out in the rain (don’t ask!) and she didn’t shake her head once, not once, and just felt her usual floaty self again. I had such a lovely ride and felt great because now I am pretty sure the head shaking and putting her head between her knees for a scratch is flies, as there were no flies in the rain. And stupidly I am wondering if she really did buck, or was she just trying to get down and scratch her head on her knees at the same time as receiving a very mixed message from me.

Before going out this weekend I went through the usual cycle of wondering whether it is time to give up and accept that I have lost my nerve, only to have it followed as ever, by a wonderful ride and just relishing being out on my own with time to think and watch the wildlife (green woodpecker this time). So when I went to ride her again on Sunday I did so with much much more confidence. Even though the fields have been cut and so there are vast expanses which some horses get excited by – but I rode Oxo in a field in which Avril was cantering once and she didn’t display any excitement so I was fine with this. And so was Oxo of course.

Sunday was the first time when I really started to feel a bond with Oxo. As I have mentioned before she is a very self sufficient little pony and ideally wants to be left alone; she doesn’t do love and cuddles and all that! So we (the yard owner and I) have her in a stable round the back on her own where she is not disturbed by all the comings and goings on the yard and can just be by herself. We don’t do much with her in the stable so she is confident that the stable is her space. I have also found her scratchy spots so when I groom I give her a good scratch and after I have ridden I do so again to say thank you. Gradually she is coming out of herself and we are seeing much less of her ears back - “leave me alone” messages and more interest in what we are up to. On Sunday I forgot to tie her up (partly because I know she wont go anywhere – unlike my daughter’s pony who works himself out of his headcollar and shoots off back to the field!) and she took a couple of steps towards our yard owner, her ears pricked and her nose stretched out, for a little scratch. This is such a different Oxo from a few weeks ago and was really, really lovely to witness.

At some stage I will go back to cantering her, and our yard owner has taken her out occasionally for me and says her canter is lovely, which is helping me worry less. But I don’t feel any hurry to do so since we are still having lovely hacks.

I rode Oxo one day last week when it had been tipping down all day with 5 minute moments of sun. In one of those 5 minutes we tacked up and headed out of the yard, but within 20 yards it was chucking down again. Oxo and I took shelter in one of the open barns and watched the rain for a bit but neither of us was very impressed so we headed home and I decided to take her into the indoor school. This is a really big decision for me because I came off in the school 18 months ago, was lame for 6 weeks, and haven’t been in there since! I had no idea how Oxo would be, as she hadn’t been in there either and Avril had warned me that she thought Oxo might be a bit sour in the school.

Oxo wasn’t happy about going in there because it involved stepping over the hose so after she had backed up a bit I pushed her forward (with a bit of support from my whip, behind the leg) and then let her sniff it. After a few seconds of sniffing and thinking I asked again and she went in more happily. She was very obedient while also looking at everything which was new – a half gate at the far end, poles on the ground etc. She is clearly a very well schooled lass and after 10 minutes or so of me trying to breathe and just keep her moving around she started to relax her head, though I didn’t ask her to. We did a few circles and a couple of trots after which it became apparent that Oxo was behaving perfectly but her ears were back in a way that said she was not enjoying this at all. Our yard owner, and a friend had come in with me for support and they agreed she was not thrilled.

Since I had done the job of overcoming my fear (even though I was still very tense) I decided that, as she had also done everything I had asked of her, I would stop at that point as her reward, rather than doing endless tedious circles and transitions and boring the pants off her. I don’t have any real need to ride in the school other than the weather so have decided that since we are only a few months in we are going to stick to what she is enjoying, which is hacking out across the farm. If I want to do a bit of schooling or a lesson we can do it in the fields.

Yesterday we did just that – pottered out on our own for a hack across the farm. At one level I wasn’t nervous at all about Oxo but at another level I was slightly wary as the Combine was out harvesting in the field we were going to walk alongside. Oxo clocked it early on but didn’t change pace at all so I realised that a) it was in the middle of the field and b) she wasn’t fussed so we would be fine. And we had a lovely potter and a couple of really floaty trots. A few flies bothered her but not big time.

But more interestingly two or three times Oxo has come over to greet me in the field now and whickers if you approach her. Generally I get the distinct impression she is happy with her lot, and this is helping me relax a bit more around her and start to enjoy her personality. Of course she is very popular on the yard because she is so easy to do and so honest. But I still think our policy of giving her lots of space is the right answer – the advantage of her self sufficiency is that she is great out on her own, but that does mean she also doesn’t want lots of company and fuss.

After our hack I bumped into someone who was looking for company to go out with as they don’t like to ride their pony alone. I couldn’t help as Oxo had just done her job for me for today but it did remind me how much easier life is when you are not dependent on others to go out with.

I wanted also to say I have been very heartened by all the comments on the forum. Sometimes I feel my steps are so small but it is nice to know that others don’t find them so, and that makes me feel a bit chuffed to be honest!! It hasn’t been easy, as all the readers will know, but having a safe pony has helped. Even then, little things can interrupt the confidence building and so having Avril to advise, and a supportive yard has also made an enormous difference, probably all the difference if truth be told.