It's nearly the end of 2009, and what a year it's been. So much of our lives has changed over this past year. Nothing is the same.
Last Christmas Max arrived here from the Woodsetts field where he had been recovering from a bout of lameness. Barnaby was still recovering from his broken pedal bone, which took exactly a year to heal, and Zak was on box rest recovering from his tendon injury. We were getting used to living in a tiny cottage rather than a five bedroomed town house. I must just tell you that this house is totally open plan. We walk in the back door, cross the kitchen, go down four steps into the sitting room, walk across that to the flight of stairs up to the bedroom, and there's a shower room, and that's it! There is no more. Tessa took about twenty minutes to realise that if she laid in her bed and whimpered, we'd be able to hear her upstairs, so she lay in her bed on that first night and began to whimper with a vengeance. We stood it for about half an hour before giving in and calling her up to bed with us. Not long after that we bought a stairgate, so she remains in the kitchen, as the next discovery was that nobody, under any circumstances, was allowed to wear shoes in the sitting room on the beige carpet, and doggy paw prints are right out.
But outside the house, we've had to make mental and physical adjustments, too. I have gone from doing a very sedentary desk job to mucking out three, then four and now six horses, but I've gradually got used to it. I've written elsewhere about how I've recovered emotionally from the stresses and strains of work, to stretch out luxuriously into the person I was designed to be.
I am sure this job wouldn't be to everyone's taste, because I spend days and days on my own, but to me it is bliss. I get to read, cook, pray, ride and listen to music how, where and when I like, with no interruptions, no sarcastic comments, no suggestions, just my own company, and I love it.
I have made the slow transition from life on a livery yard, to being able to see my horse from my kitchen window. I can leave my stuff where I want without it being 'borrowed'. Nobody is bitching about me, my horse, my stuff, what I'm wearing, where I'm competing, how I got on, or anything. I do have to ride on my own, but even on a yard with fifty liveries, it wasn't always possible to ride out with someone else anyway.
As the year unfolded I realised how much pressure I'd been under to go to competitions, and more importantly to jump things and at a height I didn't want to do. After the teensy accident in January I am just thrilled to be riding at all.
When we first came Missis said she'd done eventing and did dressage to Advanced Medium level. I was encouraged by this. As time went by, it transpired that she did all of that when she was 17, and is 35 now. She freely admitted that she'd ridden more in the first three months we were here than she has in the last three years altogether. And you could tell because all of her information was out of date. 'So-and-so hires out their cross country course.' No they don't. 'The riding school hires out their arena.' No they don't. It was very frustrating.
Which is why I'd like to issue a huge thankyou to our farrier, who said one day, "You ought to join Amber Valley Riding Club. They do pleasure rides once a month round here - you'd really like it." He gave me their number, I rang them, and away we went. We've done an absolutely brilliant ride every month, each at least 10 miles long, with a minimum of roadwork, and thoroughly enjoyed them. It's really opened up Derbyshire to us as a county with possibilities, as before that I really wondered what we were going to do.
And all this is possible, because our vet declared Barnaby and Zak sound in May, and able to be gently ridden. We went indoors and hugged each other and cried. It was such a relief. We turned Zak out for the first time. He galloped round. So much for taking it steady. Max and Barnaby were so overjoyed they decided to jump the dry stone wall in unison, what a sight! They had rugs on, too, but cleared it by a mile.
The highlights of this year must be 1. The sponsored ride round Chatsworth. It was an amazing day, very warm, and miles of off-road riding. This place is used for a high level Horse Trials each May, which we normally go to watch, as all the top level riders go. Some of the cross country fences are a permanent fixture. When we got the paperwork through for the ride, it said, 'Strictly no jumping of the cross country fences.' Who did they think I was riding, Apache Sauce? And then, when we came to it, we got round to Queen Mary's Bower, where the main water jump is. Max suddenly lit up and went careering towards it! I was deeply tempted, it's only a drop in, a few strides and a jump out again, but I managed to steer him away at the last minute, but if nobody had been looking...
2. The next best thing has to be a TREC competition held locally. It was pairs only, so Missis and I signed up to do it. I have always slated TREC, said it's for wussy types, and I would do it when I was fifty and not fit enough to do anything else. It turned out to be, by far, the most fun I've ever had on a horse. We did the orienteering phase first and got completely lost. We only got home by teaming up with two other women who'd clearly done it before. I thought, "Missis has a Ph.d, she's bound to be able to read a map," but, no!
We could see some of the obstacles we'd be doing as soon as we got out of the lorry, and Max had been standing, snorting, round eyed, staring at them. I knew it didn't bode well. As it happened we fluffed most of the obstacles, but I had such fun trying them. Missis and her horse did very well, actually. We did the 'control of paces' section, which was also a lot harder than I'd expected. I was amazed at how nervous I was just doing a bit of walk and canter. BUT I haven't laughed so much since I did that very first hunter trials years ago at Laughterton. It's been wonderful to feel like that again, instead of nervous and stressed. If we want to do it with a chance of being placed, Missis ought to do it with Mr O next year, as Mr O's map reading is very good, and Polo was very brave at the obstacles, and Barnaby, as you know, is scared of nothing. Something to look forward to in 2010 I think.
We had problems with the taps and water here when we first moved in, so I decided not to bother doing any showing, as it takes me three hours to bath Max and get him ready. But in August I couldn't resist having a crack at The Ashover Show. I got up at 5am to get Max ready. Because we didn't know what to expect here, Mr O hadn't got the day off work, (it's always on a Wednesday) so I walked Max down, and Missis met me there. She groomed for me, extremely well, I can't express my gratitude enough. I had no stress as she was there for me the whole time. I didn't realise it was a County Level show (good job, as I wouldn't have had the nerve to enter!) and had entered Coloured Pony and Ridden Cob. I had to book in advance so all Max's details could go in the show catalogue. How exciting, my horse's name in print. It was a wonderful day, and we came fourth in the Coloured Pony class. We were only really beaten by the county champion. As I say, it's a good job I didn't know beforehand. Next year Mr O will make sure he gets the day off, so he can come, too.
So, on the horsey front, it's been a lot of fun, with no pressure, just like it used to be years ago. I haven't used a whip on Max once all year, shouted at him, or threatened to sell him! He's progressed a great deal, too. He used to be terrified of cows and sheep, but riding round Chatsworth, where the sheep scattered at his approach, cured him of that, and having cows in every field here has cured him of that fear. Now he helps the farmer down the road round his cows back up to the barn. He stands right next to the cows, so close I could touch them, and isn't the least bit bothered. This is a total transformation. Last time he saw cows at Osberton, he turned and fled!
I am so looking forward to doing more pleasure rides in 2010, more showing, and definitely doing the TREC again. I am so thrilled that the horses are well, and that I have bonded with Max this year like never before. I have loved the summer, when I have sat in the field with the horses, listening to the birds and watching my boys playing. I am blessed, and don't I know it.
We'd better have a bit more tomorrow, don't you think?
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