2020 – A Year In Review

Looking back at the beginning of the year, it is hard to remember the normality we experienced in January and February. Pea was prescribed uphill canter work to strengthen her back so after one dressage outing, we focused on trips to the gallops. I also made a much longed for investment in a second hand dressage saddle – not realising at the time that it would spend most of the year in our downstairs cupboard!

When the first lockdown hit in mid March, I made the decision to stop riding. Everything indicated that the last thing the NHS needed was people falling off their horses so that was that! Though it was a worrying time with the yard being closed to business, for those of us who were allowed to go, the peace, quiet and sunshine was pretty nice. Being able to walk empty pavements to the yard was also pretty awesome!

The sunshine continued into April and I dabbled with leading Pea to the river, lunging and attempting some in hand and liberty work. Things were somewhat more complicated in May though as Pea had a strange period of being poorly – chokey, coughy and all very worrying for me. Part of her recovery involved moving to the long grass so when she seemed to be better I decided I needed to start riding again and get her waistline under control! That happened to coincide with finding out I was pregnant but I got back riding for a good few weeks anyway. In June, having told a couple of people about the baby, I lost my bottle for riding and stopped.

Pea did a bit of hacking for the yard during July while I was a total sleepy zombie. We did continue to go for walks and I spent some time pampering and primping Pea in preparation for her big role in our wedding photos in August. The yard was well and truly open again so I kept anti-social hours trying to avoid people but keep connected with ponies! Returning properly to work in September and the days getting shorter made that even more difficult.

The last few months have not been very easy when it comes to spending time with Pea. Work hours have been long and daylight hours short! Normally I’m happy to stumble around in the dark but it has been different this year needing to think about someone else’s wellbeing. I also had a spell of isolation which was horrible – never in the time I have been a horse owner have I had to stay away from Pea like that. The mud and my growing baby bump (as well as a herd move with bigger, grumpier and hay orientated mares) have also made things more difficult. This is also the first winter that Pea has remained naked since I’ve had her – she is SO muddy and SO fluffy but ultimately has got her own waterproof system in place and is probably fatter than every previous winter too so she’s ok.

Things I Didn’t Know Then But I Know Now (One Year)

There are a lot of things that I have realised since my op that either no one told me or I didn’t realise before.  Obviously not all of them would be relevant to everyone’s THR recovery but they were certainly relevant to me!  Obviously I’m not a medical professional either but this was my experience!  I started writing this post just after my hip replacement and there has been plenty to add to it since.

The Hospital Stage

  • A general anaesthetic can make you puke.  Lots.  I should have known this but when it happened I was completely mentally unprepared.  Since I’ve spent the last 10+ years successfully avoiding being sick, it wasn’t great.
  • I had to have an oxygen tube to start with. This surprised me!
  • The whole puking thing also meant I didn’t want to eat because I knew it wouldn’t stay down long.

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  • I got painted in red antiseptic which made me wake up and think I had something wrong with me.
  • I was really swollen near the incision.
  • Regardless of what I was told before my op, I still had to wait two weeks to shower.
  • The car journey home felt like the worst rollercoaster I’d ever been on!

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The Early Stages

  • Anti-embolism socks made my heels sore.  I used cotton pads on my heels which helped (although it is not medically recommended).  Someone moisturising my feet helped even more!
  • I completely lost my appetite.
  • Whatever I was told before my operation, regardless of having a raised toilet seat, I could find NO way to go to the toilet without breaking my 90 degree bend restriction.  Sorry.
  • I got SO tired.  Doing basically nothing.  But I couldn’t necessarily sleep at night because it was just so uncomfortable lying flat on my back.

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  • As well as being tired, my brain was generally very fuzzy (probably the painkillers).
  • When I went out in the sun I had a fair few faint moments (woops!)
  • My scar pulled the skin around it tight, making a bit of a crater in my flesh!  This happened a little bit with my original scar from my childhood operations but it has been far more significant with my hip replacement scar.

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  • I had to repeatedly explain why I had had a hip replacement!

The “Crutch Free” Stage

  • Post op. walking was not walking.  It was a funny cross between shuffling and marching.

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  • When I was still on bending restrictions but with the crutches and socks gone, everyone else thought that I was fully recovered.
  • Or rather, most people thought I was fully recovered APART from the people who saw me carrying around a pillow so that I could sit down without breaking the aforementioned restrictions.

