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OMGGGGG, I have been obsessed with where I hide my schooling whips since the very beginning of my horse riding career. Luckily I have pals willing to keep them in their car boots for me, or give me a lend of their own; I’ve also got an in-case-of-emergency stick* hidden in a tack box in the loft. I don’t have to worry about finding new hiding places and being robbed; this particular long stick is long gone, but clearly not forgotten…


Tenth Anniversary: The Miracle Part III [2011]

THE SAGA CONTINUES This is what you get for thinking a bad thought.

On Tuesday, as I winkled my long stick out of its hiding place, I thought, You know, it’s been nearly a year since I hid this thing behind the big cabinet of hats. This has got to be a record!

On Saturday, the stick was gone. Read the rest of this entry »


I am delighted to have found this post, because in the intervening years, I’ve only gotten chattier with my mounts, and yes, I still do think it makes a difference to the way things go between myself and the horse. Connell pops his head over the door when I call his name*, and I remember one time Delilah (*sniff*) swung her head around and towards the stereo when Plain White T’s song of the same name (hers) came on the speakers in the stable. I cannot imagine not talking away when I’m grooming, tacking, untacking, rugging… It’s not about language: it’s about tone and it’s about presence, and I wouldn’t behave any other way.


‘That’s A Really Good Thing About You…’

Said my instructor today. ‘You’re not afraid to use your voice.’

We were working Mal on the lunge, doing transitions. I prefer lunging in the arena as opposed to the round pen, the site of my two previous lesson with the long rope and whip. I get dizzy enough [because I’m doing it wrong] with the endless circles, and the round pen makes it worse. Anyway, I had watched, and I suppose more importantly, listened to my instructor, and copied her, singing Mal down into the walk, and the halt.

I always talk to the horses, and not only on the ground. I am always telling him or her that he or she is a good boy or girl, and I always felt like it was nice for them, apart from the signals from leg and seat and hand, to actually hear that there was someone up there, paying attention.

Al least I had been, until another instructor elsewhere told me off for it.

It doesn’t take much for something to throw you off, mentally. Getting scolded, when I am wanting so much to do this well, is something I’m still grappling with. It didn’t seem right, to me, that it was wrong to give affirmation to my mount. So I clammed up for a bit, catching myself when I was about to say something, and I think things were less happy for myself and the horse.

And then I decided, The hell with that, I’m going to follow my instincts, and say what I like — and I was right. A month or so ago, during a private lesson, for which I asked the focus to be on transitions on Amigo, I was exhorted to use my voice to call the changes except in the canter, which is okay because, say, when Rebel is being stroppy, I’d probably be screaming ‘CANTER!’ at the top of my lungs, and I doubt that would help. But coming out canter into the trot, or up into trot from walk, invites the exhortation of ‘ter-rrrot!’ and a lovely soft ‘whoa-ohhhh’ into walk has proven to be magic.

So, singing out to Mal today was not only useful, but fun, and freeing. My instructor says that a lot of people are afraid to raise their voices. Er, this has never been an issue for me. And maybe those people had, at some stage, been scolded themselves. As I get more comfortable in my own ability to ride independently, I’m taking those scoldings with a grain of salt — and as a consequence, said scoldings are fewer and far between. Funny how that works…


* He also follows me up to the barn after a lesson: I start walking and he follows without being lead. It gets a bit ropey as he gets distracted by wisps of hay, and he still won’t follow me out of the stable to get to work, but it thrills me to bits.

I had a hard time choosing just one post from 2009. It’s interesting, because that’s the year I spent (possibly wasted) writing the proposal for my horse book. Okay, not wasted, because the time I spent writing and re-writing it brought me to the true point of writing it at all. It wasn’t about my hijinks as an adult-learner, but rather the synthesis of all the self-helpish stuff I’d been doing for most of my adult life. It came as as surprise; the content of this post does not…

Tuesday was blowy. Like, gale force winds that seemed to take as their focus the indoor arena.

