Your Horse Live 2019

This year’s Your Horse Live was my fourth consecutive year!  It has me going back each year to see the demos and peruse the extensive shopping stands.  This year I was lucky enough to get a complimentary ticket but Alex was keen to come (can you believe it!?) so I paid for him to come along too.

I was highly restrained when it came to the shopping (especially compared to Badminton) and although there were lots of beautiful things, I only came away with a trailer-tie bungee and a new competition whip.  I would have liked to walk away with the ponies from the Rescue Village too but that wasn’t to be!

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Alex was particularly keen on the 3.5 horseboxes and the Ifor Williams trailers but made do with a pork roll instead!

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Charlotte’s demo was what I really wanted to see.  It was interesting to see her coaching one of her riders.  She kept telling her to go more forward and really go for it, it was somewhat reminiscent of my lessons!  It was also a good reminder of the importance of transitions – I get too lazy when it comes to that but if Charlotte says I should.. I should!

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At the end she brought Valegro around for everyone to pat – is it sad for me to say it was amazing to be so close to him and to touch him?  I’m sure for a lot of people he is just a horse but I’d rather meet him than any A list celebrity!  The way she jumped on him bareback while the jumps were being set up and the arena was being harrowed just highlighted what a special guy he is.

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We stayed with the demos to watch a bit of Jonty Evans jumping with Padraig McCarthy.  Jonty’s big fall was just before my hip replacement and I’m in awe of how he spent 6 weeks in a coma, suffered a brain injury and is now back eventing.  What is really incredible is how effortless his riding looks considering how the injury has affected his thought process and speech.

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We left that demo early to go to Charlotte’s signing; I had taken my copy of “The Girl On The Dancing Horse” to get her to sign but unfortunately the queue was shut off just as we arrived.

We managed to catch some of Sharon Hunt’s cross country demo with Karla (from Muddy Mayhem) riding.  If you don’t already follow her, she is hilarious and the way she pinged round the tiny arena with tight skinnies was so brave!

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Our last watch was Ben Atkinson’s behind the scenes demo.  Last year we watched his proper demo – I was totally in awe of what they did then so it was really interesting to get more of an insight into how they train their horses to do that.  You clearly have to be very calm, brave and confident to do the kind of liberty work they do.  I would love to give it a go but I think I would need to do a course or something first.

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I had a thoroughly enjoyable and educational day (and Alex enjoyed his pork roll!)  I can’t wait to see the line up for next year – I’m already thinking about who I hope will be on their demo line up!

In Too Deep

Last week just didn’t go to plan.

Thursday

I had decided after our last lesson that Pea was going to need a clip before our next competition and especially before the Riding Club Area Qualifiers on 27th October!  She’s not a fan of the clippers so I got hold of some sedation from the vets (which I have used before) and set myself up on Thursday evening.

I had a ‘mare!  She still wouldn’t let me get her legs because when I put the clippers on one (having already done a good chunk of her body easily) there was a moment of explosion and without even knowing it was happening I ended up on my bum with my head against the concrete wall.  It was my left side that I landed on and I have to say I sat there for a moment wondering whether my hip was ok – ceramic hips can break – but apart from a bump on my head, bruises on my thigh (presumably from a kick) and a sore bum I was ok!  Feeling a bit panicked, I popped my hat on and got on with it albeit slightly shaken.

I merrily continued until there was another explosion while I was doing the back of her tummy (evidently too close to her private parts!)  This time she got my wrist.  I honestly thought it was broken – it was shaking and I couldn’t lift my hand.  I called Alex in flood of tears who arrived to find me crying and clipping with my left hand – I didn’t want the sedation to wear off and I wanted to finish!

I just kept saying “why am I doing this?”  “Whose stupid idea was this?”  After the drama continued with faulty clippers I eventually ended up with a fully clipped pony and went home to lick my wounds.