The Later Stages

  • Little things reminded me that I had a false hip but everyone else had forgotten it even happened.
  • I started to want to do things that I never planned to do!  The perfect example being my decision to run again.
  • I keep discovering things which are a hundred times less painful than they were before I had my new hip – no stirrups riding anyone?

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A Guide To Shedding Tools!

It has come to the time of year when those of us who have unclipped horses are being punished for letting them grow their own rugs over winter.  Suddenly they are like bird nest machines, shedding hair everywhere and sometimes they need a little helping hand! Over the years I have used plenty of different gadgets to help Pea to shed her winter fluff so here’s a low down of our recommendations. All of these have been bought with my own money and my opinions are certainly my own and based on solid use.

The ‘Cheap and Cheerful All-Rounder’

These metal ‘shedding blades’ are pretty cheap (from £4) and effective at catching loose hairs and sweeping them away especially when you open them up like a scythe! I wouldn’t recommend using one of them on sensitive areas or legs but they do a decent enough job on the body and double up as an excellent tool to remove dry mud!

The ‘Sorry I’ve Found Better’

You know what it is like, you see a video on the internet of something looking amazing and you get sucked into buying it. That’s how my YO and I ended up ordering StripHairs from America a few years ago. When they arrived, although we were in slight shock that we’d spent so much money on what is essentially a rubber block, we thought they were great but they are hard work to use and have been far outclassed by more recent purchases! I know StripHair have changed the design of their blocks and I can’t comment on the new ones (they cost $39) but if I wanted a shedding specific tool I would certainly buy…

The ‘Best In Test’

I bought a SleekEZ two years ago with my Eqclusive brush pack (they cost £19.95 individually) and I haven’t looked back! It is so effective at taking out the hair that is ready to be shed and is so satisfying to use. The difference in all of our horses’ coats from the year before to the year we used these in the lead up to our riding school vet inspection was incredible. Because it is essentially a ridged metal blade coming from a wooden block, you have to be careful about pressure, particularly in more sensitive areas.

The ‘New Classic’

Although I use the SleekEZ on most of Pea’s body I turn to my Eqclusive curry comb (£7 each) particularly for her tummy and legs. It is the perfect reincarnation of a traditional rubber curry comb with a solid rubber structure but soft tips. In circular motions it teases all the ‘shed ready’ hair out of the coat, gets rid of any mud and provides a sort of massage for your horse.

Do you have any other shedding tools you could recommend?

April Dressage

Finally Pea and I got out competing again today (for the first time since January). I had a bit of a dilemma about whether to go to the show because there were other things going on today but I’ll address time management and prioritisation in another post coming soon!

The day started at 6 o’clock when I was rudely awoken by my alarm. I went to the wonderful wedding of one of my friends last night and danced the night away, only getting home at 1.30 so as you can imagine, I wasn’t keen to get up! Nevertheless I managed to get Pea looking semi presentable (it was too cold for a body wash but I did her legs, mane and tail!) and off we went.

It was my second time at Lower Haddon Livery so I was feeling pretty chilled about the whole experience. My parents had come to watch too which was amazing as my dad has never seen me ride properly before.

Pea warmed up really well. Even my mum, who isn’t horsey, commented that she was going better than she had ever seen her before I had my hip replacement.

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It was feeling promising.. until we went into the dark indoor school with the noisy door and the glass judging window.

You may be familiar with Prelim 1, which was what we were meant to be doing today however this is the test we did..

Overshoot the centre  line at A in wobbly trot, proceed down the centre line and at C stop dead, stare at the floor and seriously think about backing up.

Turn right but don’t go anywhere near the scary door corner.

At A, trot a figure of 8 and stop after X to pretend you are going to do a poo just before avoiding the scary door corner.

Pull it together and change the rein KXM.

Stay away from the scary door corner, seriously consider cantering a circle at C but opt for a flashy trot instead.

Change the rein FXH and decide not to really bother cantering another circle at C.

After B, give up on even trying to canter.

Just before A, collapse into walk (early!)

Change the rein in sluggish walk on a long rein (K to B and B to H).

Trot from C to B and motorbike around the corner to X.

Halt somewhere along the centre line, look a bit shell shocked for a moment, just about remember how to salute, pat Pea, laugh at the whole sorry experience and say an apologetic ‘thank you’ to the judge!

So there we go, not our finest hour! Pea still got lots of cuddles, carrots and polos because we all love her regardless.

