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My New Horse

Our thanks to the following owners for taking the time let us know how they are getting on

KAREN AND CRISPIN

Karen's latest update from Crispin's new home

crispin mounting block

I’d just like to say thanks to Avril for letting me write just a little bit more (actually a lot more) in Crispin’s diary, and to those of you still willing to read it!

I would love to say that it was been all plain sailing – but it hasn’t quite been that way! I haven’t really kept a diary as such but thought I would write about some of the lessons I have learnt, the things that have gone well and those that haven’t, and what I am still struggling with.

Mistakes and worrying

I have made some huge mistakes.

The first, and biggest mistake, I made, is that I went on holiday far too early after Crispin arrived. I truly believe this was a colossal mistake. In May we had a two day break and then a seven day break, and I do think this unsettled Crispin.

When I wrote back on the forum when he first arrived, he had coped very well with his new surroundings and new routine, and being in a much busier, less peaceful yard. However he became less settled again while we were away and I think having different people looking after him (although he was looked after beautifully), was one change too many for him. He manifested this by being restless when having his hooves picked out. I must stress that when he came to us from Avril, he was absolutely fine about his hooves. As you know, I am a bit nervous about handling his feet anyway, not because of Crispin, but because of my general lack of confidence and experience with horses.

On my return from holiday I picked up the tack from the horse-sitters, and heard the news about Crispin’s hooves. They hadn’t found it a particular problem, being experienced with horses, but being a total pessimist I immediately started to worry, despite their reassurances that he had been a delight to look after (and especially to ride) – in fact their favourite client – in their words ‘a joy to be around’. But all I could think of was ‘hooves, hooves, hooves’, driving to the stables. I got there, it was lovely to see him (although, I must be honest, he didn’t look that pleased to see me – I really felt I had let him down by going away so soon). I set to grooming him and picking out his hooves. He picked them all up first time with no bother – I cried, I had been feeling so anxious about it. However, inexplicably I just seemed for a few days to lose all my confidence with Crispin on the ground, and it was a bit of a bleak time for me, I was too scared to pick up his hooves, nervous to be with him in the stable, just a bit of a nervous wreck. I had lots of e-mail support from Sarah and Avril and my husband Ray, and the lady next door at the yard, who has been very kind. So many times I felt like ringing Avril and saying that I wasn’t good enough to care for Crispin, feeling wracked with anxiety.

crispin 2

Since then, I have gradually built up my confidence in picking out his hooves. I have started hypnotherapy again to build up my confidence with Crispin, and we particularly concentrated on my feeling confident around Crispin, and being his leader. That, together with the visit from the farrier (written about below), really has helped me to the point that Crispin and I are absolutely fine together on the ground now. It really wasn’t him at all, I just needed to relax and be confident around him. I’m working on it! One thing I will confess that you probably will think I am totally, and completely, barking (with regard to confidence) that, in getting over being nervous of picking up his hooves, I would put on my ‘magic gloves’ (– a.k.a. my ordinary riding gloves!) - and that if I put them on before picking out his feet, all would be well and I would pick up his feet confidently. And it worked! I don’t need the magic gloves now.

Another huge milestone for me was that Crispin was due a visit from the farrier on my return from holiday. Avril had stressed that it was important to get a good farrier that treats horses with respect and doesn’t frighten them. Predictably I agonised for hours about how to get the right farrier, about whether to get in a farrier that I had seen on the internet, who seemed to be excellent and very highly qualified etc. etc. (and very expensive). But knowing my poor judgement (remember the horse transporter!) I decided to start with the yard farrier. I was SO pleased I did. I was shaking with nerves simply because I wanted it all to go well. It all went brilliantly (time for another little weepy moment hiding in the stable). Crispin was a little bit restless a couple of times, being shod in a new environment, but soon settled down and in the end was either munching on a little hay or resting his nose on the farrier’s back, giving him a good sniff and a nuzzle. The farrier declared him to be ‘a good lad, no problem to shoe’ and that he had excellent rock hard hooves. He also gave me some tips to be more confident doing Crispin hooves, and certainly put both me and Crispin at our ease (he was very jovial, like Pip, MSC’s blacksmith - although without that certain singing voice that Pip possesses).

Crispin loves his lady vet. She’s attractive with tight jeans and long hair and he ALWAYS behaves impeccably when she is with him – she thinks he’s marvellous. That’s men for you – honestly, his head is up, his chest is puffed out and its all ‘look at me!’ The vet has advised me not to get too worried about every little fly bite or bit of dirt on his sheath, she thinks he is a super sturdy pony and that I am fussing too much. I detected this when I proffered to her on arrival a bucket of his fresh poo for her to examine whether she thought he was dehydrated or not. Short answer – NO.

Hacking Out

Crispin has been good to ride since he arrived. He goes out of the yard alone without any hesitation which is very reassuring when the yard is full of people and horses and you are the ‘new one on the block’.

The great thing is how he responds to your voice – I think it’s a relief for him to be told trot and canter rather than try and interpret my rubbish aids! Perhaps I ought to teach him ‘left!’ and ‘right!’, then that would remove all confusion for the poor boy! We’ve had some canters but he always comes back to trot easily. I’m still nervous of cantering but I’ll get there and both he and I are happy to walk and trot around. Spooking is pretty non-existent with him and he’s pretty impervious to the farm machinery (see picture of his standing under what looks like a mechanical Brontosaurus!). We have walked calmly by a huge digger moving rubble on the farm, and he didn’t bat an eyelid at it.

He’s very good if we encounter other horses out hacking. We often pass some of the riding school horses out on a hack and they can be trotting away from us and he doesn’t mind. We have had encounters with a Haflinger gelding who we sometimes have to ride by (he thinks he is a stallion, he was used as one for a few years before being gelded). The Haflinger (who is kept in a field on his own, but is actually Crispin’s next door neighbour in the stable), has galloped full pelt straight at the fence screaming at Crispin as we ride past, snaking his head at him and charging and kicking as we walked alongside the paddock. I confess I felt absolutely terrified, I thought he was going to jump out, or worse, break the fence but Crispin walked past calmly and totally ignored his quite aggressive antics. They ignore each other in the yard. Yesterday we had a huge piebald cob mare in a field gallop full tilt towards the fence towards us, my face was frozen in a rictus grin of fear (she was a big girl!) and even Crispin’s eyes widened at such a big momma coming so fast towards us, but we got past in one piece.

Sometimes when we ride out I feel a little tense, if I think he is walking with an extra spring in his step (especially if I haven’t ridden for a couple of days), usually in my imagination, but if I take a deep breath, take my feet out of the stirrups, do some deep breathing and enjoy the countryside, everything is always fine. We do lots of little challenges out hacking, for example we have ridden down some steep hills (all of which point homewards). It was great to get the practice of doing this at MSC, it has stood me in good stead. Crispin does test me occasionally when we are out riding, but any little tests are tiny (such as a little snatch at something tasty here and there!) – it just needs me to improve and concentrate on my riding, and I am so looking forward to having lessons with him when possible.

“Don’t let it eat me mum - I’ve been really good!”

Routine

The routine at the livery yard is that horses are not allowed out 24/7. So when Crispin arrived he was out in the day and in at night. I am lucky enough to have someone to help with mucking out his stable a few days of the week – she’s brilliant and much faster than me, I bring mucking out to a new level of agonising slowness. Anything else to do with Crispin I do myself, bringing him in, grooming him, worming him (managing to drop the syringe and nearly squirting it all myself in the process) and of course riding him. In his stable block of four horses there are the Haflinger and two mares, one a piebald cob mare who towers over Crispin, the other a bay mare. At grass he lives with two senior citizen geldings. They both come in overnight, but I really wanted to change Crispin to overnight turnout so that he could spend more time in his field and less hours in the stable and also avoid the flies and midges (there is a stream running through the farm so insects are a bit of a problem). So I agonised (I can make a worry out of anything) about whether to ask if he could stay out overnight – even if it means him being on his own - the policy usually is that you have to have a minimum of two horses. Crispin has been on his own in his field for short periods and so long as he has grass for company it didn’t seem to bother him.

So I plucked up the courage to ask and it was agreed – success!- so his first night ‘out on the tiles’ was spent with Ray and I coming back from going out to dinner and Ray creeping along the paddocks (resplendent in an suit) in the dark at 10pm to see how Crispin was coping without him spotting us and thinking he was coming in. I waited in the wings (in high heels, so couldn’t hobble too far anyway) so Crispin didn’t see me, heart in mouth that he was OK, and Ray came back to report that all was well, he saw Ray but just gave him a glance and went back to eating! We must have looked like two elderly anxious parents.

He had settled into this routine nicely, he has got to spend much longer in his field, and he has company for a few hours a day in the morning and evening when his two companions are turned out. There are also horses dotted around in adjacent fields so he’s not completely alone. The other day I walked towards the field and I am sure he saw me coming and then the next minute he laid down. Perhaps he was having a ‘sit-in’ protest about having to go to his stable! I felt really guilty bringing him in.

That said, we have done everything to make his stable as comfortable as possible. Initially, he had a ‘Hay Bar’ so that he could eat his hay in a natural eating position, but Crispin being Crispin, he leaned on it so hard to get the last mouthful of hay at the bottom that despite Ray fixing it firmly to the walls, he managed to pull it off after a few days. I arrived one morning to him looking sheepish, and the Hay Bar drunkenly hanging off the wall. So the expensive Hay Bar is now in the cupboard at the back of the stable and Crispin has most of his hay on the floor, but because he eats so fast (he’s on a mission when he spots hay) I also put up a haynet with smaller holes with the rest of his hay just to give him something to do when his main hay on the floor has gone. He has a salt lick and, because he doesn’t seem to drink much water in the stable, it was suggested that I cut up an apple and put it in his water buckets to encourage him to drink. Well, it hasn’t seemed to increase how much he drinks, but he has demonstrated a remarkable talent for apple bobbing – I watched him this morning and he’s got it down to a fine art. He has a comfortable rubber mat floor and a shavings bed, which he manages to get all over him – he looks like he has been out in the snow there’s so much over him.

The other horses in the yard have a feed when they are brought in from the field, but Crispin doesn’t – taking the advice from Avril before he moved, and supported by his vet since he arrived, that he doesn’t need it. In fact, he doesn’t have more than a couple of slices of hay when he is brought in from his field. I have had lots of worried nights about whether he is hungry once the hay is gone, but he’s looking fit and healthy and bright in himself.

The most recent change to his routine has happened yesterday, when he has been moved with his companions to a new field, to rest the old one. The new field has a lot more grass although it has been made smaller with an electric fence. I am worried (so sorry how many times that word comes up) about the effect of the more abundant grass, as although I have asked, have been told it is not possible to change to a barer field if need be, but will have to spend longer in his stable. We have brought a measuring tape to weigh him and very soon I will be working from home so can ride him almost every day. He’s such a good boy, I am so concerned to do the right thing for him.

crispin 3

Well, I’m so grateful to you all for reading this, and for your interest in Crispin. He’s a super pony that really has had a lot on his plate, he’s young and he’s had to cope with leaving his super home at MSC and coming to a nervous, novice owner. He’s somehow coped with nosebands being on back to front, headcollar being on sideways (don’t ask), haynet stuck over ear and leadrope wrapped around his leg. I hope he is feeling happier and more settled every day and I am beginning to calm down a bit! There’s no doubt the hypnotherapy has helped, the friend I have made at the yard, and the support of Avril, Sarah and the rest of the lovely MSC forum ladies has made a huge difference so you don’t feel on your own.

Crispin and I have plans to enter the yard show’s ‘Handsomest Gelding’ competition and the ‘Fancy Dress’ competition, and to take my best friend out (who can’t ride) for a peaceful walk around the farm when she visits in July. Perhaps I won’t pluck up the courage to enter the show, and maybe my friend won’t want to ride, but its lovely to have plans and hopes and a super pony to share them with.

Thanks for reading xxx

We helped Karen in the first months of ownership to prepare her for the day when she would take Crispin home.

I’d just like to say thanks to Avril for letting me write just a little bit more (actually a lot more) in Crispin’s diary, and to those of you still willing to read it!

I would love to say that it was been all plain sailing – but it hasn’t quite been that way! I haven’t really kept a diary as such but thought I would write about some of the lessons I have learnt, the things that have gone well and those that haven’t, and what I am still struggling with.

January 14th 2011

I had a really great day yesterday. It was a couple of hours drive down to Kent, the first time I have done it on my own on the M25/M20 morning rush hour (and torrential rain), not being a confident motorway driver but all went very well although I was getting more nervous about riding Crispin as I got closer and closer.

When I arrived Crispin and all the other MSC horses were in their stables munching contentedly and the weather was looking pretty ominous although the rain hadn’t reached Kent yet. Before we started Avril asked me to keep repeating a mantra to myself on the way home, "Crispin is not going to run away with me", to the point that it becomes a fact in my subconscious.

I told her and Annie about another anxiety, that I would not be able to hack out Crispin on my own, and yes, I have another mantra Crispin is going to hack out alone with me to drill into my self-conscious. The arrangement is that I spend two hours a week at MSC with help whereby I spend a portion of time on stable management and the rest riding Crispin (the goal being hacking him out on my own with confidence before he comes home to me).

So for my first stable management this week, I had previously admitted to Avril that I was having trouble picking up Crispin’s feet, from my own nerves and poor technique rather than him having any issue with picking up his feet. (I am a bit embarrassed to confess this). I had successfully picked up his front but failing miserably with his hinds, despite knowing that he picked up easily for Avril. So I went over the technique with her, and after a bit of practice was picking up his hinds with no problem.

Then there was a bit of time spent fitting him for a saddle, and a rug after we came back from the ride. For this first ride (my heart was thumping a bit at this point) Avril and I were to go out on a hack with Toya, the skewbald mare who is currently in training. Walking out of the stables corridor into the outside I managed to clunk the top of my riding hat on the beam, not paying attention and felt a bit of a twit, not a good start on my behalf.

At first, I found it hard to keep up with Toya and Avril because I was feeling so nervous and my aids not clear enough to him so got a bit left behind. Crispin was absolutely great, we were quite a way behind but he never at any time rushed to catch up or show any signs of worry about being separated from her, staying very tranquil. Even when we trotted to catch up he didn’t charge forward or rush in order to close the gap, but a nice steady trot past houses, high hedges, flying flags, straight on and very enjoyable.

At this point I started smiling which lasted the whole of the ride, and the nerves started to very slowly seep away. As the ride went on I managed to keep up a little better although not perfect, something I need to work on. We rode through the village and took turns to go in front and behind and side by side during all of which Crispin felt completely relaxed. I tried the ‘jog’ that he is so good at and it was very smooth and comfortable, very easy to sit to. I even had a little try of holding the reins in one hand whilst jogging, western style. I know I made many mistakes, Crispin is much lighter to manoeuvre than the ponies I have been used to, so sometimes my steering was confusing to him and we practiced my keeping his head straight and my looking in the direction I want to go.

Sometimes I was asking him to move with more impulsion yet holding him back at the same time, but I am going to work on all this. During the ride I tried a tiny little bit of neck reining (he’s been trained at MSC for this but I haven’t tried it before) and using voice commands to halt and walk on. We had some success with this but I need to speak with a bit more conviction and believe that he understands!

We did two circuits of the village and during the second time my heart sank to see the refuse lorry was there blocking the road, the dustman emptying the bins and generally a lot of commotion. Well, both Toya and Crispin were great. We had to go through a fairly tight gap between parked cars to get on the pavement, but still had to pass really close to the lorry, with the engine running, they went past with no problem, Crispin never faltered in his walk forward and Toya also.

We were some way behind Avril and Toya as well so I was so delighted. He really was completely oblivious to traffic. For any of you that are interested in Toya, in my own humble opinion she will be a lovely horse for someone, she was a nice mannerly equine partner for Crispin on the hack, gentle, and it was great (for me) to be able to bombard Avril with lots of questions about natural horsemanship. It was torrential rain but I can honestly say that I didn’t notice I was soaked to the skin until we actually got back to the stables. And Crispin was a star from start to finish, a credit to his MSC training, a true safecob.

To finish off a lovely morning, Avril showed me a trick Crispin has learned. This is to stand with his front feet on the mounting block, looking incredibly proud and as if he is the Lord of the Manor of MSC! He stood as still as a rock, ears pricked forward looking out into the yard, and would have been happy to stay on it all day! Every now and again he had a quick look around the stables to check all human and equine occupants were impressed. He is the smallest pony on the yard but it was almost as if he had puffed out his chest and was enjoying temporarily being the biggest!

Anyway, sorry to go on and I hope this hasn’t been too boring for you, but I can say Crispin has lived up to all expectations and a big thanks to Avril for her understanding and patience.
Best wishes
Karen xxx

21st January 2011

It was very busy at MSC when I arrived with Avril who was lunging Sage in the round pen. Michael and Annie were both working hard and the very cheerful and chatty farrier was busy shoeing. MSC certainly seems to be back in full swing again, with such a positive and very upbeat feeling about the yard. This week Leo particularly caught my eye as it is the first time I have seen him in his stable, and he is such an eye-catcher – he seems to glow with handsomeness and well-being and is always delighted if you pay attention to him.

Crispin was his usual quiet, loveable and contented self in his stable with his hay, after an enjoyable groom and picking out of all four feet at the first attempt (I felt so pleased at this), I learnt that we were to go on another hack, similar to last week, but with a new escort - Sage. So far so good, however my smile did waver slightly when Avril said we would finish off the session by my being lunged bareback on Crispin in the round pen!

