The Season of Goodwill

Every year I have this little argument with myself about Christmas cards. Do I send them; are they bad for the environment; are they too expensive.

And each year I come back with the following decision.

Yes, printing of Christmas cards can be seen as detrimental to the environment. But to me, they are an important part in the run up to Christmas. I love getting cards through the post(it makes a change from bills!), and I feel a room isn`t properly decorated without some cards propped up. A lot of families I know do newsletters to accompany their Christmas cards, which is a way of keeping long distance friends and family up to date with growing children. Although it can become a bit of a bragging session. Regular updates on social media is taking over from newsletters now, though.

Writing Christmas cards to family and friends is quite personal, I think. You`ve made the effort to put pen to paper, and written an individual message to them. It proves that you are thinking of them, and helps maintain that link of friendship, which despite social media is very easy to overlook.

Social media is a great way to send a mass message; be it a positive announcement, such as a baby, or a method of telling people bad news which makes it slightly less painless than retelling everyone individually and dealing with their emotion as well as your own raw pain. But it lacks that personal touch. Which I think is why I like written cards.

Many people aren`t on social media, such as grandparents or children. Or perhaps only one half of a couple is online, in which case a card is more important to show that you are thinking of them.

So I think cards definitely have a place at Christmas. Then I return to the whole environmental and economy arguments. In terms of the environment, perhaps it is wiser to verbally wish those people you see on a daily basis, colleagues, livery owners, “Merry Christmas” in the week leading up to the Big Day, and save sending cards to those who you won`t see over the festive period, such as family. As a kid, there was a lot of peer pressure to write cards to everybody in your class, but thankfully I think this trend is dying out. There`s a balance to be found. You can help the environment by not sending cards to everyone in your life, but can still spread Christmas cheer and well-wishes to those who you don`t see.

Then it`s onto the economy of cards. For a lot of charities, the sale of Christmas cards is an important form of revenue, so buying charity cards, direct from the charity if possible, is a good thing. You are giving something back, and helping those less fortunate. On this point, did you know that if you log in to instead of a donation is made on your behalf to your chosen charity with everything you buy? Even buying presents for friends (or yourself) can help others! Royal mail is always hiking up stamp prices, but again if you`re organised you can send cards second class, thus saving a significant amount. Also, if you care about someone enough to pen them a card, are you really going to quibble over the cost of a stamp?

I`ve satisfied myself, in that I think Christmas cards should be sent to family and friends far away, to show that you are thinking of them, and value having them in your life. But we should all be sensible about the number we send, and where we source them from.

Keeping with the theme of goodwill and charity, I was wondering about what to do from a business perspective. I often get cards and gifts, which are thank yous as much as anything, and I sometimes feel that I should be the one thanking my clients as much as anything. But I don`t want to send cards as I`ll see them frequently throughout December. Which led me to decide to play the Christmas spirit forward, and to make a charitable donation to an equine charity on behalf of all the clients of Starks Equitation.

Last year I donated to the RDA, but this year I decided to donate to the Society of the Welfare of Horses and Ponies, SWHP, which is a charity local to my home town. Their founding member and Chairwoman recently passed away and I know there was talk about how the society would continue. This made me feel that my donation would be put to good use securing the charity`s future and helping the equines in their care and in need. Their website is here.

Christmas is a time for spending time with family and friends, and of helping those in need, and even the laziest of us can make a difference to those less fortunate by buying charity cards and making a donation to a charity from the comfort of our sofas. And if we really want to, we can volunteer at soup kitchens or buy some extra tins in our Christmas shop for the food banks. I`ll start with taking a couple of boxes to the charity shop this week.

Un Horsey Musings

Hacking Wednesdays always brings one thing: far too much time spent with my own thoughts and the world questioned, rearranged, and put to rights. To my mind anyway!

