Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Rain it Raineth Every Day...

I think that's a line from Twelfth Night, and it's pretty appropriate for this week, as it's raining every day and driving me mad. The whole point of the clocks going forward is that Mr O should be able to ride after work now, but it's been absolutely pouring, making riding impossible (or at least, slightly insane).
I've got a little confession to make: You know I use my mobile phone as my alarm clock? Well having put every single other clock in the house forward one hour, I completely forgot to do my phone. I woke up yesterday morning before it went off, though, and thought, 'There's something not quite right here. It's taking ages for my alarm to go off.' I looked at the time on Mr O's clock/radio and it said 7.50 rather than 6.50. Oops! I am amazed the horses were so quiet actually, they must have wondered what was going on. I leapt out of bed, fell into the nearest clothes and went outside to dish out breakfast. Barnaby didn't seem too amused.
I had all six horses to do, as Missis was away, so got all the work done, including bringing Polo and Lindy in if it rains (which of course, it did). Then, as I went out to feed at 4pm, Missis suddenly appeared in the stable doorway. My first thought was that she'd managed to fly to Dublin and back in a day. It turns out she was so ill she couldn't get out of bed, and staggered out at tea time to come and tell me. She looked dreadful, I have to say. Poor woman.
She did muck out this morning, though, and it looks as though I'm in the clear until after Easter, which is wonderful.
I have ridden Max this morning, and it was very peculiar. It's almost as if I've lost my link with him. He was quite spooky going down to the school, and wouldn't really work in there at all. I managed about twenty minutes before calling it a day, and walked back home with him. I considered getting on, but he was in such a funny mood, I decided it wasn't worth it.
You may know that horses in England all have a passport, which belongs to the horse's owner, but if you sell the horse the passport must go with him. On Monday evening we had an official 'handing over of the passport' ceremony, so I am now Barnaby's official owner. I have tremendous butterflies over this, like when I bought my first horse, Penny. I used to sit in my office feeling sick, thinking, 'I own a horse!' all day, and getting very little work done.
I should have ridden Barnaby this afternoon really, but as Missis and I were getting ready, it started snowing, and Mr O came home and said it wasn't really worth it. Why on earth is it snowing at the end of March?
The plan was to do some showing this weekend, me taking Max and Mr O taking The Bard, but as the horses have been out in rugs with no neck cover of late, imagine my joy at discovering half of Max's mane is missing. Somebody has chewed it off. Marvellous. Now obviously I don't want to accuse any other horse, but I think the clue may lay here:

How can I tell one of my horses off for chewing one of my other horses? Honestly, I thought they liked each other. Max's mane is his crowning glory. I don't see how I'm really going to show him successfully without it. But if the weather's going to be total pants, I don't see the point of showing horses anyway. I'm not standing in the snow or rain freezing to death just to get a rosette. There is a dog show on the same day. Poor Tessa, how am I going to tell her she won't be 'Prettiest Bitch' now?

Roxy, lead chicken, has been chipping paint off the walls of the stables with her beak. We have also had a few eggs with a very thin shell, and one with no shell at all, just the membrane. I have been reading the book 'Hens In The Garden, Eggs In The Kitchen' by Charlotte Popescu that Missis' mum got me for Christmas, and it's very interesting. It says if you have a chalky soil chickens will naturally pick up enough calcium, which they need to form strong egg shells. Our soil is totally clay, and they're obviously not getting much calcium at all. We need to provide calcium from something like cockle shells. I wondered where on earth we get something like that from. We bought a bag of grit, and as I've opened it, it's full of little bits of shell, which is brilliant. I have scattered some about, and they didn't look too pleased, but since then we've seen them going to the opened sack and helping themselves, so they obviously want it. Hopefully this will lead to stronger shells.

Henny Penny has gone broody already. She did this last year. She has taken to sitting in the nesting box all afternoon. I had to go in and feel about underneath her to retrieve the eggs she was sitting on. They were hot to the touch. I felt like getting in underneath her myself.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Never A Dull Moment

As you know, Max was a bit naughty last Sunday and threw me onto the fence instead of jumping it with style (I don't know if I fell with style, the photographer deleted the pictures!)
Then last Tuesday, knowing I had my lesson on Wednesday, I decided to take Max for a hack. He was what we call 'on his toes' all the way round. It's a euphemism for 'complete lunatic'. He just kept spooking all the time, but not at the things I was expecting him to spook at, which adds a little spice to the ride, as you can imagine.
We carried on down the lane, and met two men, one on the road, and one the other side of the dry stone wall in the field (repairing the wall actually). Max could see both men clearly. As we got closer the man on the road said, "That's a nice cob," and I said, "Yes he is, but he's very spooky." Then the man in the field stood up and Max whipped round so fast I don't know how I managed to stay on. I said, "Do you see what I mean?" and the man looked quite concerned. He said, "I wouldn't take him onto the main road if he's like that," and I wanted to say, "Oh he won't do anything up there," but decided to leave it, as the man had a point.
On Saturday we were supposed to take Zak and Barnaby to Osberton for a bit of a blast, but also to see how they'd get on together, as they've only ever hacked out once or twice, and we know both of them like to be in front, so it would have been very interesting, but... Mr O groomed Zak, then picked his feet up and found he'd lost a shoe again on the front. That meant we couldn't take him, so I suggested taking Barnaby and Max and Mr O said no, very firmly, very firmly indeed.
So my whole day was in a bit of a turmoil really, as I am going to have to tell you the next thing. Having given a great deal of thought and consideration to this issue, I then turned to prayer, as I am sick of dithering. And as soon as I prayed I got my answer. I begged God to tell me whether it was the right thing to sell Max or not. And the Lord said he was surprised I've waited this long. So on Thursday last week I drew up an advert, with a couple of very nice pictures and all Max's details, and on Friday Mr O took one to Parklands, a tack shop near where he works. On Saturday we took one to Stablemates, but after that I started crying and when we got to Thomas Irving I couldn't go in, so I gave Mr O the advert and asked him to do it.
You may remember a couple of weeks ago I had my wisdom tooth out. This is very similar. I know it's going to be agony, but I know I've got to do it for my own good.
When we came back we decided to ride Max and Barnaby after all, but just locally. I picked a route we've never done before, and we set off. Max was very spooky all the way round. Mr O just rides along, very often oblivious to the struggle I am having behind him. Then on the way home, Max suddenly put in a huge buck and went carting up the road. I shouted to Mr O to block me, and fortunately he had the wit to turn Barnaby to the right and block the road, and Max crashed into him and stopped. I have to tell you I was pretty angry, and I'm afraid that's the last straw. I am sick of putting up with his antics, and making excuses for his behaviour ("Well it was windy!") In the end I was so cross I got off and gave Mr O the reins and told him to take him home as I didn't care if I never saw him again! (Bit of a paddy from Jane, there, then!)
The thing is, riding is the greatest pleasure of my entire life and if I go on riding Max pretty soon I am never going to want to ride again. I can't let him do that to me.
So by the time I'd stumped off up the steepest hill in Christendom in order to get home, I was exceedingly glad that I'd put the adverts up, so we'll see what happens.
At the bottom of this is the fact that Mr O says I can have Barnaby. I have to tell you that if the boot was on the other foot, I would not be offering a stunning horse like Barnaby to him! So I decided to take Bard to my lesson today instead of Max. The lesson went very well, but Barnaby isn't half as supple as Max and will need some work before I jump him, but I don't really need lessons to do that, so I think next week will be my last lesson.
But the best bit was that I rode to the school, and rode all the way home, and it was bliss. When I take Max I lead him down to the school, but Barnaby fills me with so much confidence. I don't know if it's because I know he won't spook, or because he's never bolted in his life, or what, but I sailed home. I managed not to slaughter any eengleesh, but still had a big grin on my face. I wish Jean d'Arc had been on our side. Slaughtering the french would be much more satisfying.

I have been very busy on the card making front, after a slow start where I've been a bit disorganised on the Easter card situation. I've picked up my favourite magazines, Papercraft Inspirations and Cardmaking and was totally inspired. I've realised part of the problem is that I love the various papers so much I don't want to make them into cards, give them away, and never see them again. (Note to self: Must work on generosity, see note re: Barnaby, above!) Once I started I was like a little factory, glueing and sticking with a passion. I just love creating something.

I didn't make this one, but I have to show you, as it's for Missis' birthday, and I couldn't resist it. This is so like her horse Polo:

I am missing baking, which, as you know, I have given up for Lent. I thought I baked out of necessity, but it turns out I really love to do it, and can't wait to get my mixing bowl out again and whip something up. Are any of you making anything special for Easter?

