2020. The Year of Change.

2020 is coming to a close and whilst 2021 isn’t starting much better, I think it comes with hope.

It’s not been the year that anyone predicted (I won’t go into the details; you’ll find them in the history books in 50 years time) but there have been highs and lows, and lots of self discovery. And it’s worth reflecting upon.

I know the pandemic has hit many people hard, and in all honesty, I’ve been very sheltered from it all. I think it’s a reflection of the company I keep in that I’ve only known a handful of people who have had mild look-after-yourself-at-home cases of Covid. We’ve been careful, but we have a toddler so therefore don’t have a busy social calendar. There’s a few things we’re missing out on; the good friends (you know, the ones you actually miss laughing about nothing with) and family. But can you imagine if this had happened 20 years ago when the Internet was in toddlerhood? We can Zoom to our hearts content.

I’ve now been a whole year in my role as Chief Instructor for a large and thriving Pony Club branch. It wasn’t the year we had planned, but I was certainly kept busy drawing up lockdown activities, jumping through hoops to get rallies up and running with the necessary protocols in place. I now feel like I know the majority of members and have a clearer understanding of them, their ponies and their aspirations. Don’t tell them, but I love this role!

Then my day business, Starks Equitation, had a compulsory hiatus in the spring. Which, whilst I would never have ever considered a six week holiday, was quite enjoyable. It actually gave me chance to do some life and home admin, refresh my professional side, attend some webinars, and enjoy the special time when a 2 year old transitions from limited phrases that only a parent can understand, to elaborate two way conversations (read arguments). This period did make me appreciate my job even more, so I was more than happy to hand over childcare duties and return to work. Since then, my work hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. We’re outside; the lessons are individual; we can’t get too close to each other; we’re around horses so therefore hands get washed before touching our faces!

If anything, Starks Equitation has benefitted from the lack of competitions and organised rides, and limited social diaries, as horse owners are focusing their energies on their training at home, getting the fresh air and exercise so needed when working from home, as well as the psychological boost that our equine friends supply.

So professionally, life hasn’t really changed much. Personally, it has and it hasn’t.

I think the main thing that 2020 has taught me is how lucky I am. We have a stable family life; few arguments and a big enough house that we can get the desired space we need. We have a garden to make the most of the good weather. We have horses, which is an excellent excuse to get some fresh air each day, as well as giving me some me time. We are financially secure enough that we can purchase equipment for an activity to do at home, or buy a new coat so that we can continue with daily walks in winter.

I’ve never had a huge desire to travel, and yes we missed out on our trip to Austria for my 30th birthday. But it will still be there when we’re allowed to go. And in the grand scheme of things it’s really a first world problem, isn’t it? Whilst it would be nice to have a couple of days away from our house, it’s not a bad house, and not a life or death issue. I’ve learnt that I am really quite contented at home in my own bubble. I knew I was always a home girl at heart, but a lack of social obligations has made me realise I’m more than I realised.

It’s been a life saver having horses to tend each day; a reason to keep going; and also the fact that you will distantly bump into others at the yard, which takes away any loneliness and the change in conversation is refreshing.

I have discovered these last couple of weeks, perhaps it’s my body and brain reaching the end of the year and being reset, that I’m feeling aimless in my riding with Phoenix. She’s working well, but with limited competitions, and the risk of them being cancelled, I’m losing motivation to school her. Instead, I’ve been hacking more, but I do need a change of scenery – to hire a venue to school over a course of showjumps, or to hack on different territory. Yes we can technically still do this, but is it morally correct? And half the fun of these things is going with a friend. Which you can’t. So I’m lacking the enthusiasm to do this. I’ll sort myself out by 2021! I’m enjoying my time with her, which is the main thing.

From a family perspective, I feel like 2020 has drawn us together. There’s more juggling with limited childcare, but we’re more involved with her development, and can see our influences on her behaviour daily. We’re lucky to have a single household slash childcare bubble, which definitely helps relieve the pressure, and again gives variety to conversation. I’ve also found that doing so much online I’m saving quite a bit of driving time, and that is usefully utilised with self-care routines, like brushing my hair properly, exercise classes, booking chiropractor appointments instead of meaning to for weeks. As a result, I feel like my confidence in my self has improved.

2020. It’s had it’s ups, although it may be hard to find them sometimes, and has taught us much about ourselves. So before kicking 2020 out the back door on New Years Eve, remind yourself of the positive memories it’s given you.

