Times A Changing

The last thirty six hours has thrown the British equine world into disarray. Covid-19 has been coming a while, infringing on all areas of our lives, but now we’ve moved into unchartered territory.

We’d discussed it at Pony Club and Riding Club – talking about reducing the risk of infection at events and providing hand washing facilities. But it was business as normal with just a couple of adjustments to our routines.

However, on Monday the PM released a statement bringing more stringent methods into daily life – minimising social contact, reducing unnecessary travel, self isolating. This was closely followed by statements from British Eventing and Pony Club stating that all competition and training has been suspended. On Tuesday, British Dressage, British Showjumping, and British Riding clubs followed suit.

It’s incredible to think that there will be no equine competitions for the majority of this year, and is very disappointing for those who rely on it professionally, and who plan their training with a particular competition goal in mind.

Disappointing as it is, at least we are still allowed to ride. Italy has banned riding and high risk sports to reduce the number of accidents needing treatment in their overstretched hospitals. Phoenix was going to have a go at her first novice test this weekend. No matter; we will keep up the training so that she will be working at elementary level by the summer, and I’m still able to take her out schooling to get some cross country practice in and keep up her jumping training. The important thing is to find some alternative goals and aims to keep us motivated and to keep spirits up.

I made the suggestion to my riding club committee, that we should run our spring dressage competitions online. It’s not the same as going out to a competition, but it’s better than nothing and I think there will be lots of interest. Of course clinics are also being cancelled, so I think we will have to put our heads together to come up with some challenges we can give to members to help everyone keep in touch and motivated. Perhaps get everyone to share a photo or talk about their riding that day. There’s no restrictions on hacking, so perhaps we should make a hacking challenge?

With the Pony Club, I already have some ideas for the kids. They’re going to have a lot of extra time on their hands, so it would be good to give them some ridden exercises – a bit like online lessons – or stable management quizzes to keep up their knowledge. I’m keen that those working towards an efficiency test don’t regress or lose motivation due to tests being delayed and training cancelled. But we’re going to let everyone acclimatise to this new, strange normal, and then get our thinking caps on.

I judge for Demi Dressage – an online dressage competition for under 16s – and I think that will become really popular in the coming months, as a way to focus children on developing their riding. Already I’ve seen more and more online competitions cropping up, including jumping competitions. They’ve been in the pipeline for a while I think, but this current climate has brought them to the fore.

Finding the fun that we can do safely, will help us survive the emotional challenges the coronavirus brings. We’re lucky that equestrianism is an outdoor activity as even if competition venues close, we still have our riding areas at home.

With everyone being encouraged to work from home, I was starting to dread enforced time with an energetic toddler in an enclosed space. But we’re lucky enough to have a garden at least, and I’ve drawn myself up a list of jobs to do. Regardless of any quarantining, we will be spending more time at home, so it’s an ideal time to do the jobs you never get around to doing. Maybe that room will get painted, and the garden will be perfectly manicured?! Or perhaps we’ll actually eat those emergency tins of soup at the back of the cupboard?

I was very relieved when the BHS released a statement saying that coaches should continue to work where possible. I only interact with fit and healthy people outdoors, not getting too close to them; and by following the suggested hygeine and social distancing guidelines, as well as both sides reacting to the first symptoms, the risk should be minimal.

I think it’s important to maintain as much of a normal life as possible for our own sanity, whilst being sensible and sensitive to the situation. Of course, my work may not be vital to the infrastructure of the country, but horses are many people’s saviours. Their down time in a busy world; the thing which turns their day from doom and gloom to sun and laughter. Their coping mechanism for the rest of their life. It’s easy to overlook the importance of a good riding session (or any exercise) to someone’s mental health.

Just like many hobbies; gym classes, book clubs, sports clubs, social clubs. Not only do the clients need these to balance out their lives, but those who run them need the financial reward in order to feed their families. So yes, let’s reduce close contact with others, but in a world where everything’s at a click of a button, let’s make sure we continue to stay in touch with ingenious ways. Summer is coming; move clubs outdoors if possible; use online videos, conference calls, and social media to keep this side of life going.