Friday, 26 March 2010

Making A Spectacle of Myself ... Again

Finally, the photos have arrived, so I can tell you all about what happened on Sunday. This was our second TREC competition. If you want to read about the disasterous first one, you need to go here.
We looked up our start times on Saturday, and I was delighted to see we weren't on until twenty past one. This meant I could have a lay-in, actually eat some breakfast (not nervous for once - if only I'd known!) and bath me 'orse before we set off.
The nights are a lot warmer now and the horses are too hot with rugs on, so Max slept naked on Saturday night. I'm not sure what he slept in (and I don't mean pyjamas) but it made very unattractive brown stains on his white bits, so I took him outside for a bit of a scrub down. I also washed his tail. Let's just say it took a while for the water to run clear.
We loaded the boys into the lorry and set off to Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire. We were going to Brooksby College, and it was quite a distance. We put the postcode into the Satnav and set off in good faith. All was going swimmingly until we got into Melton when my written instructions started to differ from the Satnav's instructions to Mr O. Then we turned off the road, onto a tiny lane, which led to a field, and the Satnav announced smugly, 'Destination.'
We were stuck. In the end we managed to drive over a little bridge, and up a track full of pot-holes, with the horses shouting, "Steady on!" from the back. We stopped a jogger and asked him if we were anywhere near Brooksby College. "Oh no," he said, "That's miles away," but thankfully gave us quite good directions, and we set off again, full of hope, but slightly mystified by the Satnav's blatant treachery.
After a while, we'd followed all the jogger's directions, and the college was still nowhere in sight. We asked another passer-by who said it was another three miles and we couldn't miss it. Fortunately he was as good as his word, and soon we were chugging up the long, winding drive to the college buildings.
We were pretty relieved to find we were in plenty of time, so we went in to register and decided to walk the course. We'd learned a great deal from our previous attempt at this intriguing sport (intriguing because it looks a doddle and plainly isn't). I'd had the idea of bringing a pen and writing each obstacle with its corresponding number on my hand, as once you set off you've got to know where you're going, as you have five and a half minutes to complete all ten obstacles, and in Doncaster I ran out of time. This turned out to be a master stroke, as we will see.
We went and tacked the horses up and brought them into a little warm-up arena. Max was amazingly calm. The holes in the walls didn't bother him, he wasn't desperate to be with Barnaby, and worked in very well, really listening to me and responding well.
Mr O was number 29 and I was 30, so obviously he was called in before me. I waited quite a while, and then took Max out to see how Mr O was getting on in the main arena.
Barnaby was being very well behaved, and did most of the obstacles. Mr O went a bit fast under the low branches, but you get more points if you do it in canter. Afterwards he said instead of keeping his head down, he looked up to see if he'd missed the branches, and then knocked them all off!
He dismounted and did the S bend really well (I didn't even get to do this last time as I'd run out of time) and went over to Obstacle 5, which is two painted circles on the floor. You have to lead your horse into the inner circle and make him stand, then go outside the outer circle and your horse must stand motionless for ten seconds. Mr O stood Barnaby up, then walked off behind him, and Barnaby said, "Oh look, there's Max!" and trotted over to see him. It did look very funny actually, and we did laugh. Most of his obstacles went really well, apart from the rein back. So Mr O came out and I went in. I'm glad I asked loads of questions when I walked the course as some obstacles we led the horses last time we had to ride this time, and vice versa.
So this is the course we had to do:
  • Control of paces: canter round the outside of the arena, as slowly as possible, without going back to trot and without stopping until you reach the cones at the end.
  • Four strides later there was a small jump.
  • Ride on round to the low branches, and ride underneath them (which involves laying down on your horse as the branches are very low). More points if you trot, most points if you canter.
  • Ride between two poles (with pigs at the front to scare your horse).
  • Dismount and lead your horse through an S bend of wooden poles on the floor (I've only ever ridden this before).
  • Dismount, run stirrups up and walk horse into circle. Horse must halt in the circle.
  • Lead your horse over to the mounting block in the corner. Time starts when you walk inside the white painted circle. You must walk in, put stirrups down and mount from the offside in under 15 seconds.
  • Ride up to, and along the wooden bridge.
  • Ride through the weaving poles. Cantering gets most points, then trotting, then walking. Nobody told us this last time, so we walked.
  • Walk between two poles. Halt level with the cones, and rein back, without touching, knocking or stepping outside them.
  • Go forwards between the poles, turn and jump the blue water tray and the brush fence.
  • Finish by doing the fastest walk you can manage, without trotting, round the edge of the arena in the same place you did the canter test.
So how did we do?

Max entered the arena, had a good look around and said, "Oh it's this, where I walk around and trash a few things and we come out, why didn't you say?" I circled him a few times until the judge said we could start, then set off for my canter test. He went on the correct leg and went round beautifully. We got to the end of the cones, and he could see the jump ahead. He locked on and cantered to it immaculately. I thought, 'This is perfect.' We got to the fence, Max stopped dead and I went sailing over his head. I could hear the pole come down and thought, 'what am I landing on then?' as under the pole was a little step and I'd landed on my back on top of it. I was slightly winded and sat up. I had a pain in my rib cage, but was fine. Lots of people rushed up to see if I was okay, and Mr O was outside wondering what on earth had happened. I don't quite know myself, and all the judges said Max was going for the fence. Whether something had distracted him I don't know, but he's done enough jumping in his life not to let that happen. Bear in mind he's been really good in my lessons and doing the cross country, so I don't understand it.

(Mr O showing us how to do the jump properly.)

Anyway, I got back on and this is where I was glad I'd written the course down, so I could gather myself and ride round to the next obstacle, as I was quite disoriented, as you can imagine.

I rode round to the 'low branches' (really some canes on very high jump wings). I laid down on Max and tried with all my might to get him to go underneath, but he was having none of it. He nearly went in sideways, but soon backed out again. I passed on that obstacle in the end (which gives me zero points, you can't be eliminated in TREC) and went on to the straight poles on the floor. Max had a good look at the pigs, but I'd had enough by then, and kicked him on. He realised I meant business and set off in a good trot. Nobody told us last time that you could trot or canter along this, so I got minimum points. This time we trotted and Max was fine.

I hopped off quick, ran Max's stirrups up and took his reins over his head. I lead him into the S bend poles, and he followed me quite happily. He did it perfectly, so that clocked up a few points.

Next was the stand still in the circle. Max stood still for quite a while before very slowly making his way towards me, but he was much better than last time.

I led him over to the mounting block, put his stirrups down and tried to mount, but he kept swinging away from the block. He kept looking at me as if to say, "What are you doing?" as I never normally get on from the off-side. Barnaby had done it perfectly, but afterwards I was surprised at how many horses didn't like it. It's not Max's fault at all that I can't get on from the off-side (duffer!) but he could have stood still for me.

Then came the bridge. There wasn't anything spooky in front of it like last time. Instead, there was a set of teddies on a blanket on the left hand side. Max looked as if to say, "Do you want me rub them out?" There were children present. I couldn't let it get ugly. Max wouldn't go near the bridge and I moved on, but at least no soft toys were maimed in the process.

(Barnaby doing the bridge, without hesitation. Can you see the innocent bystanders?)

Next came the weaving poles, which I decided to do in trot, and Max was perfect. We only walked last time, so I was very pleased. Then it was the rein back. Max started off okay, but then his back end swung out until he'd gone right outside the poles. Oh well. Number 10 was the water jump and the brush fence, and I decided to pass, as I didn't trust Max after the fiasco at the first fence. He is so reliable at jumping normally, I'm quite phased by this.

All in all, though, Max was much better behaved than last time and I enjoyed it a lot more. It wasn't as formal as the one in Doncaster, and I do like the photos. TREC is unlike any other horse sport. We decided it was too far to travel just to do some obstacles, but we will do some more outdoor TREC in the summer, which will involve the orienteering phase as well.
It was a beautifully sunny day, so when we got back we turned the horses out so they could run round and roll and have a drink. Zak came dashing up to report in. "I've been in charge while you've been away Sir Barnaby, and it's been absolute chaos!" I'm glad I wasn't the only one who'd had a challenging day.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Home Front

Don't you just love it when nice things come through the post? I give all the bills to Mr O, and keep all the goodies to myself! It is catalogue season, so my new Robinsons and Ride Away catalogues have arrived. They sell horsey stuff, and I promised myself I wouldn't look, but the pages have been calling me, calling...
I actually need a pair of green jods, as the ones I have are fading fast. I have had them since my college days, so they've done really well. Unfortunately green seems to be out of fashion at the moment, and I can't find any anywhere. I want bottle green, not khaki, and not the slightly gruesome pea green ones on sale at Thomas Irving. Thank goodness they didn't have my size. We went in looking for jods for me and came out with a jacket for Mr O. How did that happen?
We've had some entry forms through, one for the Barlow Hounds Hunter Trials and one for the Chatsworth Sponsored Ride. I'm not sure if we'll do the Barlow Hounds, as I've done it twice already. It is good fun, though. I was exhausted walking the course, let alone riding it. Mind you, Max wasn't as fit then as he is now.
We will definitely be doing the Chatsworth ride, though, as it's a superb place. All four of us did it last year (Pongo and Missis came too) but they will be on holiday this year, but we'll still be going. And if we have to gallop blindly past Chatsworth House, well we just do.
I've found a very good website at Framecraft who sell lots of things like trinket boxes, rulers and keyrings that are suitable to add cross stitch designs to. I ordered a pen pot and a paper block. I've been stitching a little cottage, which I finished yesterday, and it's the perfect size to go in the pen holder, like this.