If it’s taught us one thing, it should be this:

Leisure (1911)
W.H. Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?-

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

The Two Legged Project Arrives

Many of you readers will know that we’ve been eagerly/impatiently/nervously awaiting the arrival of our baby.

When the Beast from the East hit the UK at the beginning of March I was put under house arrest … just in case. But we crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t have a middle of the night rush to hospital in all the snow.

We didn’t. And I filled my time writing blog posts and scheduling them over the next couple of weeks.

Six days after the due date, with us both getting increasingly impatient, we welcomed the arrival of our little girl, Mallory Jill, who bounced into the world at 6.29am on Sunday 11th March.

It’s safe to say that I had my comeuppance for having the world’s most straightforward pregnancy with a long and painful labour. But everyone likes a good story don’t they! I won’t divulge the details for those of you of a sensitive nature.

Anyway, we’ve definitely got our hands full, as Mallory is already very alert, very hungry and not very sleepy!

I will be off work for a few weeks, so may well be lacking in blog inspiration, let alone time to write, as we find our feet as parents, so I’m afraid readers, the Rubber Curry Comb will be a bit quiet over the next few weeks. But don’t worry, there will be a Phoenix update when the saddler has been and I’ve ridden her! And of course some photos of when we introduce the horses to little Mallory.

Families!

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!

A Token of Appreciation

To those of you who are friends on my Facebook, or those who read Horse and Rider magazine, this is old hat, but it is my excitement of the day so I`m going to share it!

Although I`m very lucky in many areas of my life, winning prizes has never been my strong point. As a child I always went to Weymouth Carnival with my cousins and grandparents to spend our pocket money on the stalls. Year after year they would lug home Tazmanian Devil`s the size of them, while I was either empty handed or had been given the teddy bear that my Granny had won. So it was a couple of months ago that I entered a competition on the spur of the moment.

It was a back copy (it`s a law in my house that when the latest copy of a magazine arrives I make time to read the previous one) of Horse and Rider magazine and every month they run an “Ariat Inspiration of the Month” award and quite often there are friends or parents nominated for helping care for horses in times of illness or difficulty. I put together an email, and found a recent photo, and off it zipped through the ether.

Afterwards, I read what the prizes were – very much geared towards female riders, who are probably the most frequent winners. However, I didn`t think it would really matter as, knowing my history with competitions, we wouldn`t be winning.

Fast forwards to today, and the latest issue arrived last week, but I still haven`t read last months copy, which is next to my bed. I was checking my emails this afternoon, and almost deleted one which looked like a company advertising more products.

Thankfully, I opened it, and then started jumping up and down. My nomination had won “Ariat Inspiration of the Month”! I bounded up the stairs and found the copy by my bed, leafed through and then raced downstairs again to show anyone I could find.

Once I`d calmed down and told all the relevant parties, I went back to the email and learnt that the prizes were being changed to more masculine products, so I responded with the various specifications required.

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Above is the article from the magazine, please feel free to leave comments for Otis`s famous chauffeur to read, I know he is overwhelmed by compliments he`s received via Facebook.

Does anyone else have any unsung heroes (Wind Beneath My Wings springs to mind), or people who deserve some recognition? If so, perhaps we could set up a chain of “Token of Appreciation” blogs.

It’s A Family Affair

It struck me last week, as I was listening to a pre-teen client’s worries, that we all need a big sister. If you don’t have one, adopt one!

Whilst not having any biological sisters I think my teenage years were filled with “sisters” of all ages who helped me through the angst and pressure of school and growing pains.

The yard I kept my pony at was the main focal point of my social life, and when I started staying there without my Mum I rapidly became friends with the older girls. There were two groups, of which I was lucky enough to be included in both – although they probably saw me as the annoying sibling you had to look after in order to keep Mum quiet. The eldest girls were about four years older than me and I remember being dumb with awe at them. After all, they were going into sixth form whilst I was only entering year seven! I’m sure it was them who taught me about the birds and the bees …

The other group were only two years older than me and I remember them being far more fun loving and irresponsible, so I loved listening to stories about house parties.

These girls answered my question about life and horses, took me on hacks and generally helped me. Plus, I was ever so popular on my first day of comprehensive as I had friends in the older years! The popularity didn’t last long…

Anyway, as I grew up these older girls went off to uni, got boyfriends and dumped horses (not literally but you get my gist) and a new generation of girls came through. Here I rapidly took up the mantle of “big sister” and answered all their equine questions, academic queries, and consulted with them about boys.

