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I run a livery yard from my home in Hertfordshire and I’m often asked for advice from my liveries on things like how to pull tails, how to plait up, what I think the best products are for getting a grey clean and what class I think their horse should be in. This got me thinking that there must be lots of people who would love to have a go at showing but aren’t sure where to start.

I started showing seriously about five years ago and had no idea what I was doing. I had owned horses since I was a child and competed in various disciplines over the years, but when I found showing, I really caught the bug and knew that it was what I wanted to do. I was lucky to have been based on a yard run by someone was heavily into showing at the time and was able to benefit from plenty of advice. She also sold me my first show horse, a small show hunter called Otis that her family had bred.

I was desperate to get going and within a couple of weeks, I took Otis to our first show. I had no idea what I was doing and turned up incorrectly dressed and with Otis not turned out particularly well either. Otis went well but we didn’t take home that supreme champion sash that I had pictured myself parading around my house in as I went to sleep the night before.

Dan and Otis at their first show

To this day, I still can’t figure out what I was thinking but, I decided that my second show was to be the Royal Windsor Horse Show. I borrowed a friend’s show saddle and double bridle, hired a lorry and off I went to Royal Windsor. The next day was a huge learning curve and when I realised that my sewing skills needed some work, I called a friend who came to the rescue. Sam redid Otis’s plaits, his makeup, his quarter marks and then moved onto me. Thanks to Sam, we looked almost presentable.

Otis took it all in his stride and wasn’t fazed by any of it. When my partner, Dan, came into the ring to groom, he wasn’t wearing a hat. We didn’t know that grooms had to wear a hat and we didn’t have one with us. Dan was asked to leave the ring by the steward. If it had been him riding, he would have been on his own but hats off to him (yes, that was intentional), he went and asked a random lady who was in the crowd watching the class if he could borrow her hat. Dan returned to the ring sporting a beautiful straw fedora complete with ribbon, bow and giant daisy on the side of it. Even the steward had to laugh and commended him for his effort. From that day on, Dan has never forgotten his hat and there is always a rolled up flat cap in the bottom of the show basket for emergencies!

Dan’s partner Dan and Otis at their second show, Royal Windsor

After the disaster that was Royal Windsor, I decided that if I wanted to stand a chance of coming away with a rosette, I might need to do a bit more research and began my mission to learn everything I could. I studied the showing section of Horse & Hound, I searched for videos on how to plait on YouTube, I read the British Show Horse Association rule book and was delighted to find a whole section on the rider’s turnout. I attended clinics with professional showing producers, watched the pros ride in the ring and asked anyone who would listen to me for advice and tips. I was surprised and frankly very grateful that most people were more than willing to help me. Speaking to people at shows and even asking the people that worked in my local saddlery was a great way of making new friends too.

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If you want to give showing a go, I say do it. Ask your friends for help, ask people at your yard who show for help and go on YouTube. There are videos for everything on there. To this day, I can’t tie a stock without having Louise Bell’s YouTube video open. Equestrians love to share their knowledge even when you haven’t asked for it, so imagine how happy they will be when you actually ask them for help!

I used this book as part of my research

For me, the most important thing to remember is that showing should be fun. Support your fellow competitors and celebrate each other’s success. Lift each other up when things don’t go to plan and congratulate those that have done well. You can’t win them all but if you’re enjoying yourself, that’s all that matters.

Dan

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last vlogged, and there’s so much to tell you all about.

After a quiet January, we set off to Royan for the two-star competition. Compared to a lot of the shows we go to the drive isn’t as far for the horses as they can be. However, something I always like to do with all the horses when they’ve been travelling for any amount of time to a show is hack them out on the first day. I find this makes a difference for them in helping them to relax and stretch out after being on the truck.