It’s the start of a new normal, which will take some adjusting to, but hopefully by everyone being sensible (you’ve bought all your toilet roll now, haven’t you?!) and by keeping an eye out for others (we don’t know many at risk people locally, but I’ve offered to organise online shopping for my Granny, and plan to send her bits and pieces in the post over the next few months as well as regular emails to stop her feeling so isolated), we will survive.

Ear Warmers

The last few weeks have been so windy I’ve been very grateful for a couple of little cloth triangles which I found at the back of one of my clothes drawers a few months ago.

A couple of Christmases ago I was given a pair of ear warmers from a friend. They are small tweed triangles with Velcro on. In all honesty, I dismissed them a bit when first given them, but when I rediscovered them I thought I’d give them a try.

The triangles attach to the harness of your helmet, covering your ears. However, they don’t cover your ears at the expense of your hearing. You can still hear clearly, do not feel claustrophobic, and haven’t got your vision limited. I’ve been wearing them all winter and have really noticed over the last couple of weeks whilst riding in the blasting, icy wind. My cheeks and ears aren’t at all wind burnt. They are quite discreet too, and being colourful tweed quite stylish too.

These ear warmers aren’t the cheapest of items, but as they fasten securely and will stay on all winter (although perhaps I should take them off when competing!) I imagine they’ll last for many years.

The ear warmers can be bought online from https://www.comfyhorse.co.uk/product/harris-tweed-riding-hat-ear-muffs/. I’ve been so impressed with my ear warmers that I bought some pairs for friends at Christmas.

A New Year, A New Decade

As we move into 2020 there’s a lot of talk about the last ten years, the tenties, the twenty tens and how everything has changed in the last decade. I’m not even going to start reflecting on the change. It was the decade I grew up. Of course things have changed, I’ve changed. In 2010 I was nineteen years old with no real life plan apart from a vague vow with a cousin that by the time we were forty we needed to be married, have a career, and start a family. Tick. Now, I’m looking reluctantly towards my thirtieth birthday, but with a house, a husband, a career, two horses, two cats, and one toddler to my name. Yep, things have changed!

Instead of looking back, I’m going to look forwards. Which does include an element of self-reflection. But that’s important for life’s lessons.

My main new year’s resolution is to fall back in love with myself. That sounds egotistical, but I’ve realised recently that I don’t like myself at the moment very much. I’m not happy. It’s not that I’m depressed, have suicidal thoughts or anything serious like that, it’s just my life balance is out of whack.

One of my favourite songs of all time is called Heavy by Delta Goodrem.

There’s only so much I can carry
Before I fall
They tell me “girl you’re so lucky”
“You’ve got the world in your hands”
But you know the world gets so heavy
You don’t understand.

The lyrics ring true to me because I’m not hard done by; for the points listed above as well as others, but sometimes life whirls round faster and faster like a merry-go-round and I need to get off. I need a break. I need to stop adding to my to-do list and to tick some things off.

But because I’m floating serenely like a swan through life, no one sees my feet frantically paddling beneath the surface. Everyone things you’re managing to juggle all the plates, so when you ask for help because you’re about to drop one, no one steps forward. And then the plates fall.

What are my woes? Some people call it “Mum guilt”: constantly berating yourself because the house is untidy, you’ve cooked the same thing three days in a row for dinner, you don’t have the pre-pregnancy body, the pre-pregnancy confidence is shattered, the washing pile is multiplying quicker than a colony of rabbits, the washing up isn’t done, the kitchen needs renovating, the horses haven’t been groomed for a week, the feed hasn’t been ordered, I haven’t replied to so-and-so or so-and-so…

The list is endless and covers everything you can think of. But naming the list doesn’t solve the problems! I think I’ve been struggling with the Mum guilt for almost two years, but recent months have piled on even more pressure.