The hack started off well with me equipped with a new longer crop as advised by Avril, I’m not used to carrying one that long so made a mental note not to lance a hapless passer-by in Lyminge village. Through trying to use my legs more effectively and not wriggling around ineffectually in the saddle, I was more successful this week in keeping up with Avril and Sage, and really felt that Crispin was striding out beautifully as the hack went on – although I was actually using less energy. I felt a real sense of achievement from this. I haven’t quite got it right, but there was progress. We followed largely the same route as last week, with the addition with a lovely steady trot through a wooded bridleway – I can’t tell you how enjoyable it is when there is no rushing or pulling. Would you believe there was a snow shower halfway through the ride?! It wasn’t all admiring the scenery though and like last week Avril incorporated some schooling into the hack.

We practiced riding circles in trot in a quiet street in the village, the instruction being to visualise the circle I wanted us to take and slightly adjusting my position to communicate to Crispin the diameter of the circle, not depending on the reins to steer him. Although I wasn’t good in communicating to Crispin exactly what I wanted, we did manage a couple of circles in trot and its something for me to work on.

It was fun to be doing this outside the confines of a school, and somehow less intense and pressured. I have not-so-fond memories of being well and truly (and deservedly) shouted at in arenas during riding lessons, for forgetting at which letter I was supposed to be starting a circle, usually compounded by subsequently getting anxious and forgetting where any of the dratted letters actually were, getting tense and feeling pretty demoralised by the end of the lesson.

In contrast, Avril has been very calm and positive when teaching me, and I think she recognises I am genuinely trying despite the nerves.

Everyone in Lyminge village is very friendly and most people say hello and are very courteous in their cars. One older lady stopped her car to admire the horses and Avril introduced her to Sage and Crispin by name, I think it really brightened the lady’s day to see the two handsome piebald geldings together, and she mentioned that she had a pony when she was young. Little encounters like this I think really make hacking pleasurable. We also encountered a pleasant elderly gent on a mobility scooter and neither horse batted an eyelid even as he advanced down the road towards us. Avril explained that I need to keep quietly aware of what is going on around me at all times while out hacking, in order to be ready should a problem arise – but ride as if aware of no problem at all. I probably haven’t explained this exactly as she did, but I understood what she meant. I think she had spotted that I had been spending a lot of time gazing lovingly at Crispin as we went around the lanes and needed to pay a little bit more attention on what is going on around me. I did notice how much Crispin enjoys his rides out and I commented on how he appears to be enjoying himself, interested in what’s going on but relaxed and very steady.

As we walked along the road Avril asked me to position myself on Crispin so that it looked like I might be about to fall off, because as part of his training with MSC he has been trained to stop if the rider gets in a precarious position. I admittedly did not put myself in that much of a convincing position and in reality looked like I was simply giving him a massive bear hug – Crispin was rightly not convinced I was likely to fall off adapting this pose – however when riding bareback I was much more convincing!

Coming back to the yard I started to feel a lot of trepidation about the bareback riding. Avril lunged Crispin while I held onto a soft rope around his neck. I was very tense although trying to manage the anxiety. We did some gentle and slow trotting on both reins, Avril setting the pace, and by concentrating solely on relaxing my legs and stretching my thighs meant that I couldn’t think about falling off – I even managed to soften my tight hold on the rope around Crispin’s neck so the poor lad didn’t feel like he was being garrotted. I did think I was going to exit stage left or right a few times, but felt so pleased that I had managed to stay on and even sporadically relax and I felt it helped with my balance. When Avril asked Crispin to walk and then halt with voice commands after the spells of trotting he did the transitions down within nanoseconds – he showed he knew very well when his rider was genuinely a bit wobbly! I had a real sense of achievement when I got off, although my legs were like jelly.

Just to finish off, I wanted to mention just a little bit about Sage. He looks slightly finer than a cob, with a really pretty head and markings. He was truly so well behaved and quiet on our hack, he and Crispin made a lovely pair. However Crispin did pull a couple of old fashioned faces at him on our way home, when he dared to encroach an inch or two on what Crispin perceived to be his rightful side of the lane. Obviously Crispin likes to remind the trainees that his position is that of fully fledged ‘MSC’ graduate with honours - and no liberties are to be taken!

So it was a lovely morning although I must confess to going straight to the Channel Tunnel service station and scoffing the largest bag of chips I could buy for some comfort eating after the bareback riding before facing the M20 / M25!

Looking forward to next week, and thanks for reading this.

28th January 2011

Today was a gorgeous sunny day (albeit bitterly cold) at MSC and the Kent countryside looked lovely. I tried not to look too like I had been given a reprieve when learning from Avril that there would be no bareback riding this week as originally planned, as the round pen was frozen, and the much better news that Crispin and I would be accompanying Avril and Toya through the forests around Lyminge.

However, before I got too complacent looking forward to a pleasant ride enjoying the scenery and the human and equine company, Avril told me that we would be doing loads of trotting to test my fitness and various other exercises along the way. Also I would be riding him in his bitless bridle for the first time. Avril had ridden him in it the day before and he had strode out really well for her in it.

Crispin was in his stable nice and serene. This week I picked out his hooves with no problems, I’m slow at it but felt delighted that this week I accomplished it quietly and routinely. I think this can be eliminated from my ‘Things to Worry about in the Middle of the Night’ list. Every week I’m doing a little bit more with him, we are moving in slow but sure steps and this week I tacked him up, he was very good and patient but Avril needed to make some adjustments and showed me exactly where the girth should lie, as novices often have the girth too far back to be comfortable for the horse. I’m really grateful for all the advice I am getting on the ground.

Starting out my steering with Crispin was a bit awry as I was a bit anxious about the bitless bridle and whether Crispin would respond to it, so we did a bit of an unintentional serpentine as we headed out. One day I will manage an elegant exit out of the yard.

Firstly we had some long trots (with Avril in front) along some of the quiet country roads, however there was a lot of shooting going on in the field right next to us, which was extremely loud. I know that I would have probably taken a different direction if I had been on my own, but was resigned to the fact that as I was with Avril we would be going straight past it! My stomach was a bit in knots to see what Crispin’s reaction would be. He became very alert as the shots were going off, but apart from a slight quickening of the trot for a few strides, he carried on in a straight line and didn’t shy away or baulk at the noise, and it was no problem to get him back into a nice steady trot as soon as he was asked.

We arrived at the forest which was lovely with lots of bridleways to ride along; initially we did some more long trots. My stirrups were quite a bit shorter this week and once I got a bit unbalanced, I was a bit wobbly and felt like I was going to lose my stirrup so asked Crispin to slow up to a brief halt so that I could get myself sorted before trotting on again, he stopped beautifully with no fuss despite Toya trotting on ahead of him. I was so pleased with him.

After that we did some more work on trotting whereby I had to lean forward and keep my seat continuously out of the saddle (i.e. not rising to the trot), with very loose reins. My task from Avril to get myself in the right position was to imagine I was leaning forward with my shirt unbuttoned displaying some posh new piece of lingerie! I found it a lot harder than it sounds (sometimes there was a bit of mane clinging and occasional failures to keep my bottom from reconnecting with the saddle!).

The idea was that I would trot in this position up to designated points along the path, trying to stay balanced, then signal to Crispin to walk by dropping my weight down my legs into my heels whilst moving my seat slightly back (i.e. using my weight not my reins to slow him). I think the principle is that shifting my weight in this way will restrict Crispin’s forward movement making him slow down. Anyway, I tried it many times and had some successes, once or twice dear little Crispin gently trotted on where I wasn’t able to get the signal right, so something else for me to work on as Avril wants me to have mastered this before I canter. I’m sorry these are not very technical explanations.

At the moment when I am riding when I’m asked to do something new anxious thoughts in my head compete with my concentrating on what I am supposed to be doing, so it takes a while to fully understand what I am doing. I hope this will lessen as I get more confident with Crispin. However it was all good fun though to be doing this while the sun was shining and the woods all around – honestly much better than in an arena!

We did lots of other exercises out on the hack such as riding up little hillocks, asking for halt on the top, having a few seconds of standing, and then riding down, and using a convenient car park in the woods for Avril to show me to how to ask Crispin to do a turn on the haunches (I had to ask for the exact term for this). The first attempt was more of a little circle but we did it again with me trying to ask more accurately and look where I wanted to go and he did it beautifully. He really is a clever little cob – he’s very responsive to the right aids (when I manage to give them!), yet still makes you feel safe. At one time Avril asked me if I had noticed the people walking behind us in the forest (needless to say I hadn’t) so I had a great lurching look round to see, Crispin immediately turned around in the same direction just by feeling my weight moving in the saddle – it wasn’t what I meant him to do but what a little sweetie!

Returning back to MSC again I almost slipped back into my bad habit of a little daydream and gazing at Crispin but – no chance - we were soon back into another exercise – this time trotting along the road having dropped the reins, lifting our arms in the air, circling them, etc. – both horses trotted beautifully and steadily along the road in a straight line despite no rein contact and our arms going like some sort of semaphore code. All of this helps me feel much more secure in the saddle, and, although I had a few wobbly moments during our two hours out, all in all it definitely was another confidence building ride – thank you Avril.

Just before I left I was alone in the yard, saying my goodbyes to Crispin and getting ready to go, I noticed Puzzle the new mare standing in her box just gazing steadily at Crispin and I as I pottered around him. She wasn’t trying to get attention, just quietly and intently watching. There’s something about her, she sort of pulls at your heartstrings.

Next week Crispin may be having a bath in readiness for some photos of us in action!

Hope you all have a good week xx

4th February 2011

This week my visit to MSC and Crispin gave me a lot to think about. It really sunk in how much I have to improve in order to be anywhere near a competent horse rider.

But to start positively, I will describe all the good things first. Firstly it was lovely to see Crispin again, he was quietly welcoming and seems to accept and know me completely now. I picked out all his feet in the stable and didn’t even have to tie him up. He just stood for me. There’s no question, the more confident and quietly I move around him, and the less timid I feel, the happier we are together. And he has a new saddle of his own! It’s a very smart and comfortable Duett Allegro saddle.

We didn’t bath Crispin and there was no bareback riding because of the gale-like conditions. Pip the farrier was there again, shoeing Puzzle, he is very pleasant and funny, and I wish I could pick up a hind hoof with his confidence!

The winds were really ferocious which seems to make venturing out on horseback into the countryside that bit more intimidating, but we were going out to practice more skills required for safe hacking in quite challenging conditions (for me anyway!)

This week Crispin and I were accompanied by Avril and Toya, who I didn’t recognise at first as she has been clipped and hogged and looks a completely different horse, very streamlined and smart. I did like the incredibly girly forelock she used to peep out of with her big blue eyes though! At first I thought it was another horse that had joined the yard.

The positive things: we returned to the forest with Avril’s little Jack Russell keeping us company and did more trotting whilst keeping my seat out of the saddle - I felt more balanced this week although my legs are still creeping back – but it’s beginning to sink in what Avril wants me to do and I am starting to be able to think about my position and not just about clinging on. Crispin and I went in front while we wandered on an ad-hoc path through the trees and that was good fun, wandering off the beaten path even if its only for a few metres.

We did a couple of turns on the haunches to the left and right in a little clearing in the woods and Crispin is so good at this. We passed a lot of dogs with their owners, including two lovely adolescent golden retrievers, bursting with life and happiness. As usual everyone very is very pleasant and friendly. Back out on the roads some pheasants suddenly flew out from the other side of the hedges and Crispin really didn’t bat an eyelid, (although it made me jump!). He actually hasn’t had a true spook at anything since I have been riding him.

Now for the things that didn’t go so well this week, and I am afraid they are pretty basic, POSITION and STEERING. Firstly Avril demonstrated to me how incorrectly I am sitting in the saddle which is leaning right over to the left, with my left shoulder hunched way forward of my right, and how this is making it difficult for me to give clear aids to Crispin and hampering his carrying me comfortably. I couldn’t believe it when I actually took notice of my body and shoulder position, how unrelaxed it was and out of line.

We practised my riding at trot with my left hand down by my side and my left shoulder held back, in what I thought was an exaggerated position, but which Avril actually confirmed was me sitting straight in the saddle. I think I’ve been riding with loads of suppressed anxiety and a completely clamped up body. Poor Crispin. Without realising it, I have been clamping my arms to my sides to the point that I have got bruises and tender spots where my elbows have been clamped to either side of my super non-slip reupholstered underwire bra!

What did upset me a bit this week was when I realised how far away I am from a good rider. This was really apparent with my problems with giving directions to Crispin. He is a very steady pony who gives you a safe feel and I think this has made me a bit complacent. I am trying to learn how to steer Crispin through his shoulder and not to rely on the bridle (he was wearing his bitless bridle). I found it really difficult to grasp and wasn’t able to make my intentions clear to Crispin at all. Sometimes it was probably unintentionally funny when I am trotting happily on and Avril instructs me to turn left at the junction in the forest, we turn beautifully, keeping up the trot – to the RIGHT!

I started to worry how unclear I was being to Crispin as the ride went on and felt a bit tense. At one point we were riding along a narrow lane and there was a bit of a traffic jam with two cars having to pass each other, with us having to tuck Crispin and Toya into a small gateway. I’d lost my confidence a bit by then and felt that I hauled Crispin’s head around to get him into position, I was worried that the driver of the very expensive Mercedes was going to get impatient with me and put that worry ahead of riding Crispin properly and with respect. I put my anxiety about what the driver of the car was thinking ahead of him.

When I got back to the yard I felt a bit choked up and when I was alone with Crispin felt a little bit teary, feeling I had given him a really bad ride, but he gave me a good snuffle around my hair and seemed to have forgiven me, being his usual serene self.

Anyway, next week I am going to put this all behind me and think positively, and not do my usual thing of worrying about the things that didn’t go well instead of the things that did. I am very lucky to own a lovely gentle pony and to have first class help from Avril and MSC, and that’s what I am going to concentrate on (and keeping my shoulders straight 24/7!).

Thanks again for reading this xx

11th February 2011

This week I was really lucky to get to MSC in time as just after I had crossed the Dartford Crossing, apparently there was a police incident closing it for four hours! Its so hit and miss on the M25 and the M20 whether you are going to sail through or be delayed for ages. One thing is for certain, there are always loads of aggressive drivers on the motorway so its always nice to reach the tranquillity of MSC!

The weather today was very drizzly but not cold and my arrival coincided with that of the blacksmith who was doing a great impression of auditioning for the X Factor singing at the top of his voice. Avril mentioned how good and patient he is with the horses and how that important that is.

This week Avril instructed me to groom Crispin with a bit more vigour! He is moulting at a great rate and my goal was to help that along as much as possible with some vigorous grooming. I really enjoy stroking and talking to him but I think Avril perceived maybe a little less mooning and a bit more grooming was required! No problems again with Crispin’s feet this week.

Firstly I was to be lunged by Avril to try and get a more central and less crooked position in the saddle, and to stop rising so high during trot. For this session Crispin was tacked up, but I was to ride without holding the reins. There was a little hiccup in the first few minutes when I thought I might finally be hitting the deck of the round pen - I had to lift my arms in the air while trotting, I think Crispin thought he had an out of control windmill on his back so had a little surge forward and I was a bit all over the place, but by some miracle and a handful of mane managed to stay on.

Avril explained that in order to drive Crispin forward I needed to direct energy and power into the lower half of my body (non-technical term – below the belly button!) and if I can channel my energy into my riding through this part of my body, it will make me a stronger rider, rather than just relying on my legs to push Crispin forward. Also I had to hold my hands in the correct position (without the reins), low, still and not holding one miles in front of the other – I had to picture in my mind carrying a tray with drinks on and trying not to spill them.

Although I still have a long way to go, I am starting to be able to ‘try’ and get the movements and positioning right – I’m beginning to understand what is being asked, even if I am not getting it. I confess that when we were trotting and concentrating on my hands, I had two tiny strands of dear Crispin’s mane in each of my hands – it was all in my mind but just comforting to be holding something after having a bit of a wobble at the beginning! We also did some work on my not rising too high when trotting and letting Crispin’s motion just gently move me out of the saddle instead of enthusiastically bounding up and down.

I explained to Avril about how much more in depth these lessons were than I had ever had before at previous riding schools – I used to think I had a good lesson if I recognised I was on the right diagonal, didn’t lose my stirrups and my horse and I maintained trot! All the while this was going on, MSC’s daily activities were unfolding with a steady stream of horses hacking out – Annie with Dougal, Theresa with Puzzle, Michael with Leo. And the rain kept coming down.

After the lunging we went out for a short hack around the village. This week for the first time on our hacks Avril was riding Briar. To go out was really enjoyable after concentrating on the lunging. Briar and Crispin were very good and made no fuss when passing a large scaffolding lorry parked in the road to the village, nor when we passed it on the way back and the scaffolding was being erected. Briar is a very pretty pony and she was a lovely companion for Crispin who does like to pull faces at his hacking companions, it makes me laugh - he doesn’t actually do anything except this funny gurning once or twice! This she utterly ignored in true lady-like fashion. It was interesting to hear her history and how she has progressed so well in her training at MSC. She was stabled next to Crispin on the day I visited and she was obviously very houseproud – it was immaculate!

During the hack again we practiced more trotting without rising too high, Avril demonstrated to me how high I was rising, I was a bit mortified when I realised you can probably see as far as Folkestone in the gap created between me and the saddle. I tried hard to improve this and really felt how Crispin seems to move more easily and everything is more soft when I am less ‘enthusiastic’ in rising trot.