There are two more cottages to do, so I'll do them next week and put them in the other two sides. As I said before, I've got a thing about houses (and architecture generally) and I think it will take a while to get the whole 'Home Sweet Home,' theme out of my system. I may as well indulge it for a little while longer.

Just to re-cap, for people who are new to my blog: We came here originally to do Missis' horses two days a week while she was away. At that time there was another woman here as well, and we were going to split the work between us. This woman complained constantly, and in the end Pongo and Missis asked her to leave. Before they did so, they obviously came to me and asked if I'd be able to do five days a week on the rare occasions it would be required. Bearing in mind we only had 2 horses here, and so did Missis, I said yes. Four horses is well within my capabilities.
Then last November the whole family went away for a weekend, so Mr O and I did the horses (by now increased to six). We thought that was fair enough.
Then this year we've had the stint where the whole family went to London for two days during half term, so I did all the horses. Then Pongo and the children came home, and Missis flew on to America, but Mr O and I mucked out that weekend while Pongo was in bed. Hmmm. Then Mr O had a week off work, and helped me muck out for the whole of the following week, do you remember? So altogether I did nine days without a break (although I realise I had help for the week Mr O was off.)
During that week, as well, Pongo seemed to be under the impression that I would have his children every day after school, even though he clearly told us he didn't have any clients in the afternoons (he is an accountant), so he could come home. He seemed very put out that I had a dental appointment one day and we went to Worksop on another day, but I don't drive, so couldn't waste an opportunity of Mr O being home on a week day, to take me.
Bear in mind, we don't get paid to do any of the mucking out or childminding, and we pay a decent rent to live here, we aren't staff, we are tenants.
So last week Missis mentioned that she'd be in Canada this week, which is fine, I don't mind doing Monday to Friday, even though I don't have the strength to ride my own horse once I've mucked out all six stables every day. Then she let it slip that she wasn't coming back until Saturday night. I discussed it with Mr O, who wasn't happy at all. He works five days a week in his own job, and quite rightly, I think, doesn't see why he should work during his time off. I think this is going too far as well. If we agree to do any more weekends, Missis will think we're obviously willing and start asking us all the time. We are Christians, and not shirkers, and quite willing to go the extra mile, but enough is enough. I lay awake three nights in a row, worrying about how I was going to tell her.
In the end I approached her on the last morning, and said, "Let me get this clear. Are you assuming we will do the Saturday as well?" She said she was. I told her we had plans to go out (which we do) and couldn't do it. She was fine about it actually, and said she would get Pongo to do it (because I can tell you now, my days of mucking out his horse while he lays in bed are well and truly over. I wouldn't even do that for Mr O unless he was ill!)
She did mutter to herself, "and if they (the horses) don't get done for a day, it doesn't really matter," which was either her attempt at making me feel guilty or an open acknowledgement that her husband is so idle he may not even do it. But the constraints of her job are her problem, not ours. I skivvy for no-one.
I also made it clear that I have not agreed to have the children every night just because she isn't here. At the end of the day, I am not their mother, or even grandmother. And again, I do it out of the kindness of my heart, I don't get paid. I asked her to get Pongo to decide which two days he wanted me to have the children. On Sunday I asked them which days they had decided on, and Missis said that I would have them Monday and Friday (not 'could' I have them) and her dad would have them Tuesday and Thursday and Pongo would have to have them on Wednesday. If I hadn't mentioned it, though, they would never have brought the subject up and just hoped they could have dumped on me as usual.
I am glad we've cleared the air about it, though, as I'd spent several sleepless nights worrying (when, frankly, I could have just prayed about it and left it in the Lord's capable hands, more fool me!) Bearing in mind that the showing season starts at Easter, there is very little chance that we would be available for mucking out at the weekends now anyway. Thank goodness the horses go out soon, and then I am as free as a bird. I can't wait.
But it's not all doom and gloom. One bit of very good news is that Missis has booked a company to come and build a manege. They are coming on April 12th. This will transform everything. I am so excited, I can't begin to tell you.
There are other things afoot here, but I can't tell you about it until I know for certain. I promise not to keep you in suspense any longer than I have to, but I have to stick to chronological order here, so that everything makes sense. All will be revealed in good time.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Making a Spectacle of Myself

It's been a very hectic weekend. We went to a competition on Sunday, and I want to tell you all about it, but there was a professional photographer there, and I want to use the photos we've bought to explain what went on, so that post is on hold until the photos arrive.
In the meantime, Mr O and I decided to go on a hack on Saturday morning. He rode Barnaby and I rode Maximus. I asked Mr O where he wanted to go, and he said, "Ashover," and my heart sank.
This ride involves going up and down some very steep and bumpy bridleways, which I'm not very keen on at all. We rode down towards the village and met a man coming the other way (As I was going to St Ives...) leading a donkey. Now Max is scared of many things: rocks, flowers, cows, to name but a few, but most of all he is frightened of donkeys, and turned, without further ado, and fled up the road, with me hauling on the reins trying to stop him. We pulled up about 50 feet further on, before he realised he'd abandoned Barnaby in an 'every man for himself' moment and turned round to see how he was faring (but pretty certain Barney would have the upper hoof).
The donkey was small, dark brown and called Maud. I got off Max and led him up to say hello. Barnaby was already introducing himself, "Hello, pretty." Maud batted her eyelashes. Max insisted she wasn't pretty at all, and smelled funny, and could we get on, please?
I managed to get back on and we continued into the village, past the Post Office, round the corner to the pub, and then up the road into Milltown. This meant we avoided all the steep bits so I cheered up considerably. We rode down to the river, then through the ford. The water was up above Barnaby's knees, so as you can imgine, it was up to Max's stomach. I was quite pleased, as when we got home I discovered his feathers were really clean! If I'd known that I'd have stayed in it a little longer.
We followed the river bank round, then up a steep bit, and back onto the road, to make our way home. Deeply satisfying.
We had to go to the opticians and pick up our new glasses, and mine are... hideous! When I had my trying-on session I liked a different pair, but Mr O and the optician said they were too big for my face, and I let them talk me into getting this pair. I have such bad eyesight that if I take my specs off, I can't see what I look like in a different pair with no lenses in. Now the opticians have a machine which takes a photo of you in the trying-on pair, then you can put your own specs back on and see what you look like in the photo, which is a brilliant help to someone like me who is as blind as a bat.
So I put my new glasses on and part of me felt I looked about sixty and part of me looked as if I was six. I seriously hate them, and now I'm stuck with them. I always take time to adjust to a new pair, but these are a mistake. Next time I will trust my own instincts.
Then I had to have drops in my eyes, to dilate my pupils, then go in and have a retina check, as I am so short sighted, to make sure there are no tears in my retina. This involved the optician getting very, very close to me. I found it very invasive, and it went on for ages. I was very uncomfortable with it, and couldn't wait to get out. Not a great experience all round, really. There's nothing wrong with my eyes, anyway, apart from my blatant short-sightedness, thank goodness.