This lasted the whole time I was at that yard, and I saw three generations of girls go grow up; going from the younger sister to the big sister and even mothering the youngest!

At the yard I did my apprenticeship at I similarly stepped into the role of big sister to the helpers and young liveries. As they’ve grown up and left school (now I feel old!) I’ve lost the tag of big sister and with my role as an instructor I’ve made the transition (hopefully) into an adult role, and am perceived as an adult, as opposed to a peer. This makes my job as teacher easier, but I still haven’t lost the job as confidant, as my young client reminded me last week as she unloaded her woes about school, pressure, hormones, stress and tiredness! And still, as try as I might, I still can’t solve the problems of the world. Hopefully I can put a positive spin on it though, and point her in the right direction to solving her problems.

Everyone needs a sister!

What A Day!

This may be the first, and possibly only, non-equine blog post on The Rubber Curry Comb, but I think today makes an entertaining story considering I haven`t seen a horse all day.

I was due a visit home to my parents in Wales. I had two jobs while I was there. The first was to empty my bedroom as the crack in the ceiling had grown, and what seemed to be mushrooms were growing out of the ceiling. Dad planned to pull the ceiling down, investigate the problem and hopefully repair it. Unfortunately, this tricky and dirty job cannot be done surrounded by my trinkets and childhood. I spent last night wrapping up figurines, boxing up certificates won by my five year old self, throwing out cards from lesser important birthdays, bagging up clothes still in the wardrobe for the charity shops. I`m afraid there`s no hope for me as both parents are serial hoarders. I promised myself that I would be ruthless when unpacking the boxes when the ceiling is repaired.

After a good catch up with my best friend both last night and this morning, I headed off for my dentist appointment. Yes I know, I don`t live there yet I`m still registered there for the dentist. There are two reasons for this. One, it ensures I go home to visit at least once every six months (I believe this is my Mum`s scheme) and two, I`m yet to find a reasonable dentist and organise myself to get registered in Berkshire.

Off I head in my dirty but fairly reliable VW Polo. It has a tendency to terrify me as it makes a sudden rattle or squeak, but they soon disappear and my car gets me from A to B successfully. I did indeed get to the dentist, had my teeth counted and was sent away again rapidly.

Sailing down the bypass I approach the roundabout just outside town. “Oh I should get some petrol,” I think, taking my foot off the accelerator. I usually expect my car to magically get back home on a quarter of a tank of petrol, and have to stop and be robbed at a motorway service station…

Suddenly, there is a loud grinding, rattling, shuddering sound.

Uh oh.

I take the turning into town and head towards the petrol station, hoping that the car will do its usual trick of silencing itself when I turn it off. As I turn into the petrol station forecourt the water light flashes on. Now I know this was topped up on Boxing Day morning as we hurried to the emergency doctors.

So I stop the car and turn off the engine and phone my brother. Why didn`t I phone my Dad? The mechanic extraordinaire? Firstly, I highly doubted he had his mobile on, and secondly I knew he was at work and my brother was surgically attached to his Playstation. My brother talks me through checking for holes in pipes, and seeing if the engine is hot, and then decides he will liaise with Dad. I wait impatiently, texting my best friend, and after a few minutes I get a call from Bro, saying that he is coming to bail me out. Almost instantly, I have Dad on the phone offering advice about the size of the tube that may be broken and if I should walk to go and get one while I wait for Bro.

Convinced it is a bit more serious, I sit and wait.

After what seemed like forever, the little Fiesta swung into the forecourt and out jumped Bro, complete with a rucksack of tools. He opens the bonnet and has a quick assessment, and then rings Dad for more advice. Then we decide to move my car up onto the kerb so that Bro can actually fit underneath to have a good look.

I start the engine, and am immediately told to stop. Bro listens and looks, before getting Dad to listen to the car on the phone and starts talking about alternators and water pumps.. A stranger filling his car up offers some advice.
“Don`t drive that” he says, knowledgeably, “Ring the AA.”

Thanks, mate!

With the car up on the kerb, we realise that a large pool of coolant fluid has collected when my car had been parked. Bro tops it up as that`s a useful job, but we soon realise it is just trickling straight through to the pavement.

More talking on the phone, and Bro announces that we need the tow bar. Which is at home. So I ring my best friend, who`s parents is about to come into town, and ask them to call by and pick up the tow bar from Mum. Meanwhile, Bro is talking Mum through the garage, hunting for the towbar. At this point I realise that I won`t be able to get home by 4pm to teach some children and ring to cancel.