Sure, we’re up in the mountains, but there had been no indication in town that the air was in any way assuming hurricane proportions. When the door of the taxi just about blew off upon my exit at the yard, it came as a complete surprise. I stood outside the barn, and it felt like the wind was coming from all four directions, relentlessly.

No way was I taking Rebel in this. I opted for Delilah. We had a perfectly good lesson, she was full of go, and I sat her bockity canter without too much trouble.

I got off, got home, and realised that I had been slightly… bored? Read the rest of this entry »

This is still a good lesson – yes, even and especially the part that happened in the actual arena — and I did a quick scan of the last few years and realised that the stronger I get [mind, body, spirit] the less hard I have to work. There’s a difference between working hard and working well, and the latter only comes with repetition and practice and breakthroughs and mistakes and plateaus. And those last two are the frustrating places where the transformations take place…


So, despite my promise to write about the myriad books I’ve read about horses, and natural horsemanship, and the esoterica of the mythology of the horse, etc, I haven’t, but believe me when I say that I’ve read a lot. I read before I rode. I read before I do just about anything, to be honest. So I’ve been through your Monty Roberts, your Linda Kohanov, your Chris Irwin, your Linda Tellington-Jones. I’ve absorbed the teachings, and would have been trying them out, all this time, but hey, no horse, and it’s unfair to schoolies to give them a little bit of something without consistency. I’ve ridden a variety of horses over the past two and a half years — I think the count may be up to fourteen? Fifteen? — and I haven’t encountered the kind of horse I’ve been reading about, the kind that is sensitive to me, as rider and as person, and who will demonstrate, to me, in a holistic, yet non-nonsense, and if I’m being truthful, creepily prescient way, how I need to grow.

I’ve never met that horse, until now, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Read the rest of this entry »

Rebel figures largely in my book, which is based on many of the events I recorded on this blog. This is one of many crop posts — there’s an entire category called The Crop Chronicles; none of those anecdotes made it into the final draft, but as I toy with ideas of what the next horse book is going to be, there may be scope to talk about how something can someone [me] confidence without even having to use it much. A metaphor waiting to happen…


Utterly Changed

It’s only 43 inches of flexible plastic covered in a polyester weave, but let me tell you something, sistuhs, this long stick has effected an utter transformation. Read the rest of this entry »

I went on a horseriding holiday very early on in my career, which, now that I look back, was fairly daring. I’d do one again in a heartbeat and while I have successfully pitched feature stories about cattle driving in Montana, I have yet to have a tour operator snap me up…

This post is about the first day hacking in Epona Equestrian Centre, outside of Seville. The journey to get there took most of the previous day, and entailed almost not getting on the plane at all; hanging about in Malaga a late train; collecting a few fellow tour-attendees from somewhere; and then driving for what felt like forever…


The Reins In Spain

The Epona Equestrian Centre, Seville

STAY MAINLY IN… ER… LOS MANOS? NEVER MIND: 24 DECEMBER, 2007 Breakfast at nine, first trek at ten. I hate to eat first thing in the morning, and this morning, forget it: too nervous. We’re all chatting away at table— there are eight of us, the perfect number that I’d had in mind— and I nip off early, one more loo break, some deep breathing… I feel like I haven’t ridden a new horse in months, and it is kind of true; I had some lessons during a visit to the States in September, but the unfamiliarity linked with the fact that we’d be on the trail for three hours, and given my inherent dislike of being on the road… what had I gotten myself into?

I drifted out to the forecourt of the hacienda. A string of horses were being tacked, held in place by their head collars. One of them, a big bay, skittered around a little, yanked his head, snapped the rope, and had to have his head gear replaced.

Hope I don’t get him.

Fernando, proprietor of Epona and tour leader for the week, started dispensing horses. One by one, my fellow riders mounted the block — a wall, really, that allowed one deposit oneself in the saddle without so much as a stirrup — and then my name was called out. I leapt up onto the block.

One of the women lead the big bay over.


‘He’s called Barry,’ she said, smiling up at me.

Irish? Okay. Well, he’s big enough.

‘It’s short for Barishnikov,’ she added.

Mierda. Read the rest of this entry »


I reckoned something was wrong when she didn’t turn around in her stable to come say hello. Delilah stood facing the back wall, and when she slowly swung her head around to look at me, she looked like there was a world of hurt in her eye. She picked up a hoof and put it back down, and swung her head away again.

‘Is she okay?’ I asked, and was told she had laminitis in both her fore feet. Little relief to be had, then. The next week, she was nearer the door, and got treated to a few polo mints which she took with her usual delicacy.

Last Saturday, she was back facing the wall. I didn’t go in and part of me regrets it now, because she was euthanised early this week. The laminitis was a symptom of her heart giving out, and the yard made the best, most humane choice for her, relieving her pain and stress – but my heart gives out a little, too.

Delilah was no spring chicken, but even though she showed some signs of age, she showed almost none of slowing down. I can’t recall a time, ever, when she was off unwell, so if ever there was a horse who was going to work until the end, it was she, and so it proved. She was ‘my’ second horse, a true mare who elevated the grumpiness of her kind to an art form and she taught me how to be light and yet assertive, a lesson that I call upon every time I ride.

She is such a big part of of my horse story. From my first go on her, through the very first time I went showjumping to my very first rosette… to the time when I thought she was gone but she was actually off filming (and then when she came back she was ragin’ for like two weeks, having to be back in the school and not having her hooves painted every day, and being given who knows what sort of fancy feed), to the time when she deigned to give me a good grooming — Delilah figured largely on this blog and does so in the pages of my as-yet unpublished horse book.

This is the only picture I have of her. As part of my course work for my Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning diploma, we recently had an essay question about how to break the news of the loss of a horse to a client. One of the things I noted would be useful to do, in the run of the work, was to make sure that people had pictures of themselves with their favourite mounts. If you have a horse of pony you love, go and take some pictures now.

Oh, shoot, just came across this:

There is absolutely nothing like this in the whole wide world. I really feel like I’m riding, in total concert with the horse, heading in a smooth, flowing run, in command, sharing the control, telling the horse what to do, where to go, and she listens! And we do it! And I don’t think of anything but the course and the horse, there is nothing else but the next fence and Delilah, no self-consciousness, no thought but the one thought, nothing but the pattern and the sheer un-fucking-believable joy of up-and-over.

Finally: I thought I had written about the latter part of this anecdote but the first time I had Delilah (the full story is via the first link, above, but anyway), I tried to get her to warm up to me by singing that Tom Jones song to her. Oh, did she give me a dirty look! And I wasn’t imagining it: once, I needed some help in mounting, and the livery lady helping me said to her, ‘Oh, why, why, why —’ so I cut her off, saying, ‘She hates that song!’ and the lady said, ‘I know!’ and we both laughed and Delilah gave us both a dirty look and pinned her ears back, and I never so much as thought that tune around her ever again.

Will miss you, lady.


At the Dublin Horse Show this past August, I saw a bee-yoo-ti-ful pair of jodh boots by Ariat, which had a good heel and a lovely rounded toe and a zip. Loved them at first sight; at second sight, after a fumble for the specs and a discovery of the price tag — €279 {!} — I dropped them like a hot potato.

#FFSL. I couldn’t really justify them anyway, as my current pair of jodh boots have zero wrong with them, apart from the fact that I tore the fabric thingie, the thing that lets you pull them on easier, the thing that is at the top of the boot in the back? — that thing. It took me about two years to break those in, and it’s five years now at least that I’ve had them, and at the average of one hundred lessons a year, that’s five hundred outings. I’m pretty sure I’ve never worn anything five hundred times, although! I did recount the use I’ve gotten out of a variety of my horsey things here, so I’m pretty sure that the fat coat has been worn seven hundred times and counting. More than, because of the years that I was able to ride 4 times a week {at least two years} so that’s two hundred lessons those years — so I have worn the fat coat over one thousand times.

One. Thousand. Times.

Those Ariat boots were haunting me, so when an email popped up from my go-to equestrian outfitters, Robinsons Equestrian, not only giving me 5 free Rider’s Rewards worth £5, but also showing £70 off Ariat Borssard Paddock Boots — insulated! A good-sized heel! Lace or zip option! — I wanted to cry. I had already splurged on two new pair of jodhs that were on sale from this outlet, and I couldn’t really justify this purchase on top of the jodhs, since there was nothing much wrong with my current boots except for the pull-’em-on fabric thing.