If you follow me on Instagram (@kirstie_leightley), you will have seen that while at Royan I got the exciting news that I have been selected to be an ambassador for Equine America. To me, deciding to be an ambassador for a product is a really big decision and I only want to work with brands that I use and love. This why I am over the moon that Equine America chose me. It is no secret that chestnut mares aren’t everyone’s first choice to ride, but I seem to have a strange attachment to them. I have always used Equine America to help me make sure they are fit and healthy, while slightly taking the edge off them!

So, for this show I took Thais, Love and Roaletta. Rosaletta is a horse I haven’t talked about in my blogs before, but she is one of Guy’s home-breds. This was her first show back after a while off and she jumped superbly.

My main girl Thais finished in the placings in every class we competed in, which is something I am really proud of as we have been working so hard together. To top this off we won our first world ranking two-star grand prix, which nicely rounded off the week after Love and I jumped our first ranking class together. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of this without Guy and everyone at team Williams, and I know I say this a lot, but I am hugely grateful to them for the opportunities that I am getting.

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Speaking of the team, we are all now looking to work on our fitness and nutrition to maximise our performance. With so much concentration going on the horses’ well-being, and getting them competition ready, it’s so easy to forget that we ourselves are athletes and we need to make sure we are as fit an healthy as we can be in order to the horses justice. To help us achieve our goals we have partnered with Intergrum Nutrition and I can’t wait to keep you all updated on our results (although I already miss the cheeky plate of chips that we all know and love to indulge in!).

Next up we head to Le Mans two-star then I’m on to Lanaken for the under-25’s. I’ll make sure to keep you posted with how we get on, and I promise to be honest if I break my nutrition programme!

Kirstie

Music credit: Purple Planet

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And so it begins with Ted’s tale…

Team Keen are all revved that Eventing 2019 is now underway (although there were a few moments, when the wind almost took us off our feet at Tweseldown that we had to remind ourselves of how excited we really were…) and as I write, we are two events in.

We started at Aston-le-Walls with a duo of six-year-olds, who both put in great performances, to kick things off in a nice positive way.

We then rolled onto Tweseldown with an equine team of seven and a busy couple of days.

It was lovely to be back out on my top mare Total Belief, who had a run in the open intermediate. She felt really good and very happy to be back out cross-country — as did her son Total Miracle in the BE100! Can you spot the similarities in the video below?!

Following on from Liv Craddock’s comments on the effects of social media and the article in last week’s Horse & Hound, I am going to make a real conscious effort moving forward to report on all aspects of my eventing journey. It is a subject I have been thinking about for quite a while and I wholeheartedly agree that we all have important social media responsibilities to not just portray everything in a wholly positive light. That is not eventing and never will be — we all have ups and downs, and I would never want anyone to become disillusioned by only seeing the edited picture perfect scenario. We should give our followers a true representation of our sport.

So, with this in mind, let me tell you Ted’s tale…

Total Darkness (aka Ted) is a 18hh, seven-year-old home-bred black gelding. He is super-good looking, talented, but oh my goodness he has tested every equestrian skill I have since day one. As you can imagine, I didn’t order him in an extra tall size (but when do ones you breed ever stop at the model 16.2hh size?!), and this again has slightly added to the challenge. However, I really thought this time round, he may have turned a corner and would come out as a brave event horse…

Ted in action. Credit: William Carey

But oh no — all of these hopes and dreams where quickly dispersed during a cross-country session with Lucinda Green a couple of weeks ago. As part of the session Lucinda had brought some portable type fences to add in to combinations. Well, Ted spotted those a mile off and made it quite clear to me that they had no place on a cross-country course and ground to an unceremonious stop at the first attempt. Luckily, he did pull himself together to get his head around the situation and show glimmers of brilliance. However, Lucinda then went to pick up said fence and to Ted it once again became a fire eating dragon and the spooking returned. At this point, instead of Lucinda loading up the fence and driving it to the next location, a replacement driver was sought and she walked with Ted, I and the fence making him go over it repeatedly in numerous different locations until he could spook no more — at seven years of age I hope he felt embarrassed, but I am not sure he did…

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However, after this escapade, I am very please to report that Ted recorded his first British Eventing win in a novice section at Tweseldown last week. I know for sure that we are not completely home and dry on the spooking front and we will have many more hurdles to face along the way — but I hope it illustrates, that one; perseverance really can pay off and two; things are not always as they seem — never feel the pressure to compare yourselves to others — we all face continuous challenges!