Today’s musings has been on my mind for a few weeks, and I think it’s been triggered by the deluge of baby product adverts on my social media, the influx of Christmas adverts, and the scary fact that soon it will be my responsibility to teach morals and values to a little human.

Materialism. The world seems full of it. Kids have so much nowadays, and new toys get cast aside after five minutes inspection. Each year I see photos of children sat next to a huge pile of presents, or surrounded by a sea of ripped wrapping paper and packaging – do they really need so much stuff? It makes me sick, to see how some people have so much whilst some have so little. Not that I’m communist in any way; if you work hard then by all means reap the rewards. I think the sickening part is when I see so much unappreciated things, be it material or the fact you’re surrounded by loving family, a safe home and all those other things so easily taken for granted.

So how do you instil the value of giving, and appreciation of one’s lot in life?

It’s not that I would want to deprive my child of anything, I just want them to value what they do have, and appreciate how lucky they are compared to so many others.

The first idea that I’ve stolen from a friend, is the idea of giving. Each Christmas Eve she and her young daughter go through her things and leave a pile of outgrown clothes and old toys for Santa to collect when he delivers her presents to take to less fortunate children. It’s a double whammy: have a tidy up before the new toys arrive, and teach children about giving. Obviously there will be some skill involved in taking the handmedowns to the charity shop without your child finding out, but I’m up for the challenge.

Another thing that we did when we were younger was Operation Christmas Child. I used to enjoy wrapping up a shoe box and filling it with toys, essentials and sweets. I think I liked the idea of having a direct link to a child in need. It made me feel like I was making a difference and was more effective in teaching the idea of charity then putting money in a tin. So this will be another ritual we will do which will hopefully teach the value of giving, or at least instil some selflessness.

Last year I remember reading about this “Four Present Rule” by which parents only give their child four gifts: something the child needs, something for them to wear, something for them to read, and something that they want. The concept is great, but I don’t think it’s feasible because four is a very small number and there is a huge variation in size and cost of presents which could make some children feel like they’ve drawn the short straw. However, I think it’s a useful check list when thinking of what to buy children, as well as hopefully reducing the number of gifts that they receive but never use.

From this, I was thinking about the types of presents you could give a child. The choice of toys available is phenomenal, but I have discovered that I’m a fan of the activity type of gifts, which teach or enhance skills or interests. Then I thought that in this day and age, where time is a precious commodity, perhaps the way to go is to move away from material presents, and towards gifts that make memories. One of my aunts, who always gave us birthday and Christmas presents, of which were appreciated at the time but I now haven’t a clue what they were, has left one standing memory with me. She was a dab hand with the facepaints. Every time she came to visit we’d dig out the paints and choose a design of increasing complexity. So one of the biggest gifts this aunt gave to my brother and I was the memories and time spent with her having our faces decorated.

So maybe gifts could be a day out at a museum, or a trip to a water park; some quality time spent with you. This is where I get more materialistic. I like trinkets, or souvenirs. I think these physical momentos are memory triggers, allowing you to access memories many years later. For example, the model camel in our spare room is from Dubai – cue a string of memories from our holiday. Or the painted dolphin still hanging up in my bedroom at my parents house, reminds me of a weekend spent with my aunt when we went to a pottery cafe and I painted the dolphin. Or our collection of fridge magnets bought on days out or to remind us of a particular occasion. So maybe the ideal gift for a child is a day out somewhere and a gift from the gift shop?

From a child’s point of view, whilst they may not be able to pay for a day out, I think it’s important for them to understand that an adult will value a homemade gift, because of the time and effort invested in it. And whilst they may not be able to give gifts of material value to family members, they can give their time, conversation, and attention. My Grandparents did a lot of travelling in the 1990s and 2000s, and always came back with various souvenirs. On their trip to South Africa Granny bought four lengths of material and made her four granddaughters a sarong each. I still use mine every holiday we go on, and it means so much more to me than one that was bought in South Africa because it was sewn (lovingly, I hope) by my Granny.

