Thursday, June 25, 2009

Harry puts his hooves up

Visit Harry the day after Riding Club Camp with my husband. It's a lovely, hot day and he's in his field shelter, chilling out and avoiding the flies. As he hears our approach he pops his head and forelegs out.

Apple? He takes it appreciatively, and embarks on minutes of noisy munching and chomping, producing gallons of green foam - we stand back. Then he comes right out of the shelter, giving the rail on the ground a merry bang with one of his hind hooves. "You said he was a bit careless!" comments hubby.

Harry proceeds to investigate him for more treats, and Rob's a bit wary - a nip in the wrong place could be painful! "Hold your hands out flat to show him you've got nothing left" I suggest. It works! "He's a clever b****r" says Rob.

We leave him in peace and he accompanies us to the gate, as though he was seeing us off the premises, then returns to his field shelter. "Nice to see you, now I can go back to sleep."

Riding Club Camp

It's been more years than I care to admit since I went to Pony Club Camp, so I jump at the chance of going to Riding Club Camp with Harry - it's just a day this time, with no chilly old ex-army tents and horrible food.

I feel slightly worried I won't last for all three training sessions - dressage, show jumping, cross country. I usually need a nice lie down after just one lesson with my usual trainer! I needn't have worried. Harry is ace in the dressage...well, as good as he can be - it's not really our forte! In the show jumping he's OK but a bit careless, knocking quite a few poles. The trainer says he's "jumping by braille!"

"I hope he doesn't do that cross country" commented one of my companions. "He won't - he knows they're solid!" I reply, and thank goodness, Harry proves me right! He jumps virtually everything on the course beautifully, fast and clean. He won't have anything to do with a very spooky coffin - "a cob fall in and never get out of there!" But he goes straight through the water, and tackles everything else with great gusto, even some of the bigger options.

It's confirmed - Harry is a cross country cob!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A new best friend

Harry’s field mate, a lovely but ancient pony, is put down. She is very thin, despite masses of feed and good grass, she has asthma and worst, she’s starting to lose the use of her hindlegs. After much heart searching and discussion with the mare’s vet, her owner makes the decision: it’s sad, but the last, kind thing you can do for a much-loved equine.

Harry seems unperturbed, probably because he stayed in his field while she was taken to the vet in the stable yard, quite a way away. He can see all the other horses around him, and soon gets a new friend – another skewbald cob. Ernie is a very smart boy who is part-stabled and kept beautifully trimmed. Harry looks pretty lairy in comparison, with his curly mane and tail, untrimmed feathers and big white face.

But the two skews get on fine. Harry and Ernie: they sound like a couple of old boys down the pub!

Lovely day

Ride out alone on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I’m still being quite cautious after my fall, but no need: Harry is an angel!

It’s so bright that there are weird shadows and highlights everywhere, a very noisy cement mixer and a lot of Harry’s least favourite colour - bright pink in the shape of foxgloves and heather. But he doesn’t shy, just gives them a hard stare and minces past.

Every time Harry’s extra brave I give him ‘Michael Peace Big Pats’. We’ve been featuring this amazing horse trainer in Horse&Rider magazine, and ‘Big Pats’ are one of his tactics for reassuring and rewarding horses. They seem to work well!

Confidence regained

First hack after I my tumble. I’m not really nervous, but I don’t want it to happen again, yet! I make sure we ride out with Harry’s best friend Red, the weather is warm and sultry – too hot for massive spooks - and everything goes absolutely fine

I’ve only fallen off Harry four times in the seven years I’ve owned him, a testament to what a steady boy he is. My first tumble was when we were cross country schooling at Peper Harrow. He was being really good, then I pushed my luck. I asked him to jump a steep step down into the water complex, and after a few objections he obliged, but slipped as he went in and I fell onto the bank. Poor Harry looked bewildered, wading about in the water as I watched from dry land – it took me some time to persuade him that water complexes were not scary after that!

The next fall was out hunting. Harry swerved as we approached a fence, stopped, then jumped from a standstill, catapulting me over his head. I was winded, but he stayed around, thank goodness, I got back on again and did a couple more hours.

The third time was very much like my most recent fall. We were on familiar ground, I was feeling very relaxed in canter, then I went out the side door when Harry shied at a Labrador popping out of the bushes.

None of my falls have done much damage – thank goodness – but at my age, boy, do they hurt!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Beaten by nine-year-olds!

Jane and I go to a show at a nearby riding club, aiming to do the 2ft 3ins and 2ft 6ins show jumping classes. That might sound titchy to all you affiliated bods, but it’s big enough for us!

Loading, fine. Arrive in plenty of time. Stayed calm during the warm-up. Just one fence down in the first class – hooray!

Last time Harry and I jumped here he behaved like a loony - piaffing in the warm-up, alternately trotting or galloping in the ring - so this is a great improvement.

Jane and Red do a lovely clear, with a couple of cheeky bucks, but there are so many kids with fantastic jumping ponies in the class that she's not placed.

The bigger class actually looks pretty daunting to me: not only are the fences higher, they're wider, too! But we have a go, and have two jumps down. I'm pleased, as Harry stays calm and rhythmical all the way around, and seems to enjoy himself. We just need more practice. Jane and Red do another lovely clear again, but again are unplaced.

So, yes. We've beaten by nine-year-olds again!

Taking a tumble

I get myself organised and ride out quite early, as I have a wedding party to go to. We're on a tight schedule, and I don’t want to take any chances with getting lost, so I stick to our most familiar route. Big mistake.

It’s cold and windy (where did summer go?) and Harry is quite tense, but I feel very relaxed and rashly ride on a long rein, even in quite a fast canter.

WHACK! I’m flat on my back in the heather. It was like something from a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Harry just disappeared out from under me, shying at a deer that popped out under his nose.

I’m winded, so I lie there for a while, checking my limbs still function, and wheezing. Harry hasn’t gone far, I can see him sampling the plant life out of the corner of my eye. Then as I roll over a big pink nose comes down to investigate: "What are you doing down there?", he seems to be saying.

In a way, this is a good thing. It's the fourth time I've fallen off Harry, but the first time we’ve been alone when it happened. He didn't run a mile, indeed, he was pretty chilled about it all.

Mental note to self
Keep a contact when you’re cantering, and never get complacent. Sudden deer appearances can scare a cob, even if he sees them in his field all the time!