Friday, July 27, 2018

Don't let the fear consume you!!

It’s starting to feel like the only things I can write about is how terrified of different things I am. Whilst I am getting better with my riding there is one thing that still causes me to break into a sweat. Just thinking about it as I type this is giving me butterflies. Trailering, towing the horses put’s the fear of god into me.

For me the whole process is a royal pain in my ass.

Before passing my test I never had a problem towing. I never went far, I know this doesn’t make it right, I’m just being honest, but far enough to be able to take part in local fun rides. I knew that if I wanted to do more, I had to pass my test. I booked myself onto a quick one day course, I didn’t feel that I needed anything else as I was confident in towing a trailer and relatively confident at reversing.
I managed to get in some reversing practice with a friend called Mark. We went to a local farm and he had me reversing a big tractor and trailer all around the farm. My stepdad, known to friends and family as Bamba, also took me out reversing and practising the couple/un-couple. D-Day finally arrived and after a drive around, some reversing practice and lots of couple/un-couple I went for my test. I felt completely sick with nerves and totally screwed it up. I absolutely nailed my reversing, even if I do say so myself. Maybe that was my downfall, I got to confident. I pulled round to complete my un-couple/re-couple and lost it, my mind went completely blank. I couldn’t remember what I was doing. Needless to say I completely screwed it and before lowering the trailer onto the car I released the jockey wheel which dropped the trailer onto the car. INSTANT FAIL!!!!!!!
I knew that I had failed but didn’t dare ask so carried on with my test, everything else went really well and if I hadn’t screwed it all up at the beginning I would have passed with 2 minors.

Devastated doesn’t even come close to how I felt. 

I spoke to my instructor and rebooked for a week later. I spent the next week practising what I failed on over and over until I couldn’t get it wrong.
Test day came and it was the same damn person testing me! Luckily I walked away with a pass certificate, I honestly couldn’t have been happier. This meant that I could get out and do whatever I wanted, well, sort of. I actually didn’t have a car that could tow or a trailer to tow the horses. So really if I did want to go anywhere I needed to borrow my mum’s car and my sister in law, Lou’s trailer. This wasn’t ever an issue until both Lou and I wanted to go to different places on the same day. As it was her trailer I couldn’t really say no or even expect her to let me have it. But that got me thinking, I didn’t want to miss out, I wanted to be able to say to a friend lets hack somewhere new and just load up and off we go. So with a call to the bank I took out a loan, started looking at cars and trailers.

Not long after I was the proud owner of a shiny 4x4 and trailer. But this is when all my problems started.

One Sunday morning my friend Gemma and I had arranged to go out with the local Bloodhounds. 

The Farmers Bloodhounds are so much fun, their Huntsman Brian is extremely friendly and always makes you feel welcome. I have known his son Jamie for a while now through the rugby club that my brother played at. But had never really known Jamie rode or hunted. Prior to getting Winnie I hadn’t really known about the bloodhounds and it was only because Lou rode with them and Tom helped on the quad that I knew anything about them. I followed in the car a couple of times, there is one thing greater than hearing the sound of those hounds speaking on a line as I speed around the countryside and that’s following those amazing hounds from horseback jumping anything in sight. Unfortunately for me I am too much of a chicken to do this so I’ve only ever been out with the bloodhounds on their Hound Exercise’s prior to the opening meet. These are shorter rides with the option to jump if you want to. Gemma and I had been to one hound exercise together at Whitfield which I absolutely loved. Winnie was so good, we jumped everything and managed to stay at the front of the field. The horses had trailered perfectly and stood happily whilst we had a drink with everyone afterwards.

