Saturday, 27 February 2010

Horsey, Horsey, Don't You Stop

Mr O wandered down sleepily to feed the horses this morning, and was met by Fudge. Standing there. Out of his stable.
And while he was out he'd eaten... half a bucket of sugar beet, loads of Alfa-A, most of three haynets, half a sack of carrots and Zak, Barnaby and Max's breakfast. It was like Quentin Tarantino meets The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
There was a chunk of his mane on the floor outside Barnaby's door, where Barnaby had clearly reprimanded him for being there (and eating his breakfast) and a pile of droppings on the floor. What goes in...
Mr O came upstairs and suggested I come and have a look.
Obviously my first worry was colic. I rushed down. Fudge had retreated to the back of his stable, and looked totally guilty. "My tummy hurts!" he said. "Of course it does," shouted Max, "It's full of my flippin breakfast!"
We swept everything up, and I went into Fudge's stable to listen to his stomach. It was totally silent. (A healthy horse's gut should make lots of burbling noises.) I stayed with him for ages, but he wasn't showing any signs. I think he has been remarkably fortunate.
Mr O rode Zak and I decided to lunge Max, as all the horses stayed in yesterday while the weather was so bad. He was quite calm actually, just doing a funny canter with his head on the floor, hoping to snip off some grass with his teeth.
Barnaby had worked himself into a lather by the time we got back in. He was furious that his dad rode Zak first and not him. As soon as Mr O started grooming him and tacking him up he went silent and relaxed. Silly horse.
It was snowing when we left, so Max was headshaking as he doesn't like it, like in the summer when the flies bother him.
We rode down into the village, and Max was a superstar. He didn't spook at anything. The village was quite busy, and he looked at everything, but wasn't naughty at all. We rode past the Black Swan, then turned for home, past the playing fields and tennis courts, then up the steep hill, which was the whole point of going. Max just rolled his shoulders and up he went. Barnaby tried to get faster and faster, and I noticed Mr O was leaning forward quite a bit.
The thing is, when we were at Lorna's Mr O always used to let Barnaby go, and Max could canter to keep up, but I can't let him canter up the road, and why should a horse just go faster and faster anyway? It's very annoying, as Max goes into overdrive and whizzes up the hill to keep up, which isn't on. I asked Mr O to maintain the rhythm, sit back a bit and keep control, which he did, and it makes a big difference. If he wants to do some showing this year, he's going to have to get his act together.
We came back and Missis was there (she only came back from America yesterday and looked dreadful from the flying and tiredness) so I told her about Fudge as she was just about to tack him up for Nine to ride. He did look okay actually, but was looking at me, pleading with me not to tell on him. Missis was quite taken aback to hear this news, as you can imagine. Later when Pongo was tacking him up he said, "I don't think this saddle fits him properly really." I thought, 'No of course it doesn't, he's had a three course breakfast.' Naughty pony.
We've been into town, and got the one and only parking place in the entire car park. Arcade Crafts had a demo on, which was quite good. She was using parchment paper, which I really like the look of. I wish I'd bought some now. I bought a few things, as yesterday I realised it's our wedding anniversary on March 10th and I haven't done anything about it yet - oops! Better get cracking. Never mind, can't have everything .
But you can have surprising things that turn up in your letter box all the way from Switzerland! The macrame book has arrived from Trudi, and this lovely card was attached to it. Mr O would like you to know that despite popular opinion, this is not him. His hat has a chin strap!

Friday, 26 February 2010

BBC Radio 2

Mr O has been off work all week and it's been a real blessing, especially since my little accident on the ice, as I didn't realise at the time, but I've hurt my left arm as much as my left leg. You'd be amazed at how much you use your left arm while mucking out, even when you're right handed.
We are having the most appalling weather. It's been raining non-stop since 4am. I know because I was awake listening to it.
Yesterday turned out to be 'grandchildrens' day' as we managed to see everybody in the afternoon, the Flower Fairy first, who was on fine form, and then the Junior Rovers. I so adore Christian, who came in and said, "You're a donkey!" I said, "Hee-aww, he-aww, he aww-ways says that when he sees me," to which he fell about laughing. You have to be on your toes with that boy, he's very sharp.
I think Jake is catching up in the articulation stakes, though. He started nursery in January. I said, "Do you go to nursery?" He said, "I do," in a very serious voice. The baby just smiled. Who knows what treats lay in store from that rapidly developing mind?

- O -

As you may know, Terry Wogan left the Breakfast Show on Radio 2 just before Christmas, and will be sorely missed. However, I'm pleased to say, Chris Evans is my new best friend. I am thoroughly enjoying his show in the mornings. A couple of weeks ago we saw the film 'Yes Man' with Jim Carrey, in which he plays the role of a man who always said no to everything, and decides to say yes to everything instead, and take the consequences. It's a thought provoking film, actually, and I really enjoyed it.I'm telling you this because Chris Evans is turning into a Yes Man, and I am thrilled. A few weeks ago, they did a feature on, 'Who is called Doris?' and loads of people rang up to say they were named Doris. Then they asked who was the oldest Doris, and found out about a woman who is 95, called Doris, who abseils for charity.
The next day they had her on the programme. I was thrilled to listen to this woman, as she lives in Portsmouth (where I am from) and abseils to raise money for The Rowans Hospice, a hospice for terminally ill cancer patients, where both my mother and grandmother spent their last days, so it's a place that's close to my heart.
Doris said, "My next abseil is on May 29th, Chris, how about coming to join me?" There was a split second pause, then Chris Evans said, "Yes, alright then!" I am astonished and thrilled, and can imagine the headlines in the Portsmouth Evening News. The publicity is bound to increase the donations (I am going to find out how to donate something myself) but there was something so wonderfully generous about it. He has gone up in my estimation considerably.
The other thing is, when Terry Wogan hosted the show, there used to be a 10 minute slot called 'Pause For Thought,' which I thought would go by the board when Terry finished, but they've carried it on under Chris Evans. Very often there will be a vicar, someone from the Salvation Army, or a Rabbi, who will bring something scriptural for the listeners to think about, and it's often very good and thought provoking. I was just pleased this week when a Christian speaker was on and afterwards Chris said, "Yes, that's 100% correct." Thankyou, Chris, and about time, too!

- O -

I must show you this, before I go. This is my card for Nine, who's birthday is in April. This is the card that took three days to make as I just couldn't make up my mind, but I'm very pleased with the end result.

Obviously, it's got his name on it, which I can't show you.

The visit to the grandchildren bore fruit in a quite different direction, too. I have a sudden urge to learn to knit. I come from a long line of knitting women. The Oracle knitted her first jumper aged 8 and wore it to school. Nobody believed she'd actually made it herself. I have always found it mysterious, complicated, and pointless, as it's always seemed like a lot of hard work for something I could just go out and buy.
I have found several tutorials on the internet, that show you how to make a slip knot and cast on. After tying myself up in several knots, mentally and physically, I turned to a book with instructions, cast on in seconds and am knitting away. I have decided Hallington Fox is rather cold and undressed, and needs a scarf, so I shall begin there. He says it's a pity it's in Manchester City's colours, and could he have a bright red waistcoat to go with it? Any takers?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Confession Time

Actually, it occurs to me I have a few things to confess. Do you remember I said I had to confess something about sewing? Well I'd better get it off my chest, now I've mentioned it.
When I was about 14 I did needlework as a school lesson, and hated it, and was hopeless at it. To this day I can sew on a button and repair a hem that's come down, and that's about it.
Anyway, we had exams when we were 14, to help us decide which subjects to do for 'O' Level, so sure enough, the inevitable needlework exam came around.
To my surprise, and joy, the exam took place in the needlework room, where there were helpful and informative posters all around the walls, with diagrams showing you how to thread a sewing machine, etc, and it transpired that just such information was required in the exam, so I merrily copied everything off the walls onto the exam paper.
I can't recall what my record was up until then, but imagine my teacher's surprise when the exam results showed I'd got 100% and she felt she'd discovered a heretofore unrecognised star in the making.
After that, she consulted me regularly, with such questions as, "Do you think the girls would enjoy making this, Jane?" to which I desperately wanted to reply, "Don't ask me, love, I wouldn't have a clue."
I never found out what her reaction was when she found out I'd decided to take up Geography instead ...