Every week something new is introduced and this week it was trying to bring Crispin to a halt without using the reins, by sitting up tall in the saddle and dropping my weight deep to become heavy in the saddle. I am not sure if I have explained this properly. Avril demonstrated how she could stop Briar easily in this way, but I just couldn’t do it with Crispin, although I know if Avril had been riding him he would have recognised the signal. I got a bit tense because of worrying about not getting it right, and started to scrunch up my shoulders a bit, so Avril told me to stop thinking of stopping and just concentrate on getting the position. I wasn’t successful on getting him to come to a complete stop, but he did slow right down in walk, so I have tried to think of this as that I did at least manage to at least partially transmit the message to him, and it will come if I keep working on it.

On our return to MSC I spent more time than usual with Crispin in his stable, for myself I loved being with him but thinking about it on the drive home, I feel that he was trying to give me a message that he needed quiet time on his own after the ride. It was lunch hour for everyone at MSC and very quiet with the horses having had their hay refilled. What gave me pause for thought was that when I leave I always worry whether I have fastened his stable door so invariably get back out of my car and go back and check it again. Normally when I go back he is in exactly the same position as when I left (with his hay!).

When I went back to his stable this time I had an awful, bizarre moment when I thought he wasn’t in there. He had tucked himself away almost out of sight in the corner and although it gives me a pang to admit it, he looked much more chilled and relaxed then when I had been with him in the stable. I’m absolutely not going down the route of thinking he doesn’t like me, but I want to tune into him more on the ground. I need to keep reminding myself of the things I learnt on the MSC Foundation course about building a relationship with him. I so want him to be sure of me and see me as someone he trusts and is always going to do the right thing for him, but I still fall a long way short and I have to work very hard to overcome that.

I hope you all have a good week.

Best wishes, Karen x

18th February 2011

This week started a little bit downbeat on my part but finished really well.

When I arrived, I seemed to start off again as I had left it with Crispin, in that he seemed to be a little bit restless by me being with him and when I was grooming him. I had to smile when picking out his feet, I did the near side really easily but every time I tried to walk around to the other side, he stopped me by moving his body or his head, just a few inches so I couldn’t get round him or underneath his neck. I think he started to quite enjoy this – I don’t think it was him being worried in anyway but just being mischievous – his ears were pricked at this point and he had a little twinkle in his eye – it was almost like he was herding me! When I did get round after a couple of attempts he was like a lamb to pick out his feet.

For our riding this week we were to do some more lunging (with a saddle), again without holding the reins. This went a little bit better this week with hopefully me not rising so high in the saddle when we trotted the circles, although I held on to the pommel for a few seconds just to get started each time we went into trot (to give poor Crispin’s mane a break). We also did some practice of me leaning down with my arms around Crispin’s neck as he walked, he came to a complete halt every time which he has been trained to do by Avril if the rider is unsteady in anyway. All in all it was a nice quiet start to the session (and the sun started to shine).

After this Crispin and I went out for a hack with Avril and Briar around the village, with Crispin on a lead rein so that Avril could look at my position in the saddle. Now being on a lead rein with Avril I could get used to – very relaxing! Briar was excellent as a lead pony and Crispin and I got the hang of keeping up so as not to pull Avril’s arm out. Crispin was very good but there was one funny moment where we were trotting alongside and Crispin took it upon himself to trot a couple of paces faster, then turn in front of Briar and come to a complete sideways halt to stop her, as if to say ‘Hah! Madam! What are you going to do about that then!’ I am sure he has a sense of humour (and I should have been paying more attention to my riding). Briar chose to rise above all this and ignore him and after getting this masculine show of authority out of the way Crispin was more than happy with Briar as lead pony.

A couple of times on the lead rein they trotted in perfect unison and you could just imagine them trotting together as a pair of driving ponies. We passed a huge crane like vehicle in the village with a man right at the top of it (like the sort that is used for tree cutting), lots of cones and warning signs and the ginormous scaffolding at the end of the lane but neither pony made any fuss about passing any of it.

You can imagine how chilled I was feeling at this point – this quickly dissipated when Avril popped the question how I felt about cantering Crispin for the first time! I squeaked back the words ‘that would be nice’ before any involuntary phrases like ‘you’re joking’ could be uttered. I am probably making this sound like I have never cantered, I have many times, but its been some years, plenty of time to get in a stew about doing it again!

The good thing was Avril didn’t mention it until we were nearly at the bridlepath so I didn’t have too long to mull on it. Avril told me that if we got canter (and she said it didn’t matter if we didn’t – at this point I had a dismal picture in my mind of not being able to get my aids right and doing a 100mph trot) to just lean forward slightly in the saddle. (I thought you should sit deep and upright in the saddle but she advised that only the really experienced riders have the ability to do that.)

Anyway I went in front and we did a few steps of trot, I squeezed with my legs (or maybe they were just shaking) and said CANTER Crispin In what I hoped was a confident voice and YES we went straight into canter! In fact I think he really enjoyed stretching his legs and I felt very comfortable and safe on him. He didn’t rush or charge off and had a lovely light canter that wasn’t too fast, yet he kept it up and didn’t drop into trot until Avril called out to us to, and he was no problem to slow down, he did it on voice command.

I daren’t ask Avril how my position looked as I just wanted to feel happy that we had got canter! I felt really comfortable leaning forward and didn’t lose my stirrups. I should mention that I brought some Heather Moffett Wide Tread Stirrups that are designed to help you keep your feet in the stirrups and your heels down, also easier to find the stirrup if you lose one. I found them really comfortable and didn’t lose a stirrup at trot or canter at all. Although I did manage to lose one while walking quietly along the road – perhaps there’s no hope for me.

After this lovely outing I felt really happy and I think Crispin did too – I am sure he enjoyed the hack and the sun on his back, Briar’s company (although he pretends not to) and stretching his legs. The very best part of the day was that when we got back to his stable, he was so relaxed and affectionate. He put his head over my shoulder a couple of times and stood with me, having his head rubbed, and followed me around the stable keeping me company as I pottered around. After a while he deserted me for his hay but it was nice to be back on the usual good terms with him on the ground. Avril doesn’t think there’s any problem between us (he’s such a loving quiet pony) but that I need a bit more purposefulness around him to give him confidence in me.

In addition, that was the best I have felt coming back from a hack and that probably filtered through to him and he enjoyed it all going well also.

Just before I left I went into Zarina’s stable to look at her as Avril was putting a rug on her, she is absolutely beautiful as you can see from her photos. I’m a bit afraid of large horses, I find them intimidating but she gives off such a kind presence and so loves attention, you can’t be nervous of her. She’s really gentle.

I left MSC, Crispin and Avril very happy that we had made even just a small step forwards (I hope). Even my car threatening to break down in the middle of 6 lanes of traffic (thank goodness it didn’t) at the Dartford Crossing on the way home didn’t ruin my mood. And I had a glass of champagne (followed by a bucket load of wine, but we won’t go there) in a lovely Thai restaurant with Ray in the evening to celebrate!

Thank you Crispin and Avril.

Best wishes
Karen xx

Friday 25th 2011

This Friday was a very busy one at MSC. I had an easy journey down, with it being half-term, and the weather looked quite promising (i.e. not pouring down with rain). MSC was a hive of activity when I arrived, with both Zarina and Toya having prospective buyers scheduled to visit them. Crispin was pretty serene when I went into his stable. We had been planning to give him a bath to give me some practice in doing it and to spruce Crispin up for some photos (although I am not sure what my appearance would be after it!). However the weather has not been warm enough so this week Teresa helped me to give Crispin’s legs, mane and tail a bath.

Before this however, I had a new piece of equipment in my grooming box, called the ‘Equine Furminator’! It’s designed especially to help with deshedding the winter coat, it is a fine toothed comb with a handle, with lots of good reviews on the internet from users. It came with a page full of strict warnings about the right and wrong ways to use it - I was afraid almost to pick it up. Imagine how I felt then when I unzipped my grooming box only for Crispin to sidle up next to me and – like a flash – zoom straight in on the Furminator, pick it up by the handle, beat a retreat with it and start nodding his head around as though he was conducting an orchestra. The comb at the end of it was covered with a plastic protector so he couldn’t have hurt himself just from picking it up, but I had this awful moment when all the other precautions about running it gently over his coat, etc. etc. flew out the window to be replaced by OH MY GOD HE’S GOING TO EAT IT. I spluttered Drop It Crispin! and he obligingly gave it up, after looking pretty pleased with himself and looking like he was conducting a few bars of Beethovens 5th. Using it on Crispin’s coat, it was quite effective.

Anyway, back to bathing Crispin. Teresa was really patient and gave me loads of good advice on bathing him while making him as comfortable as possible. We used warm water with a few capfuls of Gallop shampoo and wetted his legs, working in the shampoo which was great as it didn’t foam up too much and then leaving them for a little bit to get the mud really softened as it comes away easier then when rinsing. Crispin’s tail was dunked in the bucket and given a good wash, then we washed his mane with a sponge, with lots of changes of water. Teresa gave me lots of advice, for example washing his forelock just with warm water, to avoid the danger of getting soap in his eyes. Once Crispin was nicely rinsed off we sprayed on some ‘Canter’ mane and tail conditioner, which made brushing out his tail and combing his mane a doddle, and very smart he looked too. He was a very good boy and Teresa was an excellent teacher.

While this was going on Zarina was being viewed by her prospective buyer, who was accompanied by her family. Zarina looked beautiful ready for her viewing. I kept out of the way in Crispin’s stable but did get a chance to chat with some of the family who were very friendly and were interested in Crispin (and admired his beautiful Duett saddle).

As Avril was busy with the viewings for Zarina and Toya I was to ride with Michael who would ride Zarina when she came back from her hack out with Avril. I was a bit anxious that with Zarina being so big Crispin and I would soon lose sight of her and Michael. However, it was a really lovely ride out. Although I did feel that Crispin did stride out nicely, I did have to trot occasionally to keep up with Zarina and Michael! I saw the foal that those of you who read the forum will know about from Avril’s post, with his difficult start in life, and he is heart-melting, totally gorgeous. He was enjoying a good graze and the company of the mare in the field.

Michael kept Crispin and I on our toes by getting me to practice lots of different manoeuvres on the hack. He explained that when he hacks out he always incorporates some training, therefore keeping the horse’s attention and always giving the horse direction (vigorous head nodding from myself as if I would never dream of just ambling along!) We practiced half halts and leg yields (and had some success with them!) and turning circles. We passed the bridlepath where I cantered last week, fleetingly the thought of saying the words ‘shall we try a canter’ crossed my mind, but this week the cowardly side of me won and we passed the bridleway without comment from myself!

All this while Michael smiled and waved at everyone in the cars, I was very impressed by how many people he knew, but he explained he doesn’t know most of them, but likes to be friendly – and they all waved and smiled back! It was a really happy ride. A family with grandma, dad and two little girls admired the horses and we stopped to let them pat them. Crispin is very good with children as his MSC video shows, however – the children didn’t pat poor Crispin at all – being dazzled by Zarina, they only had eyes for her! He gazed down at them expectantly – I’m pretty cute as well you know! – but to no avail. Poor Crispin! Also I noticed there was no face pulling this week as he has enjoyed with Toya, Briar and Sage – I think he was a bit in awe of stately Zarina and kept a very meek countenance all the way around the village!

On our return we passed Avril on Briar and another lady on Toya who was at MSC to view her, I was very pleased when she told me that she read my page every week! Coming back up the drive to MSC, Michael gently reminded me about sitting up nice and straight in the saddle. This was a very kind way of pointing out to me that my position probably resembled that of John Wayne after an arrow to the chest. Despite this lapse, it was a lovely ride and I was pleased with our attempts of leg yields and half halts.

I left Crispin happy with his hay and even a hour’s hold up at the Dartford Tunnel on the way home didn’t spoil what was a lovely day. We are off to Australia on Wednesday to see my husband’s daughter and her family for two weeks, I’ll really miss seeing Crispin but how lovely to know he is so well looked after.

Thanks for reading.
Karen xxx

18th March 2011

WEEK 8 - IN WHICH CRISPIN BURSTS THE MOUNTING BLOCK - AND AVRIL REVEALS SHE IS TO WRITE A BOOK!

This week I felt really nervous after being away for two weeks, and loads of self-doubt crept in again.

However driving down the motorway, I found myself listening to a rescue worker (from the UK) in Japan talking of how he helped a Japanese mother who had witnessed her daughter be swept away by the Tsunami. She had returned to her home to retrieve one thing – a photo album to remember her daughter by, and amongst all the wreckage he helped her find it. It was very moving and I felt rather ashamed that I had been wasting time worrying about my own silly concerns, and thought more about how lucky I was to be on the way to spending a peaceful morning with my pony.

Crispin looked lovely and clean having had any mud removed in honour of my visit, which was really kind. He looked very fit and well, and was still moulting with a vengeance! We had a nice grooming session although Crispin does get to the point when he makes it quite clear he’s thinking ‘that’s enough grooming now!’ especially if I am just fussing around. This week he stood right up against the wall where my grooming box was parked, (I think he thought he was hiding it) and decided not to budge as I tried to get round him to swap brushes. Eventually he gave in but I got the message!

After tacking up (Crispin is so patient with my putting on his bridle), and putting on his new saddle pad with his name on (I have this secret hope the local residents are going to come bursting out of their homes waving and calling ‘there’s Crispin!’ as we go past), we realised that my stirrup leathers needed some more holes. While Annie kindly punched the leathers, Crispin enjoyed standing in the passageway being the centre of attention.

He had his head almost in Annie’s lap being nosy about what she was doing. Then quite of his own accord he decided to stand on the mounting block again for the admiration of his audience - he’s quite the little showman! However, after being suitably admired, in order to impress his audience even further he decided to move up one step to the top of the box – unfortunately this being one step beyond what the mounting block could take it collapsed into a flat pack of wood with Crispin in the middle of it. He was a bit startled (as were we) at this unscheduled end to his display but was very good albeit sadly with his dignity a little dented.

This presented the challenge of getting on without a mounting block but Avril found a small stool so I managed to scramble on and we set off with Avril riding Puzzle. Crispin was very good with Puzzle with no face pulling – I do think he likes these large mares! Puzzle was lovely and quiet on the hack. I started off very wobbly and tense on Crispin as we rode out of the yard, with loads of butterflies, but as soon as we got out onto the road we settled down together and it was a really enjoyable ride (although it poured with rain for most of it).

It was a relatively short hack around the village as I had to get back in time to get to London for five o’clock for a dreaded dental appointment, so my main challenge from Avril this week was to get Crispin walking out nicely and in a straight line. Avril advised that keeping the horse’s attention, keeping him straight and looking ahead of him (not all around at what’s going on) is very important on a hack, and I should try to anticipate when Crispin might be likely to lose concentration and subsequently ride him forward.

I was a bit hit and miss at first with Crispin initially enjoying an inquisitive nose around as we started out but I think we got better as the ride went on and I concentrated more, I thought he walked out nicely and looked straight ahead as we went round. We had a couple of lovely trots, he trotted really willingly and, I know it sounds silly, but he gives off this feeling of cheerfulness as he bowls along. At one point we got so carried away that Avril had to call out to us to walk, I did feel Crispin start to slow down because I think he heard her calling before I did, with his being so good at voice commands!

Some things for me to think about for next week are that I keep on using my legs even when Crispin is walking out nicely, tapping away at him instead of releasing the pressure, and that I sometimes inadvertently hold one rein slightly shorter than the other. I am waiting for some new reins to arrive and I did think of marking them somehow so that I can see whether I am holding them evenly. I know that these are really basic things, I must try and improve.

While we were out riding, Avril mentioned that she is intending to write a book, aimed at potential horse owners with little or no experience of buying, to help give them the best possible chance of buying the right horse. I asked if she might consider including a section for the new owner once they get their new horse home and she thought it might be a possibility in the future! Avril mentioned that she has been asked previously about whether she intended to write her life story, but felt really drawn towards writing for less experienced horse purchasers. I did wonder however if the book could however include some stories drawn from her experience, for as many of you know Avril has some very interesting stories from her life with horses!

Hope you all have a good week!
Best wishes, Karen xx

25th March 11

WEEK 9

The weather on Friday at MSc was glorious and it felt like a perfect summer’s day. The yard was quiet when I arrived, with the dogs flat out sunning themselves, so I spent some quiet time with Crispin in his stable swallowing down any nerves. It’s so lovely to see him, but I’m always a bit churned up on arrival and Crispin has to contend with this timid thing creeping into his stable every Friday. He’s such a good boy and copes stoically.

As I have written before, I have a bitless bridle for Crispin, however I am in the process of exchanging it for another one which is taking a long time, and so in the meanwhile Crispin has been ridden in a regular bridle. Avril had mentioned previously that Crispin was a little sensitive to the bit. So this week we tried him in a ‘sweet iron’ bit which he seemed to accept very well (horses are supposed to like the taste of them). He seemed happy with it, he seemed nice and relaxed later out on our ride and occasionally chewed on the bit. Crispin is very endearing when you put his bridle on, he only has to see the bridle and he opens his mouth!

After tacking up, our first encounter of the day was of course with the mounting block. Avril brought the block outside, Crispin was duly positioned in front of it and we waited to see what he would make of it, after having had it collapse around him last week! In addition, it would be the first time for him to step on it outside the confines of the stable block. Good as he is, he contemplated the block for a few seconds, and then with no prompting whatsoever stepped straight up (as you can see from the lovely pictures of him on the MSC Facebook page). Now he had proved that his demolition of the block last week had not deterred him, it was time for me to see through my rash decision to sit on him while he stepped up. I would love to say that it took precision riding skills on my part to manoeuvre him onto the block, but I was just a passenger with a handful of mane as he stepped up smoothly with the slightest encouragement from Avril. It was great to sit on him as he stood proudly and didn’t move a muscle until with the slightest of subtle aids I asked him to step down (of course, the photos on Facebook prove that I had nothing to do with it and Avril used a very direct method of communicating with Crispin involving his tail to ask him to step down!).

