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Diary of a Horse Owner

chatty

Diary of a New Horse Owner

Talking with Avril recently and then reading Chatty’s Diary of a Safecob in Training, has made me think about the horses I have owned and what each one has taught me. In essence, Diary of a horse owner!

Being born in Brixton, South London, in the mid 1950’s, I did not have a lot of contact with horses, but there was a couple that I remember distinctly. Firstly, there was the rag and bone man’s horse, which regularly plodded past our house, He would stop with just a word, and stand for ages untied, whilst the stuff was loaded onto his cart. Very Steptoe and son. He never moved a muscle until he was given the command to walk on again. Then there was also the greengrocer’s daughter’s pony, which they kept in their yard at the end of our road. If you were very lucky, she would let you hold the reins whilst she opened the gates. Whenever I saw these animals I would dream of riding one myself, but it seemed a very remote hope.

However, in 1964, the family moved to Hemel Hempstead, and so I had my very first riding lesson at the age of 12. It was at a small farm on the outskirts of the town, where they kept half a dozen ponies, and a half hour lesson cost six shillings. It was not an approved school, and because there was no ménage you spent a lot of time hacking out on roads. They only taught you the very simplest aids – left, right, stop and go; and nothing “fancy” like sitting on the correct diagonal. Eventually, I was given a pony to be responsible for. We would walk several miles early on a Saturday morning or summers evening, carrying our tack to collect the ponies from whatever field they were in, so we got the ride back to the stables. If you couldn’t be bothered to carry the saddle - you rode bareback; (a bit hairy if you had to lead one or two others as well). We were also expected to walk out leading the learners if necessary, and in return we were allowed to ride our pony if it did not have a rider for that session. Occasionally, we were allowed to take them to a gymkhana, or ride them out on three hour hacks in the school holidays. We did a few madcap things, as all children do I guess, which I certainly would think very long and hard about now, but to me it was Nirvana. I was never bored and I loved every minute of it. Well, all except the broken arm, the trampled leg, the damaged tendons, and the black eye …………………………

When I started work, I spent all of my first months’ wages, the princely sum of £25 on a foal, straight off the New Forest. He was black with four white socks and a blaze, barely six months old, and was as wild as they come. He was tiny but it took four of us to get him on to the trailer! For the first two weeks I had to keep him shut in a field shelter until he got used to humans and being touched and brushed. Over the next three years I put a lot of time and effort into his basic training, so that in the end he behaved more like a large dog. He would go anywhere and accepted everything you did with him without question. One day we even walked ten miles to compete in a M&M class and then walked the ten miles back home. I don’t think I could be bothered to do that now! When it came to backing him, I just gently eased onto his back, no big fuss, and he didn’t even flinch. He never bucked, reared or bolted in all the time I had him. The only reason I sold him was because I outgrew him, he only matured at 13.2hh. With his next owners, he went on to compete in the local Prince Philip Cup team, and show jumping, but he always remained a safe and sensible mount.

What Chalice taught me – time spent on the basics is never wasted.

My second pony was a little blue roan cob. Apparently, he had been quite fiery when young, but I bought him from a friend, when he was 18 yrs old so he had calmed down a bit. So much so in fact, that you could have landed Concorde next to him, and he would not have flinched. This made him a great mount for my younger sister, as she had had a nasty fall and had lost her confidence, but when she “got into boys” I sold him on. With the Tovey family he taught three generations to ride, and was well into his thirties when he retired.

What Boris taught me – older horses can be a worth their weight in gold and
a great asset.

Next came tragedy. I went to see a 2yr old palomino Welsh Sect D x Arab colt. He was stunning and I wanted to buy him straight away, but I had no facilities or inclination to keep an entire. His owner insisted that her vet geld him as he had performed all her geldings for the past 20 years. Five days after the gelding, they delivered him, and he ran around the field meeting and greeting all the others, the picture of health. The next morning however, the operation site was very very swollen, so we called the vet immediately. Despite all our efforts he collapsed and died at South Mimms Vet Hospital three days later, of a tetanus type infection. I was heart broken and devastated by the loss of such a beautiful animal, who, just a few weeks earlier, had the promise of a rich and varied life stretching before him. I also lost all the money I had paid for him, despite a two year legal battle..