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I got 3s on my canters, 57.8% overall and 4th out of 4! More importantly, my comment said ‘very well done, nice pony with lots of potential, just a shame you couldn’t get the canter today’. I’ll take that! Canter has been our nemesis and will continue to be for a while. We have been working on it and I know we need to continue to so no nasty surprises there.

I’m very grateful for the lovely smiley ladies from WORC who made me feel so welcome today. I would certainly go to more of their competitions if I can. I am also thinking of going to an outdoor venue for our next competition to see what excitement we can find there!

Top Barn Challenge Summary 2019

If you have seen my Top Barn Challenge 2019 post you will have seen that I took on the challenge of committing to 3 hours of riding/horsemanship a week for 12 weeks.  The 12 weeks ended today and I’m pleased to say that I completed the challenge!  Not only did I rack up the hours but I ticked off some of the mini challenges and I also feel like taking part in this has helped me in so many ways these past few months.

Dressage

Quite early in the challenge I ticked off the dressage competition mini challenge and the new venue one to boot!  Reaching for the 3 hour time target each week has helped me to commit to making my schooling sessions a bit longer than they used to be.  I’ve discovered the magic of putting the time into a proper warm up which has undoubtedly helped me to achieve more schooling wise.  The proof was in the pudding in our last lesson when my instructor was impressed with how much progress we had made with accepting the contact.

Hacking

Hacking has probably been the biggest success of the challenge.  I’ve been riding out on my own so much more and not just for little half hour hacks but for proper hour hacks (and occasionally longer!)  I am so much more confident hacking out and have embraced the challenges that bad weather and spooky changes in the environment have thrown our way.  I’ve also finally got around to cantering out for the first time since my hip replacement!

Groundwork

I intended on doing more groundwork than I actually managed during the challenge but I’ve been much better at doing stretches with Pea.  I’ve also played around with getting her to stand and stay as well as follow.  She was pretty well behaved before but she just keeps getting better!

After The Challenge

I’m going to try to keep up the 3 hours a week (although probably won’t keep track) and hopefully I can  I want to keep building Pea’s fitness and my own so the hacking will continue and, all things being well, I will keep my solo hacking confidence!  Obviously our dressage goals still very much stand and I’m hoping to get competing again in April.

Trailer Tales

I’ve had my trailer (an Ifor Williams 505) for just over a year now which has had me thinking about the many many uses it has..

Freedom

Being able to chose where and when I want to go for a lesson, only having to rely on my partner to come with me is fantastic. Pea and I are lucky to have found a good instructor who we travel to regularly.

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Competing

Before I had the trailer I had only competed at home or (once) when paying for transport.  Having the trailer has made the ordeal of going out to compete so much more realistic – yes I’ve only managed it once so far but watch this space!  I know in the modern world you can compete from the comfort of your own yard over the internet but I just don’t feel like that has the same achievement factor for me.

Obviously these reasons are the whole purpose of a trailer, but then we have the more bizarre uses..

Moving

A year ago we moved all my belongings (and my precious pony) across counties and two weeks ago we moved house again! We had no need to hire a van or removal people, the trailer had things sussed. We did get a few funny looks and remarks from our new neighbours though, particularly when it was sat, unhitched in front of our drive!

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Shopping

As well as moving the belongings we already had, since we moved house this time, the trailer has been with us to B & Q to buy building supplies for the new wall under our stairs!  We watched a few people strapping plaster board to the top of their cars and felt quite smug we just had to slide it into the trailer.

Changing Room

More often than not I use my trailer as a changing room when I get to the yard after work.  When the yard is busy with kids, clients and the boss’s husband, an enclosed space with limited windows is perfect for a quick change!

Housing

My guinea pigs have temporarily moved into a trailer (in their hutch) before when I stayed at the yard for pony camp (they wouldn’t have been safe if they were exposed to the yard pets!) and our goats have a beat up old trailer as their field shelter so trailers can come in use as temporary housing too.

Camping

Following on from the idea of using a trailer to house animals, I’m adamant that it would make a good alternative to a tent if more plush accommodation wasn’t available.. my other half isn’t so keen!

I would love to hear if you have any other good uses for a horse trailer!

As One Thing Improves, Another Gets Harder

Finally, after nearly a month and a half of being grounded due to having the trailer serviced, being on equine flu lockdown and being busy moving house, yesterday we got out in the trailer again for a lesson!