After this I had a little time to wait while Avril prepared Briar to hack out with us. I stayed on him as we were settled (and I confess so I didn’t have to get off and on again) and it was lovely to sit in the sun and to do some deep breathing and relax before we went out. A couple of times he made a small step forward as if to suggest we ought to be on our way – it will be a huge step forward for me when I do hack him out on my own. He felt really relaxed as we stood in the yard and I think he is very accepting of me riding him now and is doing his best to adapt to my riding shortcomings.

We set out with Avril and Briar (and Avril’s terrier also decided to join us). This week we turned onto the bridleway immediately adjoining the MSC yard and straightaway there was birds flying out of the trees and pheasants and rabbits running out of the bushes – but both ponies carried on unperturbed. What a great day it was to be in lovely countryside on the back of a horse. As we progressed, we passed two ferocious dogs, I believe one was a Rottweiler and the other a Doberman in the yard outside a house. The Rottweiler in particular was barking furiously with spit running from his mouth, showing lots of teeth, the other one running up and down and looking menacing – quite an intimidating sight as they looked as though they could scale the fence with ease. I must admit my heart was in my mouth and I would be happy never to cross paths with them again, but Avril has incorporated exposure to them into the MSC Foundation training and Briar and Crispin walked straight past them with not the slightest reaction to their antics. In contrast to encountering these two disagreeable canine characters, every single driver we passed was considerate and patient with most of them winding down their windows to greet Avril.

This week we went along to the forest and enjoyed some long trots along its tracks. Crispin loves being out and about and trotted very nicely and with Avril’s guidance we practised once again slowing the trot down by just dropping my weight down through my knees – and every time Crispin responded and slowed down nicely. We also had a long trot behind Briar and Crispin was happy to slow to a walk when my right foot seemed to get a mind of its own and slip in and out of the stirrup, even though Briar was quite a distance in front. We practiced turning left and right in trot at the crossroads in the forest, to get a nice smooth arc as we went around. Although maybe not quite with the smoothness Avril would have liked, this week we did manage to turn in the direction asked(!) while maintaining trot which I was pleased about. There was lots of practice in maintaining a straight line – Crispin is excellent at this in trot and canter which is so good for a nervous novice like me.

Another test for us was to trot up and down a convenient hillock in the forest while keeping balanced and not hanging onto the reins. Briar and Avril executed this in a flowing movement with Crispin and I following in their wake. We trotted up with all good intentions but he sensed my hesitation (fear!) at the top so he paused briefly before a very slow trot down. It wasn’t that big a hill but my ever-ready imagination had transformed it into the bank at Hickstead. It’s great how Avril incorporates challenges into hacking (I can say this sitting at my computer!).

We also tried some more cantering. As we trotted along the tracks Crispin felt as though he would love a good canter (although he was happy to stay in trot). So when Avril suggested it, I asked Crispin for trot and then gave what I thought was the aid for canter but what Avril described as an unnecessarily hard kick which could provoke a horse to buck. In retrospect, I didn’t think about what I was doing, I rushed myself and Crispin into it and the result was a very fast trot with just a few strides of canter. Coming back to a halt Avril explained a small squeeze was all he needed, with the voice command for ‘canter’. So we tried again and Crispin broke into canter beautifully, I barely needed to touch his sides and he picked up immediately on the voice command. We had a lovely long (for me) canter on the grass to the side of the track and when asked he came straight down to trot. I did nearly lose my right stirrup (I’ve got a thing about my right stirrup) as we went down to trot but it didn’t spoil the moment. He has a really comfortable canter and SORRY for being revoltingly cheesy but my heart sang as we went along! In writing this I now realise I also forgot Avril’s advice from a previous week about sitting slightly forward in the saddle when cantering. Plenty to put into practice in forthcoming weeks.

By this time we were back at the entrance to the forest, and Avril thought it would be good to go around again and practice some more trotting. I think this took Crispin a bit by surprise as we started off again as he thought he was on his way home, but he took it with a good heart. Along the way Avril gave me good advice about ways a novice should approach cantering on hacks, such as cantering on slightly uphill tracks and away from the direction of home. Also, bad habits still not eradicated are that I am still sitting Quosimodo-like in the saddle, crooked and with my left shoulder is hunched over. So lots to work on, but how great it is to be enjoying riding again.

It was a nice relaxing walk back to the yard where Annie was grooming Zarina who looked truly magnificent, what a special horse she will be for some lucky owner. After a short spell having a cool down and a drink in his stable, I turned Crispin out with his friends in the field, and as I didn’t have to rush off this week, spent a little time watching them all. Crispin waited about two nanoseconds after I took his headcollar off before trotting to the hay and immediately settled like the happy little fellow he is having an undisturbed munch. Meanwhile Sage and Cassie were enjoying a good long mutual grooming session. The ladylike Toya stood serenely apart, quietly dozing in the sun and not being any problem to anybody. Around them the other horses were playing around and enjoying the sunshine, while beautiful Bounty wandered around getting to know his surroundings. What a great place MSC is for horses and humans!

Thank you for reading, and best wishes for a good week
Karen xxx

April 1st 2011

WEEK 10

Everything was quiet at MSC when I arrived this week in much more dismal weather than last, with drizzly rain and Avril out riding Puzzle, and the dogs taking shelter this week instead of laying out in the sun!

I still had the usual nerves this week, it’s at its worst when I first go into Crispin’s stable to say hello and groom him. It’s a real stumbling block to my really establishing a good relationship with my lovely pony as I can feel him picking up on my tension. He never does anything naughty but I can just feel that he isn’t quite as chilled as he is when Avril or Annie joins us in the stable with their calm presence. I think that Mark Rashid in his books describes it as the horse ‘softening’ with you, and I haven’t achieved that yet with Crispin on the ground. Next week I am going to change my routine and not do the usual thing of going straight into his stable hoping to get rid of my nerves by grooming him, but take my time and consciously try to relax at MSC before even entering his stable. I’ve got to try and conquer this before he comes home to Hertfordshire.

Today we were to go out on a hack with Avril and, for the first time, adorable Mac. This was a first for Crispin - having a smaller companion with him this week rather than the stately Zarina and Puzzle! This week I’m sorry to say I didn’t start the hack very well, we headed in the direction of the forest, which involves passing horses in various paddocks. Avril constantly reminds me that for successful hacking I MUST RIDE CRISPIN FORWARD AND MUST KEEP CRISPIN STRAIGHT. Well, Crispin spotted a very rotund Shetland who seemed to be happily residing half in and half out of a bush by the paddock fence. Crispin stopped not out of fear but sheer nosiness at seeing such an interesting sight, and I was completely unprepared to send him forward. Firstly I didn’t anticipate that he was about to stop (despite the fact he had turned his head and was intently peering at the paddock as we approached it – i.e. not keeping him straight). When, inevitably because of my lack of anticipation and awareness he did stop, instead of immediately sending him on, I was very slow to react, and when Avril suggested giving him a tap with the crop to encourage him forward, I seemed to get in even more of a tangle, managing to connect with my saddle, my leg and goodness knows what else. I was disappointed in myself and must have tested Avril’s patience, although she talked me through it very calmly!

On the roads Mac was excellently behaved with Avril on board, walking straight and willingly alongside, in front and behind Crispin. However in the forest when Avril asked Mac to trot over a fallen tree, Mac objected, dropping one shoulder down and then immediately swerving in the other direction. Had I been his rider I certainly would have been eating a mud sandwich by this point, however Avril didn’t move in the saddle and made him repeat the exercise until he was quietly trotting and cantering past and even jumping over the tree.

Crispin was super during Mac’s schooling - trotting behind Mac and Avril who had cantered on ahead, and so I thought why not (what came over me?!) and Crispin and I tried a little canter behind them. This is the first time I have cantered Crispin behind another horse and he was excellent, totally in his own space and not affected by anything Mac was doing. Later we stood and watched Mac and Avril do some more schooling with my task being keeping Crispin standing straight and still. I was very pleased with him, he stood motionless with ears pricked as we watched Mac and Avril cantering both away from and towards us, I think that is a really good testament of Crispin’s MSC training.

After this we turned off the track into the forest itself, it was beautifully quiet, quite dark and very tranquil. Crispin was in front and enjoyed exploring. At one point Crispin had to hop over a (tiny) ditch covered with wire netting, I just sat there while he popped over (at walk !) Our first jump! There was a very inviting log on the ground that Mac and Avril sailed over as Crispin and I circumnavigated it in a lovely springy trot, it was good fun although I did feel sad that Crispin couldn’t join in the fun of jumping (Avril has told me that she had jumped him in the forest – I would love to see him do it).

It was a nice relaxing end to the ride as we left the forest and Avril shared some of her experiences of horses she has ridden and very interestingly of her jumping and eventing days. As those of you who have been on the MSC courses or the BBQ know, she has some wonderful stories. At one point Crispin decided to interrupt the flow of conversation by giving himself a huge shake the way a wet dog would do – he did it with such exuberant happy Irish Cob energy I was propelled a few inches up out of the saddle, then side to side at a rapid pace – every wobbly bit of my body in motion and feet flying out of the stirrups. Always elegant in the saddle, that’s me! Coming home we also had to contend with a helicopter flying right overhead. Avril rode Mac on composedly and unconcerned, but my adrenaline levels rocketed worrying about what Crispin might do. I know he felt my nerves but true to his training kept forward steadily in walk.

Back at MSC and walking Crispin into his stable I didn’t notice that the stable door had started to close behind us and his saddlepad had caught on it and was ripping, pulling the door onto him. He is such a good pony for a novice like me because he didn’t panic and waited to be disentangled. Times like this I feel very incompetent.

Next Friday is the first course in MSC’s 2011 training calendar so Avril has suggested it would be a good time for me to take Crispin out on a solo hack. I haven’t thought about much else – ‘I will ride forward – I will be relaxed – I will keep breathing – And Crispin and I will be as straight as an arrow through Lyminge!’. Fingers crossed !

Thank you for reading, and have a great week.

Best wishes,
Karen xxx

April 8th 2011

WEEK 11

This week I set off from home nice and early at 7.30am in order to be calm and relaxed for when I got to MSC, and it was wonderful to drive in such glorious sunny weather. Unfortunately you can imagine how that mood dissipated about 20 miles on, and well onto the M25, when I realised I had forgotten my riding hat and decided to turn back to get it. So, I set off from home again at 8.30am not quite in the relaxed state I had hoped to be!

MSC was completely quiet when I arrived with the first course of 2011 just beginning and everyone inside. Any attempt to squash my nerves were completely out of the window by this time and when Michael kindly said to give him a call if I needed any help, I feebly spluttered that perhaps he wouldn’t mind just giving me a hand when I was ready to get on. (I don’t know what I think I am going to do if I have to dismount in the village – call the Fire Brigade to get back on??). I gave Crispin the quickest groom imaginable (the unusual brevity of which I think surprised and pleased him) so as to not delay the long awaited and yet nervewracking moment of us going out together on our own.

Michael kindly helped me with stirrups and girths and once everything was in order for us to set off, I looked down the driveway (it looked to me at that point to stretch about 10 miles long), squeezed Crispin and we were on our way, both inside and outside of me trembling and thinking we’ll never get out of the yard, there’s all the horses in the two paddocks to go past, he’s just going to stop, he won’t have confidence in me. Well, he was maybe a little surprised that we were going out on our own, and not with Avril, but he walked straight on and didn’t hesitate going past the horses even though they were all giving him a good look. Its quite a long lane going out from MSC to the village and I sang some ditty (about him being hairy but cute) out of anxiety for the first few hundred yards, but after the first couple of cars passed us I relaxed enough to stop torturing his ears with my singing, and practiced holding my reins in one hand and stretching up with the other arm to try and relax as I had done with Avril in the past.

I felt a real sense of achievement as we reached the end of the lane and headed towards the village – we were on our way! Crispin was really well-behaved when I asked him to stop at the junctions, or to stand quietly in a driveway or a lay-by to let cars pass, no restlessness at all, he was happy to stand – I think he was enjoying his excursion in the sunshine. So many people spoke to us or waved to us. A chap in his painter/decorator van wound down his window to comment on the weather, and to wish us a lovely time, a old lady said how handsome Crispin was, a little girl and her mum in their garden stood up to wave at us as we went by – it was really great. Horses brighten everyone’s day. Crispin was brilliant in any traffic - in the village we passed the noisy refuse lorry (twice), and he didn’t bat an eyelid. Coming up to a T-junction, he stood and then when asked stepped back a couple of paces obligingly so I could put a bit of a gap between us and the double-decker bus sweeping by. He ignored said bus completely and just looked cute as the old ladies on the bus waved to us.

I pretty much took Crispin along the same route I have been on a few times with Avril, with a couple of deviations to test his reaction to going a slightly different way with me (so that I could convince myself that it wasn’t just him obligingly taking me for a tour around the village!). I took him down a small cul-de-sac which was a little off the usual route, he walked slightly slower at first at this slight diversion but was happy to explore it. The only thing that bothered him on the whole hack was one of those mirrors that people have in the hedge so they can reverse safely out of their driveways, he gave the tiniest of little jumps on seeing himself in it – perhaps he was just preening on seeing his own handsome reflection!

Nearly completing our circuit of the village we came to the bridle path where we had our first canter, so I thought we could have a trot and – gulp - maybe a little canter on our own. There were a couple of ladies with dogs, so we had to stick to walk at first, and some nice people in their garden had a brief chat with us through their hedge (he didn’t get rattled by their sudden appearance) but towards the end we had our first few yards of canter on our own! It was only about 30 seconds but it was a lovely feeling and he stepped up into canter on voice command alone. What’s really special about Crispin is that he feels really safe and steady, yet he’s always responsive to what you want him to do.

Approaching the lane back home, we had been out about an hour and I really didn’t want to come back just yet. It crossed my mind to go to the forest but it was a hot day and I thought maybe that was pushing it a bit much for the first time. However I thought we might continue past the lane up to another bridlepath which also leads to the stables. I was so pleased that he didn’t object to walking on away from the route home, and we both enjoyed the peacefulness and the sun shining on us. I have been a little nervous riding on this bridlepath previously, as its quite muddy with overhanging branches and a bit steep downhill a couple of times. We negotiated it slowly though and I stopped a couple of times to look over the fields and just to admire the scenery and enjoy Crispin’s company. I wanted to try one more thing with Crispin so on emerging from the bridlepath at the entrance to MSC we walked straight past and continued down the lane. I can’t say Crispin was impressed but he didn’t make a fuss (thinking back, I think he probably thought I was lost) and he walked on past without a problem. On turning back, he didn’t speed up as we headed towards home but kept a nice steady walk. We were greeted by Michael with a big smile and the thumbs up sign when we arrived back into the yard, and I was fit to burst with happiness. It was a peaceful, lovely and UNEVENTFUL ride – isn’t that just what we nervous ladies want!

The ladies on the course were still indoors with Avril and Annie when I got back, so they were not privy to my inelegant dismount (I have a new technique of leaning right down on Crispin’s neck to try and give me extra momentum of swinging my right leg over and not getting it stuck halfway. One day he’ll put his head down while I’m doing it and that’ll serve me right!!) However everyone emerged almost as soon as I had put Crispin in his stable and it was really great to meet Emma and Lottie at last, as well as the other ladies attending - everyone was smiling and thoroughly enjoying their course at MSC. Crispin went on to partner Lottie during part of the day and although I wasn’t there to see it, I hope they had a lovely time together.

I drove home truly happy despite 6 miles of queues at the Dartford Crossing and it was a great excuse to drink loads of red wine and scoff a huge Toffee Fudge Glory that night in celebration at Pizza Express! (not that I ever need much excuse).

Hope you all have a good week,

Best wishes
Karen xxx

15th April 11

WEEK 12

Well it was a beautiful sunny day again when I arrived at MSC, leaving behind much more dismal weather in Hertfordshire and I felt so much less nervous having got the huge hurdle of taking Crispin out on my own last week out of the way. Crispin was out in his field with his friends and his Absolute Best Friend, the hay feeder, in the beautiful sunshine this week, so for the first time I caught him and brought him in and this was another little milestone achieved. He was very mellow from sunning himself and while pleased to have our attention did had a couple of seconds thought about leaving his friends (or most likely the hay feeder) behind, so Avril showed me how to thread his lead rope through his headcollar and round his nose just to give him a little more pressure when leading. He was very good and strolled out of the field with no fuss. Also, during his grooming he was quietly affectionate and very chilled with me, different to previous weeks, I think this may have been in part measure because I was more relaxed and part because there was no hay for him to eat, so grooming him wasn’t an annoying distraction from his favourite pastime!

While I tacked up Crispin Avril managed to catch, groom and tack up Custard, our hacking companion for the day, and give her son an alarm call. That’s how slow I am. Sometimes I feel like when I am putting his bridle on, his ears are made of butter - I put the headpiece over one ear, then when I go to the other, its slipped off again on the other side. He has the patience of a saint when I am tacking up.