In September my Mother-in-law was taken ill, and then later died in October. Yes, I’m lucky it wasn’t my mother, and I’m grateful for that but no one ever warned me how hard it would be to support someone close to you going through a bereavement. They’re away caring or visiting that family member, so you have to keep the household together. Pay the bills, feed everyone, go to work. And doing all of it on your own is lonely. Then you have to suppress your own sadness, guilt – the whole cacophony of emotions – whilst being the shoulder that is cried onto. Who do you talk to about that?

At a similar time work became busier, and I became more involved in the Pony Club. Which is something I want to do, don’t get me wrong, but like starting any job, there are teething issues and you aren’t efficient with your time as you scramble pieces of knowledge together. Everything seems to take up more time and brain power than it should. And the two life changes happened simultaneously; pulling me in all directions.

I got tired. I definitely maxed out in December; physically, socially, mentally. I shouldn’t have agreed to go to so many Christmas parties or meetings. I should have taken a long weekend. Maybe I should’ve turned Phoenix away to take the pressure off me physically and emotionally (more guilt about not fulfilling her potential or getting her out competing as much as I should).

I got fed up. Not just of living as a social whirlwind, but of being the one keeping friendships going: sending messages which weren’t replied to for weeks (being busy doesn’t cut it as an excuse!). Of feeling that I had to meet up with friends when I was too tired to have anything interesting to say. Of making polite conversation when I have a gazillion things to do before nightfall. Of being threatened by ex-clients. Of having business competition of unqualified coaches. Of holding myself together when all I wanted to do was prick my finger like Sleeping Beauty and sleep for a hundred years.

It’s all come to a head now that I’ve had my Christmas holiday and can reflect on life with fewer pressures and less exhaustion. Time to stop and think isn’t something I like to do (when in doubt, keep busy and don’t think about the shadows) but it’s necessary to make changes and to make you realise you need to change the situation. Now I can plan what to do for myself in 2020.

Between Christmas and New Year I boxed Phoenix out and went for a lovely, long hack with plenty of gallops on the good ground with a friend. I need to do that more. That is what makes me happy. Stuff competing; do no pressure activities which put a smile on my face. Go to riding club camp. Sure I’d like to get Phoenix to her first one day event, but she doesn’t know what she’s missing out on!

I need to believe in my professional self again: I have so many lovely, loyal clients and work with some great horses. Recently I’ve parted company with some clients who have left a bitter taste in the mouth, but I need to get over myself. Move on and forget about them. Focus on my current clients and appreciate their journeys. My Pony Club role will get easier as I become proficient with all the ropes, but I need to stop pressurising myself to be perfect and not to hyper-criticise my performance. Easier said than done, for someone who’s never satisfied with less than 100%.

I need to sort out my social life. Perhaps I need to have the conversation with some that I’m fed up of feeling like an after thought, instead of resenting them. Equally, I need to set aside more time to check in with others, and arrange for catch ups doing a more suitable activity with a toddler in tow, and be more dogmatic about what I need to do. Gone are the days of sitting for hours in a coffee shop. I need to set time aside for more regular date nights, instead of giving empty promises.

I need to plan the household better. And delegate more. And ignore any accompanying groans. We’re planning our extension at the moment, which I think will make huge improvements to the house and take the stress out of cooking in a dilapidated kitchen, or squashing an office into a bedroom into a playroom into a drying room. There will be more short term stress, but I’m excited that the house will finally be fully decorated and modernised after five years.

I need to take time out for myself. For having a long, hot bath accompanied by wine, chocolate and a book. For having a manicure or a haircut. For spending time on me. For looking after myself better; eating more healthily, and doing more non-horsey exercise to claw back the body of my mid-twenties. Having an early night. Doing all the things that get pushed off the to-do list.