What Chamaryth taught me – Not everything goes to plan, despite your best efforts.

The next horse I bought was a 12yr old 15.3hh middleweight hunter type gelding. I knew when they had bought him that they had not had him vetted, so I did, and he passed with flying colours. Three weeks later, he started to go intermittently lame, and it took some while to diagnose the Ring bone: Once diagnosed, we were able to work around it without too much trouble. Out riding he was very good - except when more than lorry came past him at any one time! Then he would get very agitated and if you let him, he would try and turn around and run back home. Perversely, I decided to move him to a yard between the busy A41, and a railway line, and this did help to desensitised him. I also ensured
we always rode out in company, except on a Sunday when there was less heavy traffic around. He became much better and I had no thought of selling him, until I had an unexpected phone call one day………….

What Beau taught me – Some problems you can work around, but avoid putting yourself in danger. Also, never, ever, tie you horse to paddock railings. Unless of course, you want them to uproot nine foot of fencing and drag it round behind them like a plough, felling everything in their path, and getting more and more frightened …………….

I was lucky to get away with that one, without anyone or anything getting hurt. Beau was eventually stopped when he tried to jump through the hedge and the railing section got caught between two tree trunks. He was only 50 yards from the busy A41 and I still dread to think what would have happened, had he run amok along there. Going back to the unexpected phone call ………..it was from a lady I vaguely knew, asking if I was interested in buying a new horse. A friend of hers, Roger Dalraine, was looking for a good home for his piebald cob, as he was immigrating to America. The Badger was a nine year old, 15.1hh piebald Welsh Cob type gelding, of great character and versatility. He had been hunted for several seasons and was very fit, but also a complete gentleman to ride and handle. I liked him instantly. The only problem was I could not afford to buy him at the time. Roger took pity on me and ended up loaning me Badger for a year, whilst I sold Beau on to a quieter, country home. I am eternally grateful to Roger for his kindness; otherwise I would have missed all of the wonderful experiences I had with Badger. Coloureds were not popular at the time, and were even frowned upon and discriminated against, as I found out when we started to compete at local events. Then I saw a small notice at the local saddlers announcing the formation of a new society - the Coloured Horse and Pony Society of Great Britain. The Society started to organize various events and generally promote the coloured equine. Badger's showing career took off and over the years he won a wide variety of classes, In hand and under saddle including Best Coloured, Ridden Cob, Working Hunter and Dressage. He still managed a bit of Hunting and took part in many Sponsored Rides and Cross Country events like RAF Halton (not with me on board I hasten to add) and even participated in a ridden Display team for CHAPS (UK). At 22 he was the CHAPS Gymkhana Champion and aged 26 he won his last ever showing class, Ridden Coloured, before retiring from the show ring. Throughout the years however, my greatest enjoyment with him was hacking out. We must have ridden thousands of miles of Hertfordshire's roads and tracks, accompanied by my black and white pointer Jodie, trotting along beside us, off the lead. We cut quite a dash together! Although he could get on his toes sometimes, Badger was as safe as houses and I knew he would look after me.

When Badger was in his early twenties, I gave some thought to his replacement, and temporarily loaned a three quarter Thoroughbred broodmare, which we had covered with a Coloured Polish Warmblood. The resulting foal was a stunning tri coloured colt, and I had such plans for him. Then, aged just six weeks old, disaster struck again, and he broke his near foreleg, just above the knee. The vet College pulled out all the stops and really tried for him. The bone mended, but following all the operations, the nerve damage was too great, and he was unable to move the leg once the cast and pins had been removed.