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Friday and Saturday

I did no riding on Friday.  My wrist felt worse when I woke up but I did still have to take a pair of scissors to her feathers to try to complete the sleek look – ouch!

On Saturday I went out on a little hack as my wrist was feeling better.  I roped in Alex to walk with me as I was feeling a bit nervous.  She was keen and a bit rude (probably reacting to my adrenaline) but we were fine.

Sunday

I knew Sunday was going to be hard when I woke up and looked out of the window.  Rain isn’t ideal when you need a clean pony and white jods!  The plan to bath Pea got thrown out of the window and instead she had a hot water sponge bath in the stable and a speedy leg and tail wash at the hose.

Things were going fairly to plan until I realised we hadn’t left quite early enough and there was going to be a panic when we got to Lower Haddon.  There was a panic!  I tried to swap my boots and get my hair sorted but a horse came past us and Pea started bouncing around in the box.  We got her out but she was really unsettled while I was tacking her up.

I tried to get my head back in the game for the warm up but each canter was a bit ropey, I couldn’t feel whether Pea was on the right leg or not, I didn’t realise how deep she was getting (it all looks different without a fluffy mane in front of me), I was too worried about the other people warming up and the massive puddle in one quarter of the school!  As you can see from the photos, I need not have bothered washing her legs in the morning!

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The next challenge was getting into the arena.  We’ve had this situation before.. twice.  It was worse this time, she was backing up and diving sideways but we made it in after a lot of leg and a smack!

After that, the biggest fail, I’d got myself so frazzled that when I went down the centre line I turned the wrong way!!!  Once we had restarted it didn’t improve much.  The cantering was a flop, the trot was awful and of course she stopped every time she went past the gap where the door was.

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I cried my way back to the trailer.  I did stick around to collect my sheet but I almost wish I hadn’t.  We got 52.27% – my lowest score EVER!  Not what you want two weeks before your first Area Qualifiers!

The only thing that brought me out of my cloud of frustration at myself (because we all know it was me that lost the plot and let it all go wrong) was reading the general comment from the judge

“Sweet pony sadly today not show HIS true self when you can get the canter work and HE’S working more forward HE will be lovely”

Apparently Pea’s buzz cut makes her look like a boy!

Mid Year Goal Review

We have passed the halfway point of the year – can you actually believe it!?  I thought it was about time I reviewed my 2019 Goals and set myself some new ones to carry me through the rest of the year.

Old Goals

1. Get Strong

This is still somewhat of a work in progress – I’m far stronger than I was and the effect of having two legs that work has certainly had an impact on my riding!  There’s still plenty of room for improvement but the intention is all there with my exercise plan (which in practice is a bit hit and miss).  The problem I am finding is that I so often wipe myself out by doing too much and then don’t do enough the next day.. and the cycle continues!

2. Compete

I managed this one pretty well!  We’ve got two “away” competitions under our belts and two of the summer shows at home done.  There is one more summer show at home coming up and then I’ll need to start going further afield again!

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3. Move On

This was the not so subtle intention for us to buy our first house and as you may already know, we viewed four houses on the 4th January, did a second viewing on the 7th, after some toing and froing had an offer accepted on the 9th and got our keys on the 5th March.  Our house has space for the guinea pigs and is near to Pea; this goal is well and truly ticked off.

A more unexpected part of “moving on” was that I have just got myself a new job!  There isn’t much moving to do as it is in the same school as I have been working in since the end of October but it is a new role – back to full time teaching!

New Goals

1. Reduce

I’ve made a start on this goal but I think it is worth sharing.  Over the last few months I’ve become increasingly interested in becoming a bit more environmentally friendly.  My sister in law has grabbed this bull by it’s horns (in a kind, animal friendly way) and if you want to go all in, her Instagram is worth checking out.  If you’re a horsey being you should also check out Honest Riders and their “riders on a mission” hashtag.  On a personal level, I have swapped to solid shampoo, conditioner and soap from Lush, bought (and am using) a glass water bottle and am trying to make smarter shopping choices eg. buying a big pack of biscuits and splitting them rather than buying individually wrapped biscuit bars for packed lunches.