After last week’s solo adventure I was hoping that Avril and I would have a nice amble around Lyminge in the sunshine, however I quickly realised this was not to be when Avril said she had some challenges for me in the shape of coping with riding up and down hills. I was right to guess that these would not be the little mounds that I would label a hill. We set off towards a new bridlepath that I haven’t ridden on before - even a little thing out of the ordinary like a new route just raises my anxiety level a touch. Because of his fondness for all things munchy Crispin is starting to establish himself as a strapping lad (Avril thinks he is beginning to resemble a round yogurt pot) so exercise was the order of the day when we hit the new bridlepath, with lots of trotting uphill with Crispin in lead file. I tried to keep with his pace as much as possible and not fall back thereby hindering him, which I had to concentrate on as the track had quite an incline. As the bridlepath flattened out Crispin was trotting out nicely, enjoying himself and I had a just a moment’s apprehension that perhaps I wasn’t in control and that he would take off, but of course he didn’t and he stayed nicely in trot. I explained to Avril, that when I worry about things with Crispin, it isn’t that I am questioning his training, he has been beautifully produced to look after a novice rider like me, rather my worries all come from my lack of confidence in myself coupled with a bit of a vivid imagination.

Coming to the top of the bridlepath there were some beautiful views of the Kent countryside and it was a nice pause in the ride to stop and look around the stunning hills.

Trotting back along the bridlepath, we practiced slowing Crispin’s trot down, using literally only the voice command S-T-E-A-D-Y, as good practice for being in control heading towards home. As ever, he was very responsive to the voice and he slowed right down while maintaining his trot. We met a ginormous (well, sort of…) log down across the bridlepath and we could have jumped it or walked over it, so naturally I chose the latter and Crispin carefully put one hoof after the other over it while I held my breath.

The inclines on the bridlepath hadn’t been too bad and I was hoping that I had completed our hill training but this thought was banished as we turned into the field next to the bridleway. Avril asked us to head straight down the field towards the house at the bottom. Well it looked to me as if the field had steps down it that were made for a giant. We had a bit of a discussion about the descent (Me in jokey tone: What – did you mean down there? Avril countering jokey tone with serious non-negotiable tone – Yes). Crispin picked his way down slowly, I resisted the temptation to close my eyes, and he obliged with his best impression of a Himalayan Mountain Goat.

Proceeding on down Crispin and I carefully made our way around what looked like a former meteorite crash landing pad until Avril pointed out that our route was supposed to be straight through it – oh dear. We didn’t make it down to the bottom of the field straight as an arrow, as Avril and Custard did, (through our avoidance of the crash landing pad and ‘accidently’ going down some of the less steep slopes). But we got down in one piece, I was pleased at how slowly and carefully Crispin negotiated his way down, and I’m sure Avril will be in disbelief at how I have almost certainly over-exaggerated the verticalness of our descent!

Chatting at the bottom of the field, Avril told me about riding a highly strung horse through the self-same field, with the horse taking fright at something and blind-bolting with her towards a wire fence one side of which is thick nettles and the other side Village Hall car park. Anticipating that serious injury would occur if she stayed in the saddle and the horse missed the fence, she ducked out with no choice but to go straight into these extremely thick and high nettles. Both the horse and she were OK (he jumped the fence) but she was severely stung. The strange thing was, just seconds after Avril finished telling me, we left the field through the gate into the car park, with us behind Avril and Custard, when Crispin inexplicably popped his hind legs in the air, gave a little squeal and actually gave a good imitation of a buck - Crispin! Of course I sat it beautifully (a.k.a. I emitted some sort of ‘whoops!’ sound, reins like washing lines and managed to stay in the saddle). There was nothing obvious we could see he was upset about and immediately after, he quietly walked on his way as though nothing had happened. All we could think of was that there was a long bleached piece of wood in the grass that - just maybe - he thought was a snake, or that perhaps he had been stung.

It was great to see Custard close up and considering what a short time he has been at MSC, how good he was – not a hoof wrong all the hack. He’s a lovely toffee colour and just radiates calmness. I found him interesting as Avril said that had I not had Crispin, he would be another pony exactly suited to someone like me. So someone looking to build their confidence is going to have a handsome and safe partner very soon.

Coming back into the yard along the driveway, I was so disappointed in myself as my riding fell to pieces and I proved again how ineffectual my aids were as Avril asked me to perform some simple manoeuvres on Crispin such as moving him to the right hand side of the track by turning his head slightly to the left and pushing with my left leg while giving with my right hand. I won’t even try and go in any great detail how I managed to have one rein shorter than the other by about one meter and practically be sitting sideways in the saddle because Avril is probably trying to erase it from her memory. Suffice to say, it was a pleasure for me to watch her demonstrate with Crispin, as he responded beautifully to her aids and performed everything she asked accurately and flexibly. I felt proud of him and a little bit emotional too (I do now, even as I type this a few days on) that his potential will be wasted with me, that I will dull his spirit somehow with my bad riding unless I can improve. I WILL – I MUST -TRY HARDER AND IMPROVE.

Wishing any patient readers I have left - all the best for a great week!
Karen xxx

22nd April 11

WEEK 13

Another beautiful sunny day at MSC, with today being a bit different as Ray (my husband) came with me for the first time since his debut in the equine world on MSC’s Husbands Course. We brought with us his mountain bike, sadly underused since he received it on Christmas Day! We were also accompanied by another new purchase he had made, a Sat Nav, which he took great delight in putting on despite the fact that I had managed to drive to MSC 14 times without it. Somehow he also seemed to be able to know from the smug little machine when I was over the speed limit and kept himself amused during the journey religiously pointing it out to me. Ray was very confident about his cycling abilities despite his lack of practice and doubted quite a few times on the way down whether we on horseback would be able to keep up with him. Ha!

After grooming and tacking him up, we took Crispin out to meet the bike, and after a brief glance he was quite unmoved by Ray’s slightly wobbly circles around the yard. We were to go out this week again with Avril and Custard, and what lovely weather to ride out in the beautiful Kent countryside. We all started out together and Avril suggested that I try riding down the steep bank that features in Mac’s training video, which is about halfway down the drive. The same bank I hoped would never enter her mind at the same time as Crispin and me! After a bit of a gulp and looking down it balefully (on my part, Crispin was just plotting his route) Crispin and I set off vertically down it and he stepped as slowly and carefully as you could ever wish, and before I even knew it we were down. I felt great that we had a challenge successfully completed so early in the hack! Avril then suggested that Ray tried it as well, on two wheels. Inexplicably he declined, and we lost sight of him for a while as he mysteriously biked back to the stables (should have turned the Sat Nav on Ray!) before realising he was going the wrong way.

This week we went on a completely new route, turning right out of the drive with Ray eventually catching up, and confidently pedalling past us. This route led to some very attractive scenic bridlepaths, leading to a field with lots of lambs, it was very picturesque as we stood to look at them. Crispin had his head held high with ears pricked and I felt myself tense a little, thinking that he might do something. He did absolutely nothing at all except gaze at the sheep and their lambs which didn’t frighten him at all. I must try and control these little spikes of tension which don’t do Crispin justice as he has the calmest temperament. Unfortunately we were not able to share the lovely scene with Ray as he was by this time about two fields behind. What a relief we were not holding him up!

Emerging onto the roads my riding fell to pieces a bit when going into trot with Crispin in front, we were very wobbly due to my imprecise aids and lack of steering and I felt very disappointed in myself. I made a big effort to try and not let it dominate my thinking as I tend to only focus on what went wrong, rather than thinking about what went well. We passed the ferocious Doberman who was very docile today, lying down and barely raising an eyelid at us.

We entered the forest, having lost Ray completely now although he assures me that he was on our trail and followed us in there. Our first challenge was to trot along the track and over the fallen logs along it. Crispin did this beautifully, enjoying himself and really picking up his hooves as he trotted over the logs, straight as an arrow over them despite my being a bit frozen on his back imaging scary scenes of us leaping over them. How I wish I could just point him at them and jump them, I know he would enjoy it.

Trotting under low branches, Avril pointed out that I am leaning to the left or right to avoid them, which is unbalancing Crispin and myself. We turned off into a more dense area of the forest and she showed me again how to lean forward when trotting to avoid low branches. This I tried but started off doing incorrectly, crouching down so low over Crispin’s neck I probably looked like was riding the last few meters of the Grand National. She reminded me that the technique is to lean forward but to also open the chest out (imagery being as if showing off a lovely new bra). We also practised going through narrow gaps through the trees, normally I just push on through, and hope I have knee caps still intact at the end of it.! Avril showed me how to tuck my legs up in front of the saddle so all we have to do is fit Crispin’s tummy through!

We tried exercises in trot, slowing up the trot using my legs and seat alone, and also in canter, cantering a few strides, then coming back to trot and then into canter again, all designed to give me confidence in taking Crispin out on my own and feeling in control, and all without relying on shortening the reins. Of course, you know I am going to say how well behaved Crispin was, and he was! He feels beautifully fit when he trots and canters but I never feel he is going faster than I want him to. While I was practising the trot / canter transitions Avril was schooling Custard on being nice and settled as we cantered away in front, which he did perfectly, happy to let us go on. Custard has a very calm demeanour about him. At this time Avril had to suffer another one of my incredibly technical riding questions: Me ‘my mind always goes blank when I canter – does yours?’ Avril: ‘No’.

Returning back home, Avril and I chatted about last week, when I thought Crispin had bucked, and she explained that it wasn’t actually a buck (as my feverish imagination had embroidered), just his lifting up his feet a few inches at whatever had startled him. He is such a good boy - how could I have thought it – and to write it for his loyal fans to read – I retract it completely! We also talked about the date that Crispin is to come to Hertfordshire – Friday 6th May, it’s all booked now. I feel so sad to be leaving, its been such a fantastic experience for me and you can see from Crispin’s brilliant tribute video what a super little pony he is as a result of his Foundation Training.

I concentrated very hard riding back along the drive to MSC not to let my riding all fall apart as I usually do at that point, and we kept I hope a nice straight line and didn’t fall in on Avril and Custard. There was no sign of husband and bike at that point and I started to get quite worried, until Annie came back on Cassie saying that she had met him and given him the requested directions to the nearest coffee shop. Fifteen minutes later he came, pedals flying into the yard, insisting he had followed us all the way around with only the briefest stop in Lyminge coffee shop.

Crispin was very happy back in his stable, getting very sleepy while I sponged him down and enduring stoically a few kisses. Spotting Avril outside his stable, he fixed on her the most endearing look he could - big round eyes, pricked ears and wobbly lower lip - entreating her for some hay. I’m certain he KNEW how cute his looked – he absolutely put on his best ‘Avril - how can you possibly resist me!’ look. Turning him out, he had a leisurely roll before contentedly re-establishing himself at his place at the hay feeder and rejoining his equine friends. It was a lovely end to the morning when Sage came over to the gate to greet Ray and I before we left, he so enjoyed being stroked and fussed – I think he would have stood with us all day and is such a gentle handsome fellow.

Have a lovely week!

Karen xxx

28th April 11

WEEK 14

There was a lovely change in routine in my visit to Crispin and MSC this week, one that I had been very much looking forward to, that is, meeting Sarah again. Sarah was visiting MSC to meet with Avril, be introduced to the horses in training and enjoy a ride out on one of them while on the waiting list for her own. You will all know Sarah from her regular posts on the Forum, she is a very kind person and has been a great friend to me over the months since we met (firstly at the inaugural MSC Summer Party and then at an MSC course last year), e-mailing me regularly with advice and support.

I arrived to a much colder, windier day than in previous visits, and brought Crispin in from the field just before Sarah arrived. Although all the horses at MSC are very well behaved towards their human friends in the field, I always feel slightly nervous going into a paddock of horses and was pleased to be able to lead him out, although I always seem to be able to make a simple thing remarkably complicated, i.e. opening the gate, walking through and shutting it again, shuffling poor Crispin this way and that and seeming to get in a bit of a tangle, its to his enormous credit (and Avril’s training) that he endures it patiently. Sarah was to ride Bounty and I was very impressed by her calm presence as she caught him and brought him in quietly, making his acquaintance for the first time.

We set out on our ride accompanied by Avril on Mac and headed up towards the forest. Our first little adventure was to trot single file - Mac – Bounty – Crispin over the fallen logs. I was absolutely useless at this, getting into a bit of an internal stew about being last and also going over the logs. Because of this my nerves meant I was no help to Crispin at all and we didn’t trot over them anywhere near as neatly as the previous week, purely down to me because I was giving him no direction at all, bottom heaving much too high out of the saddle, looking down at the logs while holding my breath. Therefore I could not blame Crispin at all for sticking very close to Bounty’s bottom. Notwithstanding this, as I started to relax, for the rest of the ride Crispin and I had absolutely no problems at all being with the two other horses. We had a spell of trotting three abreast (Avril likened us to the Three Musketeers) - Crispin was in the middle - and Sarah and I made a reasonable job of keeping in a line with Avril and Mac. What was especially good was that none of the horses tried to rush or race each other, my nerves had calmed down and it was really enjoyable.

Coming off the track and into the forest, Sarah was tasked with leading us past a huge tractor tyre left there that Bounty had not met before in his training. Bounty was a little bit surprised by it but Sarah rode him past with Crispin and Mac following on behind. At Avril’s request we turned around and walked past the tyre again and Bounty didn’t blink an eyelid at it as Sarah rode him quietly past. Coming to the end of our ride in the forest, we did some trotting holding our seats out of the saddle. I find this very difficult so being stationed conveniently at the back (and I admit taking a quick breather) was happily able to pop my bottom up out of the saddle at remarkable speed as soon as I suspected Avril’s gaze about to turn my way!

Returning home, Crispin stood as still as a rock as an Ocado van passed him with only inches to spare while we stood in a layby – what was really impressive was that Bounty and Mac were waiting on the other side of the van and he wasn’t worried at all about standing on his own while the van passed. It was a very enjoyable ride with the company of Avril and Sarah and the pleasure of riding my very loveable pony. The serene mood was livened up by the arrival of Pip the blacksmith – whose remarkably distinctive singing will be the only thing I won’t miss about MSC!

I returned to MSC on Bank Holiday Monday hoping to have a last, solo ride on Crispin. The weather was lovely and bright, however as I came off the M20 and approached the village, the winds got incredibly strong and gusting, and I also noticed with a sinking heart that household refuse bags had been left along the very narrow lane leading to MSC ready for the lorry that was very slowly making its way from the village to make a collection. Therefore I was both disappointed and relieved when Avril and Annie advised against riding because the winds were just too strong. All the horses were out in their paddocks and I asked whether I could bring Crispin in for a quick groom. I apologise for saying again I was very nervous at bringing him in, because of going into the field of horses and also the very loud rattling noises in the yard as the strong wind made its way into every nook and cranny.

I was so very pleased that I did it and he had trust in me, since the weather really was wild and I wasn’t exactly exuding confidence. I spent a few minutes in the stable with him, just to say hello, and then took him back to the paddock where he could ignore the weather in the company of his friends. It seems just a small thing but I would never have had the confidence to do this, or any of the other things I have achieved with Crispin, if I hadn’t had the help and support from MSC these last few months so a huge Thank You to Avril, Annie and Michael for their kindness and of course for having enough faith in me to let me have the wonderful Crispin. And thank you to all of you for reading this and your very kind messages – I have kept them all.

I will keep you posted on how Crispin settles in Hertfordshire – fingers crossed for us!


VAL AND PUZZLE

puzzle in her new home

Puzzle travelled to her new home in early September (2010) having earned a distinction in safe hacking. It's nice to keep in contact as she was a big part of our life for some five months.

We are delighted her new owner, Val, is kindly prepared to share her experience as she gets to know Puzzle during the critical first months.

Val has previously owned a number of horses which is beautifully documented on the Diary of a Horse Owner page. We hope you enjoy reading her current journey with Puzzle, whose role is to be Val’s final companion.


DAY TWO

Because the saddler cannot come out until Thursday, I am unable to take Puzzle out for a hack yet. So this morning, she got to go out in a lush paddock for a couple of hours. I was slightly apprehensive as the farm is right under the approach path for Luton Airport, but I need not have worried at all. Once through the gate, she spied the other horses over the fence, and had just decided to go and meet them when she noticed the grass! Well, there was no contest really.

She did manage a few strides of trot, but then she just had to stop for a mouthful of grass. This slow procession continued all the way up the field, with her snorting and eating at the same time. It was really funny. Half way up the field, she collapsed for a good roll around and then just continued grazing. When she finally managed to get over to see Minty and Asti, they had almost lost interest.

As for the aircraft, which where zooming overhead with their landing gear down, she really did not seem to notice them at all. Once I was sure she was settled, I left her out for a couple of hours before bringing her back into her stable. To much of a good thing can be bad for the digestion, but I will gradually increase her grazing time as the week progresses.

For the afternoon, I had planned to lunge Puzzle for a short while, in the large outdoor school. Avril has already told me she doesn't like the school much, so I only really wanted to get a feel for what she already knows. I started off in a lunge caverson, with side reins on, because my previous horse used to tow me around without them.

Puzzle did a few circles of walk and trot on one rein quite nicely, but once we switched sides she was less happy, and would not move forward or keep out on the circle. I looked at her for a moment or two, and then she told me she didn't need the side reins on, so I removed them. Hey presto, happy horse on a large circle. Well that told me then, and her reward was a very short session.

Also worth a mention is the fact that while we we doing this, a series of tractors, trailers, JCB's and bale loaders were trundling in and out of the tractor barn, which is virtually right next to the ménage, and Puzzle, the little star, did no more than glance in their direction. Now, I know you are all thinking, "Well she has been trained at mysafecobs, what did you expect?" but it is nice to see her taking such things in her stride. After that, we had a bit of a session, trying on new bits and bobs, followed by a good groom.