What Arlington Heights (Harley) taught me – that old adage “fools breed horses for wise men to buy” can be quite true, and reinforced “not everything goes to plan, despite your best efforts”.

I continued to hack Badger out and about, (rather more sedately now) until May 1999 when at the age of 28, he slipped and fractured his femur, whilst in his stable of all places, thus ending our partnership prematurely. I loved that horse dearly (even my husband cried, and he has no interest in horses what so ever) But I have great memories of our years together - from the highlights of competing at Hickstead to the sheer fun of cantering through snowy fields at midnight, and though I have had several horses since, I still miss him.

What Badger taught me – the joy of riding a well trained horse and the wonderful partnership you can develop.

Soon after my eye was caught by a chocolate dun and white middleweight gelding, 5yrs old and standing at 15.3hh. He was a real sweetie, kind and willing, most of the time But ………..occasionally something would frighten him and he would suddenly spin round and flee, with no prior warning. If I was out riding, I sometimes stayed on, and sometimes I came off. If I was leading him I got trampled, flattened or dragged. The thing was, you could not predict what would set him off and it was usually something you never saw yourself, like a bin blowing over behind you. We persevered with him, took him to lots of shows, sponsored rides and also did a lot of schooling. Then I decided it would be good to try for the BHS Stages 1 and 2, which involved jumping, something I had not done for years. During this time, James began to excel at jumping, and he just loved it. Everyone wanted to borrow him for their lessons too. I had come off him again, which was my fault not his for once - I had got left behind jumping a small fence, flew off and landed on my knee! I could not ride for nearly three months, and during that time I decided that (1) Jumping really was not for me, and so (2) James was wasted with me. I really adored this little horse but ultimately I sold him on to a more experienced home. His current owner has used him for jumping competitions and cross country for the past 4 years: and now he is being trained to compete in side saddle classes as well. He still does silly things, but they don’t seem to mind so much ………………..

What James taught me – I really don’t want to jump and I don’t like surprises where I end up in a clump of stinging nettles, or worse, in the middle of the road, however good he was for 99.99% of the time.

After James, came a bit of a rescue case. Not that Harvey had been physically abused, but just left in a field for three years. He was the fattest little cob you have ever seen! Harvey was middle aged and very overweight, and we had to do an awful lot of work to shift it. Poor Harvey hated it, he really had got used to the quite life, and would much rather had just gone for a little plod. After 18 months we had got his physique back but he started to go unsound. Friends of mine were desperately looking for a suitable cob to work at their RDA centre and Harvey has the ideal temperament for that kind of work. He has a great life now, hardly any work and most of it done at a walk or a standstill, and if he goes unsound, they rest him and give him some Bute! He rules the roost and all the kids adore him; and very importantly, he now has a good home for the rest of his life.

What Harvey taught me – whilst I want a safe ride, I don’t want plod that you constantly have to nag just to keep up with the others.

After Harvey, I bought and 15.3hh 7yr old Hunter type gelding. He was big and bouncy and exceptionally good with traffic – he didn’t bat an eyelid when the local shoot’s hut trundled past towed behind a tractor and trailer, and that even made me look twice. We would go on really long hacks at the weekends, but I had to pay to have him hacked or schooled during the week. But the fitter he got, the more of a handful he could be. Nothing nasty, but quite intimidating, and he could be a bit too sprightly leading out to the field, so you had to lead him out in his bridle and carry a whip. He also had a knack off jumping out of every field we put him in. On one occasion he got out into the neighbouring farmyard, where they had stored a lot of junk, and managed to get a gate stuck round his leg! Another time, he somehow managed to jump a small style onto a footpath, which was so narrow that he got wedged there between a high hedge and a fence. We had to break the fence down into the church graveyard, and sneak him home that way! He also loved to play, which got him into a lot of scrapes. One day he cut his muzzle so badly he had to have seven stitches, and be kept in his box for three weeks, which turned him into an unexploded bomb. We had just got him back into work after that and he cut his tongue. More box rest and vets bills! I found it all very worrying, and I ran out of fields to put him in. Apart from that, I never really “jelled” with him, and even after a year I kept calling him by the wrong name. I don’t know why. In his new home, he is hacked out at least five days a week and is now very settled.

