Goodbye old friend

It is very hard to say goodbye to a much loved member of the family, regardless of whether they are human or animal. So it was with a very heavy heart that I finally made the decision to put our oldest pony, Badger to sleep recently.

The very cross looking pony arrived as part of a batch for breaking in one Christmas Eve many, many years ago. The three wild eyed Connemaras that exploded from the trailer that afternoon were named, in true Christmas spirit, Carol, Santa and Noel. The latter name wasn’t necessarily festive, he had all of the attitude and temper of a certain member of Oasis. My Christmas morning, that year, was spent beginning the process of educating the ponies to accept that humans were ok. Carol was angelic and went on to become one of the best 13.2 jumping ponies we were ever associated with, before her owner eventually sold her to America. Santa, when he started work under saddle, bolted with me, during which experience I decided letting him run into a gorse hedge would stop him. It didn’t – in full flight he turned at the last moment, I flew into the gorse hedge as he galloped gaily back to the stables. He and the perpetually grumpy Noel, who tolerated a rider on his back, eventually headed back to their owner.

Noel reappeared as an unbroken pony again a year later and was sent this time with another batch of ponies to a man who specialised in training wild ponies. Noel presented him with quite a challenge, tolerating all of the training and early riding until one day exploding and depositing his rider on a grass verge.  I’m sure, given his character, Noel laughed all of the way home.

Eventually he was deemed suitable for riding and came back to us and joined the stable of ponies, one of which was called Spider, for the life of me I can’t remember why – but going along the animal theme Noel was renamed Badger.

From the moment he returned, to the day he died, he affected a look of abject horror at anything that was ever done to him, he was bad to catch, difficult to handle and yet he was loved utterly by everyone who had anything to do with him. During those early days he was ridden on a lunge line, in the deepest bog that could be found to stop him bucking his young rider off.

Hunting was impossible, he became completely beside himself, but show jumping was his forte. Flying into the air over the hugest fences, he was never going to skim over fences in speed competitions, he seemed to float in the air as if he wanted to stay up there forever, but tiny as he was he could turn on a sixpence and won dozens of competitions against much bigger ponies.

He learned to beg for treats, lifting a foreleg in exchange for carrots or apples and would nod his head up and down as yes when a bucket of food appeared.

His last day of competing with us was disappointing, in pouring rain, jumping fences that were as high as his ears he stumbled coming into the last line of fences and had a rare stop. It took two more years before Adult child felt able to let him go onto other riders and after a time when other riders fell utterly under his spell he came home to retire, walking, after a six year absence, straight into his old stable.

This year the old spark of naughtiness and life was clearly waning. He was quiet, easy to catch, no running off to hide when it was time to come in, no jumping out of fields because he could. He lost weight, his coat looked horrible and he just wasn’t well. I didn’t want him to slip away, or to become ill and go down in the field or in his stable and so made the decision to put him to sleep. While it was horrific to lose him I was glad that I could make his end easy without suffering.

Back in the Saddle

Hello again. I’ve been AWOL for quite a while, but with good reason.

It’s been a very strange year. This time last year my father and step mother were both diagnosed with cancer. My step mum was going through chemotherapy and my father dealing with hormone injections. I didn’t know then but his cancer was already too far advanced to be treatable.

We visited this time last year, my gang and myself for what we already knew would probably the final time we could all be together in reasonable health.

After a summer spent trying to get Dad’s pain to a manageable level he came home to live out his final months in the house he loved so much. I put my life aside and went to spend time with him to enable him to do that rather than being in a nursing home. An ambulance brought him home the day after I arrived and thus began one of the most unusual times of my life.

Time slipped by, a time of love, laughter, fun and the horror of watching him struggle to do the things he once did so easily. We made daily trips to the hospital once my step mother became too ill to be at home. Hours were spent pushing his wheelchair around the corridors, learning the way around the vast hospital. Once my step mother died he faded away very quickly and died.