Friday, 19 March 2010


I had my riding lesson on Monday morning as usual. Max was impeccably behaved, but quite lazy, then Rosie started getting the fence poles out, and Max said, "Oh, jumping - why didn't you say?" and rocketed over every single one of them. I was thrilled with him, but even more so that my confidence has really come back. I was my old self again.
If you have a BHS (British Horse Society) instructor, they want you to approach the fence in 'the jumping position' which I absolutely refuse to do. It means you've leaned forward over the horse's neck, which is only really needed at the moment of suspension, not several strides before, and certainly not when you take off, otherwise you have thrown yourself forward just when the horse needs you out of the way, so he can lift his front end off the floor to perform the jump. You don't see John Whittaker doing it, do you? When he does, then I will, too.
I tried to explain to Rosie that's it's daft to fold so much over such a small fence. Then I lost the ability to speak english. I wanted to say, "If the fence had more height, it would be worth it," but could I think of the word 'height'? No. So I said, "If the fence had more 'uption'." Uption?! Where on earth did that come from? So that is my word for the day. I teach english as a foreign language, you know, so I am allowed to invent new words! Have you ever done that?
Missis and I hacked out together on Tuesday. Missis was on Lindy. He and Max are quite good buddies. Lindy led all the way round and spooked rather a lot, especially at one crucial stage where we went into canter on the verge, which made Max swing off the verge and trot up the road instead (on the right hand side of the road). Max was very good, actually and didn't spook at anything, but he was put off by Lindy's spooking.
We did a big ride together on Wednesday. The horses had obviously discussed it, and Max led all the way round. I am so proud of him. We trotted up the mega steep hill out of the village, and neither of them made it very far without huffing and puffing. I do think Max could have gone further. He is fitter than Lindy at the moment. It was a lovely ride though. I love it when Max leads or I ride him on my own, as he has time to look about him, which he really needs to do. When I follow Mr O we don't get much time to stop and enjoy the view!
I didn't ride on Thursday, as I was extremely tired (explanations to follow) but today I got up, put jods on and decided to ride... Barnaby.
He was unusually well behaved when I groomed him and tacked him up. I think he was enjoying the attention. He wanted to text Mr O and say, "Dad, the bally groom's going to ride me! When was this agreed to?" I am just 'the little woman' to him.
I took him down to Jolly Farmer's, but Lucy Goosie came out to say hello to him. He stood perfectly still soaking up the blatant adoration, (and me basking in the reflected glory) and even allowed her to kiss him on the muzzle, virtually unheard of. Normally if I do that he says, "Mum! Not in front of the other chaps."
We rode up Jolly Farmer's driveway, where his geese decided to attack us. They charged in formation, honking and flapping, beaks in the air, looking quite aggressive. Barnaby just stuck his chest out and said, "Bring it on!" They got very close then suddenly changed their minds and realised they had more important things to do and waddled off, muttering. I must be prepared for that next time, as Max will probably turn and run.
Barnaby isn't very supple at the moment, and there was some huffing and puffing, but he did some quite nice 20m circles in the end. We ride them in both directions on various sized circles as it helps to supple them, and make them bring the inside back leg underneath themselves, which makes them work the muscles along their neck and backs. He has a long way to go. He's not ready to do a 15m or 10m circle at all.
Then came the glorious bit where we decided to have a canter on the way home. He extended into a gallop and away we went. The sensation of galloping that horse is like nothing else. I am usually Joan of Arc going into battle. Charrrrrrge! I slaughter a few of ze engleesh, and then we pull up. Time to go home, with me grinning like an imbecile. I am auditioning for the role of The Village Idiot.
I have been busy on the crafting front, too. I have finished my last little cross stitch card, which is quite cute, and now I'm doing three little cottages. Houses generally fascinate me, so doing some cross stitch houses feels like just the right thing t do. I've made a card for someone special (but I can't say who at the moment!)

and this one for my lovely aunt:

And yes, I have finished the scarf for Hallington Fox. He is very proud of it.

I found the casting off very easy. Now I'm just going to knit some squares to practise knit and purl stitch. If I have enough I'll sew them together to make a blanket for Tessa. I'm not baking much at the moment as Mr O has given up all sweet things for Lent. It seems a bit mean to tuck into a giant sponge cake in front of him. I have bought some icing nozzles and bags which I'm dying to play with. I've given up chocolate, as you know. So far, Missis has brought us some back from America, I've had a box in my anniversary present, a box for Mother's Day and a box for my birthday. They've gone into storage (sob!) I don't think we'll be getting each other an Easter egg this year. And I was so looking forward to tucking into a chocolate bunny!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Come For A Ride

I thought I'd show you the sort of things Max and I see when we go out for a hack. Don't worry if you can't ride, you'll be fine. Tessa's decided she wants to come too.

Firstly I was very surprised to see this. It's honesty, and it always fascinated me as a child. You rub your fingers on each paper petal, and the outside sheets come off and the seeds fall out. Florists sell it like that, but it's very rare now.

This is what I went looking for. Aren't they beautiful? Since I've seen these,

I'm spotting them all over the place,

and there were hundreds at Hardwick Hall.

We approached one of my favourite houses, and I felt as if I was being watched.
As I got nearer to the gate, I realised someone was staring at me.

An Alpaca! I hope you can see his little slipper feet.
His name is Dexter and he is three.
The cheapest alpaca costs around four hundred pounds for a male.
The females can cost thousands.

Soon they will be clipped.

There are four of them altogether, all different colours.
Max just stares at them. I don't think he's frightened,
he just wants to know what they are.

This garden is particularly well laid out. I love it.

Someone's pleased to see me!

On the way home we spot Goat and Goose. They are very good friends.

The goat was bought as a companion for the horse in this field, but then he got lonely,

so now the goose is his friend. She is a 'dry' goose. She won't go for a swim.

They've tried to get her into water, but she doesn't like it!

The collie is called Ben.

He sits on the wall and barks at you to let you know he's guarding his house.
Sometimes you think he isn't going to bark, as he saves it until you're nearly past,

then he lets rip.
It makes me jump every time, but Max is never fooled.
Some horsey sixth sense I think.

The little Westie is called Tilly.

She doesn't belong to Ben's owner, she lives up the road.

But she and Ben are an item, and she comes up every day to spend some time with him.

She wasn't keen on Tessa, 'the other woman' and came out to see what was going on.

I think we'll go for a trot now and canter on the verge on the way home, so hold onto your hat! We'll have a nice cup of tea when we get in.

Monday, 15 March 2010

A Very Merry Unbirthday

Except, of course, it has actually been my birthday, and Mother's Day, on the same day. Greedy, that's what I call it. I'm pretty sure this is the first time it's happened, as Mother's Day is usually the week after my birthday. But bear in mind it was our anniversary on the 10th and you have what I refer to as 'receiving week,' where I go round the family and receive various gifts. It's wonderful, I've been doing it for years, you ought to try it!
After the physical antics of Saturday, I decided to have a leisurely day on Sunday, so after we'd done the horsey chores, we set off to Hardwick Hall. It's not very far away from us at all, maybe ten or fifteen minutes by car. It's the Tudor mansion that belonged to Bess of Hardwick, or Elisabeth Shrewsbury as she was also known. I didn't know what to expect, but thought I would compare it to Chatsworth and it would be found wanting, but I thought it was a fantastic place, quite breathtaking. This is the first thing you see:

"Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall."

There is a 'Long Gallery,' full of paintings. This is Bess herself:


She was married four times!

And this painting of Elizabeth I was so beautiful, I nearly cried. The photograph doesn't do it justice. (Sorry it's so dark.) Obviously it should be on the wall, but the tapestry it hangs on has been taken to Belgium to be repaired and restored and it won't be back for a year, so the painting will stay here for the time being.

It's a picture full of meaning. Firstly carpets were so expensive and valuable in those days, you had them on the wall, or on the table if you really wanted to flaunt your wealth, but the queen is standing on a carpet, which is symbolic of her immense wealth. Her dress fabric is covered in sea creatures and other animals, which says she is queen of the land and the seas (The english had just beaten the spanish when this was painted). The dress is covered in pearls, to represent her purity. She is holding gloves in her right hand. Gloves were a symbol of love, and her hand is on the throne, to show she loves her country. It was an awe-inspiring thing to look at.

We moved through various bedrooms, all rather stunning.

I was very pleased with my camera as flash photography isn't allowed, and there are drapes at all the windows, to filter the light, because too much light will quickly fade the wonderful


and paintings.

Oooh, look, Henry VIII.

I'm so glad we went, it was a fabulous experience. I've been meaning to go there for years, but never got round to it. We had tea in the restaurant, which was very busy, but nice, and I bought two poetry books in the gift shop, which I wasn't expecting. Expect to be regaled with verse on a regular basis from now on!
We came home and offloaded everything, then set off to Worksop to visit the children. They've given me some wonderful presents, a watch from Abby and lovely smellies from Lisa. The Flower Fairy had rung us and said, "Will Tessa be coming?" I hadn't planned to, but how could I disappoint her? When we got in the car to go, she waved frantically, and called out, "Bye, Tess!" no word about us at all. Oh well. I know my place.
It was lovely to see all the boys as well. They kept bringing all their toys out to show us. I have such a giggle with them. They are such characters. Being a granny is much more fun than being a mum was, and where I was fairly strict with my own children, I would willingly grant my grandchildren their every wish. Funny, isn't it? Something obviously switches over between Mummydom and Grannydom that I wasn't prepared for.
All in all a lovely day, but I was phenomenally tired when we got home. One of those days when I would sink into a hot bubble-bath, if only we had one!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Go horsey!