A summary of today's progress - Puzzle continues to impress everyone with her calm acceptance, it is like she has been here months and not just one day. At times, she has been left in her stable with not another horse in sight, and she did not make any fuss at all. In the field, she was delighted to go out, but also was no trouble to catch to bring back in. She ties up outside and doesn't jump around or try to get free. She doesn't seem to mind the aircraft or the farm equipment and all these little things make me look forward to when we can get out hacking, all the more.

DAY THREE

This morning I became the owner of another horse, a 17hh dressage stallion, lucky me! Well that's how Puzzle was behaving as we snorted, cavorted and piaffe'd our way up to the field. This was more how I had expected her to be yesterday morning, and if I hadn't met her before I might have been quite worried. But I knew she was just excited to be going out again, and as she wasn't dragging me along, I just made soothing noises and kept my feet out of the way. (I already have one that is literally red and blue, and I didn't want a matching pair).

Once through the gate, I made her stand quietly before I released her, and then stood back to enjoy the display. Well, Puzzle galloped around, bucking, farting, and squealing for a few minutes, until she finally rolled and then settled down to graze. However, it did make me think that I wouldn't want her that fresh tomorrow morning when the saddler was due, so after a short while I put her back in the stable, so that she could go out overnight instead, and she led down as quiet as a lamb.

Once again, without a saddle my options are more limited and I did not feel inclined to do much work with her in the school as I know she turns off very quickly in there. I want all our experiences to be positive whilst we get to know one another, and it has made me think how I can keep things interesting for her. So, I came home and perused Amazon, and purchased a few books of In hand and ridden exercises to try out together, if we have to go in the school. At least we won't just be doing boring circles.

In the evening, she was still a little excited as we went back up to the field, but not quite so bouncy. Once we were in the field, she noticed Molly standing by the fence, who she had not seen before, and this gave her sufficient excuse to put on another firework display. She bolted round the field, showing off exuberantly, and had to do a sliding stop to pull up opposite Molly, with an expression that clearly said "Well, what so you think of that then?"

Molly however, didn't even flick an ear in her direction. So she tried again, with even more gusto, before coming back once again to stand directly in front of Molly. It was hilarious, as Molly still refused to even look in her direction, let alone be impressed. Puzzle gave up and strolled off to graze. I felt disappointed for her after all the effort she had gone to, but I didn't know how to explain that Molly was sulking, because Helen had put a rain sheet on her, which she absolutely hates, and she will be in a mood for days!

DAY FOUR

I bought Puzzle down to the stables early so that she had time to deflate before the saddler arrived, and she came down the track very sedately having spent all night grazing. The good news is that they can re-tree the saddle that I had made for my previous horse, thereby saving a fortune. The slightly less good news is that it will take a few weeks to complete the work. One of the other liveries has a spare saddle which she kindly offered to loan me, so I got the saddler to check if this would be a OK to use whilst mine is away. In reality it is a bit too wide, but the saddler said it would suffice, if I put a Poly pad underneath, and only rode for 15 -20 minutes a day. At least this will allow me to hack out, albeit very quickly. I am sure Puzzle will begin to think she has landed herself in a very soft home!

I'd ridden Puzzle out at Avril's, so I know how good she is, and it is
one of the reasons I fell in love with her from the start. I would
class myself as an experienced Happy Hacker, but I am not very courageous or a thrill seeker, so I was not surprised when I got a few butterflies as I tacked up.

My friend, Heather had taken a few days leave so that we had company on our first few hacks out, and we were about to set off together, when the heavens opened, and it threw it down so hard I had to put Puzzle back in her stable. We waited until all was clear, and were just about to mount up, when it poured down again. This time we took shelter in one of the barns. Then, incredibly, it happened a third time! All in all, it took some thirty minuted to finally mount up, by which time I think I had got so bored, that the butterflies had disappeared completely.

Puzzle stood quietly whilst I sorted myself out, which surprised me as we had messed her about so much because of the rain. Anyway we finally set off up the farm track, and three minutes into the ride, we were confronted with a workman up scaffolding, cutting the hedge. Puzzle barely gave him a second glance.

Next obstacle was a large deep puddle, where the rain had flooded down the hill and pooled across the track. Puzzle marched straight through, although she did splosh about a bit in the middle. After that, we encountered the stack of Haylage bales covered with flapping tarpaulins; followed by lots of farm equipment, left at the side of the field; then a flock of squawking, flapping pheasants threw themselves out of the woods just in front of us, and the local gamekeeper John, came flying along on his quad. I mean, how many distractions can you have, up a farm track in just ten minutes? Puzzle continued to look around but ignored everything, and I was absolutely delighted with her. This was in no small part a testament to her training I am sure, and I silently thanked the team at mysafecobs for doing such a good job, thereby allowing me to enjoy our first mini hack together.

DAY FIVE

This morning I went to exchange the new bridle I had bought last week, as it was too large, (note for the record - the one I had bought before was too small!). Anyway, this time I ended up with a Rambo Micklem Multibridle. I had never seen them before, but they have been designed to fit the shape of the horses skull, and can also be used as a bitless bridle, a lunge cavesson and a headcollar. Wow, a new gadget I thought, but the ladies at the tack shop were really impressed with them, so I bought one hoping "it does what it says on the tin". However, I couldn't use it straight away as I have got to watch the DVD to see how to fit all those straps together!

Back at the farm, the weather was much better, and we set off for our ride with the sun shining. Having had such a positive experience yesterday, I was less hesitant today, and we didn't have quite so many distractions either. However, at one point, we were chased down the lane by a small girl pushing a buggy, which made me jump. Then I thought about Toby's diary, so we stopped and chatted to her Mum for a moment so the horses got a chance to have a good look if they wanted to.

We also encountered invisible, but noisy horses and cars on the other side of a hedge, with no adverse reaction from Puzzle. However, having been "conditioned" by my experiences with my previous mounts, I was rather tense at one point, and mentally had to tell myself to relax. So we had more, positive experiences today which will help me build my confidence for lone hacking once I have a proper saddle again.

Day 6

Well, I had watched the DVD, so that I knew how to fit the new Multibridle. It was a bit fiddly with a Fulmer snaffle, which Puzzle has been using to combat getting her tongue over the bit. Once again, the bridle was a bit on the large side, but I thought it would be best to try it out before going to exchange it for the next size down. With the special little clips attached, (which were designed to protect the tongue apparently), Puzzle was unable to get her tongue over the bit, even though she tried her hardest, and the back of the noseband strap was way too loose. Also, when we returned from our mini hack, I noticed that she didn't rub her nose on her leg, which I had seen her do before. (According to the DVD, If they do it is a sign that your bridle has been pressing on their facial nerves). So I think this bridle might actually be a good alternative for Puzzle, especially with all its other uses.

It was a quiet sunny afternoon, as we prepared for our ride. At one point whilst I was tacking up, Puzzle became very aware of an Easyjet plane , overflying the yard with its landing gear down. She raised her head really high, and completely followed its track across the sky, as if she had only just noticed them for the first time. I would love to know what was going through her mind just then, she was absolutely fascinated by it.

Today was the first time I mounted without anyone else nearby. I had been a bit worried that the saddle would slip too much whilst I was mounting, but it was fine. The ride itself was nicely uneventful today, and we were both rather chilled throughout. Just as we got back to the farm, they were strimming the verges, but Puzzle ignored the noise and stood quietly whilst I grappled with the keycode pad for the electric gates, even though I had to repeat it three times before the gates would open. She is such a good girl, I just love her more every day.

We have now changed around the grazing schedule, and although Puzzle stays out overnight, I did put a fly mask on her because the flies are still quite bothersome in the early evening. As I walk back down the hill, I wonder if it will still be on tomorrow morning?

Day 7

No - it wasn't ..................

Today was going to be an easy day for Puzzle, as Pete and I had a Christening and a BBQ to attend, so my time was very limited. Also, I don't want Pete to start saying I spend all my time with the new horse, which of course, I have! So itwas in from the field quite early, a quick groom and mane levelling, before going to the school for a little lunge. Today I wanted to take her to the far end of the school, where we had not been before, as once past the tractor barn, there is a hedge and a small copse of trees. At that time of the morning, it makes that end of the school quite dark and noisy, and I wanted to see how Puzzle would react.

To start with, she was hesitant, but all of a sudden she startled, and then flew off. I let her run it out off her system, which did not take too long, but I did insist that she go into the "scary corner" on each circuit, by blocking her from moving too far off the track with my stance, whilst encouraging her forward with my voice and the lunge whip. Once she had realised that there weren't actually monsters behind the hedge, she settled to a nice rhythmical trot.

Next, I practised my silent signals, (as taught by Avril on one of her courses) and was impressed how quickly she picked up on them, even though I can't seem to
do them properly with my eyes open. Puzzle must have thought I was having a little nap! And that was pretty much it for the day as I left her in the stable, to give her belly a rest from all that grass.

Tomorrow, it is back to normal, i.e. Work, but at least our relationship has had a week to become more established, and I am glad I was able to spend so much time with her initially.

Day Eight

Well today, Puzzle had an unplanned day off work. I might have known
that after a week’s annual leave, I would be inundated with urgent work. I was so late leaving the company, that Heather had very kindly sorted everything out for me, including clearing her field. So all Puzzle had to do was come in from the field early morning, have a rest and a little snooze, eat a very small amount of Haylage, and stroll back up to the field in the evening! I am sure she wasn't too bothered, but I missed seeing her.

Day Nine

By the time I arrived at the stables, after another busy day at work, it was overcast and very windy. Because of the worsening weather, I was very tempted to just turn her out, although I had planned to go out on our own for the first time, just so that I could put something different in the diary! Having given myself a little talking to, so that I didn't wimp out of the plan, I knew I would have to hurry if I had any hope of getting back before the rain. So poor Puzzle was tacked up and out along the track without so much as the sight of a grooming kit. Heather volunteered to walk out with us too.

Just past the school, we saw Jo, Mia and Iona in a push chair, coming towards us on the track. I stood Puzzle to the side so they had plenty of room, and we could chat for a minute or two. At one point, the wind caught a metal gate, which slammed to, right next to us. This made Puzzle start, but somehow she managed to just move her body but keep her feet in the same place, clever girl that she is. Once she had seen what it was, she continued to stand quietly. However, when we moved off, she became much more hesitant, and kept looking around. I just encouraged her forward with a bit more leg pressure, whilst trying to relax myself mentally and physically. If I'd have had my own saddle back, maybe I could have taken her for a long trot to help settle her down, but that is not really an option at the moment. I couldn't blame Puzzle either - she hasn't had much work since she arrived, she had been in her stable
all day, and the weather was far from ideal.

We were nearly back to the stables before she started to settle and walk out properly, but at least we had gone out, she had walked past the flapping nets on the haylage bales; and past Stella, Rufus and Savvy, who came to the fence to look at her, all without another horse by her side . Another positive experience, and we both came back in one piece.

Day Eleven

Well, I haven't really got much of a diary entry today. I had thought that I might lunge Puzzle briefly. But by the time I had cleared the field, mucked out the stable and groomed, I had changed my mind - partially because I don't want to take her into the school too much. So she had another easy day.

The only new thing I did with her today, was lead her up to the field alongside Patch, Heather's lovely coloured mare. They both behaved perfectly, and didn't so much as pull a face at each other. This is very good news as Patch is going to be Puzzle's field companion.

"Big deal, just let them fly around the field together, and they'll soon sort things out" you might think, but Patch has been turned out on her own for the past six months, as she has just recovered from a torn suspensory ligament. So we thought it prudent to take our time over the introduction, even though they have had ample opportunity to became acquainted over the fence by now.

Day Twelve

It was such a glorious evening, we couldn't wait to get Puzzle and Patch out for a hack around the farm. This track takes us in a completely different direction from all the paths we have been along, and in places the track runs alongside a tall hedge. This hedge screens a busy, fast road - a real rat run in the rush hour, and I confess it isn't my favourite path as the hidden traffic used to make my previous horse a bit skittish.

Well, even if I was a bit nervous, Puzzle wasn't, and she calmly strolled along, enjoying the late afternoon sun, ignoring the invisible traffic, fallen trees, and pheasants. Half way round, I realised that her Karma had in fact, rubbed off on me, and I too was happy and relaxed. I let her have a long rein, both as a reward and also hoping to show how much I trusted her. Note quite long enough to snatch a snack on the move however!

Now that the harvest is finally in, the farm is a hive of activity, and at one point Tim was rolling the field less than fifty yards from the track, but all of us ignored him. In fact, by then, I just had a big grin on my face and it was our best mini hack to date. Tomorrow, I should find out if the Saddler's have been able to adjust my saddle themselves, or whether it has got to be sent away. I am keeping my fingers crossed it is the former, as I really want to get out for a long ride now.

Today I become more aware that my confident in Puzzle's ability is really growing and becoming much more positive. She really reminds me of my old horse, Badger, who I have been trying to find a replacement
for, since 1999. Thank goodness Avril is a better judge of what I
needed, than I am at choosing horses for myself.

Day 13

Yippee, today I am going to collect my adjusted saddle, after work.
Poor Puzzle, I think she had got used to our little 20 minute hacks.....

Day 14

Its the weekend, and now I have a saddle that fits, I had planned to go on our first lone hack off the farm, just Puzzle and I. I wasn't particularly nervous, as Puzzle has consistently proved that she is comfortable with most things, but I had planned the route with some consideration, as I wanted her to be settled before we met anything too drastic.

So we set off out of the yard before eight o'clock, and walked up the lane, with Puzzle looking with interest all around, but moving forward fairly easily. The first real distraction we had to pass was another livery yard, where they had just turned some horses out. I let Puzzle see them running up the field, and then we quietly walked on by.

Once past the large duck pond, we came to a long hill, and set of at a good working trot. All of a sudden though, whoops, it was all too much at once!

On a sharp bend, there was a gate with a lot of logs piled up, behind which was hiding a group of steers. Puzzle slapped on the anchors so quickly, that her front legs skidded and she plunged forward, with me literally lying down her neck. It was all so quick, my only thought was - no knee boots!

Luckily, Puzzle scrabbled upright, throwing me back in the saddle, without any hurt to either of us. I silently thanked the guardian angel who was keeping an eye on us. Puzzle stood quietly then, showing me it is not cows that she is scared of, just that they were unexpected, just THERE. I made a great fuss of her, just for not running off, whilst thinking "If that had been James, I'd have been dumped in the road, and he would have been on his way back to his
stable!

After that she became a bit snorty for a while, so I just kept talking and humming little tunes for her, till she settled again. Once we got to the junction where we would turn left to get back to the farm, I realised we hadn't taken as long as I thought we would, so I decided to turn the other way, (you will be pleased with this Avril), so we could do a lot more trotting.

By the time we got back home, we were both quite chilled again, as we sauntered through the electric gate, (as a car had just left, it was still open). Reins like washing lines, minds in neutral. Big mistake. The gate started to close, but then juddered nosily and started to open again, as we passed the sensor. It was all too much for my poor girl and she took off up the drive - our first canter!

Because she is so well trained, she came right back to walk when asked, and then turned to give the gate a good stare. I really could not help laughing out loud, so I hope I didn't upset her further, but just in case I did, she got a
whole apple to herself - a rare treat. Even with these little hiccups,
I was really pleased with our ride. Quite a milestone day for us in fact.

DAY 15

Today we hacked out with Patch and Chance, two very good hacking companions. We went further than yesterday, and the only distraction we had, was a group of hikers, with very large rucksacks, sitting at the side of a field. We asked them to stand up so that the horses could see they were humans after all, and we walked past, no problem. Puzzle was happy to saunter out with company, but I did make her walk in different positions throughout the ride - lead file, along side and behind. We also practised a few little exercises like leg yielding.

It was so good to be back in the saddle, on a trustworthy horse, I had almost forgotten how happy it makes me feel.

Puzzle has a day off tomorrow, but I might have a little practice with the electric gate, later in the week.

Week 3

Puzzle and I are well settled in our routine now, but I am afraid that as far as the diary goes, it has been a very quiet week. After all the activity over the past few weeks, this week has been much slower. Firstly, because we have now covered a lot of the “every day” routine, and secondly, because of my temporarily increased work load.

Early in the week, I took Puzzle for a little session by the electric gate, simply because she had been surprised by its unexpected movement last Saturday. We opened it with her at a distance to start with, and then moved her closer and closer, until she could touch it, if she wanted to. Then we opened and closed it, using the remote, so that gate moved erratically behind her. And as I had hoped, she wasn’t at all worried by any of it now.

This little exercise illustrates a subtle shift in my expectations, and is precisely the reason that I wanted a mysafecob. She has such a great outlook on life. Knowing her better, I really don’t expect Puzzle to be genuinely scared by anything. It seems to be more a case of me finding out what she already knows.

Another night, her training showed once again. I inadvertently had left the stable door ajar, whilst I went outside the barn. At one point, Puzzle started to walk out of her stable, but Heather, who was at the other end of the barn, saw her. So she called out to Puzzle, and pointing at her, told her to go back. Well, she did. She just backed up and stood there, and waited patiently until I got back. How impressive is that!

On Friday, Puzzle had her first visit from the blacksmith, but I was unable to go on any long hacks over the weekend, as I had to work both days. When I finally finished on Sunday afternoon, it was absolutely pouring with rain. Well, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was definitely weak. Having been up since 5.45am, I really couldn’t summon the necessary enthusiasm to get us both soaked through. Oh well, there’s always next week ………..

