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?

Electricity

” I can’t really explain it, I haven’t got the words. It’s a feeling that you can’t control.”

With the soft thud of hooves we reach the edge of the field. A green carpet glistens in the morning spring sunshine in front of us, far more important than any red carpet in the world. I pat my bay companion, who swishes his tail in anticipation. His ears flick forwards and back, waiting for my signal. With a squeeze of my calves, he jumps forwards, long neck stretching out. I stand up in my stirrups and crouch forward, feeling his body bunch and stretch as he gallops powerfully out of the shadows.

“I suppose it’s like forgetting, losing who you are. And at the same time, something makes you whole.”

Wind whistles around my ears, whispering promises of summer. I blink back tears as the cool air buffets my face. With a whoop of glee, I crouch lower, urging him to go faster; scrubbing my hands up and down as the long black mane whips up to greet me. A spurt of speed and we start our ascent, the field rolling away neither side. The spring sun warms my back. A grin breaks over my face as my worries leave me, soaring high above me amongst the singing skylarks. I forget about yesterday. About today. Nothing seems to matter now.

“And then I feel a change, like a fire deep inside. Something bursting me wide open, impossible to hide.”

I blink. In front of me are a pair of white delicately fluted ears, curving inwards. The short strong neck of my first pony supports my upper body as I lean forwards. Out of the corner of my eye I see my friend, balanced expertly over her shining, mahogany gelding, opening . Suddenly my snowy white pony gathers himself and I feel the power of my first galloping strides. His neck stretches forwards, I thread my fingers around his long mane, as the ancient, impressive oak looms. I guide my plucky pony around the dust bowl below the heavy branches, neck and neck with our opponents, and look towards the finish line – the top corner of the field, shrouded by high, wild hedges.

“And suddenly I’m flying, flying like a bird. Like electricity, electricity. Sparks inside of me and I’m free. I am free!”

Back in the moment. Two fluffy bay ears, tipped in black, nod in front of me as my best friend gallops on. He snorts loudly, his breathing louder than before. I raise my upper body, steadying him. We’re nearing the end. The woods are in sight. The gallop turns to a canter, I sit back into the comfort of my leather saddle, sitting tall. Like a child flying a kite, I try to bring my spirits back down to the solid green earth. With a shake of his head, we trot. I exhale, trying to keep hold of that elation within me. A squeeze on the reins and we walk, his flanks heaving rapidly. He licks his lips, flicking saliva in the air; he wants to go again. So do I! With a laugh, I pat his shoulder and look over my shoulder. No one’s around. With a swing of his haunches, we set off again into the sun.

“Electricity sparks inside of me and I’m free! I’m free!”

“Oh, I’m  free!”


The Mid Winter Slump

I think everyone`s reached that point. We`re fed up of winter, of mud, of dark mornings, of heavy rugs, of chilly limbs. I could go on.

  
Today was a bit of a struggle for me, I will admit. I had a day of chilling inside, beta reading a book for a friend (more on that in the next couple of weeks), with copious amounts of tea and toast, so I wasn`t ready to face the great outdoors again (given another twenty four hours inside and I`d be frantically scouring for an excuse to leave the house).

Monday`s are a difficult day anyway for me, because when I was employed I always had Sundays and Mondays off, so I often still struggle to motivate myself on a Monday. Usually it`s my quietest day though, so I get back into the swing of working slowly.

I`m a bit fed up of getting to the yard in the dark, however beautiful the sunrise is, and of riding Otis in the half light, unable to hack, and then racing against the clock to do all my other jobs before night draws in. I have noticed it is getting lighter in the evenings though, minute by minute, the sun seems to hang around for longer. It is at these times I wish I could take photos because the sky is stunning.

   
 
Anyway, I tried to get into my groove by jumping Otis, something I haven`t done for six weeks, and I did quite enjoy myself teaching the BFG and then schooling a couple of mares before going for a hack with another little mare. We even had a jump through the woods, so it was a great morning`s work.

I did see a livery en route to the tack room, and she voiced my feelings from this morning. It`s not that we don`t enjoy being with the horses and looking after them, but sometimes in winter it is an uphill struggle.

Which made me think.