- O -
Mr O and I walked the horses through the snow yesterday, down the hill to the riding school, for our lesson. The track down to the school was extremely icy, so the instructor advised us to walk slowly and carefully, as we might slip. The words were barely out of her mouth, when 'Crash!' there I was, lying on the floor. I landed on my hip, and that familiar burning sensation began immediately. It was almost worth it just to see the look of astonishment on Max's face. His blue eyes were very bright, and he seemed to be saying, "Blimey, I didn't know she could do it all by herself!"
I managed to haul myself into the saddle, once we reached the arena, and the lesson began. Our teacher soon fell into the trap of admiring Barnaby's way of going, and general showing off, so not to be outdone, I actually heard Max squeal, "Hee-hee!" in a high pitched voice, before leaping three strides forwards, doing his 'airs above the ground' again. I managed to halt him before too long, though, and get him under control.
Then we had, "I want to be with Barnaby!" and more leaping about, head between his knees this time, but I got the better of him again. What fun these lessons are turning out to be, such a wise investment.
Anyway, he did settle down after a while, and put in some very nice work. I also remembered to put the stirrup straps on, which were amazing. They hold my legs totally still, and further back than I would normally have them.
Barnaby was a bit naughty cantering on the wrong leg on the right rein, but it has to be said that Mr O's riding could have done with a bit of spit and polish. I know why. It's because when you school your horse, you decide where to ask for canter, but when somebody tells you, "Canter between H and C," you panic, because you know the jump is coming, and you must be sorted so you can get some canter strides in before the fence, and it just goes to pieces. He never has that problem out hacking. But this has made me realise that I am going to have to school Barnaby at least once a week, as well as Max, so I hope the weather improves soon.
Mr O was pretty tired afterwards, which shows I am fitter than I give myself credit for. I managed to get back up the hill without incident, and we were home in time for tea and medals.
- O -
And now for my second confession of the day. There is no way I can soften this, deny it or pretty it up, so here goes...
We have lived here for just over a year, and I haven't been to a dentist in all of that time. There - I've said it! It wasn't too painful, unlike the dental treatment I've just received, which was very painful indeed. The nice Spanish lady in the white coat wanted me to bite down on a piece of plastic, so she could take an x-ray of my wisdom tooth. These pieces of plastic presumably only come in one size, and this one was miles too big for my mouth, so biting on it caused it to cut into my gum, causing the most excruciating pain. Obviously the dentist looked at me as if to say, "What on earth's the matter with you, silly child?" and strolled outside to take the x-ray, savouring every moment.
I must just digress here for a moment to ask, would you ever invite a dentist to dinner? I certainly wouldn't. I could imagine their looks of admonishment at every course, "Well that'll give you cavities!" How could you sit and enjoy your gateau after that?
So now they want me to go back next week to have the tooth extracted. I am none too keen on this idea at all. It seems quite happy there, why upset it? I am hoping Missis will be able to take me, otherwise I shall have to walk down, which will take roughly a week and a half.
We whizzed off from there to Tesco, where I found March's issue of Your Horse, and sure enough, I am in it, a minute picture of me and the Boy, on page eight. But the most brilliant thing is that there is a picture of my new penfriend Trudi on her horse Starlett over the page, so now I know what she looks like. I must tell you, she is 69 and still riding (a very lovely horse). If I am still riding at that age, I'll be amazed.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Fame At Last!

I'm on a forum called Trot on TV, which is turning out to be quite fun. A person I've never heard of left me a message yesterday, asking if I'm in Your Horse magazine. Now, I wrote an article for it, which went in last October, so I wondered if she meant that, but the picture that went with it was just a head shot of me, so I couldn't understand how she would have worked it out. There was no picture of Max to go with it.
So I put a message on Facebook yesterday, asking if I'm in it again, and it turns out there's a picture of me on Max (the one that I've used on my profile here) so I need to rush to Tesco and buy a copy immediately! I can't believe it, I've been in there twice now, how fab. Hope Mr O doesn't mind.
Because today, as I said, I want to tell you a little bit more about Barnaby. Let's start with some stats:

Breed: Irish Cob (the 'Irish' bit means he goes like the clappers!)
Show Name: Earl Grey
Age: 13
Height: 15.1hh (will put it in cm as soon as I've worked it out!)

We've owned him for five years. Mr O had had four riding lessons and decided it was time to buy a horse, and started scouring the adverts. A horse had been advertised three weeks in a row, in the Yorkshire Post and was quite cheap. I said there had to be something wrong with him to be put in at such a low price, especially as he kept on being advertised. After a lot of fruitless searching elsewhere, I caved in, and we drove up to Otley, near Leeds, to go and 'view' him. (It makes him sound like a house, doesn't it?)
We drove down a winding country lane and at the end was a field and a little set of stables. We were met by a very nice couple, who went and got a beautiful grey cob out of the field. This was our first sighting of the horse that was to come to mean so much. I asked her to tack him up, and to ride him, which she did (nervously) and then asked her to ride him up the road. She rode him up to an incredibly busy road, and round a roundabout. He didn't flinch at anything. She stopped on the pavement on the way back, hopped off, and I got on and rode him home. He was beautiful. Suddenly I wished we were buying him for me. I got off, handed her the reins, and said, "We'll take him, when can we pick him up?" I have never bought a horse so quickly in all my life.
So Barnaby came to live with us (by which I mean, at livery) and Mr O got on him, and learned to ride. I can honestly say, we couldn't have picked a better horse.
In those days, Lorna and Bill, who owned the yard, used to have a One Day Event every summer, only a little thing, her (very knowledgeable) friend used to judge the dressage, the show jumping used to be held in the orchard (be prepared to jump downhill, and duck under the trees!) and the cross country was over a few brand new fences, but Mr O did it, the only man to take part, and got round it all, within three months of owning The Bard.
Oh yes, he's also called Bar-dee-dee, because my grandson couldn't say Barnaby.

Since then, Mr O has gone on to do lots of hunter trials (both our horses excel at cross country) showing, hunting and various other things. Barnaby has a natural presence, that you can't ignore, and it wins him points in the show ring. Mr O rode into the ring once, and heard the judge say, "There's your winner," behind him! He beat me once, even though he went on the wrong leg in canter. I was speechless, as you can imagine. He won the Championship Working Hunter a couple of years ago at Eckington Club, too, which was fabulous. Mr O didn't know he'd won it until the presentation night, and was thrilled.
(You may not be able to tell from this picture, taken out hunting on New Year's Day 2008 with the Readyfield Bloodhounds, that the fence is about four feet high, with a six foot spread, and a huge ditch underneath. Mr O was nervous - Barnaby was not.)