Week 4

What a week of unsettled weather we have had, but at least we were able to go out hacking a few evenings this week. However one of the evenings, it was getting so dark by the time we returned to the yard, that the chickens flapping out of their coup, was enough to make Puzzle really startle.

On Saturday, I was able to get out on an early lone hack, before going into work again. When we left the yard, it was still misty, so I had a fluorescence jacket on, and Puzzle had her new flashing tail guard. I had planned to go along the road towards the village, a new route for Puzzle, when Sally mentioned that the local shoot were out in the fields on the other side of the road. Great, first shoot of the season, and in the fog! I decided to continue with my planned route, and just hoped we got far enough away, before the shooting started.

As the shooters whizzed past with their quads and 4x4’s, I realised I had grown quite tense, and I had to concentrate on keeping myself relaxed. Luckily they didn’t start shooting (poor partridges), until we were quite some way away, and the bangs were quite muffled. Puzzle didn’t even notice them anyway, which is more than can be said when she saw Stella.

Stella resides in the stable next to Puzzle, but her turn out is the other end of the grazing fields to Puzzle’s. It is not like she has never seen her out before, but she got quite excited and was huffing and puffing and snorting for quite a way. Initially, I had planned this route with the idea that we might get a steady canter up the hill, but having reached the track, it was just so muddy and slippery, that I didn’t dare. Anyway, she soon calmed down, and once we had got near Stella, she just strolled past as if she hadn’t just made a fuss at all.

One thing I have noticed this week is that Puzzle has started to test a few little boundaries. For example, when I led her up to the field, she made a dive for the grass, and just dragged me across the track. Her reward was a mouthful of grass and a smack, which made my hand sting. After that she obediently walked up to the field with no little detours. Another occasion was on Sunday, whilst I was mounting. Each time I put my foot in the stirrup, she moved. Three times, I got off the mounting block, walked her round and lined her up next to the block again. She really does know better than that and so the fourth time it happened, I scolded her, and gave her a little reminder with my stick. She stood rock still for several minutes after that, whilst I mounted and sorted myself out, mostly with no rein contact at all. And for that, she got praised. Suzie, however, was highly amused, as she said Puzzle had such a look on her face that clearly said “I can’t believe she just told me off me!”

Because of the weather, our turnout routine has been very hit and miss this week. Some nights it is to hot even for even a rain sheet, while other nights are so wet, I have been stabling Puzzle overnight. If this rain continues, I am sure Tim will say they have to be stabled at night anyway, but I would like to keep her out at night for as long as possible.

I don’t know how the rest of you feel but I am depressed by the rapidly failing evening light, and the thought that in just a few weeks the clocks will be changing, and I will not be able to hack out after work. Luckily, Claire has asked if she can ride Puzzle on her day off, during the week, which will help keep Puzzle exercised. Also, I am away next weekend, and I have asked Sally if she wants to borrow Puzzle to hack out, as her own cob is lame at the moment. Both Claire and Sally are good riders and I will be interested to hear what they think of Puzzle. Maybe I can persuade them to write a few words for the diary too?

Week 5

We started the week with an impromptu lunging session. The light was failing fast and I couldn't find the lunge cavesson, so I just clipped the lunge line onto the headcollar (very un-BHS I am sure). Just as we got near the small school, Tim started crashing and bashing about in the tractor shed, which made Puzzle leap about a bit. Tim kindly offered to stop, but I refused as I wanted Puzzle to get used to it, so he carried making lots of noise.

By the time we got into the school, she was still a bit unsettled, and took off at an impressively fast canter, the fastest I have ever seen her move in there anyway. I let her run her high spirits off, and every time she was opposite the barn door, she would squeal, buck, strike out and rush forward again. Finally, once this got to be too much like hard work, she was willing to come back to trot, with just a voice command. She never once tried to pull on the lunge line, although I did not have much control with just the headcollar on. Having spent an equal amount of time on the other rein, I was about to call it a day, when Puzzle started to chew and lick her lips.

Having watched a Monty Roberts video or two, I immediately thought of this as a sign of "join-up"! WOW. So, I thought I would test the theory, and I unclipped the lunge line and walked off down the middle of the school, with Puzzle following. Well, by now I was really impressed, and I was just giving myself a little pat on the back, when I realised that Puzzle had only followed me as far as the hedge, and was now helping herself to a little light refreshment. Oh well, that put me in my place.

We managed to get out hacking the next evening, as it was early and the weather was lovely. We chose to go on a "new to Puzzle route", and at one point the track becomes quite dark where it passes through a little yew copse. Puzzle thought it was quite scary, and kept looking into the gloom, as if she was expecting a lion to leap out at any moment. Luckily Patch has ridden through it many times, and in the end Puzzle just followed her lead.

On Thursday, Stella the TB joined us on our hack out. Five minutes into the ride, Sally realised Stella had lost a shoe, possibly in the school, and was trying phone the farm to warn them, as Ludo had a lesson in there next. While Sally was trying to do this, Stella became fractious, and kept swinging around and bumping into Puzzle. As Stella got more and more wound up, I just asked Puzzle to keep out of the way and moving forward, which she did, and eventually Stella settled again. This was another new situation for us and gave me a chance to see how Puzzle would react to lively companions.

I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but once again I am very pleased, and we have finished the week with a few more positive experiences under our belt.

puzzle

Week 6

Although I have been away for a few days, Sally was able to hack Puzzle out a few times. I still have a couple of days off, so I had planned to take Puzzle out on a long solo ride. In all, the route I had planned was about eight miles, (I wanted to hack back to my old stables, to introduce Puzzle to a few of my friends there).

Well, you had best get yourselves a cuppa, it's a long entry and it is going to take a while to try to describe what a ride we had! It all started about a mile from the farm, when I saw a large fuel tanker coming down the lane towards us. I asked Puzzle to stand, whilst the tanker stopped, but as we got nearer, the air brakes suddenly went off, and it was all too much for Puzzle. She backed up and turned, albeit at a trot, and headed back the way we had come. I let her carry on until we came to a side road, where we stopped to let the tanker slowly crawl past us.

Her reaction had rather taken me by surprise, and I tried to think what had gone wrong. Well, maybe it was because this was the largest thing she has seen since she arrived; maybe I had sent her the wrong signals, thereby setting us up to fail in the first place; or maybe I was just too unsure myself?

A little further along, I saw a huge grain lorry approaching. and this time I was a little better prepared. I got her into a field entrance, a little off the road, concentrated on sending her the correct signals, and then remembered to breath! Truly, as soon as I let out a long breath, so did Puzzle. This time, the lorry passed us with no incident, to my great relief. In the next mile or so we were passed by quite a few large vans, one with a rattling trailer attached, but this only made her scrunch up a bit.

Finally, we got to the bottom of Stoney Lane, (Hi to Angela at Lodge Farm), which is a long, long hill that I wanted to trot up. Half way up, we saw a tractor and seed drill in the field right next to the road. I waited until it had turned and was heading away from us, before I asked Puzzle to resume her trot, so we were now following it up the hill. I wanted Puzzle to get used to all the noise as gradually, we came along side it, and by the time we reached the summit, we were in front of it and Puzzle had remained perfectly calm.

Just as we got to Rachel's, the grain lorry came past again, but as we were in a large gateway, a little off the road, Puzzle stayed perfectly still. We were nearly half way round, when we passed an agricultural contractors where they were jet washing a combine harvester, which made Puzzle a bit suspicious, only to be confronted by a bus! There was nowhere to get off the road at this point, so I had no other choice but to ride her past it.

The bus driver graciously turned off the engine, and I forced a reluctant Puzzle forward. She was hesitant, but kept moving until she espied the lone passenger at the back of the bus. She started to back up, until she went into a large puddle, the shock of which made her leap forward. I really had to be very firm with her, and as soon as we got past the bus, she broke into a trot. As this was at least forward, I let her carry on for a while.

We had nearly reached the bridlepath, where I had planned to have our first long canter together, when we encounted the scariest thing yet - a skip lorry. We stopped at the side of the road, and it had got about half way past us, when Puzzle got really frightened by the loud clanking chains, and took evasive action. She shot up the bank and cantered across the field. I had lost a stirrup in the scramble up the bank, as was quite unbalanced, but bless her, once she had put a little distance between us and the scary lorry, she stopped as soon as I asked. My only thoughts was to get off the newly sown field, and think "Where are all these **** lorries coming from"?

Things improved slightly when we got on to the bridlepath, - we only had three tractors in the fields, both sides of the path. By now, I had expended so much nervous energy, that I didn't have any left to worry about the actual planned cantering, and Puzzle did a lovely in hand canter for me, and pulled up as soon as she was asked.

The next item of concern was a blue sack on a stick, ( she made no such fuss at the white sack), and it took a few minutes of stopping and looking and creeping forward to negotiate that obstacle. Had my name been Avril, and might have made her go past it a few more times, but I really didn't want to upset her any further. (Note to self - place blue sack on a stick in Puzzle's field). Then, there was the woman pushing a large double buggy
along the bridlepath, complete with rain covers.

After this, she started to pull at the reins, and I guess that I must of had too firm a hold in my anxiety, so I apologised and then gave her a long rein, so she could stretch out and relax.

The list just goes on and on ............................. In Breachwood Green, Puzzle behaved very well when a man closed his up and over garage door right next us; when a weanling foal decided to join us with a high tailed gallop up and down the hedge line, and also at the infants school, where all the children were out in the playground, making far too much noise, playing football, and leaping up and down.

With only a mile to go, once again we got into a field entrance, so that the grain lorry could pass us for the fifth time, as well as an ambulance and a quad bike. Just when I thought it was safe, I saw a large curtained sided lorry coming up behind us and another bus advancing towards us. Well, I can tell you, I turned up a track between two fields as quick as I could go. Once again, as long as Puzzle had a bit of space, she was happy to watch the lorries go past.

I was really quite tired by now, and Puzzle was obviously starving, because just as we got back onto the road from the steep downward track, she lunged forward to snatch a mouthful of grass. From where I was sitting however, the front of my horse just disappeared! It was the closest I had come to falling off the whole ride, and I only just managed to catch the back of the saddle to prevent myself tumbling into the road. (Note to self - find the grass reins).

I hope I haven't all bored you to death by now, but there was just so much that happened. As rides go, it was more exciting than I would have liked, but there were a lot of positives, and for most of the time I felt very safe. I know, that for the moment at least until we have a bit more practice hopefully, providing Puzzle has a bit of space from the big stuff, she is happy to let them pass by, and she is fine with all the "normal" stuff. I know she has a lovely canter in open spaces, and stops when asked.

I hope to go out again tomorrow, but maybe I won't choose the same route again for a while ...................... or at least until I have company!

Week 6 continued.....

After our very busy ride yesterday, I asked Avri'ls advice on what I
should have done to have made Puzzle less reactive to all those big
lorries. She suggested that Puzzle was picking up on my uncertainties,
as Puzzle herself has been well trained with heavy traffic.

Looking back, I tend to agree with Avril, as with only a few extra yards between
us and the offending vehicles, (say in a gateway), Puzzle would stand quietly. Or better said, I was OK with a bit of extra space around us. We even arrived home very calm and relaxed, and I certainly enjoyed the rest of our ride out together. I hope Puzzle can forgive me for being such a wimp - but I haven't ridden out in such heavy traffic for some fifteen years! So, my new goal has changed from cantering out in open spaces to being a better leader past lorries. And to make it up to Puzzle, I bought her a smart new Burgundy headcollar and numnah, - any
excuse!

With my new resolve in mind, I rode along Lilley Bottom Road, both days
over the weekend, and guess what - not so much as a transit van passed
us. I guess I will have to have a few more days off in the week to put
my new resolve to the test.

Week 7

Because of the awful rain and cold, Puzzle has spent a few nights in this week, although I guess it won't be long before Tim says they have to be stabled overnight anyway. I am sure she quite likes this, as her grazing is no longer lush, she gets extra haylage overnight. As soon as she sees me walking up the hill, she wickers (which I just love to hear) and runs down to the gate to meet me.

Once out of the field, she sets a fair pace down to the yard! Everyday except Monday, when the rain was torrential, I have rushed down the stables after work, so that I can get a quick ride out. Tonight we were trotting around a field headland,when a pheasant nearly flew straight into us, from the hedge. Puzzle
hopped sideways, whilst I lost my poise, (aka balance!), but she kindly stopped as soon as I asked her too. Proving once again, that as soon as she has recognised something, she isn't phased by it. We continued our trot and even managed a canter or two. I was very pleased as we were on our own, and this is one of the rides I formally disliked because for part of the way, the traffic is hidden behind the hedge.

This week may even be the last week we manage to get evening rides out.
It really was a bit too dark by the time we got back to the yard tonight. But, as loath as I am to do too much work in the school, we may have to start doing a few quick sessions in there come the winter evenings. I think about 10 minutes in a ménage hits Puzzle's boredom threshold! I will have to look for ideas in the books I bought recently, to make it more interesting for both of us ...............

Week 7 continued.....

Over the weekend, Heather and I finally decided to put Puzzle and Patch into the same field together. Although they are both friendly mares, we had delayed this moment for much longer than usual, on the vet's advice, because of Patch's recent spate of injuries. In preparation for this, they have been led to and from the field together, ridden out together and we have also alternated their paddocks around so the could get used to each others scent without the excitement of being too close to each other. And of course, they have been able to talk to each other over the fence all the time.

I don't know if any of this really made any real difference, but whatever it was, the actual "release" was a quiet anti-climax. They sauntered into the same paddock, and without so much as a snort, went to graze side by side. It was lovely to see Patch in company after almost seventeen months of having to keep her away from others, and now whenever you go up the field, they are usually grazing or resting next to each other.

I had arranged to hack out along the valley with Judy, and we did meet a few vans and one fairly large horse box. I was determined to just think positively and asked Puzzle to walk past the box without a fuss. I concentrated on staying calm and relaxed, whilst breathing! so that I wasn't sending her any of my apprehensive messages again. And although the horse inside started banging about a lot, she squeezed past with only one sideways glance. So a slight improvement by me, compared to last week anyway. I have also decided to keep Puzzle in overnight from now on, so that we have an established routine again before the clocks go back. I just hate the dark evenings!

Week 8

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, we didn't manage to get out on even one evening hack at all this week. So come Saturday, Puzzle had not been ridden for six days, which is the longest I have been without riding her. This was another new situation for us, and I was interested to see how she would be out on our own, after a week of staying in at night, with no exercise.

Well, we set off at a steady pace, although she was a bit "looky" to begin with. Having said that, she only stopped once to give a fallen tree a good stare, before she was happy to walk on again. I was enjoying myself, and felt quite liberated at being able to just put her tack on, and go out for a ride without depending on anyone else being around, to go out with. It made me contemplate on the effect that all the horses I have owned, since losing Badger in 1999, have had. Because none of them were that good to hack out on their own, I am only now beginning to realize how much they have affected my outlook, and how my confidence has taken quite a knock.

I have to stop myself looking in the hedge for things that would have scared the living daylight out of James, or listening out for the sound of motorbikes that would have had Harvey fleeing across the fields. I don't have to plan routes avoiding open spaces, and I can go out for more than half a mile, which was as far as my last mare wanted to go, before she felt she had to go back home. It has certainly given something to think about - that my subconscious thoughts can even influence a horse as good and well trained as Puzzle. Oh Avril, I have so much to relearn, but I am enjoying the journey immensely.

Talking about tacking up, for the past two weeks I have been using the Rambo Micklem Multibridle. Mind you, I had to take it back three times before settling for the size I had first tried on in the first place, so the sizings do seem rather strange. However, now I have one that fits, I just love it, as I think it is the easiest bridle to put on, ever - once you have watched the DVD to see how to assemble and fit it in the first place! I have also swapped the bit from a Fulmer snaffle (Puzzle was prone to getting her tongue over the bit), into a jointed egg butt snaffle for a trial period, but so far Puzzle seems very happy and relaxed with this change as well.

Sunday was a real treat for the girls, as we moved them into their winter grazing. In four hours they didn't lift their heads or move more than 50yds from the gate! They just ate and ate and ate ..........
better cut back on the haylage for a while that's for sure.

Week 9

I really feel like winter is here now, although it still very warm, it is just so dark! It could be worse though - at the end of the week we are flying off to Tromso, in Norway, where they are only getting 6 hours of light per day. Hopefully, we will get to see the famously elusive Northern Lights while we are there, fingers crossed anyway. It is my birthday present to my long suffering husband, Peter. I am not usually so generous, but it is his big 5 0! Anyway, Sally is going to ride Puzzle at the weekend again, so at least she will get some exercise while we are away.

Week 10

We were extraordinarily lucky - we saw the Northern Lights, but I returned to the news that Puzzle had been a bit naughty whilst I was away. On two occasions, she was quite a handful to bring in, and Jo and Tim had the revert to bringing her in on her own for a few days. This is very unlike her, she had been exemplary to handle until then, and Jo was trying to account for what might have caused this. It certainly isn't because I was away, as Jo turns her out every day for me. All Jo could think of was that on the first occasion, the beaters were out in the fields over the road, and on the second occasion, it was very windy.
Even Patch was dancing about. Since then, her behavior has been as normal.