Eventually I came home and was treated to a holiday by a friend so that I could relax and come to terms with what had happened. Tenerife, sunshine, relaxation – what could be nicer? Except three days into the holiday my friend suffered a brain haemorrhage. What I assumed to be blurred vision because of soap was quickly diagnosed by the local doctor and an ambulance summoned. Thus began the first of two emergency trips in ambulances from one end of the island to the other in order to get the best care. My hands ached with the effort of holding onto the passenger seat in the front of the ambulance as the vehicle was buffeted around by the strong gales that were blowing.

Weeks later than planned I finally arrived home having seen yet more of hospitals and emergency rooms. The first weekend I was booked to take a young friend to a show jumping day, such a wonderful change from the death and sickness and hospitals where I had spent the last six months. We unloaded her horse, tacked her up and got her on board. As she walked off towards the warm up area I fetched coffee to sip while she worked the horse. Walking back literally minutes later I saw people running, a horse running free and a body prone on the ground and the sound of screaming. Yes, my friend had fallen and had s suspected broken leg.

An ambulance was summoned and finally arrived, bumping over the sandy surface of the arena to where she was now sitting on a chair, swathed in blankets and coats to try to keep her warm. A crowd of mothers and spectators had gathered around us, all trying to help.

“Oh,” someone nudged me in excited tones as the ambulance doors swung open and we could see the beds and equipment. “You don’t get chance to see into one of these very often.”


Book Review – Rider biomechanics

Rider Biomechanics by Mary Wanless.

Published by Kenilworth Press May 2017 Paperback

I read this book recently and absolutely loved it – Quiller Publishing have the final version on their web site.

If there is one equestrian author who single-handedly changed how we looked at riding it has to be Mary Wanless.

I can well remember receiving a copy of her first book, Ride With Your Mind in 1987, suddenly rising above all of the high-brow equestrian books about equitation and competition riding was a book that actually made sense. Ground breaking stuff for its time, but the title actually explained what was happening when the rider was in the saddle and why.

Prior to this revolution anyone interested in improving their horse had only technical books from such luminaries as Alois Podhajsky, Reiner Klimke and Henry Wynmalen to study. While they were undoubtedly incredible horsemen the information they imparted gave no concept of cause and effect as did Mary Wanless’s equestrian revolution.

Suddenly riding a horse properly made sense; regardless of how many times the correct use of the aids was explained, what was a rider to do if what they were doing wasn’t working. I don’t think it occurred to us in those dark ages that we, the rider could have any effect on what the horse was or wasn’t doing. We gave the correct canter aid, therefore the horse should strike off on the right leg. Thirty years later I’m sure that riders who have all of this knowledge to hand would scoff at our ignorance. It seems so basic now to realise how could the horse possibly strike off on the correct lead in canter if the rider’s weight was unwittingly over the required leg.

Talk about a shining beacon in the darkness, years of frustration for so many riders and of course their horses were undone as the new concept of actually being aware of what your body is doing and how your posture affects the horse made such a huge difference.

Mary Wanless is now the author of a huge number of books and dvds on the subject. She coaches riders at all levels, from novices to top level, including some who have competed at the highest levels of international competition.

Her latest title, Rider Biomechanics, is her take on what is now an extremely relevant subject and gives the reader a detailed and easy to understand text which details how the fabric, or fascia of the body affects our posture, mobility, movement and stability.

With this knowledge to hand the rider can become aware of how their body affects the horse and how they can gain mastery over their body and help, rather than hinder the horse’s way of going.

Biomechanics is an awesome concept and one that is so obvious once it is explained to you, but one that perhaps riders often don’t consider enough. It is a real eye opener to realise that tension held in one part of the body will impact on every other part and thus onto the horse in a chain reaction. Given that the horse is a living organism with his own tensions, injuries, preferences and moods it is incredible that we can become enough of a team to produce the fabulous movements of advanced dressage.