Until next time,

C xx

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Hello all and welcome back!

Firstly, I was literally blown away by the response to my young horse blog. I’m so overjoyed that so many have the same thoughts as my family and I. Before putting it out there I felt we were the only ones who think this way, but now I feel like we’ve all banded together to form a supportive community. So thank you!

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of stress. Upon having a dental check up, we discovered that new boy Simba had a fractured tooth. He showed absolutely no signs of this and because it was a back molar it went unnoticed in his vetting. I can’t quite believe that he was still so happy to work and eat, but unfortunately horses are hardwired to hide their pain.

Simba undergoing surgery

The severity of it meant he had to have it out — I was horrified when we saw just how bad it was on the camera. Pete Ravenhill came in to our home vets, Scott Dunns, to perform the surgery. I felt so sorry for poor Simba, who underwent a total of five hours standing surgery. In the end, Pete had been through plans A, B and C and a fragment of root remains in place. The decision was made to leave it and reassess in four weeks time. He had to drill through the side of his cheek, so my poor pony came back with half a tooth less but gaining in some funky facial staples! In true fashion of my run of terrible luck, the exterior staple wound then become infected. Luckily with the good weather he could go out in the field to relax again, as working him became impossible with the staples positioned exactly where a bridle and even headcollar would sit. Overall it’s been a bit of a nightmare, but I’m very thankful to the wonderful vets and nurses who worked with Simba, making sure he felt as comfortable as possible during the process. It felt evil to put him through it, but of course he will feel so much better soon. It is yet another hurdle to jump and I’ve now learnt a lot more about equine dentistry!

Simba’s face

With the spring weather getting the best of the horses, I’ve had a few near misses in flying lessons! The youngsters in particular have been throwing more shapes than a goal keeper at the World Cup final, which is all fun and games until I get stiff and sore. Thankfully, my fantastic cousin and Pilates instructor Lauren, (who also jumps the horses for us) has been giving me super exercises to loosen and strengthen back up. She fits me back together like a broken jigsaw puzzle through a mixture of stretches and high intensity core work. With my labral hip tear, I’m aware that I’m not 100% straight and I involuntarily compensate it to avoid further damage. But Pilates is improving it hugely — I would really recommend it to anyone.

Horses enjoying the spring weather

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With the premier league season underway, Apollo and I are shaping back up into gear and had a super lesson with Carl. It’s pretty amazing how you feel you’ve cracked this whole dressage thing when you reach grand prix, but I now understand when people say there is just as much left to train.

With Apollo

I’ve got an exciting few weeks coming up including warming up my clients Juliette and Prince at their first CDI at Keysoe and then I’m off to Joosland CDI with Apollo in April. It will be a bit of a test drive with it being the first CDI after Brexit, which is quite nerve-wracking — as long as we make it there and back again I think I’ll be happy!

Until next time,

Joanna x

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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Dear diary,

So it’s been quite a good week in many ways: I’ve been allowed out walking (aka mothership kite flying) and in-hand grazing (which means I’ve finally remembered what grass looks like). Herman the German Needle Man has told mother he sees turn-out in my near future, Cool New Shoes Man came to look at making me some new shoes to protect the great hole of Hovis and the cowardly coblet has disgraced himself by behaving like a complete fanny when the vet had to check his microchip. All in all, a very good week.

But the best bit? I have clearance to tell you my exciting news. So my only conundrum (being a gelding of large feet and vocabulary) is do I tell you about the rest of my week first, leaving you hanging like Stallone in Cliffhanger, or do I tell you now and risk the fact you might be so hysterical with excitement that the rest of my witty prose is wasted?