I digress. I guess I like to give, and I’d like my child to receive, gifts that have something special attached to it, such as a memory or the time, talent and love put in to personalise it. Which is where I think that the process of gift giving is so important.

It’s not about ripping into the pile of presents under the tree, which ultimately become anonymous, it’s about seeing the giver, spending time with them (dinner, an afternoon at the park, even just a short conversation, for example) and then exchanging gifts before the vital process of thanking them. I realise this is difficult with Christmas, but when I think back to our family Christmases I can see how my parents tried to make present opening a civilised affair.

Stocking presents were opened in the morning, which usually gave us something to occupy us during the day, and then after dinner (which was always too late to our young minds) we opened the tree presents. This taught us that presents wouldn’t disappear if they weren’t opened upon first sight and that they weren’t the most important part of the day. First I’d open one, then my brother would, then my parents (although they often skipped a turn because there were fewer parcels for them) and lists of the gifts and who it was from was made. This meant that when we returned to our presents in the following days we could link the giver to the gift. And of course write personalised thank you cards. Which our child will be doing, whether they like it or not. The older generation live through their younger counterparts and receiving a letter, full of effort and glee from a child is incredibly uplifting for those who are frail or ill. I don’t think people realise that so much nowadays. My brother hated writing these letters with a passion, whilst I (not surprisingly) could reel off several pages to each person and not duplicate my paragraphs. Whether letter writing comes easily or not, it’s a very useful skill to have and one which gives pleasure to many others.

After all my musings, the one thing that I’m sure about is that it’s not going to be easy and it will take patience and insistence from our part, but I think that teaching a child how to receive presents and that gifts come in a variety of disguises – experiences, activities, or purely sharing someone’s time – is crucial to them fully appreciating all that they’ve got in life and being able to share this with others. I think we’re up for the challenge!


The horses are tucked up, dinner is simmering, the wine glass is full, and the house tinselled and festive. Oh and don’t forget the pile of presents under the tree! 

It’s very nearly Christmas Day, and time to relax, see family, eat lots, and drink … lotser? 

How do the horses fit into Christmas Day?

Personally I like to be prepared; feeds mixed, haynets made, beds with fresh wood pellets. I’ve left their breakfasts outside their doors for the first person on the yard to feed. Usually I’m the first, or if not I don’t want them fed with the rabble in case I’m riding, but as I’m dragging my husband up there we may be a bit late.

We’ll turn out, muck out, get the minimum of chores done before heading over to see family and present our four year old niece with her gift (a five flipping foot tall toy monkey!). Then in the afternoon I’ll go back to bring them in, while dinner is in the oven. Depending on how the day is going they may have a groom, but it’s unlikely. After all, roast dinner is calling!

I like having the excuse to go out and get some fresh air (and peace and quiet) but I also think it’s a holiday, so the horses can wait until Boxing Day to be ridden, groomed and fussed.

Everyone has their own little routine. At the yard where I served my apprenticeship as many riding school horses who could be turned out for the festivities were on Christmas Eve. All the fields were hayed up as late as possible, the elderly Landrover was stacked high with bales and parked in the barn ready for Christmas Day. Staff either worked Christmas Day and Boxing Day or New Years Eve and New Years Day, so it was usually fair. We would split into two teams. One to hay the fields and check horses, and the other to muck out. Stables had feeds mixed up ready, haynets made up and fresh straw stacked outside so the yard was usually finished within the hour. The evening shift was just putting in feeds and haynets – unfortunately the horses that lived in weren’t allowed out during the day with no one on site to monitor them. The only time it took us longer was one New Years Day when we were all rather heavily hung over… 

My childhood yard had a policy that on Christmas Day a new layer on the muck heap was created. As everything lived in, it usually took two solid hours of mucking out to get them all done, and a further hour on the muckheap throwing muck up the huge levels and pushing it to the back, right up to the ceiling,so that the muckheap wouldn’t need emptying til spring (which then took two days to empty!). 