Approaching the winter solstice everyone`s mind is on Christmas, New Year, festivities and the such. We barely notice the cloak of darkness as it descends. But January and February must be the hardest months because there is nothing to take our minds away from getting up in the dark and the mud. As February ends the snowdrops and daffodils remind us that spring is coming, and the sneaky after work hack boosts morale, so everyone cheers up and gets a new lease of life.

What should we call this dark period? Some people would say it is S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but lets not get into psychology. Let`s just call it being Down in the Dumps. In winter. The wumps. Or the wimps. Or perhaps only the wimps get the wumps?

What do you think? Personally, I`m going to go with the wumps, and say that that is how I was feeling this morning. The only cure being a good jumping session followed by a fun hack, with perhaps a hot cup of tea and some hot cross buns to remind us that spring is on it`s way!

Here is a clip from my hack.

Expressing Emotions

I’ve heard the saying that the eyes are the window to the soul, but today I saw how the ears are the window to emotion. A horse’s emotion, that is, not my own.

I hack out this horse every week and he’s lovely, you can walk on a long rein and then pick up the reins to have a canter, which he’s always game for.

Anyway, today he seemed a little reluctant to leave the yard. Well, it was raining and he’d had a hard dressage lesson the evening before. 

We set off through the woods, stretching and warming up his muscles, before coming out in the valley.

I trotted the first track, and was pleased to feel the horse eagerly pick up trot; he’d realised he wasn’t going to dissolve in the rain! Anyway, I suddenly thought of capturing this horse and his obvious pleasure from our hack. I could feel his energy and the spring in his step, and wanted to share his elation.

Even in the jolly walk, you can see his ears are pricked and he’s really interested in his surroundings – especially the sheep! The walk felt like that of an office worker at 5.30pm on a Friday.

  
Once we had our steady canter, with his ears forwards the whole time, we had a little breather, before I glanced up at the hill. The ground was good and he loves that patch for a gallop. 

He needed no encouragement from me, and as soon as I relaxed by hands we were off!

  
This one is harder to keep his head in shot as I was out of the saddle, so had a more wobbly arm. 

I hope that whilst watching this you can all feel the happy vibes that we both felt on this hack. It was the first time I’ve really paid attention to the ears of a horse without using their facial expression to help read their emotions. And possibly one of the few times I’ve felt a horse is really upbeat and happy, not content happy or excited happy, but pure elation for life. It was just what I needed after a rubbish week of getting rained on, blown away, and having a cold. 

Yesterday

After a stressful and anxious couple of days I reached lunchtime feeling the whole world was against me. I’m sure you all know the feeling. Even the sun shining couldn’t lift the dark clouds.

After munching through my sandwich in deep contemplation I decided to motivate myself and would ride Mr B. He’s a lovely large grey gelding who has just has his hocks injected and is coming back into work quietly. He’s been doing some walk and trot hacks and straight lines in the school, but if figured what I (I mean he) really needed was to go off site and a bit further afield. So I brought him in and flicked him off quickly before remembering our palomino mare who recently tied up and needs to be kept working. She could come too. No, I did not feel like company, so I would ride and lead.

Five minutes later and Mr B tacked up I mounted and set off, ignoring many a raised eyebrow. Off we went into the spring countryside.

By the time I was halfway up the lane the peaceful air was calming me down, I felt my shoulders relax and I let the rhythmical footfalls of my grey steed calm my thoughts, while the little mare jogged alongside. It was very non eventful, except having to turn round because a tree covered our path. One horse I could get through, but two? I think not.

The pair were very well behaved and I had a couple of trots, using the sitting trot to help empty my mind, kind of like meditation. I found myself talking to both horses and putting the world to rights and keeping an eye out for those cocky pheasants who, having survived the shooting season think they are invincible. We reached the cornfield and trotted the full length, revelling in ground that is hard enough to trot or canter but at the same time softer than concrete.

I was quite disappointed to find myself at the yard gate; I’d just started to enjoy myself. It didn’t matter anyway, for the rest of the afternoon I was in a better state of mind. The song lyrics “all my troubles seem so far away” came to mind. My ride was proof that horses are therapeutic and good for the soul, especially when you’re all alone with them and nature.