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!

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?

Ode To A Non Horsey Boyfriend

Thank you quietly becoming resigned to the presence of mud and hay in your life and our home!

Thank you for making wellies one of your most worn pairs of shoes.

Thank you for the many miles driven and putting up with my constant sharp reminders to be ‘gentle’!

Thank you for all the times you’ve had to ‘hold my horse’.

Thank you for cleaning my tack or doing my stable (because you know it will get us home sooner).

Thank you for the many many dinners you cook and the cleaning you do while I’m at the yard with my other best friend!

Thank you for not moaning (too much) when I forgo a weekend lie in in favour of riding.

Thank you for standing out in excess heat, rain, hail and snow to be our support.

Thank you for the hundreds (and hundreds) of carefully angled photographs with forward ears and square legs.

Along For The Ride – Swimming Not Drowning

Who else had a sinking heart this morning when they looked outside? Last week’s snow was inconvenient yes but at least it was beautiful and I had a nice day off!  Horrible as the rain was, I still had that Friday feeling.  The motivation to get out of bed every Friday is that it isn’t too long until 3.30 when I can drive to the yard and be with Pea.

Arriving at the yard was even more exciting than usual.  Yesterday, I picked up my saddle from the saddlers where it had been to get new LONG girth straps put on.  I have been wanting a dressage saddle for a long time but realistically can’t justify the cost.  I have been thinking for a while that putting dressage girth straps on my saddle might be a good compromise.  Anything to help me be more effective with my legs sounded good to me.

It was less exciting when I realised Pea was literally as far away as she possibly could be in the field and when I had finally reached her she was also absolutely disgusting!

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There was a lot of flowing and standing water in the fields and we appear to have a new lake that wasn’t there yesterday!

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Has anyone else fallen into an extreme comfort zone with their tack?  I feel like I’ve been using the 5th hole on both sides with my double ended elastic girth and saddle for my whole life (it is actually only about a year and a half).  Anyway, I had to put that to one side when tacking up and try to get the right balance of girth tightness.  I got on and honestly felt an instant difference.  My saddle felt narrower purely from the lack of bulk that a normal girth brings – mental!

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Pea was quite entertaining for the first ten minutes or so of the ride, she spent the whole of one long side with her head up in the air, turned to the side, staring out the donkeys who have recently moved to the paddock next to the school rather than at the end of it.  It was as though she had never seen them before!

I went through my normal routine to try to get her working over her back and becoming more supple and to my surprise, it worked fairly well.  Each time she softens I am shocked that I’m actually getting her to do it! I feel like I’ve just about got my head above water with this ‘riding properly thing’ (excuse the water reference!)

She was really good on the left rein but on the right rein she seems to want to bend to the outside which isn’t great.  She is definitely harder in the right rein.  Now would be a great time to see my instructor and get her to help us with the next steps but due to the equine flu situation, I’m going nowhere for the moment.

I didn’t last long tonight, my left leg muscles felt weird (probably due to the slightly different position as a result of the new saddle set up) and I called it a day after about 25 minutes.  I hopped off and led her round for another 10 minutes to cool off – she always needs an extra bit of walking to get her breathing back down and since we don’t have a walker, I do it myself!

How was your Friday?

 

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Snow

I could write for days about the inconveniences and issues associated with snow, particularly for equestrians but it has all been said before.  Yes, it is a pain, but unless you want to move to a different country, it is something we are just going to have to get used to, particularly with increasingly erratic weather patterns (don’t get me to get my A level geography out!)  Therefore I’m encouraging you to try to be positive about the white stuff.

School’s Out!

Particularly if you are lucky enough to be in education or work in education, but also in other jobs, you may well get yourself a day off.  What is better than an extra day at the yard?

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Taking Stock

If, like me, you’re currently focused on progress (maybe working towards a competition or confidence goal) the snow is likely to put the brakes on your plans.  I think this is a great opportunity to take a step back, reflect on what you have achieved so far and what you are doing next, take the pressure off and do something different (even if that is just working on your walk rather than your canter).

Cleanliness

The snow freezes up the mud, covers it over and leaves us with squeaky clean ponies (and wellies!)  Nice soft, dry coats and pristine hooves in the winter?  Yes please!  And for those of you frowning at me because your shod horse’s hooves fill with snowballs.. I direct you towards the wonder that is Vaseline.

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Fun

Sorry but no matter how old you are, the snow can be fun.  Whether your fun is galloping through a snowy field, making a snow horse or sledging behind your pony, there is no shame in being a bit childish and playing in the snow.

Beauty

There can be no denying that the snow is beautiful.  I love the clean whiteness of it and the sparkle when the sun comes out.  When you are done having fun (and battling the snow challenges that we are not talking about) take in the view.

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What do you LIKE about the snow?

Along For The Ride – There’s Snow Place Like Home

If you follow my socials you will know I’ve been hoping for a snow day and today, my dream came true by many inches!