Are you all ready for Christmas? Have you got any shortcuts to make on the big day?

In the meantime, Merry Christmas from me! Enjoy the festivities! 

Matt’s Diary – Week 13


This morning The Chauffeur was on duty. He didn’t wait until I’d finished breakfast before taking me and my half empty bucket to the field. It’s great that he knows I should go out first, but really I’m getting very good at eating all my breakfast and standing quietly until Young Mum takes me. It’s a bit to do with the fact the grass isn’t very tasty at the moment so I need to eat everything on offer. But also it’s a bit miserable out there now and to be honest, being wrapped up snug in my stable is rather appealing.

Anyway, this afternoon Young Mum got us both in and groomed us really well, whilst complaining about my muddy eyelashes. Doesn’t she realise I have to back in practice ready for my imminent return to Wales? She took me for a hack, which was nice but we got to a bit I hadn’t been to before so I tried to go home but she didn’t let me. And then she made me go through the freezing stream. I thought about refusing – why doesn’t she get her feet cold and wet?! But she made me anyway and I walked through very quickly! Then I jogged until we got to a steep hill that she let me canter up. I liked that. What I didn’t like was the very steep road after it which she made me trot up. Apparently I was too full of beans. The beans had gone by the time I reached the top, I tell you.


Silly sideways stuff was the order of the morning, and I am getting better at it. She told me so. Not as good as Otis though…

But I try! 

I’ve been hungry the last couple of days so have eaten every strand of hay from my haynet and scavenged from the floor. It’s that lack of grass, you see. Finally, Young Mum saw sense and gave me an extra wedge of hay in my haynet and a little bit extra in the field.


We were turned out early this morning, which meant no poo picking because she doesn’t have as good a eyesight or sense of smell as me. I know exactly where the poo is in the field. If she wanted, I’d show her. But she didn’t seem to want to. Instead she just left it, stinking my field out… I’ll have to complain to management (The Chauffeur).

I think Young Mum was a bit tired this evening, because she just put us in our stables after picking out our feet. Her excuse was that she’d messed her diary up and booked herself to ride two horses simultaneously. And she had taught a little girl who needed her to run next to her in canter. And she had to get to the post office with a parcel before 5.30. That was the most important excuse I think.


She lunged me in the dark this morning, with the help of the climbing cat. I tried to see if I could knock the cat off Young Mum’s shoulder by shooting sideways … no such luck. Cats seem to have Velcro paws because that cat didn’t move. Although Young Mum yelped. Silly woman!

Just to keep Young Mum on her toes I decided that I didn’t want to eat all of my haynet last night, and would leave lots on the floor, and only eat the same size portion I ate last week. I just wasn’t hungry.

Before bed both Otis and I had really good grooms, getting the clumps of mud out from behind our ears. I think Otis likes his special time because I get more attention than him. Because I’m more important obviously.


I exercised first thing this morning, practising my transitions and standing square. I like to look around when I stop, but apparently I’m not allowed to do that. And apparently, Old Mum is going to be reading from the same rule book when I get home.

I did my best cute impression when she turned me out this morning. I walked away from the gate, had a roll, and then came and stood looking at her while she gave Otis hay. So she gave me some.

It was frosty so when she poo picked she tidied up the old hay. Good, neither of us eat it when it’s been there too long, and besides I’ve seen Otis pee on his. I’m glad I don’t share a field with him!

When Young Mum tidies our fields Otis likes to go up to her and have a cuddle. I think he just thinks he’s a teddy bear with all that hair he’s got! I sometimes go to inspect  her work, and if she’s done a good job I tolerate her hugging me. But she sometimes says that I’m too dirty to hug! How dare she?!?

Otis had the vet to see him today to take x-rays of his feet, but this vet thought he looked really sound and didn’t think he needed them. That made Young Mum happy, and she told us both sternly that we could not start being silly when coming in from the field. I gave her my best angelic face.