And then... in May, 2008, we went out for a hack, round all the usual farmer's fields. Mr O was ahead of me, cantering along, when suddenly Barnaby's front foot went over a big rock, and as he went to take his next stride, his foot hooked the rock out of the ground, and flung it into his back foot. Barnaby was instantly and horribly lame.
To cut a long story short, after we'd managed to get him home, it transpired he'd broken his pedal bone in his back foot. We had a year of absolute trauma, trying to keep a horse on box rest that hates being kept in. He used to rear up onto his hind legs, ignoring the pain, trying to get out of the stable. The x-rays showed that it got worse before it got better. The worst case scenario was having a lot of his hoof removed and pinned, which we were dreading, and praying our socks off.
The Lord answered our prayers, and Barnaby gradually started to get better, and the bone started to fuse back together. After several months we decided to turn him away, as there were no more medications or treatments that would make any difference. It was up to Time to be the healer now.
Altogether he had exactly 52 weeks from the injury, by which time we'd moved here, before our wonderful vet Gonda gave him the all-clear. We kept very calm in front of Missis and the vet, then went in and wept for joy.

And now, to be honest, you'd never know he'd had such a serious thing wrong with him. He runs and jumps and barges his way through life, just as he's always done, and I absolutely love him for it. If ever there was a horse that you'd want to live forever, this would be the one.
He's always been the herd leader, but struggled at Lorna's with so many horses in one field. Here his leadership qualities have come to the fore. He never bullies another horse, he just lets them know how it's going to be. He is a good provider and protector, and I have come to realise how clever he is. He comes to me now and says, "I've discussed it with my men, and we'll be coming in now, please," and I go and get them in. Zak and Max especially, trust, respect and maybe even adore him, and I have to say, I'm in total agreement on that score.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

I just want to say a big

to Amy Williams, for winning her gold medal in the skeleton bob. It just doesn't happen to us, does it? Well done, duck, we're proud of you!
Unlike Vancouver, we have lots of snow, and are snowed in again. The road outside is really bad. We mucked out and cleared all the old hay out of the barn again. Then Mr O decided to paint the stables. The smell of bitumen hung heavy in the air. Luckily the tractor started first time, so we were able to get the week's supply of haylage into the barn. This takes three of us, Pongo drives the tractor, I do all the gates, and guide him across the road and Mr O puts the pallets down for each bale of haylage.
I have found two pallets that are solid, with no gaps in the wood, so I am going to use them as a bridge, in the lunge ring, to get Max to walk across them.
I have spent time over the last two days trying to do a card for Nine (who will be 10!) His birthday isn't until April, so I've got plenty of time, but it's a good job, as it's taking me ages to put together something I'm happy with. Sometimes it's a lot harder to make a card for someone you know than it would be just to make a card. It's very frustrating.
Nine likes dinosaurs, but I don't want to buy a stamp to only use on one card, then never use it again. In the end Mr O suggested using clip art, and printing something out, which I did, but I am playing with colours and bits of paper and am still not satisfied.
But I forgot that my magazine, Papercraft Inspirations, has a website. I had a look here where they have lots of free papers and templates. Of course you have to buy the magazine to see what they did with the papers, but they're very inspiring. There are jungle papers, so I'm going to print some off and see what I can do.
I've got to tell you, I had an absolutely awful nightmare last night. I dreamed we hadn't lived here very long, and I saw two women with children on ponies, walking along to the left of our house, but it was a really long, grassy river bank. I asked them where they were going, and they said it was a really good ride if you followed the river down. They said there was a log in the river that you had to jump, but their ponies could do it, so we'd have no problem.
I thought, 'Oh, I must tell Mr O that,' but the next thing I knew, Mr O was already riding down there. I thought, 'I must warn him about the log in the water,' and ran down there. I called out to Mr O, who looked back briefly, took off wrong, and Barnaby plunged into the water and caught his leg on the bank and fell in and threw Mr O onto the far bank. He was laying there injured, but Barnaby was still head down in the water. I dragged him onto the bank (as if I'd ever have the strength!), shouting, "Somebody help us!" as John regained consciousness. I held Barnaby in my arms, and I knew he'd broken his leg, but as he lay there, he gradually stopped breathing. I said, "He's gone, hasn't he?" and began to cry.
When I woke up I was absolutely sobbing. I couldn't believe it. I got up and got dressed and went straight downstairs to look at Barnaby, who looked back, saying, "Where's my bally breakfast, woman?" full of health and life. I hugged him, fed him, and went back indoors for breakfast.

I think I'll spend a little while tomorrow introducing him to you properly.

Friday, 19 February 2010


We've had snow again for the past two days. The trouble is, it keeps melting by late afternoon, by which time, it's too late to ride. It is definitely getting light earlier in the mornings now, though, and not getting dark until well after five. I heard two horses trotting past the house yesterday, and felt like rushing out and shouting, "Go home! It's not fair! If I'm not riding, you shouldn't be riding!" Can you imagine the looks on their faces if I really did it? They'd go back to their yard and say, "That mad old lady from Moor Farm was out again!" Tempting though...
The farrier came today. One day I shall pluck up the courage to ask if I can photograph him (and his partner) at work, and put some pics on here. He came at 10.30, so Barnaby had been kicking his door most of the morning. I managed to block it out in the end. When I went indoors he stopped doing it, so it's a bit obvious it's attention seeking, isn't it?
Fudge just had a trim. He reared up when the farrier did his front foot. He's only a little pony, but his head was touching the ceiling. His feet may still be sensitive, I suppose, but that was a little extreme.
The chickens don't want to go home until 5pm now, so I am letting them put themselves away and going to check on them and shut the door. I am a bit concerned, though. Do you remember Mr O and I saw a fox running across the field last week? Then Missis said Lexus had rolled in fox poo on Sunday night, so the fox has been in their garden. If you come any closer Charles James, you'll be sorry.
We did have pancakes, by the way, and they were gorgeous. I first made them when David was a toddler. We were watching Blue Peter one afternoon, when the presenter (I forget who it was) made pancakes. She started off with a perfectly good mixture, but kept pestering it, until she ended up with a pile of scrambled eggs in the middle of the pan. Of course it's live television, so there was nothing she could do about it. I was laughing my head off at her predicament (you can't swear on live children's TV, after all, but I bet she wanted to). I thought, 'Surely I can do better than that?' and immediately went down to the kitchen to have a go. They turned out very well, and I've been making them (sometimes obsessively) ever since. We had black cherry pie filling and cream, bananas, maple syrup and cream, and Mr O had ice cream. Yummy.
Then the next day I had a brainwave, and decided to make some jam tarts to use up the leftover black cherries. I even had enough to make a jam turnover. I haven't had one of those since I was about seven.
The problem is, Mr O has decided to give up all sweet things for Lent, so he couldn't have any. We are born again Christians, and have no obligation to 'do' Lent at all, but we normally do. I am giving up chocolate, which will be torture enough I think. My job is so physical that if I give up a lot of food, I'll probably pass out!
One of my challenges this month is to make a lemon meringue pie, which I've been dying to do, but if Mr O can't eat it, it's a bit mean I think. I'll have to postpone that to after Easter. Over last summer I did a project on bread, biscuits and cakes, and got quite good at them. Then not long ago we were discussing 'the youth of today' and I was saying how most young people wouldn't know how to make pastry, and wouldn't be able to make a pie, which is probably true, but afterwards I thought, "Can you, dear?" so I am challenging myself to make lots of things with pastry, hence the desire for lemon meringue, but the jam tarts are a start, aren't they?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Rough With The Smooth