At the weekend, for the first time since Puzzle came, we went on a ride that passes some pigs. I know mysafecobs include porcines in their training programme, which is just as well, as Puzzle had to give a very reluctant Patch a lead past. Even though the pigs weren't visible, the smell of them must have carried quite a way, and Patch was on edge before we got any where near the paddock. Puzzle marched past with hardly a look, which made life a lot easier all round. A bit further along that lane, I spied a lone deer crossing the road, so, we hung back a little bit, and sure enough it ran across the road a couple more times before disappearing up the field. I don't know how Puzzle would have reacted if we had been any closer, but I wanted to keep a bit of distance between us as last time we saw a "lone" deer, it morphed into a whole herd, that ran out of the woods at precisely the same second we rode past, causing the horses to scatter to the four winds!

Week 11

Now the evenings are so dark I really miss our little hacks out, but at least I managed to take Puzzle into the school for a few short lunging sessions in the week. On Saturday, the shoot was out around the farm again. I had just started leading her up the track to her field, when the beaters came out of the woods, into the horses paddocks, and started blowing whistles and making lots of noise, which disturbed all the horses. I very quickly abandoned the idea of walking to the far field where Puzzle is currently grazing, as every horse with in sight had started tearing around. I just had time to put Puzzle in her old summer paddock, which was much closer.

To give her her due, Puzzle didn't make much of a fuss until her hooves touched the paddock grass, but then she just took off. I didn't try to hold on to her because I didn't think I stood a chance, and I couldn't really blame her either. Everything else was still going crazy, but it worried me that I hadn't have time to remove her headcollar or the lead rope. Luckily it was a really short rope, so it just flapped about around her knees, and she didn't tread on it as she galloped up and down. I let her fly around for a few minutes until she had calmed down and I felt it was safe to go up to her again, and then she allowed me to unclip the rope. Once the actual shooting started, she had got it out of her system, and took no notice of all the noise and just concentrated on grazing.

In the afternoon, the blacksmith came to hot shoe Puzzle, and she was a study of calm acceptance, and she looked like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, bless her. Even when he fired up the forge and started up a grinder, not eight feet from where she was standing. I must admit that the roaring noise had startled me a bit at first because I had my back turned towards him at the time.

Week 12

What an unusual ride we had on Sunday, with the police helicopter flying around overhead and police cars with flashing lights on speeding down the lanes. Thankfully, they did turn off the lights and slow down to go past us. Puzzle was particularly fascinated with the helicopter, which kept circling nearby, and went along star gazing and nearly screwed her head off! Apparently, the Police were after hare coursers. I don't know if they caught them, but it was very exciting for the horses to watch.

When we got back to the yard, Puzzle was slightly warm and obviously thirsty. (I have never known a horse who drinks as much as she does).
Before I could stop her, she plunged her face into the old brick trough in the yard that they use as a fish pond, so that literally half her face (and bridle!) were under water. It took me a while to get her out of it as well, so I guess she must have drunk quite a bit of it. What a mistake - for the last couple of days her stomach has been so upset, I have had to replace most of her bedding and wash clean her back legs every night. Luckily, today her droppings seem to be back to normal. I am certainly keeping her away from that water trough/pond in future that's for sure!

Friday night, Puzzle was tied up outside the barn with some Haylage, whilst I mucked out and pottered about. I was just returning from the muck heap when I glanced over to where she was, and thought "Why are you standing so awkwardly"? Well, it was because she had her hoof stuck in the haynet, that's why! I really struggled to remove it as the strings had stuck fast around the back of the shoe. But I had to praise her, as she stood calmly the whole time I was trying to free her and didn't panic for even one second. What a good girl she was.


Overview of the first three months

In my diary of horse owner, I jokingly put a wish list at the end, copied below, and it was based on the best, and worst bits of all of the horses I have owned, plus a few extra ones I wouldn't have minded.

He will be well schooled, about 10yrs old, between 15.1hh and 15.3hh.
He will be of middleweight cob type, and I fancy another coloured, with not too much white, or too much pink on his nose.
He must be 101% sound and healthy definitely no allergies or unsoundness.
He must be exemplary in all situations; alone and in company and he must be forward going without being fresh.
He must stop whenever asked and remain consistently good even if he has not been ridden for a week. He will never tank off or be silly.
He must also be willing to do the occasional session in the ménage, because I need the schooling!
He will no bother to lead, anywhere.
He will be good in the field, whether turned out alone or with others:
and he must not make a fuss even if he is the last one out, and it is dark ………..
He must clean in the stable and only wee and poo in one corner.
And I think I will name him ……………… Amalgam!

So, how does Puzzle compare to my wish list? Well, obviously she is a mare not a gelding, and she is the most messy horse in the stable I have ever met! She is slightly older, and also doesn't find school work very interesting. But, you know what, and it has only just struck me as I read through this list again, apart from those minor details, she is everything I asked for, and so much more. She is pretty obviously, but that isn't what really counts. It is because she is so calm and accepting; she loves a fuss but isn't demanding, and her overall outlook on life is very sensible. She has lovely smooth paces and a light mouth.
I forget that I have only owned her for a few months, and I feel very comfortable around her.

I'm more than happy to ride her out alone and in company, I feel she tries to keep me onboard - a couple of times when I have really lost my balance/seat, she has stopped as soon as I has asked, and waited whilst I have sorted myself out. Even so, I would be lying if I said I'd never felt a bit apprehensive. But poor old Puzzle has got to overcome at least ten years of my bad experiences. And because of those past negatives, I am sometimes anticipating problems instead of concentrating on the positive outcome. I am trying to be a good leader for her as well as giving her a good life, and if we have the odd hiccup, then I know it is something I need to work on. I am enjoying our journey together and Puzzle was definitely worth the wait.


It seems such a long time since my last diary entry, but like everybody else, the bad weather really made life difficult. I did try to ride out on a couple of times, but with 650kgs of equine slithering about under the saddle, with each leg going in a different direction, I soon decided that this was not one of my better decisions! Finally, on New Years day, we made it off the farm, out into the big wide world again. It was over three weeks since Puzzle had been ridden - the longest she has been out of work since she came in fact. It did occur to me that this would be a good test of Avril's assessment that Puzzle would be OK, whether you hacked her out everyday or once a month.

I was a bit apprehensive, but decided I just needed to "get on with it". So I tacked her up, did a few circuits of the school to check her energy levels, then marched off down the drive, and out the front gate. There have been a few minor changes which she noticed immediately. For one, Asti and Minty were in a new paddock opposite the gates, and then there was a flock of geese and their shelter right next door. We sort of banana'd our way past them, but then settled into a nice free walk.

This relaxed attitude continued for quite a while, until we were heading home in fact, and Puzzle spied two others from our yard heading in the opposite direction. Well obviously, she would far rather have followed those two handsome geldings, but she kept going in the direction I had asked her for, but showed her agitation by trying to jog. Had we been on the flat I would have trotted for long enough to tire her out, but we were on a really steep downhill slope and I felt that she was just too hyped up to go carefully, so I kept bringing her back to a walk. Then she tried a different tack, violently throwing her head down, which almost pulled me out of the saddle on several occasions. This was most disconcerting, and I guess it was because I had a much firmer contact
than usual. As I said, the hill is really steep! With hindsight, maybe I should have turned around and trotted back up the hill until she calmed down again, but I didn't think of it at the time, and was just glad when we reached level ground. Apart from that, we had a very enjoyable ride.

The next day we rode out in company, and she didn't put a hoof wrong, even when Stella galloped up behind us, just the other side of the fence.

Last Sunday I had to work most of the day, so I only had time to take Puzzle in the school for a little while. As I have mentioned before, she doesn't really like schooling as such, so I just did a little bit of work where I tried to do maneuvers with as little rein contact as possible, guiding her by shifting my body weight, and visualization. Well, I was satisfied with our efforts, although we probably weren't very elegant. Ha Ha. It was good fun anyway, and we managed to open and close the gate in just two steps, (which may mean something to the people who have done one of Avril's training days).

Today, I had planned to ride Puzzle after lunch, so she had the morning out grazing before I went up to bring her in. She was keen to come in and nickered as she ran to the gate, before bumping and rattling it with her nose, as I puffed my way up the hill. Then I left her in the stable for a while to deflate. When I got back, I had a bit of a shock, as she was absolutely drenched in sweat, from the top of her ears down to her hooves. At first, I thought she was ill, and anxiously checked her for signs of colic, before I realised it was just so warm and I had left her with a New Zealand rug on.

She looked like she had just got home after a days hunting, and I literally had to hose her down to cool her off. Poor girl must have thought I was either trying to boil her alive, or freeze her to death! So instead of riding, I walked her around the school until she was dry and comfortable again. Then, I unclipped the lunge line in case she wanted to have a roll, but instead she started to follow me around. Now I had tried this once before, and she tagged along until we reached the first clump of grass. Today however, she followed my movements precisely, across and around the school several times. I was thrilled that she felt I was worth following now and for a moment I was quite emotional.

After she had her tea and had settled her down for the night, I hang around for over an hour, just to check that she really was OK. I guess I hadn't really noticed until today, just how much her coat has grown; it seems to have become very long and thick overnight. This week she started to molt, and she has come into season. It is only January for goodness sake, but the weather is just so unpredictable. At least it has given me an idea of the sort of clip I need to do for next winter.


LATEST ENTRY MARCH 2012

I cannot believe it is over a year since I last did a diary entry, but as Puzzle and I became more established together, I felt there was less to write about. In truth, I haven’t done much more than hack out, but this is such an antidote to the stresses of my working life, that I am happy just to watch the world rush by from the back of my lovely piebald mare! Anyway, here are a few events that have stuck in my mind from the past year, which you might find interesting.

Spring 2011
I’d become really confident in hacking out on my own again. One dismal Sunday, we had been out for a couple of hours, and were heading for home. We’d had a very pleasant hack, despite the rain, but it was getting colder, so I thought I would trot on for a mile or so, and then walk the last half mile to the stables. I saw a car some way behind us, but it was only when it got closer that I heard an unusual noise. I didn’t recognise the sound and it completely disturbed Puzzle, who promptly took off along the road. Unbelievably the car just carried on and overtook us as if nothing untoward was happening! I couldn’t believe anyone could be so stupid, and silently cursed the driver until I had managed to slow Puzzle down again; which she did once the scary noise had passed. Only then could I see that the car had a completely flat back tyre, which was what had caused “the noise”.

Eventually the car pulled over to the side of the road, and when we drew level the driver got out and started to apologise, saying she hadn’t realised she had a puncture until she drove past us. She then went on to explain that her phone was not working either, so she couldn’t call for assistance. Although I was still very annoyed with her, I would like to think that someone would help me if I was stranded, so I lent her my mobile.

Whoever she called, kept her on the phone for ages, literally ten minutes. During this time Puzzle continued to wind herself up more and more, even though I kept her walking up and down the lane. By the time I got my phone back, she was almost bouncing up and down. This surprised me somewhat, as she is usually so calm with everything. When we finally able to leave, she charged off down the road again, but this time with the addition of a buck or two!

This was so out of character, that I sought Avril’s advice. Avril suggested I look at her diet and grazing, as too much spring grass might be having a bad effect. It seems pretty obvious now, looking back, but I just hadn’t noticed how much weight Puzzle had gained under her rugs - much like myself really! So, Puzzle went on a strict regime of strip grazing and limited soaked haylage, and she quickly returned to her normal temperament. In fact we were still strip grazing the winter paddock until Christmas, with only 6Kg of haylage at night. This is less than half of what she was getting this time last year, but I don’t want to let her get overweight or fizzy again this year.

SUMMER 2011

The first week in June, the Horse Flies came out in force. They are particularly bad
on and around the farm, maybe because we are near a river, but they drove us all to distraction. Despite my best efforts, Puzzle and I gained nine bites between us in just one short ride. Then Judy noticed a new rug from Rambo, called the Fly Rider. Well, within a week, four of us had bought one! They are very lightweight, and they made it a lot less aggravating for the horses. We used ours for every ride over the next few months, and I would certainly recommend them. Easy to wash too.

You may remember one posting I’d made originally, about a particularly long and eventful ride we’d had. We’d encountered so many unusual things without incident, until Puzzle became so unsettled by a skip lorry, that she jumped up a bank to avoid going too close to it. With this in mind, I attended a ridden day course at MSC, in June. The weather was truly awful, and even though I have been riding for years, it was a very interesting and informative day. It really helped me to see how my reactions affect Puzzle’s behaviour. At some point, and I don’t know when or why, I have (subconsciously) become uncomfortable with larger traffic. Puzzle’s response to my nerves has been to reflect them, even though she passed her training at MSC with flying colours. Now I know how to focus properly, Puzzle is more settled and providing I ignore the large vehicles, and practice what I have learnt, so does she.

Patch, Puzzle’s field companion, had another bout of lameness and had to be moved into a small paddock on her own whilst recuperating. Puzzle then had to stay out on her own overnight, and I was worried to start off with, sneaking up the farm at dawn to check she was OK. But she took it in her stride, as long as there were others somewhere in sight. After a few weeks, in preparation for when Patch was well enough to be turned out with other horses again, Heather moved her into the paddock next to Puzzle. They would spend the afternoons standing side by side, on either side of the fence, content to just be near one another. When we finally turned them back out together, they had a quick run around, then an intensive mutual grooming session, before they sauntered up to the top of the field together. It was lovely to watch them grooming each other again, something they had obviously missed doing. I don’t know if she realises that Patch is not as spry as she once was, but Puzzle became quite protective of Patch, and when they had a new field companion, Holly, Puzzle would keep her away from Patch, rather than just bossing Holly about.

At the end of August, Puzzle managed to cut her hind off side hind leg quite badly. Even as I walked up the track I could see her leg covered in blood. It was a deep cut just above the hock, and I can only imaging she must have rolled on a flint. The wound itself was so clean, deep and straight, it looked like it had been cut with a knife. It took a large sedative and two pain killing injections before the vet could get any staples in. Even so, she managed to kick the staple gun flying several times.

For two weeks after that, Puzzle had to be box rested and led out in hand a couple of times a day for a bit of gentle exercise and grass. I’ll admit, I thought this might become more difficult as the days passed, and that she would just drag me from one clump of grass to the next. But once again, she was the model of manners and decorum, and I was able to while away the time by giving her a good groom, whilst she enjoyed the sunshine and the grass.

We also came to an understanding with the application of the Aluspray. If I was quick enough, she didn’t kick out! (I have since been told this really, really stings!). This didn’t always prove a very accurate method of application, and so for a while she sported a very flashy, silver leg. In those two weeks our relationship deepened, so something good did come out of it in the end. All in all, the wound healed very well, with no scarring, and the vet and I were very pleased with ourselves.

Our friends, Holly and Sandra; Chancey and Judy; Patch and Heather; Puzzle and me – a coloured cavalcade – all ready to hack out. Autumn 2011.

Val and her friends

AUTUMN 2011

Another instance of where Avril’s good training has proved its value was in early autumn. On the surrounding estate, they have turned a lot of the arable fields back into parkland, and filled numerous fields with sheep and cattle. Some of our hacking partners are very wary of them and we are often called upon to be lead file past the beasties. One day we even had a flock of sheep galloping along the side of the field, next to and above the road we were riding along, and Puzzle just stopped to look at them with interest.

WINTER 2011
Since the clocks went back, Jo has been turning out and bringing the horses in from the fields. On several occasions, when wound up for some reason, Puzzle has escaped from Jo, and run off down the track. This would not be quite so bad, if Jo were not heavily pregnant. So, to prevent this happening again, we tried bringing her in using a Chifney, instead of a headcollar. Now she plods along as if she had never even thought about misbehaving, and I am happy that Jo is not pulled around anymore.

There is a lot of excitement happening in the field opposite the farm gates, as the gas board have taken over the paddock, and turned it into an acre of industrious activity. The place is always buzzing. Every time you go past there, another container, dumper truck, pile of hardcore, notice, or caravan has appeared. It certainly gives the horses something to think about as you ride past; and all in the name of increased security for the Olympics!

We are very lucky with the variety of hacking we have around the farm, but even so there have been several weekends where we have not wanted to hack out on the frozen roads or icy tracks. The cold and wet spells are also taking their toll on the fields, and like everybody else, I have had my fill of mud splattered legs, rugs, ears and eyelashes.

FEBRUARY 2012
We have three old free range geese that wander around the farm, and the horses are used to them. Just recently, they have all decided that they can only lay their eggs in Puzzle’s stable, and as soon as she is led out of it, they rush in there, and start nesting. They are most put out if I have to get them out so Puzzle can go to bed.

One Sunday morning, I was just putting Puzzle’s headcollar on, when one of the geese rushed in and tried to squeeze between Puzzle and the stable wall, before having second thoughts and trying to escape by running BETWEEN her front legs……where it got stuck! Its head and neck were poking out the front of Puzzle’s legs, whilst its flapping wings were bashing against the back of her legs. Now I know Avril trains her lovely horses to accept lots of situations, but this was just too bizarre. Puzzle was hoping around, the goose was honking and flapping wildly, and I was thinking “Oh No, squashed goose”.

Suddenly, the goose folded its wings, and shot out from between Puzzle’s front legs, like a cork out of a champagne bottle! It was absolutely hilarious to see, but it took a good few minutes of me patting a snorting Puzzle, before she settled down again. What a good girl she was - I was very proud of her, not least because the goose survived. Hopefully the goose will have learnt a valuable lesson, and give the horses a wider berth in future.

A few weeks ago, I went to a Monty Roberts demonstration. I really enjoyed watching him work and I realise there are a few things which I have not practised since Puzzle came, which we need to brush up on. For example, walking on a plastic sheet or tarpaulin, and standing still whilst out hacking. Apart from that I am just dreaming of the spring and evening rides out. Maybe we might even do a few shows this year ……..