I came downstairs this morning and thought I'd walked through a vortex into someone else's house. This one was so tidy, it couldn't possibly be mine. By the end of breakfast it had assumed the proportions I recognised. Mr O has a fear and terror of throwing anything away. I am not even sure if he knows where the bin is. This means I am constantly throwing packaging away in the kitchen. One meal and my house resembled a building site. Good old messy familiarity.
I soon realised I felt too sick to eat, because... in a rash moment last week I rang Hazelbarrow Cross Country course and booked us in.
Our plans were slightly re-arranged, though, as the whole point of going was to take Zak. Mr O picked his feet out and discovered a missing shoe on a front foot. How come we didn't notice yesterday?! So Mr O took Zak's tack out of the lorry and put Barnaby's in instead. Max was in denial, hiding at the back of the stable, hoping I might forget he was there. I went in with his travel boots, and he jumped. My goodness, I have a horse who is scared of his own travel boots. It's like a person being frightened of their own slippers.
I managed to get them on him, and put his travel rug on, and a red tail bandage. Barnaby was loaded up first, and went straight up the ramp, so I got Max out quickly, as Barnaby gets stressed in the lorry if he can't see Max straight away. Max went straight up, too, so we heaved the ramp up and away we went.
We did go a bit wrong on the way there. There were far too many roundabouts to go round. The satnav was confused, bless 'er. We pulled into a petrol station and asked the staff, who fortunately knew where we were trying to get to. We got back in the lorry, went round a few roundabouts until we all got dizzy, and we were there. The satnav has gone in for counselling.
It was quite a nice yard, nearly as muddy as ours, and full of 'stuff', bits of metal sheeting and tractor parts. There was a sign on the gate saying, 'No Tipping'. It was tempting to say, "You do have a problem with people dumping rubbish, don't you?" for the farmer to say, "Actually this is all ours." Good job I know when to keep my mouth shut. It gave Max lots to ogle at while I tacked him up, though.
The farmer was really nice, actually, and gave us directions down to the course. We each signed a disclamer - you know the sort of thing, doing a Girl Guide salute while reciting, 'I promise, if I die out here today, not to sue anyone or hold anyone else responsible, really the whole thing was entirely my fault, how was I to know that tree was there?' That sort of thing.
Barnaby was absolutely raring to go, and I was taking Max because I wanted to give him a run, but I don't believe in galloping when I don't know where I am (sure-fire way to gallop off a cliff). I felt so sick while we were tacking up I decided to tell myself I was just going for a hack and wasn't going to jump anything. I am amazed at my own ability to convince myself. Really - I'm so gullible. Then I saw the first fence, a little log and couldn't resist it. Max just flew over it and we carried on from there. We had a good old canter up the hill, then slowed down to check out the other obstacles.
It's a very low-key place, nothing fancy about the fences, but they'd used the terrain really well. We came to the water jump. I am very fortunate that Max likes water, and doesn't hesitate. The bottom looked quite solid. Mr O was trying to get Barnaby to jump in the highest bit. Barnaby said no. He also said, "Look I can run backwards, or sideways, I don't mind." Mr O saw the error of his ways, and followed me into the water from the low side. Barnaby was fine with this, so we went round again, then tried him from the higher side and he jumped straight in. It was good fun, actually, as I thought Max was going to surge up out of the water like this:

but he just seemed to do an energetic step and he was out. Bear in mind that we'd taken the decision not to wear body protectors and not to put boots on the horses, so neither of us wanted to fall off, but we were both totally confident.
We rode round and jumped some more logs, then went down a long field and into the woods. It was very muddy in places, so we sank a bit, but most of it was beautiful. Then to my dismay, there was a big ditch with a little bridge over it, about a foot wide (ie, tiny). Mr O (known as 'Gung-Ho' to his friends) went straight down, across and up the ditch. Problem for Mrs O: a sure and certain knowledge, based on six years experience, that Max will jump the ditch. I was not ready for this today, so I hopped off. Then I had a different problem. If I tried to lead Max over the ditch, he would probably still try to jump it, and either drag me across or land on me, thus killing me in the process. I took his reins over his head, and decided to walk over the bridge, and he could deal with the ditch as he saw fit. I can't describe my astonishment when I realised he had opted to follow me over the bridge. I could hear his little hooves clip-cloping on the stone. I didn't dare look behind me to put him off, and just kept walking. We have a TREC competition next week. If he doesn't ride over the bridge there, I will be having serious words with him, now he's proved he can do it. I was very proud of him, to be honest.
Not much further on from this there were two logs blocking the track. There was no option but to jump them. I asked Mr O if I could go in front. It makes Max listen to me and jump better than just blindly following Barnaby. I gave him a squeeze, and away he went, clearing them both beautifully, first a quite big one, two strides, then straight over the smaller one. I was grinning like an absolute idiot afterwards.
We came to a gate at the end, rode round some fields and then made our way back to the start, and jumped some more fences. I love cross country, I always have, and prefer it to showjumping. There's no logic to that. Any normal person would prefer showjumping, knowing that if you knock a fence, it will come down, whereas a rock-solid cross country fence is going to stay motionless, while the rider comes down, but I have a thing about Max getting his legs caught in loads of poles rolling about on the floor and falling over or something. Silly really.
I was quite content with all of this, as Max isn't particularly fit at the moment and we have our normal jumping lesson on Monday, so we decided to call it a day there and came home. I am totally impressed with Max's behaviour as he listened to me the whole time, had an absolute blasting gallop up the fields without getting silly and coped with lots of new sights. Going cross country on this horse is one of the greatest pleasures of my life, and it's thrilling to know I can still do it.
And now the adrenaline is slowly leaving my body, I think it's going to be a very early night for me. Busy day tomorrow...

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Barking Mad

There has been a big discussion on the radio regarding the government's proposal to introduce compulsory insurance for dog owners. It's supposed to stop thugs that use dangerous dogs to deliberately attack people. The trouble is, even if you can claim on their insurance, it's too late if you're injured, isn't it? Money isn't going to blot out the trauma you've suffered. What if you're a pensioner? How on earth are you supposed to afford it? Can you have a 'no claims bonus' if your dog hasnt bitten anyone within three years? (Tessa says a 'no claims Bonio'would be nice). With any luck the tories will scrap it.
And my 'bone' of contention again this year (if you'll pardon the pun) is that the BBC has refused to show Crufts for the past two years. It's the biggest dog show in the world. A big case of 'cutting off your nose to spite your face' as my mother would say. A couple of years ago Panorama made a programme about the inbreeding of dogs, and some of it was pretty awful, it has to be said. As a result they had a serious fall-out with the Kennel Club and have refused to show Crufts since then. Crufts is the highlight of my television year (that and the tennis) and I'm sure it is for many other people, too, and I think the BBC are absolute fools for axing it. I was fortunate enough to be able to go last year, for the first time in 20 years, and had a fantastic time, even though I got lost, as the NEC is vast. Missis' mum breeds pomeranians and wanted someone to go with her to help out, so I volunteered. I thought I'd missed it this year, but found out through Busy Bee, that it's on this week. I was thrilled when Mr O turned on the TV tonight and found it on More 4. Clare Balding and Peter Purves are commentating, too, so a total mutiny, then. That's me happy for the next few days, though. Silly old BBC.

- O -

It was our wedding anniversary yesterday. I was mucking out and Missis came up and said I'd had a delivery. There by the front door was a box with 'Interflora' on it. I downed tools immediately and rushed in to find out what it was. I eventually managed to open it, and this is what was inside:

It's a lovely basket, with a miniature rose in it, a bottle of white wine, and a box of chocolates. How wonderful. I am blessed to have a lovely, thoughtful husband. I think he was a bit put out that I raved most about the basket. It'll be handy for my knitting, though, won't it? I should think myself lucky. Mr O's boss is taking his wife away for the weekend this Friday - by coach - to Birmingham. They are having a day trip out and the coach company will pack them up a flask and sandwiches. He knows how to treat a girl, doesn't he?
Mr O really liked the card I made him, by the way, and didn't realise the bear was a stamp that I'd painted, as it looked so good. Deeply satisfying. I also got a card from my penfriend in Switzerland, Trudi, which was a lovely surprise. Mr O had I have been married for 15 years, and every year is better than the last. One day I'll tell you all about it.
- O -

I had my riding lesson yesterday, and I have to say it was absolutely brilliant. I wasn't half as nervous as last week. Max was totally grumpy when I tacked him up, though, as I'd turned all his mates out and kept him in, so when he got the chance he barged out of the stable. Unfortunately for him, he was still tied up and nearly garotted himself. I just calmly shut the door and carried on grooming him. I was worried he'd be naughty in the school, but was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed he was. Rosie put the fences up and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We need to work on our style, but for Max, it was business as usual. He knows his job so well, he is a wonderful confidence giver. The thrill of jumping really came back to me. I am so glad I explained to Rosie how nervous I actually was, and asked her to take me right back to the beginning again, so I could come away from each lesson thinking, 'Gosh that was easy, I can't wait to do it again.'
- O -
I have been blitzing the house as I have invited Lucy Goosie for a coffee tomorrow. I am learning country lore. You do not get a second invite until you have returned the original invitation, which is only fair really. I couldn't help noticing that Lucy Goosie's house was spotless. It was not only clean, but everything looked brand new, as if she'd bought it all only yesterday, so I have been cleaning everything that doesn't move. I've done first stage cleaning (washing up, hoovering) then got to second stage (cleaning round the toilet - one simply never knows!) and now I am obsessively wiping my kitchen cupboards down, in case she wants to inspect them. I have even cleaned the windows. I would bath Tessa, but I think she may object. I got up at 6.40am (I mean, me!) and stripped the bed. It had better be worth it. She'll be there, full of life and energy and I'll be an absolute dish rag by then. All this for a cup of tea and a bun. Next time, we'll go to the pub.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Just Enough II

If you haven't read my previous post, it would be a good idea, as it's linked to this one!