A long half an hour later, during which time Bro and I have the longest conversation between us since forever, and munch away on some wine gums. My second set of parents arrived and Dad 2 had a good look at the engine, concluding it is the water pump. Bro erects the tow bar. Dad arrives in his van from work, swirling into the forecourt. Then we realise that I don`t have a hook at the front of my car. There is some talk of me being towed backwards. Which Mum 2 is not impressed with, having a minor heart attack. I feel the same.

Bro calmly sorts out the Dads, and looks in the manual to find out where the bracket is hiding and pretty soon my car is all hitched up. I really must stop thinking of Bro as the five year old toy-chainsaw wielding monkey, and remember he is in his third year of uni, studying engineering, and impressing companies left, right and centre, and has actually grown up.

“Do you want to drive my car home and I`ll go with Dad?” asks Bro. Very chivalrous … what has happened?! Then he mentions the M-word.

I`m not going to pay my brother to sit in the garage for me, so I agree to drive my car.

Dad 2 shouts some instructions. “Have the ignition on. Do some steering, indicate when nececssary, and don`t brake. Touch the brakes so the lights flash, but the van does all the work.”

Nervous, I nod and get into my car. Dad has already slammed his door shut and pulls off.
I wasn`t ready! Trying to remember my instructions, I turn the ignition and pull on my seat belt. We`re pulling out of the forecourt and my car beeps. The handbrake is still on.

Once the handbrake is off I try to acclimatise to the close proximity of Dad`s white van. Have you ever been driving along and suddenly realised you`re a bit too close to the car in front? Well that`s the feeling I had for the whole journey!
The first time Dad applied the brakes I touched mine, but my all-or-nothing brake pedal caused both vehicles to judder and lurch. I expect Dad swore at my from his van!

Thankfully, I`m used to his habit of “ironing out the bends” as we sail along the country roads, squeezing past a tractor and trailer over a humpback bridge. A few roundabouts later, we pulled in to the industrial estate. I hoped the automatic swinging gate wouldn`t close between the van and my car!

Once we were unhitched, the bonnet was lifted and Dad`s car-fanatic friend diagnosed a broken water pump. He rings for some parts, and despite being 3pm, he manages to get them delivered to the garage within half an hour. While we wait, Dad and I start taking the wheel off and unscrewing the necessary nuts, which are of course, seized. When the old water pump is revealed, we realise how close I came to writing my car off. All the ball bearings had fallen out and the belt was very slack. Had it jumped off the piston would have smashed into the engine, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Scary stuff!

After some sweating and grumbling, Car Fanatic starts to fit the water pump. And then we discover that it is the wrong part.

I`m devastated, tomorrow is a really busy day for me and I need to be back home tonight. I don`t really want to spend another night sleeping in a room full of mushrooms, and I want to have my car back!

It`s coming up to 5pm, and we can`t get the correct water pump until mid morning tomorrow. Dad understands my dilemma as he is self-employed too.

With a bit of coercion, and sweet talking Mum, I manage to get insured on her car for four days so I can go home and work for the next couple of days whilst my car is being repaired. I`ve driven the Rav before, having used it for my trailer test, and manoeuvring it with the trailer around the yard. If I have to drive the two hour journey home in the dark then I want to do it in a car I`m familiar with! The insurance company is very helpful, and reasonably priced, so by 5pm I`m insured on Mum`s car.

Luckily for me, Mum had some dinner on the table when Dad and I got home in the van, so I ate and packed the car before having the privilege of watching Dad pull down my bedroom ceiling to reveal centuries worth of dust and dirt, which has got heavy with water and put a lot of pressure onto the plasterboard. I think this will be another story …

At 7.20 I finally managed to leave my parents, in luxury. I found the journey very smooth and quick. Being higher up, the lights of oncoming cars didn’t dazzle me, and the tinted rear view mirror meant I wasn’t dazzled from behind. This is usually my nightmare when driving at night. I enjoyed having CD controls on the steering wheel, but couldn’t believe that with all the technology on the dashboard, the wing mirrors have to be manually adjusted!

I finally pulled into the drive at 9.30pm, tired, but glad to be home. My extended family was really supportive and helpful today so I owe them a big thank you! At least tomorrow normal activities can resume. Although I wonder what Mum would say if I asked to make the car swap permanent?