What Robert taught me – I need a horse that doesn’t need a lot of work every day to remain sane and I can’t really afford to pay someone else to provide that service for me. And I am getting too old to be constantly worried about what they might be doing when I am not there.

Then I discovered Mysafecobs, and I just wish I had found you sooner! Therefore, I would like to order my next horse please …

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!

Val Rolt

Thursday 26th November 2009

Today heralded the long-awaited arrival of Lucas and his new young friend ‘Millie the Filly’, who is coming on loan to keep Lucas company. Much preparation had taken place for their arrival, including the construction of a new field shelter in our two acre field. As luck would have it, the rains arrived at the same time as the digger came to level the site, and the heavy clay soil soon turned to a treacherous, sticky mess. Fortunately, our kind neighbour, Karen, agreed to the temporary use of part of her much drier field as well as the loan of her stables and yard during the settling in process, which will make it much easier to get to know Lucas in a quiet, safe environment. I spent this afternoon putting up an electric fence as 10 acres of good Shropshire grazing would definitely be too much for a couple of good doers.

After their long motorway journey from Kent, which they had both borne quietly and patiently, Lucas and Millie still had to endure almost a mile of potholed stone track which leads from the lane to our cottage. Arriving in the darkness of a blustery November evening, Millie walked calmly off the lorry and straight into the field without the slightest sign of agitation. Lucas was understandably a little more anxious but he tried very hard to stay calm, and when we took off their headcollars he quickly trotted off to investigate his new paddock while Millie stayed with us and began calmly grazing. Half an hour later Millie was still near the gate and Lucas had come back to join her; the pair were quietly grazing together as though they had known each other all their lives.

Friday 27th November 2009

I could hardly wait for morning so that we could go and see the new arrivals in daylight for the first time. They were both very calm and friendly and seemed to be settling well. After breakfast, I brought Lucas into the stable with a view to fitting his tack and going for our first ride. He was a bit anxious coming in and didn’t really want to leave Millie, and there was a bit of whinnying for a while. But Millie quickly went back to grazing and didn’t make a fuss, and Lucas was soon fairly settled in his stable and enjoyed being admired by my husband and our neighbours.

He stood quietly to be groomed and then it was time to try on his tack. His new bridle fit him, just: he has such a big handsome head! The saddle, being a Duett supplied by Avril, fit him a treat but the girth I had bought was too small. Luckily, Karen had an old leather girth that did fit so we were soon ready for our first ride. Gates are a major feature of any ride here on the farm, and not wanting to over-face us both with tricky manoeuvres too soon I persuaded my husband, Rupert, to come with us on foot.

Avril had warned me that Lucas might be a bit fresh as the recent bad weather meant he had had to be stabled for most of the last two weeks. He did indeed feel very fresh and a bit anxious, not surprisingly as his life had just undergone a very dramatic change. He wasn’t too sure about being asked to walk away from Millie but he did so obediently, and we walked calmly enough down the track to the farm. Avril had suggested I give him a good trot uphill, but unfortunately that would have meant trotting towards home (and Millie) and he felt a bit fresh to do that, and he was wanting to break into canter as we walked back up the track. I decided to leave it there for today as he had been a good boy, and put him back out in the field.

Saturday 28th November 2009

My friend June came over today to meet Lucas and to come out on foot with us. He still felt very fresh so we lunged him in an empty field before I rode. We only asked for a jog but we got an enthusiastic canter – woopee, so good to stretch those legs at last! After cantering and trotting on both reins for about 20 minutes he seemed much quieter and more relaxed, so I got on board and we went out for a hack.