Today was Young Mum’s last day at work before Christmas which meant she was very tired and didn’t want to lunge me in the morning. She only just had enough time to muck us out and give us fresh bedding before she had to teach. 

It’s been a blustery day with Storm Barbara on her way, so I made sure I had a really good roll and facepack, just in case I needed it for protection. When she came to bring us in it was really windy. So she decided to poo pick. Apparently there was a big truck with flappy things on the yard and she didn’t want to bring us in with that there – wimp! 

She should’ve known it was going to be exciting walking in. I mean, Otis was pushing the wheelbarrow over as she poo picked, and prancing around like a Valegro wannabe. She let him graze the track while she caught me. But Otis decided to take himself into the yard… except that he got distracted by an open gate and went to explore. I pranced around, checking out the new territory while Otis walked around sniffing poo, just out of reach of Young Mum. When we eventually caught up with him at the far end of the field, the wind started whipping our tails. So we both pranced in, and made her so late we didn’t have a groom. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a nice brush because I’m going on a long hack with the pretty black mare with high stockings and white splashed around her belly, that I went cross country schooling with. I’ll need to look my best, of course.

Back to the Grindstone…

Did anyone else struggle to get up to go to work today?

It`s all they talked about on the radio this morning, and everyone I saw definitely looked to be in the glumps (n.b. that means they were a gloomy and down in the dumps).

I wasn`t quite sure what sort of mood I was in; whether I was ready to go back to work today or not. I think another day at home writing wedding invitations may have caused me to implode, but after yesterday`s very wet hack, where Otis felt particularly exuberant and decided that he really belonged in the Spanish Riding School and demonstrated various airs above the ground (unfortunately the headcam was turned off at that point) I was ready to throw in the towel. Quite literally, because I was doing a fairly good impression of a drowned rat.

I think the usual January depression – lack of festivities, exhaustion from over socialising, empty purses – combined with wet mud, slippery conditions, and constant rain, was a bad combination on the eve of the new working year.


Anyway, I got up early as usual for me, and thankfully it wasn`t raining. I schooled a wiggly and inattentive Otis in the half light and then poo-picked in the full light, before going off to my first lesson. Somehow I managed to be late – not sure how that happened – but it was actually a good lesson to kick start 2016. I introduced poles on a circle to help improve the quality of the horse`s trot, and you could see the gelding settle into work and improve throughout the lesson. This always helps motivate everyone for the next few sessions, and I want to continue with the polework, raising them and using them for canter, to further improve his balance and coordination. At 17 hands high, the dressage arena always feels small so his rider needs to be able to use all her space to her advantage and not waste time as he rushes or cuts corners.

Then I headed over to ride a clients horse while she suffers from a chest infection. He`s a very sensitive horse with a bad past so I spent most of my time pressing buttons and getting to know him. I`m riding him again next week so I`m looking forwards to continuing. His instinctive reaction when pushed out of his comfort zone, to work on an inner track per say, is to slow down and hollow his back, so much of the time I settled him in his comfort zone and then tried to keep it when asked to do something different. I found that you had to gently point him in the right direction and almost dare him to do it so that there was no pressure and he found things out for himself. The big thing I want to work on is to teach him to move his head and neck independently from his body, so his rider is able to correct him on circles and turns more easily and diffuse any tense situations by being able to unlock his neck and so relax him more easily. It will be a slow and steady journey with him, but he`s a sweet horse so it will be enjoyable.

To finish off the morning I took a little mare for a hack with a friend. The mare isn`t always sure about going forwards so I hoped that having a non-racing companion would encourage her to open her stride and use herself properly without stopping and plunging up and down, bucking – for your entertainment, here is the video from our ride – here

Hopefully it stays dry for the rest of the day as I`ve two lessons after school before Pilates, and I`m sure I`ll ache after a fortnight off!