In hindsight, we are still very much in the middle of being busy moving house, in fact, after morning tutoring yesterday we took the trailer (minus Pea) to B & Q and Argos to pick up some bits for the house and for my other half’s wall building renovation project.  The pressure of getting back in time for leaving at 3.40 for my lesson didn’t make for a relaxing shopping experience!

Despite the rush, we managed the shop (I’m sat on my new office chair as I write this) AND managed to get sorted ready for our trailer trip.  I was quite nervous about travelling Pea in such windy weather – she’s not a nervous traveller but I’m always nervous travelling her!  I need not have worried, it wasn’t as windy on the roads as it was at the yard and it was all fine.

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If you follow me on Instagram and Facebook you will know that on Friday I had a schooling session that just didn’t go to plan so I was worried that in my lesson we might not show the progress that I thought we had made recently.  Again, I need not have worried!  Pea was an absolute superstar and my instructor was really impressed with how much more consistent she was with the contact in trot.

Then it came to the fateful words ‘lets have a look at your canter’.  Now, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that canter has always been our nemesis.  I find it uncomfortable hip-wise and Pea is still unbalanced and weak in the canter..  In this lesson, it was the worst it has been for a while!  When things go wrong in life I soldier on but when things go wrong in riding I have a tendency to crunch up and have a complete mental block.  Thankfully my instructor helped me out and interestingly told me that often when a horse starts using themselves properly in the trot (which obviously takes more effort than just bumbling around) they find it harder to canter.  She said that if they are used to running from the trot into the canter they suddenly find that they can’t do that from a more correct trot.  When one door opens, another gets stuck eh!?

Once we had achieved some kind of canter work we moved onto working on my halts.  I’m afraid until yesterday my halts were pretty basic – just make her stop!  My instructor taught me to use my seat, my body and my breathing (breath out!) to transition to halt to encourage Pea to do a correct halt.  She has a tendency to leave a hind leg behind so I need to work on letting her step through and finish her step.

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SO much to work on, so much to improve but that excites me.  For the focus of the lesson to be on something other than getting her to accept the contact makes me feel like we are improving.  Now I just need to find another competition to aim for!

Along For The Ride – Confident Cantering!

I was so busy yesterday morning and had such a lot to get through before I allowed myself to go to the yard that I didn’t ride until about 4 o’clock.  The yard was just quietening down after Saturday lessons and everyone was going home except me!

I made the fatal error of forgetting that it had recently rained and went up to get Pea in my riding boots.  If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen the mud around the hay feeder on my stories.  It was not good.

I was feeling tired and a bit flat and initially said I was only going to go out for a short bumble into the village but as soon as we got out of the yard and down the track I felt instantly better – the magic of horsepower!

I texted my YO to say I’d changed my mind and was going further but as we plodded along I had a new idea.  I hadn’t cantered out since my hip replacement (which is now eight months ago!) and I thought it was about time I did.  I intended on cantering out before Christmas but at that time I didn’t feel confident to go on my own and I didn’t get around to organising other people to go with.  I’m really trying to get Pea (and myself) fitter and stronger and I know that cantering out is going to help that and have a positive effect on our work in the school.  Yesterday, with my hacking confidence at an all time high I thought I would bite the bullet.

At my yard, we are very lucky that next to our fields we have an uphill grass strip to canter up with no gate to go through to get to it!  Although it is super convenient, there are four potential issues that you have to look past to confidently canter up there.

  • You have to turn away from the yard to go up there which doesn’t always make for a happy pony if they think they are going back to the yard.
  • You have to ride up next to all the other horses who tend to join in the ‘race’!
  • There is an electric fence on one side of the strip and a ditch on the other!
  • There is a gate at the top, which may or may not be closed, that goes straight onto a road!

Can you see how easy it is to wimp out of going for a canter?  Anyway, I didn’t wimp out and it was lush to feel the wind whipping past us again (and don’t worry, she definitely stopped at the top to admire the view!)

So there we go, I now hack out alone AND am starting to canter out alone.  I’m definitely not the confidence crippled rider I used to be!

Six Months In The Saddle

At the end of February it will have been six months since I started riding again with my new hip so I thought it was about time I looked back on what Pea and I have achieved in that time.  There are lots of links to past posts in case you have missed any!

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September (Month 1)

In all honesty, in September the key achievement was getting on and staying there for more than ten minutes!  I found it really hard to sit in the saddle in the first place although it gradually got better as each ride went on and each time I rode.  By the end of the month I managed to trot my way round an Intro dressage test for Dressage Riders Online.

