The Future

I apologise if this becomes a bit morbid, but I think the last twelve months have made us all more aware of our mortality. I think most people have been affected by Covid-19. For some, it’s taken an ill or elderly relative sooner than anticipated. For others, there’s been the shock death of a seemingly healthy friend or relative.

When faced with a life deadline, illness or old age, you can get your affairs in order. Ensure family know your wishes with regards to horses and pets. But as a young, healthy person, it’s not the top of my mind, for sure. But perhaps we should all take five minutes to let our closest know how we want to care for our four legged friends. Just in case.

Someone once told me that their will stated that their horse should be euthanized upon their death, on the basis that no one else could keep him in the manner she did. I felt that was egotistical, as we all try to give our horses the best care possible. But begrudgingly, I feel there is a point to be made here.

It sounds callous, to have your horse put down when you die, when they may have plenty of life left in them. But horses are a luxury, an expense. And if the family you have left have neither the time nor money to care for your horse after you’ve gone, then it is better to have them euthanased than for them to suffer neglect, or to be sold to an unsuitable home, or to end up in a rescue centre. I recently saw a fiery debate on social media about two horses who’s owner had died and the family couldn’t afford to keep them, so we’re having them put down. Initially, it seemed that there should be an alternative for two apparently healthy horses. But upon closer inspection, both horses were in their mid twenties, very attached to each other, and had some management issues. Reading that, I soon changed my mind to agree with the family, and thought it more responsible of them to take this route rather than abandon the horses to a charity.

There are several options when planning your horse’s next stage of life. Horses are financially taxing, so perhaps leave some money to help support them. Or ensure the person you’ve entrusted their care to is financially stable and able to afford to feed an extra mouth. Be realistic about your horse’s future. If they’re old, or retired with injury then they have very little resale value. A friend or family may want a companion, but otherwise my gut feeling is that it is better for everyone, if you leave clear end of life instructions. Those left behind don’t feel obligated to struggle to care for the horse, or have to morally wrestle with themselves to make a decision for you.

I do think that a young, healthy, fit horse, who still has much to give, should be given the chance to adopt a new family after you’ve gone, but again it’s worth ensuring family know your wishes in selling – whether you want them to sell via a dealer, or have a type of home in mind, etc.

A few years ago my parents told me they were leaving Matt to me in their will, but had decided that it was a back handed gift because of the costs and time involved. Which means my brother doesn’t get an equivalent “gift”. Unless he gets the family tortoise, who has so far been passed from my Uncle, to my Grandad, to my brother, to my parents…

It’s hard putting decisions like this in writing (I can’t even write my decision on here!), but verbalising your thoughts is easier, and it’s something that needs to be discussed with loved ones so they know what to do in the worst case scenario; to safeguard their future as well as your horse’s.

So apologies for the slightly depressing subject, but the last few weeks I’ve felt that it’s a topic that needs addressing, particularly with all the uncertainty in the world right now. To lighten the mood, enjoy these photos of Otis being his usual lovable, cuddly self, and long-suffering Phoenix allowing a toy to ride her.

Safety Stirrups

I’ve come to realise that I have a couple of hang ups when teaching. One is chin straps being tight enough to stop the children talking. I joke. But they mustn’t be able to get the strap in front of their chin as their hat becomes loose. Or spend their time chewing the end of the strap.

My other hang up is stirrups. I hate seeing kids riding in non safety stirrups. I prefer to see adults using them too, particularly when jumping, but I understand that they can make their own informed decision. Kids though, have far less control at keeping their stirrup iron on the ball of their foot, with the iron often getting close to the ankle. So I’d much rather have the option of the foot coming out sideways in an emergency, particularly when jumping.

The traditional peacock stirrups are my usual go to for kids as they are affordable and as soon as pressure is applied to the outside of the stirrup iron the rubber pops off, freeing the foot. Of course there’s always the odd band with a life of it’s own which is forever springing off.

For adults, there’s the bent leg stirrup irons, which I have on my jump saddle. Stronger because they’ve iron on both sides of the foot, the shape means the foot is able to come out easily. I bent a pair once, whilst hacking Matt out. He spooked, slipped on some mud at the side of the lane and fell onto his side. My leg was between him and the tarmac. I survived with just a bruised foot, but the stirrup iron was bent. When a similar incident happened a month later when I was schooling without stirrups my foot had much more of a squash injury.

Anyway, I digress. Bent leg irons are still popular, and I definitely prefer to see my riders in them as opposed to fillis irons.

You may remember a month or so ago Harry Meade had a fall cross country, which resulted in his foot getting caught and he was dragged along. Regardless of his stirrup irons (I have no idea what stirrups he uses so not passing any judgment) if a rider as good as Harry can get their foot stuck in a stirrup it should serve as a warning to all of us. Use safety stirrups!

The two safety stirrups I’m familiar with have been around for donkeys years. Incidentally, did you know that donkey originally rhymed with monkey when it first came into general usage in the 18th century because it derived from the word dun, describing the colour? I.e. It was dunkey, not donkey.

More digression, apologies. Since hearing about Harry Meade’s accident I’ve done some research into safety stirrups on the market now because technology has moved on in recent years and there’s bound to be more modern alternatives which I’d like to be more informed about.

Modern safety stirrups, such as the Acavello or Equipe, have a release mechanism on the outer strut. When pressure is applied to the outside the strut pops out and the foot is released. The strut can then be clicked back into place. Some makes have magnetic clips, others have springs, others have a silicon outer strut. From what I can tell, it’s important to keep the stirrup irons clean and free of grit as this might cause the mechanism to become stuck. And to monitor the condition of any springs or magnets so they don’t weaken and damage the integrity of the product.

I’ve a couple of clients starting to use Acavello safety stirrups, attracted also by their grippy tread, and they certainly seem to have been extensively tested for safety. Definitely some for me to consider when I need new jump stirrups, or am asked for my opinion.

I think in light of Harry Meade’s accident, it’s worth checking our own stirrups. Do they need new treads, peacock rubbers etc? Are they the best design for our foot? Are they the right size for us? Are they safety stirrups?

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?