On this particular Sunday the meet was at Hinton in the Hedges which is about 6 miles from where we live. Horses were groomed to within an inch of their lives, tacked up, loaded and off we went. No more than 2 miles down the road we came to a roundabout and it was here that I lost all my confidence in towing. As we went round the roundabout both the horses started moving, now, when I say moving I don’t just mean your normal moving, I mean the whole trailer was rocking from side to side, I honestly thought it was going over. I don’t know what caused them to do it and I don’t think I ever will. But right then in that moment, I stopped breathing and all I could picture was the trailer tipping over and the horses being injured. I pulled off of the roundabout into the garage to check on the horses and noticed a small of blood around Winnie’s back leg. Fear went through me. What had I done? I’d broken the horses. I called my mum who was meant to meet us at the meet and told her we were going home. When I got home and unloaded Winnie we realised she had stood on herself and cut her cushion on her heel. Turns out she was fine and mum was mortified that I hadn’t continued to the meet.

Since then, whenever I have trailered either of our horses it has put the fear of God into me. If I can I avoid trailering at all costs because whenever I do trailer the same thing happens. The horse/horses lose balance and fidget which causes the trailer to rock…… a lot.

I thought it might just be Winnie so I signed up to a hedge hopping clinic with Casper to see how he was. I put my brave pants on, loaded him, which he did first time and off I went. I had given myself plenty of time to get there, anticipating him being a pain to load like Winnie was but he wasn’t so off we went really early. That was where it stopped, on every single turn the trailer shook. No when you’re travelling down country roads it’s kind of hard to avoid the corners. I think I actually stopped to check he was ok 3 times. When I did finally arrive I was on the verge of tears and shaking like a leaf. I didn’t want to trailer him home but knew that I had to, it was just as bad as on the way there.

I don’t know if it is me or my trailer that is the problem because just after Christmas Lou trailered me to a meet so that I could Gate-Shut for her. We loaded Winnie, which has become a bit of a two man job, but that’s another story. Despite us only travelling 2 miles to the meet I loaded her untacked and decided to tack her up there. Loaded and ready we travelled to the meet as if she wasn’t even in the trailer. I couldn’t believe it. Calm and happy because she had travelled well and we were early so I wasn’t going to be late and feel rushed we had a great day.

So, was it me? Was it that she was untacked? Was it that all the doors were shut? I didn’t know. But I thought that if it worked when Lou was towing then it must work for me.
I’m not going to lie it took me ages to actually trailer the horses. My trailer basically became a straw and hay transporter. I didn’t tow the horses anywhere until Izzy decided that she wanted some lessons. This forced me to trailer her pony Blue. If she was going to get lessons she might as well have them on her pony.

The first time I took Blue and Izzy to Plum Park I was a nervous wreck, I was worried about where I was going to go, which was the best way? Which had the least corners or turns, the best road conditions, least pot-holes. Whatever it took to get the easiest drive.

Blue turned out to be an absolute dream to trailer. No matter what corner we turned or how rough the road was I didn’t know he was in the trailer. It took a while for me to calm down whilst trailering him though. My poor daughter Izzy wasn’t allowed to talk to me or distract me for ages, until I realised that Blue was fine and wasn’t going to tip the trailer over.

Izzy recently went to on a school trip for a week so I decided to take her lesson and take Casper XC training to Plum Park. I’d been told to ignore the trailer rocking and drive faster as the more they moved the slower I drove.

Casper took a while to load which got my stress levels up but with the help of my partner Luke we finally loaded him and set off. Within seconds the damn trailer was rocking and Casper was all over the place. We made it onto the straight dual carriageway and the trailer was still rocking intermittently. I was a nervous wreck by this point, hating every minute of it, shaking, tears streaming down my face. I changed my mind 1000 times and very nearly went home. If it hadn’t been for Chloe texting me to say don’t go home I’m certain that I would have. By the time we arrived I didn’t think I was in the right frame of mind to ride, nevertheless I tacked up, got on and off we went. It took me a while to calm down but Casper could see the XC jumps and already knew that he was here to do a job.

No the thing about Casper is that when he gets excited he tends to put in a little buck or 2, so with this in mind I warmed him up away from Luke and Chloe so that we were on the flat and if he did prat around then I would be more likely to stay on.