I spent all of last winter mucking the horses out and taking Zak for his daily walk. I tried to walk him round in the lunge ring, but he got a bit excited. Too much bucking and rearing for a horse that's supposed to be taking it steady. I plucked up the courage to start walking him up the road, and he was extremely good. I gradually increased it from the initial stages of a twenty minute walk up to an hour, and his tendon was doing fine. I always felt like the groom taking the horse round the parade ring before a race, I was so proud of this horse.
As you can see from yesterday's photo, he was very skinny when he came to us, and I have to say, feeding him to increase his weight has always been a challenge. He kept sticking his head in Missis' feed bins, and obviously liked the contents, so we gave him conditioning cubes, but it didn't do very much. This winter we've fed him on Allen and Page Weight Gain, and he's much better on it, but I'm afraid he will always be one of life's greyhounds!
After many months our vet came out to see Zak, scanned him, and said he was fine and could be turned out and gradually ridden, building up slowly to strengthen him, as we'd done with the walking in hand. We were thrilled. We turned him out, and he went berserk, cantering up and down. Max and Barnaby seemed pretty excited by it, and jumped the dry stone wall into the next field to celebrate! (They looked a bit confused once they'd done it and Mr O had to go up and catch them and bring them back down).
So Mr O started riding him, and doing really well. Soon the time came to jump him, which they did, and everything was fine. We decided to box the horses up and take them to Osberton. This is a beautiful place near where we used to live. There is a place called 'The Green Mile' which is exactly as it sounds. Missis and I decided to wait and let Mr O go off on Zak first, then we would go off and catch him up at the top. I watched him disappear into the distance, then we set off, but to my consternation, we hadn't gone far when I realised Mr O was walking back to us. Zak had gone lame again.
Once again we helped him back to the lorry and took him home. He was back on box rest. We were beginning to wonder what we'd got ourselves into. Would he ever be fully sound? This time though, he did seem to come sound more quickly. We have had our walks round the village to strengthen him, and Mr O has been riding him out at the weekends (bearing in mind we've had all the snow). This is partly why he's still skinny, as it's been impossible to build muscle on him, with the limited amount of work he's been able to do, but more work will improve his shape tremendously.
I came out and fed everybody one morning around this time last year, and changed their rugs. I had Barnaby's leadrope in one hand and Max's in the other but as I passed in front of Zak, he just exploded a load of muck at me. I know horses can't be sick, but don't let that fool you. The quantities of liquid and feed that can come down their nose is phenomenal. I didn't know what to do, but I knew it was choke.
I put the horses out and watched Zak in horror. His neck was convulsing. I knew what choke was, but I've never seen a horse with it in over twenty years of working with them. I ran in and read my wonderful book, 'First Aid for Horses'. It said choke is caused by a blockage, and normally it rights itself after twenty minutes. After twenty minutes he was worse. I rang the vet. She said she would come out if I thought it was bad. I thought it was horrific. I was so glad she trusted my judgement and didn't think I was just a hysterical owner. When she arrived, she thought it was bad, too. I had to walk him up and down the road, and loads more muck came out. I couldn't believe there was so much in relation to the size of his feed. But he came back into the stable and started retching again. It was awful.
The vet decided to 'tube' him. This involved putting a thick, clear tube up Zak's nose, the poor boy. It did seem to work, and the vet left, saying if he hadn't improved in the morning he would have to go into the hospital.
By the morning he was worse. We started up the lorry, and slowly and carefully managed to get this staggering, sweating horse up the ramp. I was crying. It took half an hour to drive there, and I didn't think he would survive the journey.
We arrived and managed to unload him, just talking calmly to him and wondering if we should say goodbye now, while we had the chance. He was absolutely dripping with sweat. The vet came out and greeted us and led us to the stable he would occupy, then said we could go home. Parting from him was absolutely dire. We both assumed we wouldn't see him again. I broke down in the lorry on the way home.
Three hours later the vet phoned to say they'd tubed him twice more, the blockage had dislodged itself and Zak had fully recovered. I cried again. We drove off in the lorry, rocking through the local villages in our haste to get to him. There he was in his stable looking a bit sheepish, but absolutely fine, no sweating or anything. I just buried my face in his neck and hugged him. We loaded up a healthy horse, and took him home.
When we bought Zak he was originally going to be a stop-gap, a project for Mr O, to bring on a bit and sell on, something to keep him occupied while Barnaby got better. I hope you can see from the above account why he has become a part of the family and is going absolutely nowhere. We adore this horse. How could you not?
He is a wonderful animal, an officer and a gentleman, and a pleasure to own. As my posts will show, he's always been very meek and mild, and adores Barnaby. He's done lots of sucking up, saving the best bits of haylage for him and so on, but in the last few weeks I've noticed a dramatic change in attitude, where he will actually chase Barnaby off and eat the haylage himself. He is learning to exert himself, and it's very surprising.
So really we have only scratched the surface with this amazing animal. Our hope is obviously, that he will stay sound and go from strength to strength. I think Mr O should do endurance rides on him, as he goes for ever and doesn't break into a sweat. But it seems a shame to waste that phenomenal jumping talent, doesn't it? All I can say is... watch this space.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Just Enough

I thought I'd tell you a little bit about how Zak came into our lives.
There we were, all happy and bright, Mr O riding Barnaby and me riding Max, then as you know, Barnaby sustained his awful injury.
We got stuck in to the joys of mucking out a horse on box rest every single day. (Mr O had been praying for patience. That'll teach him! The Lord promptly decided to give him something to be patient for. I promise you he will never do anything so silly again).
It wasn't long before Mr O got itchy feet, having no horse to ride. What is a man to do?
He does what any horse-obsessed man does. He goes on the Farmers Guardian website and starts looking at horses for sale. It doesn't take long before a Thoroughbred catches his eye. It's a gelding, and it's in Blencarn, which is near Carlisle. ('Up North' to those of you who don't live in England).
Mr O rang the owner and asked for some information. The owner was an older man, who said the horse was an ex point-to-pointer (amateur racing) but the man was retiring from racing 'to concentrate on me chickens'. Mr O asked the crucial question, "How much?" The man said he'd given another horse away and found out a few months later the new owners had sold it for meat money. He was appalled. He wanted at least more than meat money for this horse to make sure it didn't happen again. Mr O took his details, and that weekend we went up to have a look at this possible horse.

Enter Zak.

The owner (Roy) got on him and rode him round in a little paddock, with no hat on and a cigar dangling from his lower lip. Mr O rode him round the village, and I rode him up the road. We looked him all over. We were smitten. We agreed on a price and drove home.

Blencarn is a long way from our house. Mr O got up at 3am the next morning, got in the lorry and drove all the way back up there, handed over a good deal of cash and loaded this beautiful boy up and began the long journey home.

And so began the experience of getting to know a new horse. But not just any horse, this time it was an ex-racehorse. Mr O soon learned that any aid (instruction) he gave this horse would be interpreted as 'go'. And go he did. There's a cow field near Lorna's yard, with a bridleway across it, but if you're quick you can do a few laps of the field before anyone notices.

Now Max is a cob, not built for speed, but for a chubby little fellow, he goes like the clappers. Other people comment on it, so I know I'm not imagining it. We took Max and Zak to the cow field. In the time it took me to go round once on an inner track, Zak had been round three times on the outer track. It was worth it just to see the look on Mr O's face.

We bought him in early September, and all the fields surrounding the farm had been cut. It's our favourite time of year. It means there is field after field of stubble to gallop on. We took both horses out onto the fields, and Mr O gave me and my friend Janet a head start, then set off. I could see Zak out of the corner of my eye as he effortlessly cruised past. It was like being overtaken by Red Rum. Janet said his breathing didn't even change. What a stunning horse.