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So there we go!  I’m going to continue to try to get stronger and more fit, keep getting out and competing (despite having some real giving up thoughts around the June and most recent competitions), get stuck into my new job and continue my journey towards being more environmentally friendly.

If anyone has any environmentally friendly recommendations they would be much appreciated (particularly clothing brands!)

Horse Benefits Part 2: What They Teach Us

I’ve been thinking recently about how much horses bring to our lives (if you haven’t seen “Horse Benefits Part 1: What They Give Us” pop over and check that out before you read this). Although I joke to the parents who point out horses to their children “don’t go there, you’ll be poor” what I should actually be saying is “do it, I can’t think of many better ways of teaching your kids how to deal with life!”

Realism

Horses ground you.  You can’t become over confident because they will bring you back down to earth (sometimes literally!)  The very fact that half tonne animals allow you to sit on their backs and tell them what to do is humbling.

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Resilience

There are maybe more ups and downs with horse sports than with any other because there are always at least two “people” involved.  Health issues or injuries, confidence issues, falls and other challenges all require you to develop coping strategies, get back on the horse (again, sometimes literally) and keep going.  A valuable life skill!

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Discipline

As well as requiring commitment, horses need you to have self control.  You can’t let your emotions get out of control because that directly affects your horse.  You can’t spontaneously decide to go away for the weekend, stay out all night when you’ve got a show the next day or spend all your money on clothes.  You can’t just grab a horse and ride it, it involves so much more than that.  Which leads us on to..

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Commitment

Riding or keeping horses teaches you commitment.  You simply cannot improve in your riding if you don’t commit to it and as for having your own horse, you either have to make a massive financial commitment to get other people to look after your horse or commit excessive amounts of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears to do it yourself, whatever the weather!

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What have horses taught you?

Back On It (And Only Just Staying On It!)

April and May have been quiet months for Pea and I.  We had a not-particularly-successful competition right at the beginning of April and then decided to take a step back, take a bit of the pressure off and get some hacking miles on the clock.  With our local riding club dressage competition looming, I thought it was about time I had another lesson.

My instructor has moved so we were at a different venue, not far down the road from home.  I drove, which I was probably more nervous about than riding somewhere new, but we all got there safely!

After warming up and taking in the different surroundings, we played with Pea’s trot, which has improved so much this year, and then worked on our canter transitions.  Anyone who follows our story will know that canter has been our nemesis forever but today I was starting to keep her together into the canter rather than chucking my reins at her and letting her run into it.  I was also wobbling around all over the place, nearly losing my left stirrup the whole time, having cramp in my left calf and being completely incapable of keeping my heels down but lets focus on the positives!  We actually ‘had’ the canter so that is something to celebrate.

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Very occasionally in our time together, Pea has objected to a touch of the whip by kicking out at it.  It has only happened literally less than a handful of times and each time it has been when she’s been tired and objecting to still being asked to canter.  Today I was doing 20m circles and every time we came towards P I could feel her wanting to fall out through her left shoulder and probably duck out to the left (which she did manage to do once when she caught me snoozing).  On one particular circle I felt she needed more than a weak left leg to keep her on track (I carry a schooling whip on the left because my leg sometimes needs backing up) so I gave her a tap and she BUCKED!  A rarely before witnessed experience for sure!  I’m not sure who was more surprised, my instructor or Alex, neither of whom have ever seen her do anything like that before!  Luckily I just flopped on her neck a bit, I did NOT fall off!  A definite near miss though.

Far less eventfully, we also ran through Prelim 12 which is one of the tests I will be doing for our next competition in a week and a half!  It is not going to be easy, the canter work involves a 20m circle AND half a diagonal change of rein then only a couple of strides of trot before doing the same thing on the other rein – eek!  Nevertheless, my trot work is stronger and if I can get that right and just try my best with the canter, I might be ok.