Rider Biomechanics is an incredibly detailed book, beautifully illustrated with colourful diagrams and photographs which show the influence of the body, including the front and back lines as well as the influence the arms and spinal position has on the rider’s ability to help or hinder the horse. This is such a long way away from the instructions of old where we were merely told to have a straight line from the horse’s mouth to our elbows. I am sure there must be many a horse who, with a rider who is aware of what their body is doing, must think ‘thank goodness for Mary Wanless!’


Book Review – The Principles of Riding

I recently read and enjoyed this book. 


Basic Training of Horse and Rider

Author GNEF, published by Kenilworth Press, July 2017, 288 pages

For novice riders, those returning to riding after a long break, or parents of pony mad children, this book ticks all the boxes.

Written by the German Equestrian Federation, this book is filled with a heap of basic and more advanced  information on the subject of riding.

The book begins with the basics, discussing the characteristics of the horse and the relationship between horse and rider. It continues with information on equipment and preparing for riding plus the influence of the rider. Later chapters deal with how to ride at all gaits and jumping fences, plus advanced riding, cross country and show jumping. The book concludes with information on ground work for young horses.

Chapter four which discusses the seat and the influence of the rider is particularly useful with detailed diagrams and passages of text which demonstrate the effects of the riders movement and balance at all paces including jumping.

Following on from this is detailed chapter on basic exercises which again is clearly laid out with bullet points, short paragraphs and easy to understand diagrams which illustrate what is being discussed.

The chapter on the basic training of the horse will be of great interest to anyone who is training a young horse. The chapter discusses the aims of training, so that the reader has an idea of what they are aiming to achieve, but even better, the book explains the why behind the theory which makes it easier for readers to understand why their horse needs to be straight and supple. Also detailed are the problems which riders could come across, giving their causes and how to deal with them.

The book is similar to the BHS equestrian bibles of riding and horsemanship, but is far more in-depth, with the inclusion of modern schools of thought regarding training theory and biomechanics. The Principles of Riding is easy to read and very well laid out with clear concise instructions with bullet points and also includes tips on what can go wrong which is very helpful. Clear illustrations really help drive home the salient points of the text making it easy to understand.

One disadvantage of the book is that it is clearly aimed at a German audience with great emphasis on German rules and regulations, which the UK rider may find confusing. For instance the advice to keep more experienced horses to the left hand side when riding two abreast while on the road is unhelpful when in the UK the opposite is correct. However this should not detract from a readers enjoyment of the book, although it is a shame perhaps that a UK edition of the book was not published.

Anyone who is interested in improving their riding, or who is having problems with a horse will find heaps of useful advice especially if you are working alone without the regular assistance of a trainer.

This book is not just aimed at the novice rider, there is plenty here to interest experienced rider too. Anyone interested in riding will find this a mine of useful information which readers can devour in its whole or dip into at will when questions or problems arise.

Small world

Small old world the equestrian world, especially now that we have Facebook and google, it has never been simpler to find anything – or any one.

I received a message via Facebook over the weekend from a lady who said she believed I was the breeder of a horse she owned and went on to say the horse’s name and sire. I had indeed bred her mare and had sold her on as a four year old. The mare was the first daughter of Bella who was the first horse I owned and trained. Bella, I had known since she was born. I had known her mother, Jenny when I was a child and had seen her come off the lorry from Ireland when I was a teenager.

I eventually bought her foal as a four year old and broke her in myself. While Bella was very easy to break in, she was a nightmare in her early days under saddle as she was very nappy and would not go anywhere alone. The problem was eventually solved by a girlfriend of mine walking with me, or rather behind us with a lunge whip which she used to encourage Bella to move forwards. Once she had the idea of what she was meant to do she came on in leaps and bounds and went onto become an incredible horse who I rode huge distances on. Bella came with me when I left home and back again when the job didn’t work out and I returned to my parent’s house.