So maybe I tease you a tad, like a Wrong Direction stud puffin lifting the edge of their shirt at a bunch of screaming teenagers, although to be clear I don’t wish to be leapt upon like a Hovis hamburger at a fat fighters class…

Casting my eye (the very expensive bionic one, not the blind one which I turn to mum every time she’s signalling me to do something) back over 2018 there was a common theme. Here to be clear I don’t mean a theme of me being an all-conquering mega star with incredible philanthropic tendencies and ability to send every mare in the county wild; although to be fair that would all be true. Nor do I mean my generous contributions to the university education of my vets’ children and the funding of the recent building of the west wing of Herman Towers complete with swimming pool with my face in mosaic on the bottom…

No, what I mean was last year was the year of the Kings: Mary at Belton, Mary at Your Horse Live and Emily lusting over me with jealousy while I hooned around the ring with her mother having a ball. So where does a gelding go from there?

Well I guess there’s only one answer really isn’t there? I shall leave you to ponder that perhaps. Answers on a postcard — and don’t forget the stamp…

Anyway back to much more important things; like grass. And the fact I’ve actually been allowed to see some for the first time in months. What the boss lady swiftly realised, because she is both lovely and intelligent, is that it can be blowing a gale, raining sideways, hailing golf balls and if I have grass I wont bat an eyelid. The rabbit militia could be launching a full assault inches from my nose, I could be dive bombed by pheasants, the pesky pigeons could be parading parallel to my patellas and you know what? Nary a reaction. IF I have grass. And I don’t mean the hippy, “yeah man, peace out” type, I mean Doctor Green. The giver of life and much joy. And the stuff that the bijou black and white bovine is probably going to have restricted soon as Cool New Shoes Man suggested he was fat. I have never loved the man more than at that minute. To the extent I have nearly forgiven him for tonguing my nostrils on several rather uncomfortably awkward occasions. I was hailed as manly but slim, whereas the feathered fool was deemed porky. This pleased me for several reasons: a) it ensures that when I get back out to MY field and MY grass there actually might be some left, b) the thought of the blue eyed boy wearing a Hannibal Lector mask all summer is positively hilarious and c) it means mother is so focussed on his exercise plan that she might leave me alone.

Possibly.

Highly unlikely but possible…

This was fresh on the back of him having a heart attack when the vet wafted the chip scanner over his neck and him promptly flattening the vet (not Herman) and his mother. Honestly you couldn’t make it up. He won’t be due his knighthood anytime soon that’s for sure…

Anyway I’m off to do important things like eat grass, laugh at the cowardly coblet and practise my bow. You know, as you do…

Laters,

Hovis

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Since my last blog, we have been busy with our training and preparation for the major events in the first part of the season.

Last weekend saw Fantom and Chiara taking a trip up the M5 to the squad assessment day. The forecast for this day was pretty dire with winds between 60 and 80mph due to hit Cornwall in the shape of Storm Freya by the time we were due to cross Bodmin Moor on our way back. I admit I dithered about going with visions of our Equitrek being caught in the gusts on the open moorland and turning over with my precious horses inside. However we took the decision to go and, if necessary, delay our return journey.

What should have been a straightforward trip up the M5 to Bristol turned out to be a much longer one with the M5 closed and endless delays following the diversion, but we made it just before our allotted time.

In my special jacket

The training day marked the first time that I had to wear a straight jacket! Actually I think it was a Centaur Biomechanics jacket with lines on it and a whacking great cross on the back to assess straightness. Both horses were put through their paces in the school and I was videoed with said jacket on. None of these activities were a problem but then I had to have my own session with the physio, which included taking my boots off and lying on the table. Imagine my mortification to discover I had a large and highly visible hole in my sock!