I sat here yesterday, watching my washing go round and round in the washing machine, wondering why it was making such a loud clanking noise, and spotted my penknife, gasping for breath at the edge of the water. Not a problem, really, as I recovered it, and the little torch on it still works. (And for anyone who's thinking, 'Crikey, I'd like to be able to sit and watch my washing going round for half an hour', please bear in mind that I was sitting there because I wasn't physically capable of getting up!)
Last week I wondered where my watch was, and found it in my trouser pocket as I pulled it from the tumble dryer. It was only when Mr O pointed out that to get to the tumble dryer it must first have been through a wash cycle, I took a closer look, only to find it had been ten to three for the past two hours. I have sadly laid it to rest.
Also yesterday, I came in from the cold to make myself a cup of coffee, and moved my arm at the wrong time and knocked the whole jar of coffee onto the floor, smashing the jar and sending coffee granules everywhere. I made sure Tessa stayed in her bed while I swept up every shard of glass, and every last granule. I hate it when something gets broken, don't you? It always seems such a shock.
But, on the bright side... I am reading a book called 'Deutsch Direkt'. It's a German language course book for adults and it has been my close companion for at least fifteen years (I noticed my maiden name is written inside the front cover). I reached for the next book, called 'Ganz Spontan' and read that it is in fact the third book in the series, and what I should be reading next is 'Deutsch Express'. I began to search for a copy on the internet, and have considered trying to find it in the library. I mentioned it to Missis on Monday, and she said, "Oh, I've got that." I am astonished. She gave it to me yesterday, and three tapes to go with it. It looks really good, and I can't wait to start working through it.
I am often the willing victim of an act of generosity such as this, and give my heartfelt thanks to the Lord for the way he provides things, sometimes, before I've even realised I want them. A friend in Switzerland, and a reader of my blog (hello Trudi) has said she will post me a macrame book she's had for forty years. How wonderful. Then I might be able to replace the broken light pull in the bathroom, with something chunky (preferably with a great big wooden knob on the end!)
And also, do you remember me saying Fi at Marmalade Rose sent me the website of Norfolk Textiles, who sell oilskin table cloths (amongst other things)? I perused the website and found the perfect thing. It is just a beige checked table cloth, but it's oilskin (with a smaller check than the fabric tablecloth I already have). It came about three days after I'd placed the order and it's absolutely perfect. You cannot believe the thrill of being able to wipe a table and have the cloth in perfect, pristine condition every time. I love it, and want to say a big thankyou to Fi as I've searched everywhere for something like this.
I am trying to get as much housework done as possible, so I don't have to do any for the next two days while I've got all the stables to do. I can't believe I used to work full-time, go to the stables, muck out, ride, go home, cook dinner and fall into bed every single day. And most of my friends are still doing it. I don't know how I had the strength.
I would like to remind you of how joyous it is to be able to see my horses out of my kitchen window, but it's so foggy today, I can't see past the garden table. And it is my full intention to wash the (large) stable windows, but I can't do it when it's -4, can I?
I also fully intend, one day, to do a 'wordless Wednesday' but as my verbosity currently knows no bounds, I can't see it happening just yet. My youngest son tried to remind me that 'a picture paints a thousand words', but I am still at the word stage. When does 'writer's block' come? After six months? A year? I'd better get some nice photographs sorted and ready, then, hadn't I? You never know when they might come in handy.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Finally Finished

I came out to feed the horses this morning to a thick mist everywhere. It made me so glad that I'd booked a lesson at the riding school, otherwise it would have been another day just to chuck out and muck out.
So I fed everybody and went indoors for some sustenance of my own, then tacked Max up and set off down the road. I wore my hi-viz jacket, just to be on the safe side. Max can be quite spooky when it's foggy, but he seemed content to amble along behind me, which was lovely.
Rosie was there to meet us, and we walked down the track to the indoor school. There was someone already riding in there, but Max wasn't phased by it.
I got on and warmed him up and it was obvious from the start that he was in a much more relaxed mood compared to last week. We did some excellent work today, with me trying really hard to keep my legs still. I am very fit, but can't seem to stop my lower leg from moving about. I only do it in the school, and only on Max, so it's something to do with my leg length in relation to his tummy size!
I also worked for at least ten minutes without stirrups, which nearly killed me, but it's well worth it. If I can get down to Jolly Farmer's on Wednesday I'll do it again. I was pleased that my balance was good, though, especially as it was all circle work. I've booked us in again for next week.
When I say 'us' I mean Mr O and I. This is because, as you know, I did three days work last week (when I muck out all six horses as Missis is away) and I have two days this week,as Pongo and Missis are taking the children to London for an overnight stay, but Missis is flying straight on to America from there, so I am doing the horses over the weekend, and every day next week. But the most fantastic thing is that Mr O is taking a week off work, as a 'holiday' so he can help me out. I am so pleased, because, to be honest, I'd be absolutely exhausted by the end of it if I had to do it without help, and I'd never get to ride, as I wouldn't have the strength. So this is a massive burden off my shoulders, and I'm really looking forward to Mr O being home.
So next week the riding lesson is for both of us, and we'll hopefully do a bit of jumping. I nearly suggested it today, but was really happy with what we did, it's given me a real boost, and something to aim for.
I was just sitting here, digesting my lunch, when there was a knock on the door, and Pongo was standing there asking if I could come and help with the haylage. Missis' dad had arrived with a trailer load. There were four of us to do it, but Missis was at the back of the trailer, passing them to Pongo, who threw them up onto the hayloft, where Missis' dad picked them up and threw them to me, and I had the task of stacking them. There were 138 bales, and I did them as if it was nothing, so I must be fit, especially as the bit I can't stand is when I have to lift them up above my head and stack them right at the back. Can I just have a sit down now, with a cup of tea, please?
I have done the ironing, whilst watching this wonderful crafting channel I've recently found. I was very inspired by it today. I wish I was good enough to go into business. This is because I did my first decoupage yesterday, which I really enjoyed doing. It's a lot easier than I'd expected. I put three cards together using the aperture cards I bought on Sunday, and some toppers I've had for a while. They were really quick to do, which is why I wish I had more of an outlet for them, and could make even more. I'll show you them when they're finished.
But today, as I had the iron on, I cut the back for this, and used the ironing bonding strips to finish off the back for it. This is the christening present to go with the card I made the other day. It's to hang on the baby's bedroom door handle.

And this is a close up to show you the actual cross stitch part, which I made first.

I so enjoyed making this, and actually have some fabric left over, so I might make another one for my granddaughter. To be honest, I am not a talented stitcher in the least, so I've surprised myself a bit. (Remind me to confess something to you about that another time!)
So it's been a very busy day. I'm looking forward to relaxing later and doing a bit of cross stitch, until I get up and do it all again tomorrow!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Paradise Found