Casper warmed up and me anxious at what jumps Chloe was going to make me jump we set off for a few small tyres and some poles. Ears forward, eyes on the prize Casper took absolutely no notice of the cows or sheep that were in the field, or the other horses that were calling us from their paddocks. We flew over the first few jumps and almost instantly I relaxed. Gradually the jumps got higher, we flew over the scary looking house jump and just before we finished I made the fatal mistake of commenting on how I had admired this particular jump they had that I’d seen in the open XC recently. Stupid me. That only meant one thing. Before I was allowed to cool down I had to jump it. Now this jump isn’t that high, but it’s got a nice spread on it and looks a bit like a keyboard. The sort of jump that horses spook at. Casper ran out the first time but that was my fault as I was nervous of it and Casper could sense that. We circled round and tried it again. This time I was determined to complete it. No way was I going to let him run out again. But more importantly my stupid competitive nature wouldn’t let me fail in front of a friend. I can’t have anyone thinking that I am a failure. So driving him forward and a quick tap on the shoulder we were flying over this jump that I would never have umped this time last year. I couldn’t stop smiling. I’d done it.
I guess the point of this post is that, it’s OK to be scared, as long as you don’t let it consume you. I want to do so many things with the horses this year and I don’t want my fear of trailering to stop me. I’ve signed up to Kirtlington Sponsored Ride, something I have always wanted to do. Even thinking about it now and knowing I have to trailer him there has given me butterflies, actually I feel a bit sick. I have a long road ahead of me to get over my fear of trailering and to figure out why the horses are doing this but I have to. I have to be a big girl and be brave. I can’t, and I won’t, let this fear consume me.

Baby Steps. So my homework is to take the horses out more often. Trailer somewhere for a hack, just go for a drive. It doesn’t matter what it is but I’ve got to do it, because with the Bloodhounds meeting near me in just under 3 weeks I have something to work for.

Be Brave, Be Confident, or in the words of a friend of mine, Mr BZ…… Don’t Be Shit…                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Friday, July 13, 2018

Husband Vs Horses

“There are many wonderful places in the world. My favourite is on the back of my horse”

I have no doubt in my mind that the end of my marriage began when Winnie arrived. I had gone from having no hobbies, nothing that took my time away, to spending any time that I wasn’t at work or with my kids out with Winnie. Whether that be grooming her, riding, poo picking, cleaning tack or just sitting out there talking to her. 
I probably went into overdrive a bit when she arrived. I was out there every morning and evening, sometimes until the sun went down.
For the first 3 years of our relationship I had been at his disposal. At home with dinner cooked most evenings. I didn’t go out with friends and if I did I always made sure it was when he was on nights so that I was always at home for him. He refused to partake in any activities preferring to stay in front of the TV. Whether that be going to watch the rugby at Buckingham or going to a local show. 
I think I finally saw the real person when Winnie arrived. He became obsessed with making me feel bad about riding and not spending time with him. He asked me to come inside at a reasonable time so that we could spend time together and feeling bad for not being there I agreed. That first day I walked into the house at 6pm. Proud of myself for not being selfish and doing as he had asked. No sooner had I sat down he got up claiming he was going to bed. 
WHAT THE FUCK?? Was he being serious? 
“Sod this” I thought. If he wanted to act like a child, then he could do it alone. I refused to follow him. 
Behaviour like this continued for months. Constant nagging (excuse the pun) at me being with the horses all the time. There were a few occasions when he would come out to the horses with me but would then sit there telling me what to do and how to do it. 
I shit you not I once saw him turn his back on one of the horses and squat down. Trying to emulate Monty Roberts. 
On another occasion, I was trying to Load Winnie to take her out with the bloodhounds. She was being a bit of a madam because Bailey was calling out to her and she wouldn’t load. She kept walking off the ramp to one side. I remember asking him to stand in her way and just wave my whip slightly. I knew this worked as I had done it before but no matter how many times I asked he felt he knew best and kept doing the complete opposite. Now, I hate people not listening, especially when I’m asking them to do something I know works. I tried explaining to him that as a fireman what he was doing would be like me telling him how to put a damn fire out. Long story short he stormed off and went to the fire station for the rest of the day and night. Luckily my mum was at home and Winnie was loaded within minutes and off I went. 
He went on about moving away from the area, away from the horses, moving the schools again. And when I said I wouldn’t do it he would throw the biggest strop. 
It got to the stage I dreaded him coming home. He was dead against Izzy getting Blue or us getting Casper. 
He left not long after that. It’s been delightful since he left. I’ve had so much fun with the horses. I’ve met an amazing man who takes control of the yard and encourages me to ride whenever I want to. Bless him he has even started learning to ride. Apparently sweeping and the muck heap are his now. I go for a ride and the stables are mucked out ready.

I really have got a keeper!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

How I lost my confidence.

“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out”

It was with tears streaming down my face, my whole body shaking, feeling physically sick and visions of me in a hospital bed unable to move that I finally realised I had lost all my confidence. My heart broke. How had this happened? Riding was my passion, it was my happy place, my sanctuary. A time for me to forget about everything else and lose myself in the great outdoors. To become one with an animal, or at least that was the idea. 
I’d recently answered an ad on Facebook asking for someone to help exercise their horse. Once he was fit I could do whatever I wanted with him. I went and met the owner and horse, tried him in walk trot and canter, popped a couple of small jumps and agreed that I would exercise him twice a week and weekends. I only lived half a mile down the road and although completely willing the owner didn’t want any help with stable management or costs. It seemed like the perfect situation, able to enjoy riding again after a few years off to have children, without the expense or full time commitment. 
I met the owner at the yard a couple of days later and got him in from the field, tacked him up and off I went on my first hack with him. I was fine, he was fine. I put him to the test hacking up and around the local airfield and I must say he was as good as gold. Didn’t flinch once. 
I hacked him a few more times after this, a couple of times in the school and I seemed to be building a relationship with him. My sister in law keeps her horse Flyn not far from where this horse was stabled so we arranged to meet up one day. Everything was going great until we decided to trot down a hedge line. No more than 4 strides of trot in and this horse turned into a bucking bronco. Now I’m no cowgirl but (touchwood) I’ve never been thrown from a bucking horse. I like to think I can sit most things but this one was not giving up until he got me off. With the classic drop of his shoulder I went flying, landing hard on my neck. I looked up to watch him galloping around the field still bucking, we tried to block his exit but he wasn’t having any of it. He beat me to the gate and made his way home. Adrenaline took over and I went after him, luckily some very kind people nearby saw him canter past without a rider and one went after him and one came to find me. We were finally reunited and with my mum’s voice in my head telling me to get back on and not give up I rode him back to the yard, untacked him, washed him down and checked him over with his owner who had arrived following my panicked phone call. 
As it turned out this is something he does. The fitter he is the better he is but sometimes he will just do it. 
I went home to soothe my aching body in a warm bath and think about what had happened. Could I continue to ride this horse never knowing if today was the day he would freak out again and throw me. I have 2 kids. What would happen to them if he did it again and I really hurt myself? These were all questions going through my mind. 
I tried riding out with him again a few days later, this time with someone else from the yard, I was nervous and probably tense but as soon as the other horse went out of site around the corner he reared up on the road. I asked the other rider to slow down and stay with me but I could feel he was like a coiled spring. When we finally got back I was shaking like a leaf and on the verge of tears. 
Everyone I knew was telling me that I should stop riding him as he was dangerous but I saw this as a challenge. No horse had ever beaten me and I couldn’t give up. If I gave up that would mean I had failed. I wasn’t a failure.
I planned to meet my sister in law again and go for a quiet hack, when I arrived at the yard all hell had broken loose. A new horse had arrived at the yard and the other horses had broken all the electric fences. I managed to catch him and put him in his stable but when I went to get his tack I just burst into tears. I couldn’t do this, he frightened me. For the first time in my life I feared a horse, scared of riding, scared of getting hurt. I couldn’t do it. The hardest part was admitting to myself that everything I once knew was over. It literally broke my heart. Riding had been an integral part of my life since a child. 
I cried myself to sleep that day. 

Fast forward a few weeks and mum has told me that she is going to buy a horse that we can share. Something to help me get my confidence back and that she can plod around on. Not a complete plod but a safe sensible type. 
We were recommended a pony and off we went to view her. She looked nice enough, Welsh D/Cob with lots of feathers. Not my type really but I had promised my mum that I would give her a chance. Her owner tacked her and pushed me on to her. I was shaking with fear. I very nearly got straight off again. The owner took me for a quick hack and Winnie, the mare we were looking to buy, did nothing wrong. I was still scared and held her quite tight, probably to tight but she was well behaved and just what we needed. We bought her. 
When she finally arrived, she had lost a shoe so we couldn’t ride her. I spent weeks getting to know her, grooming her and built up a connection on the ground. She was lovely, such a sweet mare, without a bad bone in her body. 
The day our farrier arrived to replace her shoes my mum stitched me up. She had arranged for my sister in law to bring Flyn over so that her and I could go for a ride. Other than sitting on her back in the field I hadn’t ridden her at all. Our farrier was selling us a saddle too so within minutes of him finishing she was tacked up and I was thrown on. I felt sick, my hands were trembling and I was completely out of my comfort zone. Again, she did nothing wrong. I knew I couldn’t let my fear consume me but getting over my fear is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 
Over the next few weeks I refused to ride unless someone was with me. My mum would walk out with me and make me trot away from her and back again. Slowly I started building trust in Winnie. The only problem was that my mum and I had wanted to be able to ride together and as it stood with only one horse and a Shetland one of us had to be on the ground. 
We decided to start looking for another horse so that we could ride together. Something that I would then start riding. The next step up from Winnie. We found an amazing site called CNG Equine and spoke to the owner, Claire. I explained what we wanted, how I had lost my confidence but was slowly getting it back, that I wanted to be able to do fun rides and cross country eventually. 
We saw a lovely horse called Bailey on Claire’s site and enquired about him. One thing we had noticed is that Claire’s horses sell very quickly so after establishing he could be right for us we purchased him having just seen video’s and pictures of him. 
Bailey arrived and he was exactly as Claire had described him. Forward going but safe. He loved to jump but need a bit of coaching. A friend of mine started riding him whilst I built more confidence with Winne. We entered a few fun rides, pairs hunter trials I even took Winnie out hunting with the local Bloodhounds a few times. Winnie is an absolute legend and gave me all my confidence and more back. Unfortunately, I was still nervous of other horses. Bailey was good but he was so strong and impatient. He didn’t like waiting and wanted to do everything at 100 miles an hour. We eventually sold him to a friend who is fearless and hunts him all the time. He’s found his forever home and we couldn’t be happier. 
I spotted Casper on Claire’s site and just felt that he had a kind eye. I spoke to Claire again and again we bought from Claire unseen. Casper would be our 3rd purchase from Claire, all having been unseen. We bought my daughter a first ridden so that she could move up from the Shetland. 
I had been nervous of Bailey as he was so forward going and impatient. I had made the mistake of letting someone else ride him all the time so although I had a fantastic relationship with Winnie, I had nothing with Bailey. I wouldn’t let that happen again. 
Fast forward to today.
Casper is the sweetest, kindest, gentlest horse ever. I never though any horse would beat the bond I have with Winnie but he is something else. He is so special. I’ve taken it slowly with him and I am spending the summer bonding with him. I ride him all the time. He fears being out on his own and tries to turn home but with my brave pants on I have a little word with myself and push myself. 
I’ve taken Casper XC Schooling but my ultimate plan is to take him hunting with the bloodhounds. I know he can do it as he has previously Team chased and hunted. Boy has he got a jump on him. 
So, that’s my background. That’s what happened to me. I’m not over it, I’m not sure I ever will be, I’m better than I was, I still have my moments. Sometimes my gremlins get the better of me and sometimes I get the better of them. 
I will keep you all updated with the adventures of Casper, myself and the rest of our crazy family. 
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