My ‘basic’ one hour hack from here involves opening up to 11 gates, ranging from the impossible (have to get off and back on again) to the difficult (can be done on a well-schooled, calm horse) to the easy but awkward (e.g. narrow gate in a tight spot by a cattle grid). I was very glad to have a friend to open them today so that Lucas and I could concentrate on being relaxed and getting to know one another. He walked out well and was very unspooky, not even jumping when a pheasant got trapped between a fence and the hedge and flapped madly right next to us.

Once on the lane we did lots of walk-trot transitions, aiming to keep us both relaxed and calm. That was fine, and he felt much more settled than yesterday. There are two donkeys on the next farm, which terrify many a horse including my last boy. I could see them in a shed right next to the bridleway, but I’m not sure whether Lucas even noticed them; if he did he didn’t think they were worth a second glance. Nor did he worry about the topiary in the garden of the ‘big house’ or the floods across the track just beyond, and we trotted calmly along a grassy track at the edge of a big field. The only thing that worried him was a shallow concrete ford which, fortunately for today, we didn’t need to go through. He walked calmly through a neighbours’ farmyard and out onto what I have come to call Spooky Bank, as my last horse thought there were lions lurking behind every gorse bush. Clever Lucas knows already that there are no lions in Shropshire (I hope!) and concentrated on picking a good route along the rutted track.

I think I am going to have to think of a new name for this lovely spot with its stunning views over the Corvedale valley towards Wenlock Edge – maybe Primrose Bank, as the ancient turf is sprinkled with their pale lemon flowers in Spring. A wade through hock-deep mud to one more awkward gate and we were back home to Milly, who gave just one call as we approached.

Sunday 29th November 2009

June came over again to help with the gates, and this time we headed up Primrose Bank to the high fields on top of Sutton Hill. It’s a stiff climb from the outset, but Lucas set to it with enthusiasm and once up the steepest part we trotted up through lovely old turf dotted with anthills and lined by ancient ridge-and-furrow. Once in the big, rolling fields at the top of the hill I knew I had to offer him a jolly good canter – he was definitely ‘up for it’. The only trouble was that the last time I cantered up there I got unceremoniously bucked off Jack, my previous pony, so I felt a bit nervous. I was very conscious that I need to trust Lucas if I expect him to have faith in me, but I wasn’t sure I could do it without freezing.

We started by trotting then cantering up a pretty steep slope to keep it steady, staying in the middle of the field to avoid spooky hedges and lurking monsters. He went forward enthusiastically, despite my anxiety and rigid shoulders. We did three more canters, each one feeling a little more relaxed as I realised he wasn’t going to buck or spook, despite the blustery wind, the pheasants and the unfamiliar terrain. Finally, we turned round and cantered fast up a long, very slightly uphill field margin and at last I was able to relax and just enjoy the exhilaration. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I realised that this lovely horse was not going to do anything I couldn’t handle. I only realised we had done all this in driving sleet when I saw how cold my poor friend was after lurking in the lee of hedges yelling ‘go for it!!’ for the past half hour!

Monday 30th November 2009

I decided not to ride today but to spend some unhurried time getting to know Lucas a bit better. When I brought him in from the field I noticed that he seemed happier to walk away from Millie and much more relaxed in general. We have to walk up my neighbour’s very steep and rather dark tarmac drive to get from their field to her yard, with a wood on one side and high hedges which meet overhead. He has accepted this very quickly and has already worked out that it’s a good idea to walk on the soft verge rather than the slippery tarmac, especially coming downhill. Once in the yard I did a bit of leading him around, practising asking him to move forwards, backwards and sideways from a light request. He was foot perfect and made it clear that he is a Pro at all this Natural Horsemanship stuff.