She then came with me when I got married and was actually the key factor in me getting married as I had put her in foal and needed extra grazing. So I asked a neighbour if I could rent one of his fields and well things went on from there.

Her first foal was a super colt who went on to be a terrific eventer. Bella in the meantime went back to work and became a tremendous horse across country, I hunted her for years across huge country where she would jump hedges as high as her ears and give bigger, less brave horses a lead.

When she eventually retired we bred with her, but unfortunately left England before the results of our breeding plan could come to fruition.  Her first daughter was named Jenny after her granddam and was sold on to a friend, who eventually, sadly died. By this time I was in Ireland and lost track of Jenny, so I was very pleased to hear from her new owner who had nothing but praise for the little mare who, as she said, hunted for years across huge country where she would jump hedges as high as her ears and give bigger, less brave horses a lead!

Alone again

Growing up in utter isolation in the countryside gives a child an independence that will stand them in good stead forever.

I learned from an early age, that if I did not do things alone, I didn’t do them at all. I would see groups of pals that grew up in the estates and towns and never felt that I needed that kind of companionship, that neediness for company in order to do anything, or go anywhere.

Things did not change as I got older, I was always isolated because of location, or circumstance. My independence became a certain source of awe for acquaintances who had grown up surrounded by family or friends who would provide an easy source of social support.

I had no problem travelling the world alone, if I hadn’t I would have never gone anywhere.

The worst though is going to places filled with other couples, or as in Bridget Jones words, ‘smug married couples’. I eventually stopped going to hunt balls, once my favourite social event and to Point to Points because of how lonely those occasions made me feel.

A Phil Collins concert was too good to miss though, even though I knew I would have to go it alone. He was one of my favourite singers in years gone by and Face Value had been the soundtrack to a particularly fun part of my young adulthood.

As the stadium began to fill I had never felt so alone, surrounded by some 50,000 people all couples, enjoying spending time together. It was an amazing concert, the feeling of loneliness went away as we were all absorbed by the music.

Making my way out towards the end of the concert, I didn’t want to stay to the end in case I couldn’t get the coach home and didn’t fancy being stuck alone in the middle of the city in the small hours of the night. I’m not that brave! As I left a couple were leaving ahead of me, the woman clearly ill, with her partner taking solicitous care of her as they made their way down the steps and away from the venue. I did wonder what would have happened to me if that had been me.

Then the concert was over and the crowds began to pour out behind me and yet again I was alone again in the crowd.

Badger never forgets

Sometimes on a wet Sunday it is best just to batten down the hatches and give up trying to do anything except curling up with a good film on the TV and a fire – well it is June after all! I was just getting ready to stop for the day and curl up with The Devil Wears Prada when my telephone rang. It was Badger’s last rider, Lauren. She was in the area and would love to see the old chap if I were around. Ah well – it wasn’t as if I couldn’t record the film and watch it any time.

A short time later Lauren and her father arrived. She hadn’t seen Badger for over a year since he had come home to retire when she became too old to compete on him. As she came into the house I could see there was no point in making small talk, her thoughts and heart lay elsewhere so we pulled on coats and braved the rain to go to the stables.

With our appalling Irish weather I often get chance to thank my lucky stars that my stables are all under cover, just as I did that day. We were able to get Badger out of his stable to eat the carrots we had bought and so that Lauren could hug him properly. Within moments it was crystal clear that he remembered her very well as he was soon lifting his left foreleg, begging for treats, something I had taught him years and years ago. I don’t often get him to demonstrate his skill, but Lauren clearly had and he very obviously remembered her.

I was so impressed by him remembering her so well that I recounted the story to my farrier who came the following day. Of course, in the horse world everyone has a bigger fish story and my farrier was no different. While he shod Kinsale he told me about a Thoroughbred who was bred by one of his clients. The horse stayed with them until it was four. During its time with its breeders it was let out daily into the sand arena for a roll, something he clearly enjoyed very much. At four, he went to be broken in and was then sold on into training. After a number of years in training and many successes the horse was injured and had to be retired. He, like Badger, was returned to his original owners.