One night we decided to have a proper look at his passport. First of all, he had parents. We'd never had a horse with parents before! If you look on Max and Barnaby's passports it says, 'Sire: Unknown, Dam: Unknown'. Poor things.

But in Zak's passport it says his racing name is Just Enough. His dam is Mistress Ross and his sire is Alflora. After that it gets a tad more interesting, as it transpires his great grandfather is none other than


the most prolific winning racehorse of all time. Oh my goodness. That explains the turn of speed. And his ability to tuck his landing gear up and clear a four foot hedge with a ditch in front with no effort whatsoever.

Then came the day of the yard Treasure Hunt. Mr O had only had Zak for a week and so had decided not to take part, but changed his mind at the very last minute. My team was called 'Wild Wild West' and so, of course, the four of us were dressed as cowboys and indians. Mr O's team were Roman gods and goddesses and soon he appeared clad in a sheet over his white jods, and a wreath round his head, and frankly, not much else. The treasure hunt was a great success, everyone had loads of fun. At the end, Mr O decided to take Zak for a canter up the hill, when the wind took hold of the sheet and blew it off him. Zak didn't flinch as Mr O cantered, bare-chested, up the hill. Everyone screamed with laughter. Zak thought he'd been brought to a mad house, but it made a change from racing, so he was ready to go with the flow! What a beautiful boy.

Then we went on a sponsored ride with the Readyfield Bloodhounds, and everything had gone swimmingly. Mr O and Zak went leaping over hedges and ditches. They went back to walk, came to the edge of a field and Zak stumbled over a tractor rut in the mud and went totally lame. Mr O leaped off and helped Zak back to the lorry and we drove straight home.

Cue wonderful vet once again. She diagnosed a serious tendon injury, and suddenly we had two horses on box rest. It was an absolute nightmare. We'd turned Barnaby away by then and used his stable for Zak. Instead of the usual summer break, poor Mr O mucked out every single day for a year. But the story doesn't end there, so I think I'll tell you the rest tomorrow...!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Christening

We got up early this morning so we could muck out and have the horses completely done so that Missis just had to bring them back in for us at tea time, then came in and had a shower and got changed.
I had that panicky moment when we left, of, 'Have we got the camera/card/present/map?' and unusually for me, had remembered everything.
We were supposed to go and pick Daughter 2 up, but she isn't very well at all at the moment, so she'd rung to say she wouldn't be able to go, which is a shame, as I'd love the family to meet The Flower Fairy. Never mind.
It made the journey quicker for us as we could go straight across to Manchester without having to go north first, so we set off into Darley Dale and Bakewell, then on to Buxton. The scenery is stunning, it made me appreciate what a fabulous part of the country we live in, especially as it was fabulous sunshine all the way.
We drove on, but suddenly met a diversion, and it all went downhill (quite literally) from there. Mr O missed the exit to Manchester at the next roundabout, but we managed to right ourselves further on. That's what I like about England, you usually get a second chance, and it's actually very difficult to get lost. You are better off looking up and checking the signs than burying your head in a map the whole time.
Then we drove through Oldham, and suddenly it all went pear shaped. The whole road layout has been altered, and where there just used to be shops and houses, there is the most enormous retail park area I have ever seen. You know normally you drive into the entrance of a retail park, and all the shops are spread out in front of you? This one just went on for mile after mile up the road, with an Ikea and a Currys and a B & Q, but there were no signs to anywhere. Where was Bury? Rochdale? Nowhere to be seen. We drove up and down a few times, then guessed where to go. Eventually we made it onto the motorway, and from there made it into Middleton. Phew! The service was well underway by the time we got to the church. We opened the door and crept into the back row.
Afterwards there was a party and it was lovely to catch up with Mr O's brothers and sister. The last time we were all together was at their mum's funeral, which was held in the same church, so it was a bit of a strange feeling. The baby is lovely, much bigger than I'd expected, and chunky, especially compared to the Flower Fairy, who is very dinky. It was nice to catch up with my two nephews. I've always had a soft spot for them. My niece Sophia has always liked horses, so I've said to come over some time when the weather is nicer.
We decided to forego the beautiful scenery on the way home and use the motorway. It took us quite a distance out of our way, but we got home a lot quicker than we got there, so it was probably worth it. I had a lovely day, but I was so glad to be home. Tessa went crazy. It's a hard job holding the fort single handedly for a whole day. So much sleeping, so little time.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Whole Tooth

I had made an appointment for Tuesday to have my wisdom tooth out, but couldn't go in the end as Missis was away. I re-made the appointment for yesterday, and Missis very kindly said she would take me and bring me back again.
Then at about 10am Mr O rang me and said he would take half a day at work. I can't tell you the joy that flooded over me. Mr O is my rock, never more so than at times like this. I mucked the horses out, then went in and tidied up as much as I could before Mr O arrived and it was time to leave for the dreaded appointment.
I let them know I'd arrived and was sent to the waiting room. After a while a dark haired woman came out and called me into the consulting room. I thought, "She looks kind, I'm sure she'll be nice to me." I walked confidently into the room, only to find she was the assistant, and the spanish woman I'd seen last time was still there. I never got a sighting of her name badge, so for arguement's sake, we'll call her Torquemada. I noticed she had a cap, mask and gown on. This is so that you can't recognise her in the street and leap on her.
I laid down in the chair, that most prone of positions, so that you only glimpse the needle briefly over your right shoulder, before she inserts it inside your left cheek. To be honest, I thought she was going to stick it into my gum, so I had two seconds of relief before the searing pain of having it in my cheek anyway.
I was praying my head off, which always works (useful for smear tests as well, or anytime you're worried you're going to swear, cry or slap someone) and she eventually pulled the needle out. I took a deep breath, but within seconds she was back with another loaded weapon. This hurt so much I was practically waving my arms about as I desperately wanted to stop her from doing it. She said, "Be careful, I could inject my own finger." I thought, 'Suits me, love,' but obviously couldn't say so, as my mouth was full of finger and needle. I was tempted to bite down hard on the finger.
In the end I had four injections. Was that absolutely necessary? By then I couldn't talk coherently, so when Torquemada asked, "Are you okay?" I could only humbly nod. I was sent back to the waiting room. It was then I was most glad Mr O had come with me, as I could snuggle into him and pull myself together. The only thing was, he said, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" in his best Monty Python voice, and it sent me off into a fit of hysterics. I don't know if it was the anaesthetic, or the shock, but I couldn't stop laughing. This joyous attitude was not the impression I wanted to give to the dentist, but there was nothing I could do about it.
The nice dark haired lady came out and called me back into the torture chamber. Once more I lay on the reclining chair.
Torquemada prodded and poked my wisdom tooth and asked me if half my tongue was numb. I nodded dumbly. She prodded and pressed down on the tooth, and I am thrilled to say, I couldn't feel a thing. I could vaguely feel her twist the tooth, and then it was out. I didn't feel a thing. She put the wadding in and I pressed down on it. I sat up and was fine, and she said I could go and pay. I was so relieved. Did I recant? By God I did not.
I went out and found Mr O, and mimed that I needed him to pay. Then I realised I was going to be suddenly and violently sick. I leapt up and pulled the front door open, and ran out onto the forecourt. I had a brief moment of 'Gosh, that's posh gravel!' before being sick all over it. All in all I think I may have made quite an impression. I don't have to go back again for six months. Hopefully my hair will have grown by then and they won't recognise me.
I had planned to go to the library, the bank and the craft shop afterwards, but all I did was stay in the car while Mr O went to the bank. I felt very queasy, which I hadn't expected at all. Last time I had my wisdom teeth out I had a general anaesthetic. Now I know why. We came home, I got on the sofa and slept and slept and ....zzz.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Chickens In My Drawer

This is going to sound a bit mad, however I put it, so I may as well just get on with it. I have a perfectly good clock radio with an alarm, but because I like to listen to the radio when I work, I have donated it to the stables.
This means I usually use my mobile phone as an alarm clock, and I have a complicated ritual when it goes off in the morning:
Alarm goes off at 7am. Take lid off thermal cup of tea thoughtfully provided by husband, in order to let contents cool down. Press snooze button.
Alarm goes off at 7.10. Possibly grab huge cushion and sit up and drink tea. If not - press snooze button again.
Alarm goes off at 7.20. Panic, sit up, drink tea, get dressed and rush downstairs, not forgetting to trip over dog first, and feed horses.
But some nights I have got into bed and realised I haven't brought my phone up with me and can't be bothered to go downstairs and search for it. So then I have to resort to Plan B.
Do you remember Missis bought Mr O and I an alarm clock each for Christmas? Mr O's has a horse on it, and it neighs when the alarm goes off. He has taken it to work, and when people come into his office to moan or complain, he sets the alarm. When it neighs he tells them their time is up and would they please leave? Obviously they think he has completely lost his marbles. He is like Alan Sugar - "You're fired!"
Anyway, my clock has a chicken on it. Here is the offending article:

Why is it an offending article? One, because the ticking drives me crazy, so I have to leave it in my sock drawer, otherwise it's like Chinese water torture all night. So when it goes off in the mornings, crowing loudly, I have to leap out of bed, open the drawer, search around for a black clock in the dark, (it's always face down in the drawer) locate the little button on the back, and try and work out which way to push it to stop the dreadful racket. After that I slump back into bed, traumatized, but this is when the second, possibly more serious flaw in its workings becomes apparent. It has no snooze button. I could cry. I have to wake up and drink my hot tea and try desperately not to slide back under the covers, because if I do I won't wake up again until 8am, but it's extremely difficult when a: it's freezing cold outside and b: I have a medium sized dog slumbering on the bed. You feel my pain, I know.