At 3 in the morning (I must have known something was going on) I woke up to see the world was white and by 8 o’clock it was confirmed that work was closed.  Not that I was going to get there anyway!  My other half had taken our 4×4 to go to his job so I was twiddling my thumbs at home trying to work out how to get to the yard. If you know me, or have read Home Is Where The Horse Is, you’ll know that the yard is my favourite place.

My 3 o’clock in the morning plan had been to walk but it was very sensibly pointed out to me that it is a 4 mile drive, would be quite a bit further to walk, snow isn’t easy to walk in AND if I got into trouble no-one would be able to help me.  Let’s not forget the ceramic hip either!

Anyway, I had established that the buses were not running and just as I was contemplating hitch hiking (for the first time in my life) I got a call to say my boyfriend was coming home and the car was mine!

Five of us horsey people made it to the yard and mucked in with the yard owner to help to feed some of the horses.  I can definitely recommend bumping around on the back of a pickup to go up to a far away field and divide and conquer a herd of fluffy, fat gannets with buckets of grain as the best way to start a Friday.

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The others all decided to hack out but I really didn’t fancy it.  I’ve watched ‘The Horse Whisperer’ too many times and the image of that horse slipping and falling on the ice under the snow and sliding down the hill haunts me.  I know lots of people hack out in the snow but I just couldn’t get past that worry that something might happen.  I didn’t have a hip replacement so that I could end up in hospital again and I’d never forgive myself if something happened to Pea.

I spent a good couple of hours grooming Pea and trimming her feathers off.  I know the snow will probably be all gone before we know it but I don’t want her to have snow dreadlocks or cold wet feathers.

We then popped into the school so that we could get some kind of ride in.  Pea was slightly put off by the remnants of the snowman that had been made earlier but soon made friends with it..

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We plodded round and round the school, trying to churn up a centre line, long changes of rein and 20m circles.  I tried to work on having a forward medium walk and free walk as there wasn’t much else I could do! I hoped to break up the surface enough to school properly but we only managed a bit of trot as it was still just a bit too hard.

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I whiled away a few more hours at the yard before succumbing to the call of a warm house and the promise of a chippy tea!

Today’s ride was not a success in terms of working towards our goals (though we did work on our walk) but I had a really lovely day in the best place.  Sometimes pony time is more important than riding!

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Did you have a snow day?  What did you get up to?

Yoga For Horses

Before you read this, I’m not an equine physiotherapist, I’m just sharing what I’ve been shown over the years by various physios.  I try to do Pea’s stretches most times I ride and she’s pretty flexible (though she wasn’t when I first started doing them!)  Read on for my reasons for stretching Pea, my top tips and our routine accompanied by pictures from our soggy, sweaty stretching session after hacking and schooling on Saturday (please forgive the state of us!)

Reasons to stretch your horse:

  • Improve flexibility and range of movement
  • Reduce stiffness
  • Strengthen tissue/protect from injury
  • Warm up or cool down
  • A nice bit of bonding time!

Top tips:

  • Don’t tie your horse up – either get someone to hold them or do your stretches in an safe space like a stable or arena!
  • Start each stretch with your horse stood squarely (where possible!)
  • Repeat everything on both sides
  • Be gentle!
  • For the treat/carrot stretches, encourage your horse to mouth the treat/carrot before you give it to them, otherwise they won’t be holding the stretch long enough!
  • Don’t force your horse to do more than they are comfortable with
  • Don’t do anything that might aggravate an injury and if you’re unsure, ask your vet or physio before doing any stretches

1. I start with neck/back stretches.  For the first one, I use a carrot or treat to encourage Pea to bend her neck around as far back as she can.

Future-Poppy Edit – If your horse gets too ‘good’ at this and snatches around without stretching, make them reach wider.

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2. I then get her to stretch down to the outside of her front hoof.

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3. By far my favourite stretch is holding the treat between Pea’s legs, she really stretches down and backwards.

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4. The next stretch involves standing in front of Pea and holding a treat up high so that she stretches her neck up and out.  In theory she should stick her head out straight but we tend to often have a sideways tilt.. something to work on!

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5. I also get her to tuck her head right in to her chest.

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6. Recently I have introduced some leg/shoulder stretches into our routine.  Firstly I stretch her front legs forward.  It is really important to be gentle with this and support the leg rather than force it.

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7. I then hold her knee up in front of her.  This one is good when you have just put your saddle on as it gets any skin folds away from the girth!

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8. I also stretch her hind legs forward – this is where it is important to be in a safe space, have someone to help you or have full trust that your horse isn’t going to walk off!

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The next stretches to add to our routine are a backwards hind leg stretch and the tummy tickle which makes the horse lift their back (I’ve been trying to find the spot on Pea but haven’t perfected it yet!)

Do you have any stretches you do with your horse?