Fantom’s inspection

I now have my own exercises to do to help strengthen my left leg, which I have started to follow religiously. It has highlighted the fact that I should have had physio following my operation last year, but this wasn’t offered on the NHS and, like many riders, I spend the money on the horses rather than myself. A couple of little accessories have been ordered to complement my exercise sessions; spiky balls anyone?

I have also been reminded to do some cardio vascular work; swimming, cycling or running. My son came home at the weekend, supposedly for his birthday, but in reality to do some shopping in the fridge and freezer, and he offered to run with me. He is 24, tall and very fit: no chance!

Chi having the once over

My plan for this weekend was to take Chiara to do a 25km pleasure ride on Dartmoor to really work her hard on the hills, but this week’s outing was cancelled. Ok it was due to be on Dartmoor and at road level the winds were predicted to be over 50mph, the actual winds around the tors would be much, much more and it was a concern whether people would be literally blown out of the saddle!

My plan B turned out to be to take Chiara to the beach following a good session with Fantom the day before where he did a little sustained cantering plus some brilliant inclines through the dunes. However, I had failed to take into account the full extent of the wind. I did prepare a little by wearing my riding goggles against the expected sand blast in the dunes, however I was so unprepared for the whirling dervishes on the beach itself. It is not often I abandon a planned workout in progress, but this time I felt that there was nothing to gain by carrying on.

Today Chiara was fitted with her new, black saddle and the colour scheme is now harmonious again, brown just didn’t really work — thank you, Nina.

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I have just heard that the three-star ride I had targeted for Fantom at Euston Park has been cancelled, making a revision in the training programme a necessity. If I have any chance of qualifying for this year’s Europeans I will have to do a three-star with him before the middle of June. Do I go to Ermelo in the Netherlands, a flat ride with good going? Obviously this involves considerable extra cost with a long travelling time and, quite possibly, with added documentation, even vaccinations, following Brexit. This isn’t really much of an option so I will endeavour to qualify Fantom at the next Euston Park competition just a day or two before the cut off date, although with horses this could change.

Annie

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It was years ago, soon after we moved to the West Country and just after I had had my first child, that I decided to take up riding again after a long gap. I had never been fortunate enough to own my own pony, but I had begged, borrowed and stolen rides throughout my childhood and had lessons whenever I could afford them. I suppose because my opportunities to ride were always limited, I was brave to the point of foolhardy. I would get on board absolutely anything. I had eventually given up when boys and schoolwork started to take over but had missed it terribly, so it was great to pick it up again.

At the time, there were stables in the village that hired out hunters. They could be hacked out on certain non-hunting days, so along with a group of like-minded new mums, I started to ride out once a week. The stables, thinking we seemed vaguely competent, let us go out on our own on their lovely, sane cob collection, and we had a wonderful time pottering around the local hills.

Becoming mums had had quite an effect on all of us; even those of us who had been daredevils in our youth were now very risk averse, so our slow and steady outings suited us perfectly.

There was one horse on the yard called Nobby. Now Nobby had quite a reputation for being a handful — strong and sharp — and was generally regarded with a mixture of awe and suspicion. But he didn’t interest us much. After all, we had our nice, quiet, regular horses. Until one week, when a friend rang the stables to book us all in.

“Tuesday?” said the owner in a casual tone. “Yes that’s fine. The only thing is, I have already taken a booking from somebody new. I don’t think they are very experienced, so I’ve put them on one of your usual rides. It just means that one of you will have to ride Nobby.”

When we next got together, the friend broke this terrible news. One of us needed to step up to ride Nobby. We all looked down at our feet and fidgeted a bit. Our maternal instincts kicked in. Our babies needed us — preferably in one piece. Then the excuses started.

“Well of course, any other time it would be no problem, but this week my back’s been really painful.”

“I would love to normally, but I’ve hurt my hand”.