Christmas limbo (the week between Christmas and New Years) is a time for chocolate, TV, family, and time off work. Well, I’m halfway there.

On tonight’s chocolate menu are mince pie brownies (from a client and blog reader), and I’ll probably follow up last nights comedy with another Michael McIntyre DVD. My failings so far for Christmas limbo is that we haven’t yet made it to Wales to visit my family (partly due to my car being in the sick bay) and I’ve also been working today. When I say working, I mean riding. Five hours in the saddle and one teaching! Who needs to join a gym in January?!

I digress. Going back to my to-do list of Christmas limbo. I was watching Michael McIntyre last night and this clip reminded me of one of our Great Family Stories, which I’m sure I will hear again this week, but I thought I’d share it with you.

But firstly, watch the clip – The Great Family Story Cue.

My Dad grew up in Dorset, eldest of three boys and son of a strict and proud army officer and his long suffering wife. I’ll probably be corrected of these details tomorrow, but it’s enough.

This story involves my Dad, James, aged 7 and the middle brother, Andrew, aged 3. The youngest hadn’t been dreamt of at that time. I don’t think, anyway. It was Armistices Day and their Father was ready in his uniform to march in the parade in Dorchester. James and his Mother were also in their Sunday best, ready to go, but little Andrew was in bed, refusing to get up.

Unlike Michael McIntyre, their Father didn’t bluff. He shouted at his son and then got in the car with Mother and James to drive the six miles to Dorchester.

They managed to arrive on time and James and Mother joined the throngs waiting for the soldiers to parade past. 

Then, just as the soldiers, immaculately presented and in formation, marched down the road a tricycle bell rang loudly and a three year old, scruffy, bedraggled Andrew pedalled furiously through the parade, weaving around the men. He whizzed past them and continued up the hill to his Grandmother’s farm.

In the meantime, James and Mother hid their faces with embarrassment whilst Father glowered amongst the ranks.
I hope you laughed as much as we do every time we hear that story!

Merry Christmas!

A belated Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Hopefully you are enjoying a bit of extra daylight time with the horses during this weird week between Christmas and New Year, when no one really knows what`s going on and when, and The Sound of Music is on normal TV multiple times. Which reminds me to find out when and which colour bin will be collected …

This time of year is always a bit of a limbo for me; I like having time off and seeing family but I rapidly get bored of being inside! You may remember a month or so ago I said I would be giving Otis a fortnight off over Christmas. Well due to his excitable behaviour and exuberance the last couple of weeks I changed my mind! A couple of rides at the beginning of last week and a reduction in hard feed has kept the edge off him, but I thought I`d better ride him Boxing Day and today. Well, let`s face it, I needed an excuse to get out the house!


Yesterday was a steady hack around the roads to allow his washed and scrubbed legs to dry thoroughly. I usually brush dried mud off, but every so often I like to get them nice and clean and inspected. So today he needed a bit more of a workout as we`re visiting family until next weekend. Which gave me the perfect excuse to try out my Christmas present – a GoPro.

Has anyone got one?

Have you worked out how to tell if you`ve got it switched on and recording when it`s on your head?

I didn`t want a really long video of my ride, as most of it would be pretty mind-numbing unless I spoke my thoughts allowed. But by the time I`d go to the bridlepath I couldn`t work out if the camera was on or off, recording or not, or on video or photo mode …

Then I had a stroke of genius. I didn`t need to take off my hat to look at the little screen. I took my phone out of my pocket, turned on the camera into selfie mode, and held it up to my face. Now I don`t do selfies, so it took me a while to find the right angle, but then I could see the screen of the camera on the screen of my phone. After a few presses of buttons I was ready!

And here is the footage of our gallop – Otis going for a gallop!

I know many clients and friends will be excited to see what videos emerge over the next couple of months, and I think it will be really useful to record whilst I`m schooling, jumping or hacking.


It`s the grey bin on Monday, for anyone who`s interested.