Then I gave him a nice relaxing groom and tried on his new turnout rug as a hard frost is forecast for tonight. I didn’t rug him for the first few nights as he is very woolly and didn’t seem cold, plus it would have been tricky to fit a rug on the first night as he arrived in the dark. But he clearly loves a good roll in our red clay so I’ve got him a fairly lightweight rug, which should at least ensure that I don’t have to spend all our riding time scraping off enough mud to get his tack on. I’ve also got him a very smart fleece cooler to wear after lessons etc. Lucas has lovely stable manners and stood very quietly while I was grooming him and messing about with the rugs. At one stage as I bent over to do his belly he turned his head and rested it on my back!

We are going off in the trailer tomorrow to have a riding lesson, so I spent a bit of time practising loading and unloading him. This involved leading him up to where my trailer is parked, outside our cottage, for the first time. I could feel his breathing rate increase as he took in yet another set of new information, but he was a very good boy and walked straight up the ramp. I gave him a small piece of carrot and brought him out again, then put in the partitions and took him back in – again, no problems. Then I tied him up outside the trailer, which he will need to get used to when we go for lessons. This was fine too, so we ended there and I put him back in the field.

Tuesday 1st December 2009

When I brought Lucas in this morning to get ready for our lesson I noticed that he pulled a face at Millie when she took a step to follow us. ‘This is MY time with MY mum!’ was his clear message, and she wisely decided to stay put. Only our fifth day together and he is clearly happy to leave his friend and play human games for a bit. I gave him a good groom so that he looked smart for his first appearance at my instructor Sue’s yard.

He seems to be adept at getting a thick coating of mud on every exposed inch of his body, paying special attention to his face and girth area. Luckily he doesn’t seem to mind having it all scraped off, and is even very patient around his face, ears and eyes. He walked onto the trailer as though we had been doing it for months and travelled the 25 miles very quietly, despite starting on a bumpy track and continuing on narrow lanes and windy country roads – no smooth motorways here! He was very sweaty when we arrived so he must have found the journey a bit tricky, but I had arrived early enough to let him cool off before our lesson.

I led him around the indoor school, and within five minutes his breathing rate had gone down and he had accepted the huge mirrors happily. I mounted and rode him round on a loose rein and he didn’t spook or even tense up once. I can’t believe how confident he is in new situations and how ready he is to trust his rider. We had a good lesson and he was much admired by all. Afterwards he was very sweaty again so we went for a short cool-down hack on the farm; he was very relaxed, even when we met two horses coming the other way – one of whom turned out to be my old pony, Jack! He walked happily back onto the trailer and munched hay all the way home.

Thursday 3rd December 2009

Lucas had a day off yesterday, but today was a Red Letter day - we went for our first solo hack without a foot soldier! We did the same loop as Saturday, but I had taken steps to reduce the number of gates we needed to deal with by opening one or two in places where there are currently no livestock. I had also oiled the springs on a couple of difficult gates to give me a better chance of being able to do them without dismounting – I wish I’d thought of that a year ago!

We set off in relaxed fashion down the track. The first gate we had to deal with is one I had oiled the springs on; as I asked him to line up to it a gust of wind caught a length of scary horticultural fleece on the farm vegetable patch on the other side of the hedge and made it flap. He looked at it but didn’t react, and within a couple of minutes we had opened, gone through and closed the gate. I told him he was SUCH a hero and indeed I was very happy as I’ve never managed to do this particular gate without dismounting before. The next gate was only a few yards away and is easy, but it’s narrow and there is a cattle grid, a bungalow and two barking dogs. Lucas did it like a Pro.

Then we were heading for the lane and we trotted for about a mile, past the donkeys and only stopping when we met a lady riding a horse and leading a pony. They had ground to a halt just before the terrifying donkeys, but Lucas still doesn’t seem to have noticed them. We trotted on through the flooded section of track, with me dreaming of one day cantering through it just like Bertie!