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So, things to take away from today

  • Start with my reins short enough and keep them that way
  • Stay alert because each movement comes up quickly
  • Leave each movement behind especially if it went wrong!

Things for Alex to take away from today

  • Keep that camera snapping, you never know when you might witness a naughty Pea moment!

Exercise – For The Mind, Body And Hip!

One of my goals for the year was to ‘get strong’; to continue to rehab my hip replaced hip and and to increase my fitness after 6 months of really reduced activity.  Since I made this goal in January, I upped my riding, particularly while I was doing the Top Barn Challenge 2019, but more recently I’ve been looking at my step count and lamenting the rubbish mid week days.  Now it has all changed!

I feel like I am now at the point with my new hip where I need to step up using it and push myself more.  There is that but also we all know ‘exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy’.

Riding

Obviously riding is my favourite exercise.  I’m still fairly consistently riding four times a week (which is as much as I can fit in around work at the moment) but I am trying to be more conscious of what work we do.  If I don’t feel strong enough or in the right mindset to school, I don’t.  Otherwise I know we will go in and flop around for a bit, achieving very little and getting me frustrated!  When I AM in the right frame of mind, we are schooling for much longer each time.  We are trotting more hills, TRYING to canter more and just generally enjoying what we are doing.

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Walking

The biggest change I’ve made is I’m consciously pushing myself to do more steps rather than just doing what I do.  Rather than going to the yard on the way home from work, I’ve been driving home and walking to the yard (which is under a mile away).  A simple change and certainly more time consuming BUT also an easy way to up my step count.  The days I carry two tubs of pig food with me are even better.. weights anyone!?  I listen to podcasts (Olivia Towers’s ones are my favourite) and I chill out.  I make sure I extend my leg properly and hold my pelvis properly and I feel much better for doing it.

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Cycling

My bike had spent many months stationary after I was allowed to ride a horse again but I’ve decided to get it out and try to, at least weekly, go out for a cycle.  The main problem with this is I’m not very confident in traffic as such, my bike rides have been at 5.30 in the morning!  Not much traffic then!  I love the feeling of the wind whistling past me though I need to build up to doing more hill work.  Again, it makes me feel good, starts my day well and allows me to see my pony an extra time if I go past the yard!

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Yoga

I’ve been quite on off with my yoga recently but there is no denying it has amazing benefits for your mental and physical state.  I always feel the effect on my muscles after only one yoga session so I definitely need to get going with it again.  I’m hoping to take my mat out to the garden now that the weather is getting better like a proper insta girl!

Running!

Now I have said a million times, I won’t be running with my new hip.  It isn’t exactly recommended, I don’t want to prematurely wear my hip and I’ve never really been a keen runner.  But sometimes things happen and what happened to me was that the Tuesday lunch running club at school needed an extra adult to cope with the sheer quantity of children wanting to do it.  My school has a very small staff and it didn’t look like anyone else was going to do it.  You know what I’m like when someone asks me to do something!?  On the proviso that some of the children would be so slow I would be able to keep up in a speedy walk, I agreed to do it.  Today was my first one.  I ran.  Admittedly there were plenty of walking breaks (I couldn’t leave the straggling last children behind) and maybe it was more of a jog but it was certainly the most in the way of running that I have done in a long time.  I actually enjoyed it.  It is such a cliche but I felt FREE!  Lets not forget that this time last year I was on crutches (before my operation) for any proper walking.  Don’t ask me how I feel – right now I feel ok but I’ll update you tomorrow!

So where do I go from here?  The plan is to continue riding four times a week (building up both of our fitness), try to get out on my bike and do yoga at least once a week respectively, to carry on with running/jogging/walking/motivating children club (IF I feel ok tomorrow) and to make sure EVERY day I do enough steps.

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?

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?

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?

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