I managed to ride yesterday, just round Hilltop, with Mr O, and actually Max was very well behaved. I tried a little canter on the verge, but Max went a bit overboard there, so I brought him back to walk. I was very nervous at the outset, but it went very well, which has done wonders for my confidence. We saw a fox running across Jolly Farmer's field when we got back. Mr O did a hunting horn noise, and Max's ears pricked up and he trotted home. Oh well...
We babysat for Seven and Nine last night so Pongo and Missis could go out for the evening. In fact we looked after the dogs more than the boys, which is thoroughly enjoyable. I can't let the dogs out until the boys go to bed, as Piper growls at Seven for some inexplicable reason. He isn't provoked in any way, Seven just needs to be in the same room. I've actually had Piper on my lap, and he's been growling in his sleep, because he knows Seven is in the room.
That's the thing, you see, Piper will bite people (not the children, though) but seems to really like me. I am honoured. He jumps up on my lap for a cuddle. He is a sheltie, and he leans up against me, and it is fascinating to bury your hands in his fur, and find a small, chunky body underneath. He seems to be wearing a ruff, like Sir Walter Raleigh, and looks down his long, thin nose at you. His fur colouring is amazing, especially when he was out in the snow. He is about nine, the same age as Tessa.
Lexus is a different matter. She is a two year old black lab, and just flings herself on you, and sits on your lap, so you can't see, or breathe. Then she starts licking you, for no apparent reason. She is adorable, though, but she takes up the whole of the sofa. She gets annoyed if Piper sits on my lap for too long, so she runs to the window and barks excitedly. Piper runs over to investigate, and Lexus quickly dives into the vacant place on the sofa. She is very pleased at the success of this trick. We had all fallen asleep in a furry heap by the time Pongo and Missis came home.
I am the one who got out of bed this morning to feed the horses and put hay nets up. It was a beautiful, bright morning, far too good to stay in bed, so time for a ride. I got Mr O up and we gave each other our Valentine's cards. The one he gave me is lovely, with a Tatty Teddy on it, and it was decoupage. He said he was quite chuffed looking at it, knowing all the technicality of how it was made. He got me a box of Milk Tray as well. He knows the way to my heart!
We tacked Max and Barnaby up, and set off down Press Lane. There was a man riding towards us, and I called out, "Is that Olly?" which it was, and we had a really good talk. The horse is only six, part Belgian Warmblood, part Irish Sports Horse, part Thoroughbred, which is quite a combination, isn't it? This is the one that got its feet caught in the stable bars. It's not often you see another man riding round here.
A lot of cars had overtaken us, which is very strange early on a Sunday morning. I had planned on riding through to the Manor, then back up on the road, but we realised all the cars were parking, and men were getting out with guns and gundogs. Oh dear. I asked where they would actually be shooting, and it turned out they would be right where we wanted to go, so we had a rapid change of plan, and went down into Bateman's Mill, a tiny hamlet between us and Clay Cross. I had started off feeling quite sick with nerves, and rigid, but by the time we got to the bottom of the lane, I didn't have the strength to stay uptight, and really started to relax. We passed lots of horses, men playing football, dogs, children, bikes etc, and Max didn't spook at any of it. It was a fantastic ride, and I felt totally relaxed and confident, as if it's always been like this, but I must say, Max was immaculately behaved, Barnaby actually spooked more than he did. It was wonderful. I feel as if I've never been away, a fantastic feeling, I could have ridden anything by the time we got back!
Two bits of exciting news. One is that Pongo and Missis have decided we will have cade lambs this year. I am quite happy for you to correct my spelling here. It just means orphan lambs, but is it cade or caid? I have never heard the word before. We'll have a couple, at the end of March. They will need to be bottle fed in the beginning, and will have to sleep in the kitchen (Tessa will be thrilled!) but it would be lovely. I would love a couple of goats, but sheep would be perfectly acceptable.
The second thing is that the menage should be built very soon, maybe even in March, which would be utterly fantastic.
We have traumatised the cats this morning, as we have changed their flea collars. This involves one of us catching them and pinning them to the floor, while the other person takes the old collar off and replaces it with the new one. The second we release them, they sprint out of the door like Gollom, screaming, "It burns us!" They were hiding in the tack room, the last time I saw them. Bless.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Pet Names

I was wondering today, why all my pets have more than one name.

This is Purdy, also known as Perdita (it's Greek for 'the lost one').

But she is also known as Purdy Bird, Purdy Kitten, Peebles and PB. We had a little black and white kitten just before her, but she died of gastroenteritis. I was devastated. Lisa was working in a nursing home at the time and rang one day in some distress as a cat had abandoned its kitten on her doorstep and the RSPCA were coming to take it away, unless we gave it a home, and would dad have it? As I was the one who would be feeding it and emptying the litter tray, I felt her concern was floating in the wrong direction, but still, I said yes.
So this is what popped it's tiny head out of the box, and I burst into tears. It was love at first sight.

A few days later, she went into 'failure-to-thrive mode' and began to fade away before my very eyes. I couldn't bear to lose another one so soon. I got hold of her by the scruff of the neck, looked her in the eye and shouted, "You will NOT die!" She looked at me with a startled expression and decided to live, there and then. She was nine at Christmas. She is my stalker. She sits on my shoulder and licks my neck (yuk!) She is a stunted cat, and has always been tiny. But she has a big personality, and has held her own with the three farm cats here.

This is Tigger:

aka 'Tigger Angel', 'Tig-Pog', 'Tiggings'. He comes to any of these names. He is full of gingerness. He was a feral cat, caught in a net in a field at Gringley-on-the-Hill. We got him at 14 weeks old, as a birthday present for Abby. On his first night in our house, he leapt out of his cardboard box and ran into the corner, under the coffee table. It was pure instinct, but I picked him up, and put him on my lap. He ran back to his safe place under the coffee table. I picked him up. He ran off. I picked him up, laid down on the sofa, and he crawled up to me and laid down with his back under my chin and went to sleep. He stayed there all night, and has been 'my cat' ever since. He is frightened of everybody else, except Mr O. He comes into the stables each morning and says, "Hello!" in a loud, clear voice. He is nine, too.

And finally, as you know, this is Tessa:

I bought her for me. When she was six months old, she woke up one morning and decided she loved Daddy best, and has never wavered. Her faithfulness is an example to us all.
One day Mr O coined the title 'Tessington Bear' for her, and it stuck. (We live quite near a place called The Tissington Trail now, and are much amused.)
She is now mostly known as Bear, or Mrs Brown, and also comes when you call her, using any of these names. In the old days, we used to do Agility and Flyball, but she prefers the quiet life now. She is very good friends with Tigger and Purdy and is far too well mannered to chase the chickens. She is also nine. It must have been a year for obtaining pets.

Do your animals have multiple aliases?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Sunny Days

It is traditional that the British always talk about the weather. All I can say is, if you've ever wondered why, come and live here for a while, and the reason will become obvious. Yesterday it snowed every hour, on the hour. In between it was brilliant sunshine. I got the horses in at 1pm as it was blizzarding. But today was the first really sunny day since I-don't-know-when. Spring is in the air, and not a moment too soon.
Yesterday I had Seven and Nine before school, so Pongo could take Missis to the station. Because of that I was late doing the horses, and it seemed to take me forever to muck out. It always does on the first day Missis is away, I wonder why that is? (Answers on a post card!)
I also had the boys after school and in the evening so Pongo could go and play tennis, so I ended up babysitting until ten o'clock.
I did get to do some sewing, though, and started a new cross stitch, which is quite cute. Plus I managed to watch 'Becoming Jane'. Somebody should have told me James McAvoy is in it. If I'd known that I'd have watched it ages ago. Anne Hathaway is very good as Jane Austen. Her accent is quite good. But the real scene stealer has got to be Julie Walters as Jane's mother. You can see if her mother was really like that, that she would be her inspiration for Mrs Bennett. But James McAvoy...
I managed to be a lot quicker today, largely due to the fact that Mr O fed round before he went to work, so I just had to swap rugs and put all the horses out. I was, in fact, so much quicker that I decided to do some 'work' with Max in the afternoon. I set out the obstacles in the lunge pen and took him in (after a good groom, and general smooching around). He had one look at the sacks-on-sticks and went, 'Oh yes, I remember those,' and put his head down for some serious eating. I had him on the lunge line and picked his head up and we started weaving in and out of the sacks. Last time I just made him walk past them, this time we walked in between. He had a little look, but didn't really hesitate. It was a bit windier today than it was last time, which was handy, as it flapped the sacks about, but Max didn't care at all, and stood eating the grass about four inches away from them. Not too stressed, then?
I put two buckets in front of the rubber matting (buckets are very contrary - on the surface terrifying, but could contain food) and walked Max in between. He didn't hesitate. We went round and round, pausing every so often to snatch some grass. Horses are said to be 'trickle feeders'. Max thinks this is a highly overrated concept, and prefers scoffing as much as possible, in the shortest possible time, so he did.
In the end I asked him to walk onto the rubber matting, which he did. Then I halted him, and asked him to step backwards off it, which he also promptly did. I was thrilled. It was such a sunny afternoon, I decided to go for a walk with him, so we set off up the road. We passed a big lorry with a hi-ab on the back, parked on the lane. Max walked past without a hint of spookiness whatsoever. Don't forget this is the horse that passed two fire engines, an ambulance and an over-turned car a couple of weeks ago, not to mention the helicopter. You never can tell with horses.
We walked up to Terrifying Rock. I gradually moved him closer. He didn't take any notice of the rock. I nudged his head towards it. He was inches away. I said, "Look Max, Terrifying Rock!" He said, "Yes mum, very nice, but it's right next to Delicious Grass!" He ate grass. We strolled home. I still love him.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Join Up