A bit further on and we managed the gate next to the ford, which was so much less scary today that he had a refreshing drink from it before continuing to yet another gate, then a farmyard and a barking dog. A kindly neighbour opened the next gate for us, and after sauntering along Primrose Bank in a happy daydream I dismounted for the final (too overgrown) gate and walked across the last field, letting Lucas graze the sweet grass for a few minutes before turning him out. I’ve had Lucas for one week and already we can do more gates than I could manage with Jack after a whole year – he moves off the leg very well and tries so hard to get it right. He clearly knows that hacking out is his job and one that he thoroughly enjoys doing well. I am delighted with him and with Avril’s training, and I’m looking forward to having lots of adventures together.

One of the first will be to box him over to the Mortimer Forest, which is a huge, hilly forestry area about 20 minutes away where we can ride on miles and miles of paths and tracks – with no gates! I think Lucas will love it and we can take the dog too – they’ve already met and I think they are going to get on just fine.

Friday 4th December 2009

Lucas and I were back at Sue’s Herefordshire yard today for a lesson with our Alexander Technique teacher, Sally Tottle. It was hard to believe it was only the second time he had been there as he walked very calmly into the indoor school and went straight to work. We had a good session and as always, Sally left me with plenty to work on over the next month.

Saturday 5th December 2009

The pheasant shoot were out in force today, doing the two drives immediately above our cottage and up the wooded dingle above the horses’ field, sending pheasants sailing in all directions and shot raining down all around us. To my relief, Lucas and Millie both stood calmly in their field watching the goings-on without any sign of concern. Poor Jack used to be terrified of both the shooting and pheasants in general; he would take off galloping and bucking around the field and could be unrideable for days afterwards. I won’t deliberately tempt fate just yet, but I reckon Lucas and I will be fine if we get caught out riding when the shooting starts.

Sunday 6th December 2009

It was a lovely sunny morning, such a change from the seemingly endless rain we’ve had recently, so I decided it would be a good day to box Lucas over to the Mortimer Forest for the first time. My husband Rupert and Scamp the dog came too, and it was a good opportunity to introduce my two black boys to going out together. Lucas was quite excited when we first arrived but he stood quietly to be tacked up and mounted and we soon set off to explore the forest rides and tracks.

He seemed to thoroughly enjoy being in the forest and he is very confident when we’re out and about. We did some good long trots up wide rides and we picked our way carefully down steep, rutted and very boggy paths. At one point we had to come down such a wet and slippery ride that I decided it would be better to dismount and lead him. I think he was grateful for this as the going was very treacherous, and he followed me happily until we reached better ground, where I got back on board.

Lucas was totally chilled when meeting dog walkers, although he did jump a bit when an enormous Italian Spinone gave a great deep bark as we approached. He stood very quietly when I met another horse rider and stopped for a few minutes’ chat. When it was time to move on the other horse didn’t want to go away from us and his rider had a bit of a battle, but Lucas was happy to walk quietly and calmly away.

Scamp is a hyperactive working cocker spaniel who has absolutely no fear of horses whatsoever, and whose greatest pleasure in life is tearing at speed around the forest, nose to the ground and brambles trailing from his ears and legs. If there’s one thing a spaniel is incapable of doing it’s moving in a straight line, and Lucas had to get used to Scamp darting across the path in front of him, or even between his legs. According to Rupert, he even crashed into Lucas’s back legs a few times by way of announcing his arrival; luckily, Lucas paid no attention to this clumsy behaviour. For his part, Scamp had to get used to the fact that Lucas and I were going to continue walking or trotting in a straight line whatever happened, so he had better learn to get out of the way of those enormous feet!

All went very well and maybe next time it will be dry enough to try a bit of canter too – this time all the rides were either too wet or too rocky, and we just had one very short canter along a bit of grassy verge. All in all it was a lovely ride, and such a joy to be able to ride a calm horse on a loose rein in a beautiful tranquil setting. The lovely thing about Lucas is he's so happy to go out alone I don't think I'll be feeling the need to look for company. Just me, my horse and my dog out in lovely countryside together is about my idea of heaven on earth!

Jan Wilkinson