- O -

I have read the riot act to the chickens this morning. In fact I gave them a disciplinary and read their job description to them again. "We feed you - you lay eggs. Nobody said anything about mucking out." They feel disgruntled that they are mucking out for free. Penny shook her Liberty print feathers at me. But who asked them to do it? Certainly not me. They walk behind me, gleaning enthusiastically, but I am hindered in my job as I am worried about stepping backwards and treading on them. Last week I accidentally donked Betty on the beak with my mucking out fork, but it's her own fault. They have a huge muck heap they can glean with impunity, what's so fascinating about stables?
They all left the stable I was working on in a huff, but unbeknown to me, Peggy must have taken my words to heart, as I looked round, and there she was, crouching in the corner, her body rippling with convulsions. She stood up, and there, behind her, nestling in the straw, was a pale blue egg. It was a beautiful moment, a moment to savour. Her eyes were jewel bright, and the pride in her expression was plainly evident. I had a moment of guilt, knowing that as soon as her back was turned I was going to have to pick up this precious item, that she would want to nurture and follow nature's instinct. She looked at me with one beady eye, as if to say, "Blow that for a game of soldiers!" and ran off to the other girls for some corn and a natter, never to return. I picked up the egg and held it against my cheek to feel the warmth, before placing it in the dish with the others. I am proud of it, anyway, even if she isn't.

(Ladies who Lunch, feeling the benefits of the sun, a good chinwag and some sleep.

It's a hard old life!)

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Spot The Difference

It's been a lovely day today. Spring may not have sprung fully yet, but it's definitely springing in small doses all over the place. It's much lighter in the mornings, and I am being woken up by the light (yes, we do have curtains, even in the countryside) and by birds singing. Where have they all come from all of a sudden? The air quality is beautiful here, I can only describe it as 'thin air'. You just want to breath in great lungfuls of it.
The water is completely different to Worksop water, too. My niece always used to complain about the taste of the water when she came to visit, and I didn't know what she was talking about until we moved here. The water here is beautiful, clean and pure. I've had cups of tea in Worksop and, to be honest, they are pretty disgusting compared to what we have here.
What other differences are there? Oh yes. I now have to walk down the drive to collect my post. Some of you may be thinking, "Wow, I wish I could do that," but believe me, it's a pain. Sometimes I even forget to do it. I have to take the dustbin all the way down the drive, too. Even when it's snowing and wet and muddy.
And don't forget

I live in a pigsty.

No, really. The bit we live in wasn't part of the original farmhouse, it was actually the pig pens. Then when it was refurbished it was included as part of the house. The walls are three feet thick. You can tell because the original stonework is still visible by the front door and all the window sills are like window seats. This makes the house beautifully cool in summer, but absolutely freezing in the winter, with one pathetic radiator by the window. It has been a work of sheer technical wizardry deciding where to put heaters to get some warmth in here. We've put a curtain across the stairs up to the kitchen recently, and it's made a huge difference, it's beautifully warm and cosy in the sitting room now. My only regret is that we haven't got an open fire. I'd absolutely love it, and so would the pets (and Mr O too, I dare say.) I've noticed a wood burning stove in the main house, but I don't think they ever use it, as the dining table is right next to it.
And the other big difference must be the absolute silence. Sometimes you can hear the wind, and the birds, and possibly a dog barking in the distance, or a tractor rumbling up the road, but mostly... mostly there is silence. No radio, no television, no children, just blissful silence, peace, quiet, and I love it. Quiet, in which to think, to pray, to daydream, to listen. On days like this, I know why we came here.

I have ridden The Boy today, and he was lovely. I've hacked out on my own for the first time since November. I'm sure, if we hadn't had all the snow over Christmas, I'd have carried on riding him without a break, but as it is, it took quite a bit of nerve, but Max was very good. I rode down to Jolly Farmer's. The manege was rock hard, and I wasn't sure whether to ride in it or not, but Max likes hard going, so I decided to risk it. He actually worked really well, but so likes the little palomino mare in the field adjacent to the arena. He was quite lively on the way home, itching to get a hoof on the grass verge, but if I'd let him I think we'd have been off.
I've groomed all three horses today. Max is losing loads of his winter coat. It's coming off in great white swathes onto the floor. I can't actually say Zak grew a noticeable winter coat, and Barnaby is clinging to his. His will actually come off some time in April, just as the showing season begins. I've hosed Zak's legs off tonight as Mr O is worried about mud fever. I am putting liquid paraffin on Zak and Barnaby's legs every few days, which is very water repellant. But Zak doesn't like having his legs brushed very much, so I am going to wash his legs off at night, then I can just re-apply the liquid paraffin in the mornings to clean legs. I put everyone in their stable rugs, and snuggled into Max's mane, trying to find somewhere without mud on, to breathe in his scent and give him a kiss goodnight.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Busy Bee

It's been quite a busy couple of days. Missis was away again yesterday. Goodness knows what havoc this is causing to her system. It was also really warm. I was mucking out in a T shirt by 10am.
I have spent quite a bit of time putting the finishing touches to my cross stitch cards, so they're actually completed. I thought I'd risk showing you (don't want the recipients to see them, really!) I have decided to try to sell all my spare cards, but I'm not really sure how to go about it yet. I can't imagine people buying cards from ebay, so I'll have to investiage. After hearing about the whole India situation on Sunday, I thought I might put the proceeds into a collection for that.
(But I may keep this one as it's so cute.)

The water went off again on Monday night, so I didn't have any for the horses yesterday. I decided to walk down to the pump to see if there was anything I could do, so took Tessa and set off down the lane. The pump is set in a big hole in the ground, and was whirring away, which it shouldn't be doing. Pongo thinks there may be air trapped in it. In the end there was nothing I could do, and had to wait for Pongo to come home and fix it.

I had Seven and Nine after school. They saw the two dishes on my table from their great aunt that passed away a few weeks ago. We got onto talking about grandparents. I told them I'd had wonderful grandparents. I asked them if they'd seen Pinocchio, and they said yes. I said, "My grandfather looked like Jiminy Cricket." They were silent for a while, then Seven piped up, "Was he green?" I was speechless.

Pongo came home but went straight to the pump, and before long we had water coming out of the tap. I rang him to say it was working, but there was a knock on the door, so I assumed he was back and cut the phone off. I opened the door, and there, to my surprise, stood Pilot, from over the road. He said, "I've got a lorry stuck on my field, would Pongo be able to bring his tractor across and tow it off?"
"Certainly," I said.
Pongo was trying to drive back up the lane, but couldn't because not one, but two, JCB's had broken down on the road. "Could you give us a tow with your tractor?" they said. I love the countryside. Anything could happen here, and often does.

An extraordinary thing has happened today. A girl called Heather McGrath sent me a friend request on facebook. I am friends with her mum Caroline from our old church in Worksop. I willingly accepted her request, and sent her a message asking about the horse she was riding in her profile picture, and she emailed me back to say there is a video clip of Max being ridden by his previous owner on Youtube. I looked at the link, and sure enough, it's my darling boy in a lesson at Wallingwells. He is so lovely on it, I shed a tear or two. Have a look here if you like:

Anyway, just to show you I have been busy, here are a few of my latest card makes. I am still knitting. It occurs to me that I'd better learn to cast off, otherwise Hallington Fox is going to have a very long scarf indeed.

(This is for daughter 1)

(And I've got to confess, I'm extremely pleased with this. Our anniversary is on March 10th. I love the stamp, and was thrilled to have the perfect water colour paints to paint it with, and love the sharpness of the stamp quality. I was also thrilled that the ink I used for the wording matched the backing card perfectly.
Hope he likes it!)