Poor Mr O was woken by the sound of his mobile going off at 5.30am and again at 5.55. It was the alarm company to say the alarm had gone off at work and could he go and check it out. This was fine when we lived in Worksop, a mere ten minutes by car to where Mr O works, but now he is forty-five minutes away, and isn't the first person on the list to receive a call. Where were you all, huh? So Mr O had no choice but to get up and go to work, sans tea, sans breakfast, sans everything.
My alarm clock (Barnaby) went off at 6.50 and I decided to get up, so staggered downstairs and outside, to be greeted by a mini-blizzard. I decided that horses are, in fact, horses, and turned them all out. This hadn't been the original plan, I'd meant to do some work with Max, but thought it would be a bit mean while it was actually snowing, so decided to muck out instead.
Update: the rubber matting in Zak's stable is fabulous. It takes me ten minutes to muck out instead of forty-five. What a blessing. I just sweep all the muck to the front, shovel it into the barrow, and Bob's your uncle, Fanny's your aunt, there's a clean stable. I put half a bale of fresh straw down and it's fit for the King's Horse.
I must tell you, though, that when I went to turn Max out, I put his head collar and lead rope on as usual, opened the stable door, stepped right in, facing him, and made him walk backwards six steps before turning him out. It was worth it just to see the look on his face. It said, "You don't do that to me! Who do you think you are?" but he still did it. By golly, he is going to learn to respect my space if it's the last thing I do.
We got the horses in at lunch time, and I decided to take Max down to the manege. I just put his lungeing bridle on, no saddle, and took a lunge line with me. We walked down to the livery yard, enjoying the view together, and got to the manege. I let him off the lunge line, and sent him away. There are two cute mares in a little paddock quite near one end of the school, so Max set off to join them. They didn't take much notice of him, so he went bucking and leaping round the school. I swooshed behind him with the looped up lunge line, to keep him going. He stopped dead again, imploring the mares to notice him, but they gave him the cold shoulder. He turned to look at me. I walked up to him, stroked him and walked off again, but he didn't follow me.
I sent him off round the school again. Ideally this would be a round pen, but it didn't really matter. I have loose-schooled Max quite often in the past, and can actually say, "...Aaaand Max, Turn!" and he will do it on command.
Anyway, he kept trollying round, but got a lot slower, then really started to walk round with his head low down, which is apparently a good sign. I moved in, eyes down, and turned in front of him and walked off, and to my absolute joy, he followed me. I burst into tears, and really struggled to stay calm and keep the momentum. I gave him a rub on the forehead, and clipped the lunge line back on.
Then I stood about four feet away from him and called him to me, and he looked at me in astonishment, then walked towards me and stopped. I don't know which of us was the most surprised.
Then I made him back up. I really had to concentrate to stay on track, as I was feeling pretty emotional by now. I wiggled the leadrope in front of him, and he immediately and smartly took three paces back. It was the most massive bit of obedience I've ever got from him. I repeated the requests, and he did them again. I gave him another rub on the forehead, and led him out of the arena.
He walked behind me, all the way home, quietly, with his head down, ambling along at perfect peace with the world. I paused at 'Terrifying Rock' for him to have a sniff. I led him up to it, and he completely ignored it and ate the grass about four inches away from it. Bizarre! Normally it is the scariest thing in the world, and well worth a little leap around. Today... nothing.
We got back to the stables, and the next most striking thing was Barnaby's attitude to Max. Barnaby had his ears back, looking very aggressive, as if to say, "Why have you been out?" and Max showed him his teeth, saying, "I don't have to listen to you, I've got mummy!"
Then Barnaby tried to insist that they groom each other, and Max made no move to go near him. I stood and groomed him, and stroked him all over, right up to his ears, which he normally hates, and he stood there motionless and let me do it. Altogether it was a thrilling experience and very emotional. I do love this horse, and so want him to be okay with me. I think today, we may have made a breakthrough.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Horses for Courses

As you know, I am in need of a little motivation. With this in mind, I rang the local riding school on Saturday and booked myself in for a lesson today. It was just what I needed as this morning it was freezing cold and trying to snow. It was just the sort of day for chucking out, mucking out and going back indoors double quick.
But instead, I turned Zak and Barnaby out, mucked Zak out and then tacked Max up, much to his annoyance. He was filthy, but my tack was clean, and so were my riding boots (two out of three ain't bad!) and we set off, side by side, down the road.
My teacher is called Rosie, and she's very young. Last time I went, which must have been last winter, she really annoyed me, and I came out rather depressed, but today was much better.
Max started snorting as soon as we arrived. I walked him down to the indoor school and got on inside. I walked him round to have a look at everything (lots of scary things in an empty indoor school, you'd be surprised!) and get settled. We started the lesson, and all was going swimmingly, just working on transitions and keeping my flipping flappy legs still, and not lifting my heel up all the time. We were just coming down the long side from A to C when all of a sudden Max lifted up on his hind legs and shot forward, then did it again. It must have looked amazing, and I didn't come off, but it was like riding a kangaroo, 'airs above the ground' and all that. Rosie was speechless for a while, and quite pale. The top part of the school is made of slats of wood, and you can see daylight in the gaps. Max had seen a horse being led up the track from the field to the stables and absolutely freaked over it. He did calm down again, but was very 'on his toes' and did a bit of a 'swing-round' in the corner facing the other way about ten minutes later. There are horses in the field outside the school, and I think he could hear them moving about and it put him off.
But it was a good lesson. I'm really glad I went, and I'm going again next week. In fact, the plan is to have a lesson every week in February and March, to get us ready for the showing season. I am going to go even if it's snowing.
And a breakthrough for me was that I got on him and rode home up the road, which I found quite nerve-wracking, but I did it, so I think I should be quite pleased really.
Missis knocked on my door at lunch time, to say the postman had been, and handed me a parcel. I nearly shut the door in her face, I was so desperate to sit down, tear off the wrapping and stare at the Kelly Marks book. This book has a lot to live up to. Mine and Max's future may depend on what lies between the covers. I have been reading it all afternoon, but need to read the first couple of chapters again so that I can take Max down to the manege tomorrow and start trying some of it out. It sounds very good, so I hope it works. The first bit is all about working from the ground, and moving your horse towards you and away from you, getting the horse to respect your space, which at the moment, Max definitely doesn't.
I had a look on the Intelligent Horsemanship website, and there are courses, but it's three hundred pounds for a weekend, which is out of the question frankly. However, there are associate teachers who have been trained in their techniques, and one of them is in Swadlincote, which isn't very far away. I think I might see if she will come out and get me started and show me how to do join-up. If you're wondering what on earth I'm talking about, I will try to explain as we go along, but I barely know myself at this stage!
And I must give credit where credit is due, and say that it turns out Mr O came sixth in the TREC competition last week. They very kindly sent his rosette in the post. He is very pleased, as you can imagine. He's done extremely well for a first-timer, but I never doubted Barnaby's capabilities.
On Saturday night we went to the Amber Valley Riders presentation dinner. We both got a silver rosette for the amount of rides we completed, which is very nice. It's a way of saying thankyou to us for taking part, but really I think the thanks should go to them for putting on such brilliant, well organised rides. I'm really looking forward to doing them again this year.
Just to let you know that I am still sewing away. The problem is that I am making a lot of cards and things for people who read this blog, so I'll have to show them to you 'after the event'. I did a little cross stitch in one session yesterday, something that would have taken me a week when I first started out.
I am on a cross stitching group on Facebook. I put a question on there about how to do french knots, as I don't understand the diagram in my book. A woman very kindly replied with a link to a video showing you exactly how to do it, which is fantastic. I have forwarded it onto Lisa who wants to know, too. The bears' eyes on my latest project should have been french knots, so I might see if I can unpick them and re-do them properly (after a little practise first.) Isn't it lovely when people go out of their way to be helpful like that? It restores my faith in human nature.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