It seems like a lot to do. Some of it already seems easier with a few days rest under my belt. Others will require more planning and timetabling. Others will take time to heal. Some just need me to be honest; with myself and with everyone. The rest, I just need to ask for help with and to stop being a swan about it.

It won’t be easy, to fall back in love with myself, but if I don’t like myself then how can I expect others to?

Onagers

I’ve been watching a TV programme which goes behind the scenes at one of the UK’s biggest zoos, “The Secret Life of the Zoo”. It’s very good: plenty of baby animals to coo over, including surprisingly cute baby black rhinos, and lots of interesting facts about the various animals.

One animal which piqued my interest was the equid. I’d never heard of Onagers, a wild and endangered equine.

Onagers are also known as the Asiatic Wild Ass, a name I am more familiar with. Anyway, the programme caused me to do a bit of reading about these endangered equines.

Onagers look like miniature horses, not donkeys like other asses do, and grow up to about 14hh. They have either a reddish brown or yellowish brown coat, with a dorsal stripe. Unusually for equines, they have never been domesticated and are known for being very skittish characters, and are one of the fastest in the equine family – they gallop at speeds of 64-70 miles per hour!

Onagers consist of five subspecies, and are from Asia; they used to be found all across the continent but now are only found in arid and desert regions towards the south of Asia. As with many other large grazing animals, the onagers have suffered with reduced habitats and poaching, so were listed as endangered until 2015 when they were reclassified as Near Threatened, which shows that the zoo breeding programs have been successful. One subspecies is extinct, two endangered and two near threatened. The Persian Onagers are currently being reintroduced in to the Middle East to replant Syrian Wild Asses, which are now extinct, in the Arabic peninsula ecosystem.

As with other equids, such as horses and zebras, Onagers are social animals and live in herds. There is usually one stallion with a hareem of mares in a herd, and each herd tends to be territorial. Mares can breed from two years old, and as with horses, the gestation period is eleven months, with births occurring from April to September.

Wild Onagers live up to fourteen years of age, but they can live into their mid twenties in captivity.

Their diet is similar to that of horses and zebras; Onagers eat grass, herbs, fruits and leaves, and also browse on shrubs and trees in drier territories. Onagers are prey animals, and are hunted by apex predators such as leopards, hyenas, tigers and wild dogs. Together with the reduction of their habitat, heavy droughts, and being hunted for meat and hide the population of Onagers is reducing rapidly.

Maybe I’ll organise a visit to see these captive Onagers in the flesh!

What’s In Store For Us?

I had a bit of an epiphany earlier. Or rather a realisation of what’s to come.

Now the kids have gone back to school it’s quieter. Well, I’m not sure if it is quieter or if it just seems quieter as things get back into their normal groove. To fill my time, I decided last weekend that I would repaint the garage door frame. And next weekend the door. Of course, living in Britain the weather never helps us fulfil our plans, and it ended up being too wet to prep the frame over the weekend, so the job is dragging into this week.

I’ve just put on the first coat of gloss, and as I put everything away I realised that I had more paint on my hands than on the frame. It’s a talent worthy of Britain’s Got Talent really, that I can manage to make that much mess and make it to adulthood.

Anyway, as I was in the bathroom scrubbing the white gloss off my hands with a pumice stone, I suddenly remembered the time when I was seven.

I’m sure this story will still be etched crystal clear on my parents memory because it’s perfectly clear in my mind!

My Dad was painting the side door one March Sunday, while I cycled my bike up and down the drive. I loved my bike, it’s yellow and purple was my pride and joy. Dad was supervising me. Or perhaps I was supposed to be helping him. But if you know my Dad, you don’t want to help him painting because he’s very particular about not dipping your brush in too far, or not brushing the wrong way, etc etc.

Anyway, with a burst of inspiration, I asked if I could paint my hands. Dad said “yes, yes”. In hindsight, he most definitely wasn’t listening to me.