Finding ‘The One’ – Horse Buying Tips

Today is exactly three years since I bought Pea so I  thought I’d share my thoughts on finding ‘the one’ (of the equine variety!) Obviously Pea is my first so I feel quite unqualified to talk about this so I’ve consulted some of my favourite internet and real life friends to get their perspectives.

 

In an ideal world.. get to know them!

I was lucky. I had been leasing Pea for a year and a half before I bought her.  I knew her about as well as I possibly could and was sure she was the one for me.  My thoughts about buying her started long before I actually did.

Pea’s internet doppleganger Henry, from Henry Dressage Cob, had a similar story.  His mum Shelley said

‘I weekend loaned him for a while and riding school owner said he looked happy, so one weekend I asked her if you ever did sell him can I have him. That afternoon after having a think and chat with some people, she came to say yes you can have him!’

Buying from a friend or someone you know, having already seen the horse with a different rider, is also a good start.  The best Pony Club ponies get passed from family to family as their riders outgrow them and plenty of competition horses and ponies move on to people who already know them.  Although in different homes, with different riders, horses will act differently, the more you know about a horse, the more likely it is you will be able to make the right choice!

 

In the real world.. conduct a careful search!

If you are not lucky enough to have found a horse through your yard or friends you are likely to have to resort to looking for horses in the wider world!  For advice on this I hand over to Leanne, owner of Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre (my yard) and general horse guru!

‘1. Be realistic. The perfect horse does not exist, but one perfect for you does. Decide what’s most important to you and be prepared to be flexible on the least important.

2. Read adverts thoroughly and prepare questions to ask before wasting your time or the sellers. Listen to the answers and ask for more specific details – “goes around a set of showjumps” could mean literally that.

3. Someone else’s perfect pony might not be yours! The fact that Neddy tows his current owner to the nearest piece of grass at every opportunity might be acceptable to them, but not for you!

4. Research! Facebook is great for this! Ask someone in the pony/riding club/hunting field who might have seen them out and about.

5. Always take someone else with you to view, preferably someone more experienced, but a witness and an outside pair of eyes is always useful. Try the horse in the circumstances you will be riding in – in fields/alone/in company/ on roads, and always ride past home on your return to check for nappy behaviour if that’s on your unacceptable list. Ask to see the horse caught, tacked up, ridden – and look for signs that they might have been ridden or lunged prior to you coming- a freshly washed one might have been having sweatmarks removed!

6. Go back and try again- honest sellers will be as keen as you to make sure you match, dealers to protect their reputation and private to ensure their “darling” isn’t going to be sold on.

7. Get a vetting – but bear in mind point 1 when you get the results.’

 

General considerations..

Be open minded

If you are looking for a 15.2, bay gelding with four white socks and a star and a BE record, you’re likely to be setting yourself up for disappointment or at the very least, a massively restricted search.  Try not to rule out colours and breeds because you never know, you might miss out on ‘the one’ because of it.  Charlotte, from The Forelock Journal, said

‘When Hamish was advertised for loan at our yard I wasn’t actually sure about trying him. He’s a thoroughbred and I’d have classed myself as a nervous rider at the time. He was so calm, kind and patient from the moment I was around him and I just knew I wanted to take him on right away.  He just knows me and I just know him. I can put my finger on what it is, but we have a very special bond.’

Keep in mind the ‘stretch zone’ theory

For a bit more information about this theory have a read of Tips from HOYS but essentially, in my opinion, you want a horse that keeps you in the stretch zone rather than the safe or danger zones.  Pea and I have plenty to work on together and she can certainly keep me on my toes but I knew when I bought her she would never throw anything at me that I wouldn’t be able to cope with.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

When I started riding Pea, people used to ask me when I was going to get a ‘proper horse’.  I still get questions and judgements about the fact that I’m a 5’6 adult with a 14hh pony but I really couldn’t care less.  In my opinion, providing you are not too heavy for your horse, it shouldn’t matter if they are small, tall, fine or chunky providing that they are right for you.  I see far too many teenagers thinking they need a thoroughbred because that is the image they want rather than thinking about what horse is actually right for them – don’t fall into that trap.

When you know, you know

Most loving horse owners won’t be able to quite pin point how they knew their horse was the one for them, they just knew!  Francesca, from Country Frantics, said this about when she tried Buddy (her first horse)

‘I felt confident on him out on a hack straight away and he completely looked after me, it was like I couldn’t be without him now he had entered my life. I bought him 2 weeks later.  He understands me and is the male horse version of me in every way!’

And sometimes they chose you

When Francesca met Adie, her RSPCA rescue horse, he was the one in charge of the decision making

‘When I met him for the first time it was like he chose me, he put so much trust in to me and he couldn’t stop following me and rubbing his head over me.  I knew I had to take him home so I did!’

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Thank you to today’s contributors for sharing their experiences and advice. Please check out their links!

Shelley from Henry Dressage Cob

Leanne from Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre

Charlotte from The Forelock Journal

Francesca from Country Frantics

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