And so on, around the group, each excuse more colourful than the last. So our friend went back to the stables and was polite but firm. She stood her ground. It was out of the question that any of us would Ride Nobby. The owner, perhaps recognising he was dealing with a phalanx of Pony Club mothers in the making, accepted defeat. And the poor inexperienced punter must have been put on Nobby. We didn’t ask how he or she had got on — in this case, ignorance was bliss. But there was nothing about an accident in the local paper, so I’m guessing they survived.

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I did reflect that back on the day — I would have elbowed my way to the front of the queue to get on a horse like Nobby, but there’s nothing like motherhood to shake up your priorities. These days, watching my daughters do all the mad stuff is as much excitement as I can take.

JG

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Well that’s the 2019 eventing season now well underway. We haven’t started yet, but the horses are all ready to go. I think everybody at the yard is looking forward to Great Witchingham when we “officially” kick off. I think the end of January and February are sh*t months for any eventing team. The horses all need to get fit and turn into smooth and sleek athletes — a much needed conversion from lairy, hairy mammoths. Those days seem to never end, but I think everyone can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that spring is just around the corner.

Following on from the last blog where I broached some controversial subjects, I didn’t want to move on without the mention of staff, which seems to be a huge worry at present in many yards. I must say I have been very lucky to have had a lot of great staff that have worked for my family and I over the years — even during the times when I wouldn’t have been particularly nice to work for. Of course, there has been the odd one that hasn’t been so great, or the occasional nut job that thinks that they should be riding all of the horses, but on the whole, it’s been good.

I also feel I have lost a lot of people over the years by not being overly nice or a good person and not giving people the chances they needed to learn and develop. We were very guilty of that because we always had somebody that could do everything — it was easier to just let that person do it than try to and educate anyone else. We would then always go into panic mode when that person left, but in hindsight it was us that was being short sighted. I have learnt a huge lesson!

You have to treat people fairly and you also have to pay them properly to be able to live in today’s very expensive world. I appreciate how expensive yards are to run, the costs we now face are extortionate. But a successful business doesn’t work without a motivated team. You should get up and work with them and help them progress up the ladder if they genuinely have the desire to want to do so. I was always told: “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t.”

I’d rather have somebody with the right attitude for the job who knows absolutely nothing and can learn the way we do things professionally, than somebody who has just been to a college and thinks they know it all. I think the old working apprenticeship schemes are very sadly missed in some industries where you truly only learn by being hands on. When some people leave these protective bubbles like the colleges, they are usually not ready for the real industry and have very unreal expectations of how it really works. But equally you can have some very good ones too. I often wonder why student loans are just given out in universities for a degree. If they were offered for general apprenticeship schemes as well, I wonder if this would give young people a better chance to progress through industries that favour hands on experience.

I’ve been spending quite a lot of time working on cavaletti exercises with the horses recently. I like this because it helps improve suppleness, balance and self-carriage. It also gives the horse an athletic workout without pushing them too much and keeps them very confident in their way of going. They can be used in so many different ways and are so versatile, that I find them a really useful training tool. They appear to be a firm favourite too of my daughter Niamh (featured in the video below trying some cross-country), who loves jumping down them. It’s the human equivalent of dog agility though for me, who is usually running alongside being told to “turn, jump, wait!”

I had to take my wife’s stallion for dummy training last week — he has never been collected from before and this is his first year of breeding. We took the old Caunton Welldone (Mickey) mare down as a teaser to try and give him a helping hand. It didn’t bode well though when heavily in season Mickey was merely offered a back massage instead. I think the human equivalent of a cup of tea and biscuits in bed rather than a bloody good night. He got there in the end, in his own unique way. I don’t think I can make a comparison to that one though or my blog will be banned.