So I cycled over to the tin of white gloss and proceeded to dip both hands in it, all the way up to my wrists. So with hands that resembled Caspar’s, I proudly showed my Dad.

I think he took it pretty well, because I carried on cycling around while he finished painting, covering my bike handles in white.

Once he’d finished the side door, we went inside and tried washing my hands. Half a bottle of fairy liquid and my Dad’s best attempts with the pumice stone, and my hands were no longer thick with gloss, but rather a washed out, sticky off-white. My finger nails being edged with white.

The only problem? It was school picture day the next day!

Despite my parents’ best attempts, my hands were still off-white the next day, which is why one of my school photos has me with my arms cleverly folded to hide my hands.

Today, all I could wonder was what scrapes and predicaments am I going to see, be the rescuer, or have to prevent? And that’s just my husband, let alone the baby! Perhaps I’ll be starting a new blog to record it all!

Location, Location, Location 

If Kirstie Allsopp ever leaves Phil Whatshisname then he should give me a ring. In fact, budge over Kirstie, I’m what Location, Location, Location needs.

I’ve been doing plenty of hacks around the local villages over the last few weeks and have discovered I’m a bit of a property connoisseur. With expensive taste.

There’s a half timber, Tudor style house that I really like. It’s not black and white though; the timber is natural and the rest of the wall a warm cream colour. Much more tasteful. Another property used to be the village shop, and “General Store” is still legible in the brick work on the second storey. Peeking through the windows I can see the white railing and half step that would have denoted the counter. The windows have those swirls in some panes, typical of shops. I love these sorts of  houses embedded with history. Another house I pass used to be the forge, and there’s a row of rusty horse shoes on the lintle. You can see how the garage and lean-tos have been adapted from the original buildings. The house itself is double the original, I noticed last week, with a true to type full size extension at the back.


I spend quite a lot of time looking at the extensions and gardens, noting the features I like. I’m not convinced by the giant stone pear in one garden, but I do like the wisteria that has been grown into the shape of a porch. I admire the brave people who planted pampas grass in their small garden, and I like the rustic wooden fences with bent, au natural planks. I try to work out if the numerous wells in gardens I spy are authentic, or modern features. I like the house with the massive window, displaying their mezzanine floor. However I’m not sure that I like how public it is – it’s mere feet from the lane so can’t afford much privacy. I’m no so fussed on the new build bungalow that has just been completed, but I don’t understand why there is a different number of gaps in the new hedgerow each day – I have visions of pensioners (which seems to be the average age of the population) digging up the baby shrubs each night, leaving plant pot sized holes behind.

I’ve seen what I find a very ugly house, white washed, with a flat, timber roof akin to Spanish villas. I’ve also discovered that I dislike pebble dashing, and post war pre-fab houses. And the dilapidated bungalow with rotten wooden outbuildings would be demolished as soon as I collected the keys!

One house I absolutely adore is on Millionaires’ Row, with plenty of palatial neighbours with manicured gardens. It has a circular drive surrounding a large well, sandwiched between 100ft high conifers, and a beautiful lawn, electric gates, and large, simple, white house. I looked it up on Zoopla. In preparation for when I buy my winning lottery ticket … I only need £1.8 million – gulp!


Another aspect of houses that I ponder about, is the naming. Does Steep Wood have a steep garden, or woodland, at the back? Is Foxwoods named so because of the foxes who lived in nearby woodland? Should The Firs change their name now they’ve cut down the fir trees along their boundary? Little Slade obviously can’t be named so because of the small house as I think it’s at least four bedroom. But then I remembered that slade means little valley, and this house must have stunning views of the valley behind. I can see why they built a small balcony to the rear. Cauis Cottage sounds rather ostentatious, but I like the way it rolls off the tongue. The series of semi detached numerical cottages must have been some kind of residency for the farm labourers, especially as the plaques are identical.

Perhaps when I get bored of horses I’ll digress into property. On which note, I’m going to catch up on last nights episode of The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes!