Finding spirit

I helped out with my friend’s pony today, getting him from the field to the yard for his 6 weekly pair of new shoes.

He is a spirited chap who knows his own mind and has his own characteristics that have set like concrete as the years have gone by. Now in the horsey equivalent of a man in his 80s, he is cantakerous but mischievous. If he was in a care home he would send the nurses flying every time he needed a bath.

This little Welsh pony sent me going round in circles in between shoes, as if we were doing a dance round the stableyard to try out his shiny new tap shoes. The only way I could keep him remotely still for the farrier was to constantly feed him apples, carrots and mints to take his mind off being a fidget. Then the noise of the beagles on their exercise echoed round the valley. The noise of anything hound like puts every equine in the vicinity ‘on edge’. They stand as if they are obeying a two minutes silence to a cenotaph somewhere in the sky with their ears to attention to catch the next fascinating sound. In many ways they are like meerkats, on high alert for the next predator.

He was joined in this stance full of awe by a horse in a stable who looked like he was going to rob a bank with a hood covering everything except his eyes. Another horse stood in the field – all standing to attention in the same direction.

It was in this pose that I was able to admire the beauty of the horse and the inherent intelligence that is innocent and sensitive to experiences both negative and positive.

It made me think of the horses sacrificed in World War One and the plight of the surviving horses who were slain after the war to feed the hungry French.

If you want evidence that an inner spirit exists in living things, there is no greater proof than the spirit that lies within horses.

This blog is for Unicef.

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My friends and I are going to do the lottery this week in an attempt to win enough money to go on a girly shopping trip to New York.

Despite various depressing goings on with our marriage, I can dream of uninhibited feminine retail therapy in the big apple to keep me going.

I watched a documentary last night on BBc Four about a horsewoman and horse breeder based in New Zealand (although a born and bred American) called Scott who set-out on a journey across Asia to locate the origins of the Appaloosa horse (the spotty type). Scott wanted to prove that the American Appaloosas were in fact related to the bloodlines of Appaloosa’s in Asia, where the breed in fact originated from.

This journey took her through the plains of outer Mongolia where the winters re harsh and the only respite is in a toasty yurt eating goats head wrapped up in blankets. Despite being 69 years old, she coped well on horseback at high altitude and was overcome with emotion when she caught the first sight of an ‘Appy’ running wild across the plains. Their spots were perfect and their manes looked beautiful blowing in the wind. They took hair from the manes to create DNA samples, which they then had tested in labs based in Texas USA. The news confirmed Scott’s theory that Appallosa’s originated from Asia and that American ‘Appy’s’ are distant relatives.

Aside from her horsey quest, the journey gave an insight into Scott as a person and her line of 5 marriage. She confesses that she should have married a cowboy as none of her men were ‘horsey’ and they didn’t understand her love of horses.

Maybe that’s where I am going wrong….

This blog is for Unicef.

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The Shetland treatment

I cant decide whether I like Shetland ponies, do I put them in the same category as donkeys? For me, donkeys are a complete waste of space. Yes, if you are a Christian, you will praise them until the cows come home for dutifully carrying Mary on her long journey to and fro Bethlehem but since then what?

I used to look after a friend’s smallholding (chickens, goats, pigs, horses) and the one animal I found most irritating was the donkey (or donkeys in this case). This up-to-no-good pair woud stand in my way every time I needed to get to the food bin or the hay barn and just cause havoc trying to get to the food. It wasnt as if they were starving. This was after they had just been fed and all their horsey friends had disappeared into the fields to tuck into the lush green summer grass. No these donkeys could not be bothered to move, preferring to stay put by the barn and try and barge past me every time I needed to go in there. Yes they are cute, but after you have stroked their long ears for a while and cooed, they actually become very annoying when they are in-between you and getting stuff done.

Shetlands are similar. They are also very cute and fluffy but they are very mischievous. Today, while poo picking their paddock (as one of them was convalescing with a poorly foot) I was being stalked by this cheeky pair. The small black one decided to muzzle my bottom for a while and I was just waiting for the moment when the teeth would make appearance and then YEEOW! Yes the temptation to bite a fleshy red-jean clad bottom was just to difficult to resist. I then tried to move forward and noticed the pony had moved on to the strap on the side of my boot and had it between her teeth.

Only small children can ride shetlands – and even then, they are highly likely to come off or get trodden on. My 3 year old son was bucked off a shetland for no other reason than the pony couldnt be bothered to carry him. My son still rides him but this is quite stressy for me as since the bucking incident I have to be even more on my guard than before. I also have to carry a holly branch as I lead him so that the pony doesnt try and take a chunk of me while I am leading along. I figure my son would be better off looking like a pea on a drum on a Shire Horse than riding these little cheeky time bombs ready to go off at any moments lapse of concentration.

Shetlands are useful in the Shetland Pony Grand National for raising money for charity and starting off budding jockeys. They also have a special place in many people’s hearts as their first ‘ride’. They are remembered because they were naughty and despite naughtiness.  So I will not be putting Shetlands in to the equestrian room 101 for they have stayed true to their Thelwell charicatures – bringing down the most pompous and precocious of us in one move – we all need the Shetland treatment at some point in our lives.

This blog is for Unicef.

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Christmas on the front line

Sorry for the missed blog post last night, I was busy returning to my childhood with my friend at Olympia like the two pony mad youngsters we were and in many ways still are. We had a selfie taken with showjumper John Whitaker, which was a bit weird as we felt we were standing next to the sculpture of a jumping God rather than a Northern man, he wore the expression of someone who considered publicity to be a necessary evil. I cant blame him, plus it helps the macho male image if you are a little bit reluctant. I like the strong, silent type.

However, I have a strong, nagging type. I asked him to do two things for Christmas (get the children’s FC presents). He didnt have to think about family, friends or even me (as I bought myself my own present from him). So here we are on the 19th December with half a present for baby boy (a train but no track) and a present that appears to have disappeared through the Bermuda Triangle of eBay purchases. It is cutting it rather fine to panic buy an RC RNLI boat if ‘it doesnt arrive by Monday’. I refuse to help him on this one, like a child who needs to learn the hard way, if he knows I wont save the situation then he will have to pull his finger out.

And they say women have to wait until at least 2016 before they can engage in frontline combat (a marine said the main reason was that women lack ‘the killer instinct’. I’d like to see him try his luck if he failed to get a child’s Christmas present on time…

This blog is for Unicef.

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Surprise vacancies

Every now and then I decide to have complete memory failure over my previous baking and cooking attempts and embark on a new chapter in my home-baking career.

These attempts are normally assisted by Tana Ramsay whose book on family cooking seems to understand the need for Mums to freeze things and prepare stuff in advance to reduce cooking time.

She also understands that every once in a while us Mums need me time, and highlights the benefits of kneading dough, to exorcise the frustrations of life and build up a bit of upper arm strength at the same time.

So, I decided to make my own dough and I was surprised how satisfying a process it was to create a dough and the bake it into ‘danish pastry pizzas’. It was particularly surprising to find that they were edible.

Today had a couple of other surprises in store….

I had the chance to go riding this morning (I dont have the money to own a horse I hasten to add, I just bum free rides when owners need their gee gees exercised… the boom time I used to get paid for it).

I encountered a ‘bridleway closed’ sign. It wasnt on a big red road sign but there was a diversion (smack bang in the middle of nowhere). I followed the diversion and came across a muddy bit which we ploughed on through until my horse’s rear legs appeared to give way. He had been sucked into a vat of clay. He is 17.2hh so for him to slip like that is highly unusual. By the time he recovered we had clay everywhere even up on his cheek and by his ear.

I later went to collect my baby boy from pre-school and discovered that at the tender age of 3 he had been chosen to play Joseph in the nativity (mainly because he is like a parrot and will repeat everything you say – none of the other boys in the pre-school were that interested in saying the lines). So he now has his first script to learn. My daughter was Mary when she was at the pre-school,so she is thrilled that he is following in her footsteps.

When we picked her up from school and told her, she immediately launched into rehearsals and asked baby boy to repeat ‘Is there any room at the Inn?’

He said…..’no’

Think perhaps he should be the innkeeper.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

God’s furniture and other tales

The most amazingly loud thunder and lightning storm occurred last night. Baby boy awoke immediately. I brought him into my bed only to find he ha wet himself and his bed. So while the rain was lashing it down and the angels were moving furniture (that’s what my gran used to say) I was stripping little man’s bed and giving him a shower (I dont know what it s about boys’ wee but it is potent – the public convenience smell starts at a young age).

When he was finally settled I then started to wonder about the animals. My dogs amazingly slept through it but my friend’s young mare did herself a lot of damage during the night trying to escape the noise. She crashed through a hedge and barbed wire fence and managed to pierce a large hole between her chest and leg. The vet was unable to stitch it so the next 24 hours are crucial because if she gets an infection I dont fancy her chances poor thing. She probably should have been kept in a stable over-night but she is on ‘grass livery’ so that was not an easy option. It is not possible to run horses on a shoe-string because sooner or later they need more than grazing and an insurance policy.

Apparently many other animals did themselves an injury last night. Have you ever tried to explain thunder to a three year old? Its not until you try and describe it that you realise how insane it is. Which is why some horses feel the bet alternative is to plough through a barbed wire fence.

The angels analogy  is a good one but if you are non-religious it can open up a whole can of worms in terms of questions and before you know it you are having a philosophical debate with a toddler.

This blog is for Unicef.

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The best of British Showjumping at Hickstead

Today I took my first selfie because I had been allowed to be incredibly selfish and take myself off for a day out without hubby and kids (well i did take the dogs with me). I indulged in a much needed hit of equestrianism with a day at Hickstead’s Derby. I have been going since a child and I love everything about it, the atmosphere, the huge arena, the huge jumps and the informality of it. After mooching around the tradestands, grabbing myself a couple of glasses of Pimm’s and checking out the different parts of the course, i completely revelled in my surroundings and the chance to do as i pleased without worrying about children (the only downside was having to clear up after both dogs who both decided to poop in high traffic public areas, i also had to take them into the toilets with me which was a bit of a challenge).

The Derby was about to start, so i found myself a good spot high up on the public grandstand and settled down to watch the show with one dog perched on my lap and the other perched next to me. After a while i noticed my younger dog had taken  a shine to the friendly chap sat next to me and before long she had helped herself to sitting on his lap, much to my embarrassment. I apologised but he said he didnt mind at all. After sharing a few comments about some of the rather hairy rounds that we had witnessed around the derby course, he told me that he was getting nervous as his own horse was due to jump the course in a while – last year’s winner, Caritiar Z ridden by Phillip Miller.

This put the excitement of the competition on a whole different level as i found myself rooting for this chap’s horse, i really wanted him to do well. You could have cut the tension with a knife as we watched the horse go round and it was a brilliant round with only 1 down, which put him in the lead with only four more horses to go. But Trevor Breen but in a good performance with only one down so there was going to be a jump off between the two horses – by now i really wanted Caritiar Z to win to achieve the accolade of back-to-back derby wins. He put in a good jump-off with only one down, but Trevor Breen’s horse was a fraction faster and pipped him to the post with one down, shaving a few seconds off Caritiar’s time.

The very nice chap sitting next to me took the defeat gracefully and was clearly proud to be the owner of a horse who made the Derby course look easy. It is people like him that we have to thank for keeping UK showjumping so competitive and so enjoyable – what a thoroughly nice chap. My dog rather liked him too.

This blog is for Unicef.

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A Bed of grass

I was going to blog last night, but like some ‘vexed’ heroine from a Jane Austen novel I passed out way before my bedtime, but not on an antique chaise longue. I awoke at 1am still fully clothed and the curtains wide open letting the full moon-shine straight into the bedroom. Like a baby all put of routine, i got up, got changed managed to sleep for another hour or so and then by 3am i couldnt silence my churning thoughts any longer and retreated to a cup of tea and a good book.  I then returned to bed at 4am. As a result i feel jet-lagged, or slightly hungover but with the exotic holiday or the enjoyment of a drunken stupor, removed from the equation. I cant even turn to chocolate for a quick fix as I am on the ‘I quit sugar’ diet.

So there isnt much ‘in me’ to blog about today except my other ‘go to’ – horses.

Like many working Mums who are ‘horsey’, riding is a luxury, there is never enough time or the ‘right time’ to disappear on your own for a few hours to faff with a horse (because horses require a lot of faffing), a bit like motorbikes. So i just like to be around them (also a bit like motorbikes). I help to look after some horses near me in exchange for enjoying the odd ride. When i turned up today i notice one of the horses had a nasty case of sweet itch and a sore where his fly mask had been rubbing. So jumped at the chance to play horsey nurse (i am still about 8 really). So i get him in next to a haynet, rummage in the cupboard for lotions and potions, flick on the kettle for hot water and set to with his mane, pulling and trimming and fussing. He isnt too sure but lets me do it anyway with the odd irritated head flick every now and then, sometimes he turns his neck round me to have a cuddle. Thats what i love about horses, they all have their own unique personalities, like dogs. The key is to know how to treat them according to their sensitivities.

Like a horse i used to ride who could sense the vet had arrived even before he saw him. One time the vet turned up to give him an injection in his hock. I was in his stable and the horse was relaxed munching on hay. Then he heard a car arrive and the vet got out. The hay he was munching froze mid chomp and his ears stood up like they were on sentry duty. He was a big horse and the vet wasnt relishing the deed of inserting sedative into his neck but he managed it. As the horse got sleepy some of jis body weight started o rest on my arm but i couldnt move while the vet was injecting for fear of waking him up. There have been cases when vets have accidentally syringed themselves when a horse has moved and i didnt want that to happen.

Sadly the injection didnt work and the horse is enjoying retirement rather than motoring round the countryside, he is lucky he lives in a home where they are happy to see a horse enjoy just being a horse, hanging out in the field, without any purpose for humans accept to keep the grass down – which he does very well. I wish life was that simple – not seeking new grass, just keeping the existing grass in check.

This blog is for Unicef. Thanks for reading.

Didis and dodos

Every now and then you come across a person who fits their stereotype as neatly as a white upper middle class conservative. It was at a country club, surprise, surprise.

I don’t frequent country clubs, I neither have the budget nor the inclination, but, as most of my life experiences have come about, I was offered a freebie visit through a family friend who happened to be going with her friend ‘Didi’ after school. As it turned out Didi had a daughter the same age as my friend’s daughter and a boy the same age as my own daughter. I met Didi soaking wet in a swimming costume with a frill around her hips (which tend to be worn strangely by apple shaped women who wear it at an attempt to detract attention away from the bottom and thigh area when in fact they may as well have a sign pointing to below the hip saying ‘look here’). But don’t let the cutesy costume fool you from the Didis of this world, one look at that her steely glaze with unflinching direct eye contact told me that:

A) she probably rides horses

B) most likely to have been privately educated

C) is going to be a tad bossy and domineering as many of the ‘pushy middle class mums’ tend to be

At this point I had to scold the little voice in my head with ‘dont judge a book by its cover, she hasn’t even said a word and already she is in a box’. “Hello I’m Didi, nice to meet you, the boys are in the pool already, lets get this lot in their costumes, I assume you are staying for supper, I have lots of kindles and iPad we can ‘plug the children into’ (while she haw haws over a glass of wine…… shut-up voice in my head). I smile and nod and before I know it my friend’s children and mine are ‘cluck-clucked’ to the pool by Didi. Then pool session over, in the showers and then she is going round brushing everyone’s hair with aussie miracle spray (including my daughter who loved it), sorting the seating arrangements out in the country club bar and recommending the most expensive items on the menu.

After she has got half of PC World out for the kids and got a glass of wine in hand, she then embarks on confirming my inner voice’s assumptions. “well of course I said to the teacher, the forest school route hadn’t been properly risk assessed, it was far too close to a bridleway and any rider knows a horse can spook at anything, then buck and goodness knows what could happen” (I found this scenario so far fetched that she may as well have been including in her assessment earth tremors and hurricanes. What she really meant was ‘i want to demonstrate that I am a horse person and this tenuous link is the best way I can do that). Then came assumption b) “I have my eldest down at prep school and my daughter will follow suit, you just can’t beat the class sizes”. In between utterances she was clucking round the table like a mother hen seeing to everyone’s children and paused for rather too long at something situated on my son’s chair, prompting me to look and notice he had wet his trousers as she flounces away in quiet merciless judgement. Before her posh chaos exits the room she makes some remark about her husband playing golf’ (apparently better than her first husband), how she ‘travelled the world and London’ before settling here and listened to my views on co-education with a stony expression before saying “what a funny idea”.

So stereotypically middle-class Brit was this encounter that I was half expecting someone to say ‘cut’ and finding myself mistakenly placed on the set of the next Bridget Jones movie. If this indeed had happened I would fantasise that ‘Didi’ would once again return to her actual name of ‘Diane’ and say ‘thank god that’s over, it takes effort to play the part of a point-scoring, social climbing bitch’ and then tell me how she graffitid all over the local UKIP signs.

But that would be a fictitious character.

I am blogging every day for UNICEF – read about it here.

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The right kind of schools

I have often praised Channel Four for their documentaries, but this latest one is another example of incredibly watchable TV. Mr Drew’s School for Boys shows the worst of pupil behaviour can be tackled with the most incredible patience and willingness to seek the best for the boys.

It got me thinking that one of the best qualities you can have as a teacher is patience, but I’m not sure this is the same quality needed for good parenting.

The next programme was about a school that was considered to be the last chance saloon for boys who had been excluded from mainstream education, many suffering from ADHD. I particularly enjoyed the part of the programme where horses were being used to help with behaviour issues. Animals are non-judgmental and therefore the boys didn’t feel threatened and seemed to relax a little and be happier in their own skin.

In some cases, certainly at Mr Drew’s school, the boys weren’t getting enough sleep. Sleep is so intrinsically linked with behaviour, I know it through my own experience and that is why I am trying to get to bed before 11pm….

Ī will get there…..

But just before I go, the case of the teacher who as stabbed to death by a pupil months before she was due to retire, is an example of why children’s behaviour is so important for their own lives and for the lives of everyone else and society.

That said, sleep beckons.

This blog is for UNICEF.

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