My Speckled Hen

I don't know if you remember, but a little while before Christmas, Lisa (daughter 1) gave me this cross stitch as a present:
I was thrilled with it, and thought she should have saved it and given it to me as a Christmas present. She showed me the design she had used, and on the page was a picture of a chicken who looked just like this:
I gazed in delight, and Lisa said she would make it for me, and promptly set to work. Last night Mr O produced this from out of his bag:

Isn't it lovely? And quite a likeness. I am most impressed. And considering she has a five year old son, a three year old and a four month old baby, I'm surprised she finds the time to do cross stitch at all! Thankyou Lisa, I am delighted with it.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Less Is More

There are two reasons for the title of today's post. The first one concerns Zak. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to muck out (English style!) and commented that I am not a fan of rubber matting. The tradition here is to put rubber matting on the stable floor and only put a little bit of bedding down, usually shavings. I'm not keen because the horse will lay in it's droppings and make their rugs smell.
But no matter how much bedding I put in Zak's stable, he absolutely trashes it. He is by far the muckiest horse I have ever had to muck out (and I've done a few). He must box-walk and kick his droppings about all over the place, which leaves him with no clean bedding in the morning. It takes hours to muck him out as you try to save a few wisps of straw so you don't have to put a whole bale of clean straw in every day. The deeper the bed, the worse it gets.
Missis has rubber matting, so I asked her what she thought, and she said she thinks it definitely helps with her horse's stiffness. She does put a full bed down on top of it, though. I started to mull over the possibility of rubber matting. Then, to my surprise, last Saturday, Mr O, totally of his own volition, said, "This horse needs rubber matting!" I couldn't agree more. So Mr O has ordered some, and it came yesterday, and we'll be putting it down tomorrow. It's not like Missis has got, which is very hard, it's like what I used to have for Penny, very thick and spongy, and comes in sections cut like jigsaw pieces. Imagine the time saved on mucking out, if this works. It'll be a real godsend.

I have finally, at last, finished the christening card. I knew roughly what I wanted, which was:
1) it must look like a christening card, not a new-born baby card.
2) it must be personalised. If you're going to put 'Baby's Christening' you may as well go and buy a card from a shop.
So here is the result. This is the other 'less is more' item for today. When I make a card I'm often tempted to use lots of patterned paper, but it doesn't work with a christening card, and card making is not scrapbooking, is it? I'm really pleased with the result, and feel I can meet Abby next week and talk 'wedding invitations' with confidence.

My Kelly Marks book still hasn't come. I am so annoyed. It was dispatched on the first of February. Grrr!
So today I took matters into my own hands and decided to do some 'de-spooking' exercises with Max. I put a couple of (bright, flappy) feed sacks on two electric fence posts and stuck them into the ground. I pulled the bright blue barrels out and stood them up. Then I had a brainwave and got a piece of the old, rubber matting that used to be on the walls of the lorry and laid it down in the lunge ring as a 'bridge'.
I hadn't realised the three horses were watching me set all this up, and Max's eyes were on stalks when I went to get him in. At first he refused to move, and just stood, transfixed, staring at these new items on his horizon. I managed to get him in, aided by Barnaby, and then put his lungeing gear on.
I walked him round to the lungeing pen, and he expanded to at least 15.2 with the shock of being confronted by all these spooky objects.
I gradually led him round, and he snorted and stared (and probably looked rather good with his head down like that!) and pranced round everything. He went round once and I gave him a mint, then took him round again. This time he was marginally more relaxed, and at the end I let him eat some grass. He wasn't bothered by the blue barrels, just the 'sacks-on-sticks', but gradually got closer until he was eating right next to them. I was very pleased.
Then I walked him over to the rubber matting, and decided to lead him across it, exactly as if I was leading him up the lorry ramp, and he stepped straight on it. I was thrilled. He was a bit wary of the sound his feet made on it, but I let him have a bite of grass, then went round again, and he walked straight on as if it was nothing. I know he doesn't have a foot phobia, as he will load in the lorry straight away, and will walk through water, so I was fairly confident. Now I just need to keep repeating it, until I can bring the sacks closer and closer together, and get him to walk in between them, then I'll put them one either side of the rubber matting. I will keep putting different objects in front of the rubber matting, by which time Mr O will have made me a wooden bridge at work, that Max has to step up onto, then when he's confident with that, I'm going to get on him and ride him over it. I was thrilled with his progress today, though, and he knew I was pleased. He seemed to enjoy doing something different, something that occupied his brain for once. He's very bored just going out to the field, and coming in again every day.

And finally, as you know, Missis' aunt died a couple of weeks ago. Missis has had the arduous task of going to the house and sorting through her aunt's things, never an easy thing to do. However, as she was sorting through the cupboards, she came across a couple of things and thought, 'I know who would like those!' and brought them home to me, so here they are:
This is a butter dish, from the days when butter was sold in round pats. I don't know how old it is, but I think it's very sweet, and it now occupies centre stage on my kitchen table.

Then there is this little chap. Isn't he cute? It says 'pork dripping' and is also quite old. I think I might use it as a mustard pot, or for apple sauce or something.

Have a good weekend everybody, and let's hope it doesn't snow!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Kelly Marks, Your Country Needs You!

I have had a couple of very busy, but productive days. I have ordered the book 'Perfect Manners' by Kelly Marks. Lots of people say it's really good and it really helped their relationship with their horse, so I am going to read it and see what I can do about Max. If I sell him I could be selling a better behaved horse, if it works, and if it transforms him, I'll keep him! So I win either way. I have loitered by the letterbox, like a faithful spaniel, but it hasn't arrived yet. I can't wait to start reading it.
I've nearly finished my cross stitch for the Christening. It's very sweet. I am tempted to show you now, but I think I'd better wait and show you the finished item. I am having a mental block making the christening card. I want it to be silver and white and pink, but I'm playing around with lots of pieces before I commit to anything.
The significance of this is that Abby rang me last week and asked me if I would make all the invitations, place cards etc for her wedding in July. I am thrilled. My first commission! And the point is, she wants pink, silver and white for her colour scheme. I must tell you, that at the moment, I'm not very keen on it, but I need to go to Hobbycraft again and see what they've got and I'm sure I'll be inspired. I just need a piece of silver card or paper to finish this christening card off, then I'll be happy.
I did the ironing yesterday and remembered to look for the crafting TV channel and found it on Sky. I stood there, absolutely riveted by this woman demonstrating card making. It's a bit like QVC though, and I tried not to laugh, but I was very inspired by the cards she made. Before I knew it I'd been ironing for an hour and a half and had done every single thing, so it must have been good. It's thrilling to see other people who want to stroke bits of paper every bit as much as I do! I am not alone with my affliction.
I made another cake with my new tins. This time I went for broke and used five eggs and all the corresponding ingredients, and out came the most enormous sponge cake I've ever seen. I think I must have always over estimated the capability of the ingredients and thought that even if you put in very little of everything, a big cake should come out. Why does no one explain that if you want a whopping great cake, you have to put in loads of ingredients? It's so simple. I didn't have any jam, so I had to make icing and put that in the middle. It was so tall it wouldn't fit in my cake tin, so I have had to put it in the bread container instead! Yummy.
(Watch this space for lemon meringue pie, coming soon!)
I sat in my kitchen, sewing away, while the cake did its thing in the oven, and was overwhelmed by a sense of peace and 'rightness' and 'all is well with the world', even though it had started snowing. I felt very at home in this little cottage in the middle of nowhere.
And, the most thrilling thing of all, I was reading Fiona's lovely blog over at Marmalade Rose where I was supposed to be looking at a sofa, which I did, but my eyes kept straying to her beautiful pink and white polka dot tablecloth. It's in oilcloth, which I am desperate for. I left a message asking where she'd bought it and she left me the website. I was perusing there yesterday, to be honest, a little taken aback at the variety. You know some shops you go in and you want to buy one of everything? This was like that. I have narrowed it down to a beige table cloth with dots, and am about to go back and order it, having gone over the measurements with Mr O last night, who knows about these things. He can look at an object and tell you what it measures to within an inch - extraordinary.
And once again we have snow. Only about an inch, but it hasn't stopped since lunchtime, so we'll see what we've got in the morning.
I turned Barnaby out this morning, who fortunately walked forward to a pile of haylage in the field, as I found to my consternation, that the string of the electric fence was trapped in the ice, so I couldn't hook the gate closed. I ran to the metal gate, and found that too had been buried in ice, and it took a great deal of frantic stamping about at the base of the gate before I could release it and close it before Barnaby decided to go for a stroll round the farm. Phew. I must tell you as well, that on Sunday when we went to get the horses in, Mr O had Barnaby and I had Max, with the intention of going back for Zak, who had no such intentions at all, and leapt gracefully over the electric fence and walked in with us! Oh well.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Unmitigated Disaster