The sand arena that the horse had loved so much had been grassed over as the family did not need it any more, but as soon as the racehorse was turned out into the field where the arena had been he trotted straight to his usual place and began to dig up the soil, looking for the sand he loved rolling in.

Another story the farrier related was of a family who had a black pony, who would whinny each time it saw its rider’s mother, presumably as she was the one who fed him. Some six or seven years after the pony had been outgrown and sold on out of the area, the original owners were at a show  and parked next to a lorry which had a bunch of ponies on it. As soon as the mum got out of their jeep and started to talk they could hear whinnying from the  lorry and eventually established that the noise was coming from a black pony who had once belonged to them. So clearly ponies and horses do have really long memories!

A great first review

Can’t believe how long it is since I last blogged. Life somehow just seems to fly by without a second to blog, there has been plenty going on.

Something that has been very important to me is that my children’s book, ‘A Pony For Free,’ has just been published by Lavender and White. The original idea for the book was written many years ago when I was the editor of Ireland’s Horse and Pony magazine where I published it as a series.

Since then the text has languished, like a lot of other books and incomplete parts of books, on my computer until while cleaning out some files on the hard drive I came across the text and re-worked it.

Lavender and White did a fabulous cover for me and also did a great job of editing, proofing and typesetting it. The book is now available on Amazon both as an ebook and in hardback.

Here is a link to the book page on Amazon

Late last week I received the news that one of the reviewers, from the books target children’s audience was thoroughly enjoying the book and couldn’t wait to turn the pages to see what was going to happen next. I was so thrilled to hear such a positive reaction from a reader. Hopefully in my next blog I will be able to post her full review.

Water, water, everywhere


Household chores are usually done with my mind on autopilot, sorting the laundry, unpacking the shopping, all done with my brain off doing its own thing, generally working out plots for books or unravelling plot cul-de-sacs.

My foot squelching on the bathroom carpet brought me rapidly back to earth, something was very definitely wrong. In the dim evening light it was impossible to see what I was walking in, so I put down the washing basket I was carrying and turned on the light.

Oh, dear. A slight mess. The bathroom carpet was sodden. A dark line extending half way across the room, one side of which squelched, the other did not. Water had clearly overflowed from the sink, which contained a pair of grubby, once white converse shoes belonging to Nursing Student.

As I slowly took in the devastation I spotted an orange post it note left on the  cupboard, ‘It was an accident. I’ll clear it up later.’

As my heart rate finally began to slow, I saw an enormous basket of towels on one side of the room, where the culprit had tried to soak up the water. I fetched more towels and laid them over the carpet, each soaking up water until they were themselves sodden.

I fetched newspaper and laid that down. The same thing happened. I moved the furniture that was over the sodden parts of the carpet out of the way so that at least I could get to the pools of water. Making any impact on the wetness was impossible.

Dr Google advised hiring fan heaters to dry out the water. That just wasn’t going to happen – I didn’t have the money to hire them, nor to pay the electricity bill afterwards.

Eventually I solved the problem, pulling a corner of the carpet up and then hauling more until the carpet came away in my hand from its base over the original blue and white tiles. I had put down the carpet years ago to make the room feel warmer, but it was now ruined.

Amazing the strength temper gives you – the carpet came up easily, I shifted the furniture off it and dragged it out of the room and dragged it downstairs, leaving little pools of water on the wooden floor and the tiles of the hall.

We carried on our damp path, right along the hall and out into the night air. The carpet dumped I went wearily back upstairs to survey my bathroom. Fortunately the damage was minimal, the carpet had soaked up the water and the tiles had prevented the water from leaking downwards and damaging the ceiling of the room below.

I heaped up the newspaper and crumpled it into a damp pile and finally, straightening up saw the orange post it note that I had not fully read. The last line read, ‘Please don’t kill me.’

As if I would….!