October (Month 2)

I found riding quite mentally challenging in October because I felt guilty about how little I was doing.  I was still only riding for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.  However, at the end of October, I cantered for the first time since my operation.  It was very uncomfortable!

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November (Month 3)

At the beginning of November we took Pea to Lyneham for my first lesson in about six months.  My instructor rode Pea for a while and then I did and I went away feeling on top of the world.  I had a few weeks of feeling really good about my riding (although I was still finding cantering really challenging).  However, at the end of the month I had a bump in the road where I was in pain again.

December (Month 4)

After feeling so positive about my riding for most of November, December was a bit of a flop!  I had a really good lesson at the start but then I was away house sitting and had two bouts of feeling really grotty so I didn’t do much ‘proper’ riding.  I did do a Christmas yard hack into Bourton on the Water to sing a Christmas song in the river and take my boyfriend for a ride on Christmas day.

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January (Month 5)

January was a much better month for riding.  I took on the Bronze Top Barn Challenge which meant I rode (or did groundwork with Pea) for at least three hours each week.  I also entered and completed my first competition with my new hip (which was also our first competition away from home and in an indoor arena) and had another amazing lesson with my instructor.  Everything was a bit disconnected and wonky at the competition but Pea started working so nicely in my lesson and I finally felt like she was starting to accept the contact and become supple.  This continued when I was schooling at home too and I was strong and comfortable enough to be riding for longer.  I’ve certainly found that a longer warm up has been beneficial and the difference in my leg since my hip replacement has meant that I’m still comfortable enough to keep going afterwards!

February (Month 6)

February was meant to bring my second competition of the year and my step back up to prelim (which I was competing at before my hip replacement) but first we had snow and then the equine flu saga exploded so I haven’t been out competing and I haven’t been out for any lessons.  It has been really frustrating because I feel like things were just starting to fall together and now they are on hold HOWEVER Pea has been schooling really nicely at home.  She is a lot more off my leg and seems to be working more correctly.  The big achievement this month has been our hacking.  I haven’t always been confident about hacking but this month I have been going out for 60/70 minute hacks ON MY OWN (with Pea!)  A massive achievement for me.

Next Steps

I’m hoping to get back out again in March providing my yard owner is happy for that to happen.  I want to be confidently riding prelims with passable canter movements by the time the summer comes so lots of practice, some lessons and trying out some more competition venues is on the ‘to do’ list.

Along For The Ride – Life On Localised Lockdown

Today should have been a ‘February Dressage’ post but due to the equine flu scare, I am not currently going to lessons or competitions.  I know people have been saying that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion but I couldn’t forgive myself if I went out somewhere and took the flu back to the 30 other horses at my yard (most of whom never go anywhere outside of hacking into the nearest villages).  So that is all I’m doing, local hacking and schooling at home.

It has been four weeks since my last lesson and I’ve been getting worried that all the schooling work is going to go downhill if we don’t have a lesson to set us on our way with the next steps.  So far that hasn’t happened and Pea went better on Friday than ever before but I’m trying not to do too much schooling just in case!

I did a couple of little hacks into the closest village on my own this week and have been feeling increasingly brave.  I decided that this morning I would venture a bit further and hack round both local villages.  This may not sound like an achievement but hacking on my own is something I have only become more comfortable with recently.  And when I say recently, I mean pretty much this week!

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Pea used to be a bit spooky, sometimes nappy and certainly more forward when out on her own but this morning she was the epitome of the popular dealer phrase ‘dope on a rope’.  I’m sure this is because I’m more chilled out now than I used to be.  A classic example of how horses feed on your feelings.

Now that solo hacks don’t make me stress every second I actually found going out for over an hour a little lonely!  I could have done with some music or a podcast to keep my brain entertained (though I would never ride with headphones in on the road).  I certainly noticed the many many people out walking and enjoying the beautiful (almost) spring day!

To join me for the ride.. click play.

 

How do you feel about hacking solo? 

I then did brave act of the day number 2.. turned Pea out without her rug on.  It has got warmer this week and Pea is starting to shed some of her winter fluff so I decided the time was right for her to shed the raincoat too.  I’m sure I will regret this in the morning but hey, it is half term, I’ve got time for major brushing each day!

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What is your horse’s rug situation?  Have you changed their rugs for lighter ones or ditched the rugs altogether?

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