It was Max's birthday yesterday. He is 13. I have had him for six years. Not bad going, considering.
We got up yesterday and went for a walk up the road to see if it was icy, before getting the lorry out. It just had a thick frost on it, so we decided we were going to the TREC competition.
I'd better quickly explain what TREC is:
It was set up in France as a way of examining candidates for taking out rides in trekking centres, but it developed into a competition, which is now quite big in England.
The competition has three phases. The first one is an orienteering section. Obviously if you were leading out a trek you wouldn't want to get lost, so this is the test for that. You go and copy the master map onto your map and set off along the route. Sometimes there may be obstacles to complete along the way, for which you get points. At level one you're looking at a distance of 5-7 miles, and you are timed.
The next section is called Control of Paces. This is to test that you have control of your horse at all times. A track is laid out. You have to do the fastest walk you can manage without changing pace (ie breaking into trot) and the slowest canter (again without going back to trot). This is also timed.
Then comes the obstacle phase. A variety of obstacles are laid out, in a field or maybe using a cross country course. There may be a gate that you have to open without dismounting or letting go of the rope, a bridge to lead your horse over, riding under low branches etc, all things to simulate natural obstacles that you might encounter on a hack.
Yesterday we didn't have the orienteering phase, fortunately, just the control of paces and the obstacle course.
All the horses were walking up and down calmly, waiting their turn to go in the arena. Mr O was on before me, so he was warming Barnaby up. Max was snorting and staring at everything. I got on him and he kept trying to drag me back to the lorry. It took all my strength to keep him where he was. I did the gate obstacle, which was outside the arena, while John was inside. Max actually did it quite well, without taking my leg off against the gate post, which is unusual!
I got off after that as Max was still straining to go back to the lorry. I don't know if he thought Barnaby was there, or what was going on in his head, really.
So I led him into the arena when it was my turn, and took our little mounting block with me, but Max kept spinning in circles and wouldn't stand still. In the end a woman very kindly offered to hold him for me, and I mounted from the ground.
The canter test was first. I wanted to warm him up and establish canter before going down the track, but I was told not to go near any of the other obstacles, so I just about managed to get him going in a tiny space, and he set off quite well, but in the far corner were some strange bins like enormous dustbins, so he spooked at those and went back to trot, before we'd reached the end of the timed section. Mr O was told he could use all of the space in the arena, and didn't have to start until he felt he'd established a canter he was happy with!
Then we got to the first obstacle, which was a bridge. I was fully expecting to hop off and lead him across it, when the judge said, "No, you have to ride him across it." Grrr. Max was having none of it and kept backing off. I asked the judge if she could move out of the way, in case Max swung round and bumped into her, which he is very likely to do, but she just stood there. I was so put off by this I didn't want to risk it and had to go onto the next obstacle. It was two poles on the floor, a horse's width apart. I had to walk in, halt and rein back. Last time I did this Max was immaculate. This time he kicked a pole.
We had a test where we had to get off, leave the horse to stand within a circle painted on the ground for 10 seconds. Max decided that was his cue to head for the door.
After that was a little corridor on the floor, and I had to lead Max along it, with me in front of him, which we did successfully.
Then we had to walk into a square painted on the floor, where there was a mounting block and get on the horse within 15 seconds. I'm not sure if I did it actually, they never said.
The weaving poles were next, which were perfect, BUT we only walked and found out afterwards that you got more points if you trotted and even more points if you cantered, but nobody told us at the beginning, which I think is a bit of a cheek.
Then we had the low branches test. As I walked up to it, on foot, I touched one of the poles with my hat. There is no way on this earth Max would have gone under that. If I'd pulled him, he would probably have had a fit and smashed the thing to pieces, killing innocent (and ignorant) bystanders, so I lost all my points on that, too.
After that I ran out of time to complete the obstacles, and had to finish with my walk test. Max walked really well, but remember, you are not allowed to change your pace. A few yards from the end Max stood stock still and decided to have a poo, so I lost all my marks again. I bet that's never happened in the history of TREC.
The last time I did a TREC competition, I had such fun, laughed my head off and really enjoyed it, but this was all so strict and serious, it was like doing the manouvres in your drivng test and I didn't enjoy it at all. I think the organisers could have relaxed a bit, as if that was your first experience of TREC, you wouldn't go again. I was so cross with Max's attitude, too, he was totally bonkers. Barnaby did everything and was in 3rd place by the time we left, but I don't know what the end result is. I think Max saw the indoor arena and thought he was going to show jump, so psyched himself up for jumping, then when he got into the arena and it wasn't jumping at all, just a bunch of scary objects, it totally blew his mind.
So folks, I am back to selling Max. I am so fed up with dithering that I have phoned Lorna and asked her to put feelers out. I am also fed up with people saying, "Oh you can't sell Max, he's lovely!' because the fact is, he isn't lovely. I know he's cute to look at, but he isn't a dog, he's meant to be ridden, and some days he's an absolute nightmare.
What are the two things you never want from a horse? Rearing and bolting. Max does at least one of those, with style.
Mr O and I have realised that the crux of the matter is this: Riding is supposed to be a pleasure, right? When I ride Max, I hack out, and I am always relieved to be home. Even in the summer, when he is calmer. When I ride Barnaby, I get to the turning for home, and I think, 'Just five more minutes' and add another leg onto the journey because I'm enjoying it so much I don't want to come home. And you feel like you're Joan of Arc on a magnificent white charger at the same time. That's how it's supposed to be. Riding Crispin was like that.
So I am going to play with Max and enjoy him as best I can until he is sold. I really thought we were getting somewhere last year when he was hacking out quite calmly. At Lorna's I could hardly get him to go out on his own. He seemed to really understand, and be happy with, what I required, which was really very little, but now he seems to be back to square one and I have to start again.
I am going to put a couple of adverts up, in Thomas Irving and Stable Mates and see what happens. It's not fair on him either, I don't think, as the thing he does best is jumping, and I don't want to do it any more. He excels at it, especially cross country, and jumps like a stag. So that's that. My mind is finally and firmly made up.