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We’ve had some exciting new additions to the yard that I’m really looking forward to working with. It would be impossible to do this job without the trust and support of owners and I’m very grateful that they have given me a chance to work with their horses. Quite a few of these new additions are younger horses, which also taught me a very important lesson this week. When you think “should I take some of the older horses on the lorry as well with the babies cross-country schooling to make the job easier?” But then you think “No… it’ll be grand!” You should reconsider that thought, as five babies on a lorry together is like transporting the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

Thank you to everybody that shared and viewed the Time To Talk campaign that I did with Niall Fergusson. I hope we’ve raised awareness of mental health issues that affect millions of people every single day.

Matt

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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Dear diary,

It’s fair to say that as we stand right now, the mothership and I are in slightly different places regarding my behaviour. I mean right now we’re physically in different places, which is probably just as well as she’s really not amused with me, but I did mean in terms of opinions.

To be clear, I’m of the opinion I am an equine stud muffin with the footwork of Michael Flatley on fast forward, while she is of the opinion that I am a “0.75 tonne of brain dead idiot with no purpose on this planet apart from decimating her bank account and what was left of her sanity”. If, as a reader, you ponder my precision in this view, that’s because it’s a quote. From her. Ground out from between gritted teeth as she physically twitched from the effort of not wrapping her hands around my windpipe and throttling the life out of me. I have never been so glad of the presence of mini-mother as I was on Sunday; 110cm of blonde haired, blue eyed innocent was all that stood between me and certain death.

It was not my fault. That’s the simple truth of it. From the moment that Herman the German muttered the magic words on Friday (and forget piff paff poof! The real magic words are “in-hand walking”) I was like an amphetamined frog on a pogo stick. As it was, I had to wait until Sunday for she-who-must-be-obeyed to get her poop together and let me out…

I’ll be honest, I walked out to the school mildly enough; this is because I am a professional and have long since figured out that any sudden renditions of “Fame!” complete with high leg kicks before the school gates can result in a U-turn faster than politician and one finding oneself back in jail with the speed of Justin Bieber getting engaged. I do feel therefore that the mothership and her faithful sidekick, the Aunty of the Em, were lulled into a false sense of security. Now let’s also review the facts here:

Fact 1: I’ve been on box rest for SIX weeks
Fact 2: I am a boy of immense physical power
Fact 3: It was blowing a gale as Storm Freya vented her spleen with a ferocity that can only be achieved by a woman — and one deprived of chocolate at that.
Fact 4: Dad and Uncle Ash were tinkering about in a trailer that DEFINITELY was not in that very exact spot last time I was in the school, which was some time ago — see fact 1.

Therefore, I present to the court that my behaviour was completely in keeping with all these issues and as such should have been predicted. Admittedly me turning slightly sideways and breaking into a stationary high speed Paso Doble was probably not entirely what either of them expected. Honestly, you should have seen me! Even the local rabbit militia stopped in their tracks, undecided if this incredible rapid footwork was rabbit morse code to run for the hills or a re-enactment of Strictly ballroom. All it needed was Aunty Em to have a set of castanets and we could have had a fiesta; I’m more of a Leyland DAF lad myself but as a new gelding I’m always up for cultural diversity…

After an abortive three minutes of mother’s escalating levels of abuse, Aunty Em, trying to not act as if she was utterly wetting herself, and me throwing more shapes than Mr Bean at a silent disco while the wind wafted my mane and tail about like Donald Trump’s toupee semaphoring SOS from atop his orange dome, defeat was admitted and we all retreated to the barn where I was subjected to an icy stare that would have made that Elsa chick look positively cuddly. Honestly, mum should take a leaf though and just let it go. No one died. Admittedly the high speed stomping may have concussed a few worms and possibly registered on the Richter scale, but no one died. Unless you count the mental ways that mother killed me in her head that afternoon as possibilities, then I suppose I nearly did. At least 55 times — in a whole load of interesting ways…