But the weather has been atrocious and my feet have been like blocks of ice before I even put my current boots on, much less after a lesson.

And these Ariat boots are Thinsulated, if that’s a word.

But even though they were deeply discounted, they were still £69.99 {€97.27}. Even with all my Rider’s Rewards {£14.50, or €20.15}, what with shipping and all… nope, couldn’t do it.

Then my jodhs showed up and I didn’t like the fit of the ones that were £19.99 {€27.78}…

So! When I send back the ones that are £19.99, and use my £14.50 of free money*, that’s £34.49, which subtracted from £69.99 = £35.50, OMG these boots practically cost zero money.

The shipping was less than a fiver, which I am not gonna query, and even with the return postage on the jodhs — let’s just round up to £40, which = €55.59, so I’ve already knocked off €40ish, and that’s not even taking the list price into consideration {£139.99/€194.54!!! holy moly}.

And even if I only get like two hundred lessons out of them, that is €0.27/lesson. These boots are free, basically. Plus, I got the ones with laces, because I’d had a couple of pairs of zippy boots in the past, and the zip always goes, so the laces are a better long-term investment.

Totally worth it. Welcome to the family, Ariat Brossard boots!


*Rider’s Rewards are, of course, based on past purchases, so I realise that I am fooling myself. To an even greater degree than I already am.


…ahhh, just can’t resist, though.

I am off for The Christmas in seven weeks. I have — hang on — 12 lessons left. ‘Sue!’ I am shouting at myself, ‘Don’t!’

I have only come off Connell three times this year. I came off Connell three times in one lesson, once. Holy moly, that was a bad hour! It was a Tuesday night in winter, the floodlights were on, and there was something up, all the horses were acting up, even the most reliable ones were stopping at the double over X, and we were making up stories/excuses about the shadows being cast between the fences…

Anyway, despite there still being a healthy number of hours left in the year: only three times. One fall taught me to show him a fence if I thought it might look funny to him (and to me); one was when he seemed to have taken against one of the cross country fences, unbeknownst to me until the last minute when he ran out and I went flying; the last was my bad decision to let him go at another fence in the field and he slipped. The last two, I was off balance; the first, I am sure I communicated my own nerves to him and he just went, ‘Eh, no.’

The thing is that after that shin tear/pull from last year, it is as though I have started from zero again, in the best possible way. I feel like having to take my time with myself in order to stay healthy has finally dropped a load of pennies and my riding’s improved, I’m more clear and definitely stronger in the leg, and we just… go, and we jump and we’re fine. Canter transitions: excellent. That dressage test in the summer: wowee. Flat work: has come on immensely (leg yielding is still something of challenge, but turning on the forehand is getting there.) I’ve been a bit wary of participating in the showjumping league lately, so I have to get my head right before I give that a go.

12 to go — I think we’re going to be grand!


Received wisdom has it that if you hold up a hand in front of a horse, it will investigate it with its mouth, mainly to see is it edible or not. They like to have a good sniff of a head collar, bridle, or any implement of grooming, juuuuust to make sure — even though it smells totally familiar — that the thing is absolutely not a carrot in disguise. In particular, they can’t resist a camera, or indeed, the person who is wielding it.

In the past, when taking selfies {holfies? equies?} with beasties {belfies?}, they try to eat the phone. Not Connell.
At first glance, this looks like he’s giving me a smooch in the head, but in fact he is trying to avoid the whole procedure. Not into it a’tall! I was moving all around the place trying to keep him frame and this was the best I could do. When I tried this with Simba, it was all I could do to avoid him inhaling my handset.

Nope, not Connell. His eye be like: just, no.



Twelve years on from my first ever riding lesson, these posts are still wandering round and round, a figure of eight starting with today, probably, and yesterday, definitely. It’s the antithesis of how I usually do things, but… that’s horses for ya.


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