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With hindsight, I suppose then allowing dad to lead me back into the school 15 minutes later and following him around with the meekness of a over-Calpol-ed toddler in Asda, wasn’t the wisest of moves. But again, in my defence, the humour was done and he had treats. Ok I spooked at the pheasant, the mirrors, the rabbit, the definitely-had-moved trailer and possibly once at my own feathers, but then that was sort of par for the course. Dad’s smugness didn’t really help the situation at all so I’m pretty sure when it came to changing my bandages and my plate, that mother both pulled the sticky tape (and half my feather) off with way too much pleasure and stood behind dad with the spanner in her hand and a look of longing that didn’t bode well for a future that went much beyond her finding somewhere to hide the body…

I’m pretty sure mum loves me really and was secretly seriously impressed that I can even move my feet at that kind of speed. She just hides it really really well.

I think…

Maybe…

Laters,

Hovis

PS. In case anyone form the BBC is reading this, I am available to sign up to this year’s Strictly. But I do absolutely draw the line at sequins…

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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Kelly ward with horse in paddock, rugged, covered in mud after rolling, attaching lead rope to head collar, horse recall

I pulled up at the yard and heard the familiar tapping sound of a metal pipe hitting a radiator. I looked around and spotted my horse Painter booting the gate to announce to his servants, namely me, that he was ready to come in for his tea. It’s like his version of the Queen ringing a hand bell to call for her maid, only a lot more heavy-handed. In his youth he was rougher still and used to actually stand on the metal struts or lean on the gate with his chest in an attempt to break it. Many a time his front feet have slipped through the rungs and he had to be extracted with threats of the Fire Brigade being called if he didn’t co-operate. Needless to say we always managed to get him out just in time before the emergency services had to come to his rescue. However he is now in his dotage and has calmed down a lot. Rather than all that pushing and shoving, he has toned down his actions into a mellow gentle tap with his unshod hooves. If it didn’t still sound like a torture treatment, the whole thing could be quite musical, as he has good rhythm for an old boy. As I looked across to the field I could see that he was using one hoof then the other in determined fashion, making a noise like Fred Astaire in the old movies. But the main point was that he was on his own.

Let me explain — anyone with an older horse will understand my problem. At 27, with a wonky ear, a bad leg and Cushing’s, his field companions are not unkind to him but know he is bottom of the pile. He can’t get past them at the gate and I have to try to sweep them away on his behalf which can be tricky at times. So, seizing my chance for an easy gate manoeuvre, I crept along the track to the field, head down, willing him to shut up. I deliberately didn’t make eye contact and kept as low as possible, hoping to go in for a swift in and out without any of the others noticing. But despite his great age there are no flies on Painter and he doesn’t miss a trick. With his X-ray vision, he saw me and started banging even louder. By the time I was nearly there he was playing a full symphony with his hooves. Then to my irritation he started whinnying and I realised it was a lost cause.

Sure enough, the herd came flying over the hill. The Welsh leader Ifor at the head, followed by five other beauties, all with no intention of letting Painter out first.

“Now look what you’ve gone and done. You could have slipped out unnoticed and come in first, but oh no, you had to cause all that fuss,” I chided him as I waited for the others to be led out. He wasn’t bothered at all by my frustration, just focusing instead on the contents of my pockets. In fact, you could say he didn’t even notice. He had got what he set out to achieve. He’d tapped for attention and been let out and there was no one bothered about the order of things other than me. We eventually headed along to the stable where the servant had miraculously prepared a bucket of delicious food, a net full of hay and a clean bed for the night.

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As I thought about it later, it made me laugh out loud. Here I am, at 57-years-old, still shuffling along in the mud, hoping and praying that my horse will do what I want it to. You’d think I would have learned by now. Some horses are biddable and want to work for you. Others, like Painter, don’t really care as long as they get what they want. He knows the routine and lines up at the gate, earlier and earlier, ready to come in. He has two different methods of calling for the hired help, his feet and his voice, and he’s happy to use them as much and as loudly as he needs. So to anyone who can sympathise with this, just don’t forget who the servants are at yards and fields around the country. And it’s definitely not the horses!

Diane

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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