As the title suggests, this post has an equestrian theme, but as with all my blog posts, since day one, the titles of the post come from song titles... This one? Patti Smith, obviously.
I am going to talk about my life not just within the equestrian world, but also how it has influenced, inspired and effected me through life. So make yourself a brew, settle down and continue, we could be in for a long post.
I'm going to start at the very beginning of my equine interest. I've always had a love for animals, and at one point in my childhood I cared for 27 pets that I lived with, yes, 27. Various species, some with fur, some with gills, some with six legs, but thats a story for another day... The horses... It started at a relatively young age, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. After moving away from the northern lands of Liverpool and Warrington where I spent the first five years of my life dwelling, I grew up in a Post Office down in a quaint, rural village known as St. Briavels (pronounced Brevels, as I can hear some of you pronouncing that wrong) located in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. As a focal point of the village, we also supplied tourist information and local maps. One day, being unusually bored (it was rare, as I'd happily spend most of my days, when not in school, rambling around the countryside and woodlands we lived in and getting covered in mud) I was looking through some of the tourist information leaflets we had in the post office, all local attractions and activities to do, and saw one for a local equine rescue centre known as H.A.P.P.A (Horses and Ponies Protection Association)... I pestered my dad to take me as I didn't recall ever having been before (apparently I had, but I think he was fibbing), it was only located a few miles down the road from us. After not too much pestering, he caved, and that weekend we went along to the centre. I remember getting out of the car and walking up to the yard with my dad, where one of the grooms appeared, telling us we were more than welcome to have a look around and pet the horses and ponies, and to pop by the small cafe they had in a converted stable afterwards for a refreshment if it took our fancy. Now, most young children would be rather intimidated by an animal, that to them was like a giant, and weighs half a tonne plus, hey, I know numerous adults that are scared of them due to their size alone. Me? No. Keep in mind this was a rescue centre, some of the horses were nervous around humans due to mistreatment or just lack of human knowledge to socialise the animals properly. Some of the horses were a little worse for wear as they were still in recovery. But non of this bothered me, I saw all of them as incredible, majestic creatures and wanted to know more. Myself and my dad spent some time pottering around the centre, reading about each individual equine in the centre (each horse had a name plate and a written piece about their history on their stable door). The range of horses were vast, from little 9hh (hands high) Shetland ponies, to ex-racehorses, welsh ponies, to a lovely Clydesdale measuring 17.2hh (his name was Borodin), they all had their own stories to tell and all came from rescue situations. I went around the yard making sure I gave a fuss to each and every one. I didn't seem to care if it was a 9hh Shetland, or a 16.3hh Thoroughbred, I wanted to fuss each and every one. Some horses were friendlier than others. But I quickly learnt to read their body language when they wanted to be left alone. After wondering around the yard for a good hour, we walked back down to the cafe. Inside was a sort of mini museum and history about the charity also. Including photos of some of the rescues and before and after pictures of some of the equines. They were all shocking to see. From severely over-grown hooves, to extremely underweight, to a horse called Polo who had a metal bar stabbed into his side at a market because he wouldn't walk into the pen! To this day, I can never understand people who can mistreat any animal, whether its a mouse or a horse or anything inbetween. The lady who greeted us at the beginning told us about some of their more severe rescues and some history about the charity and the work they do. She then went on to tell us about an Adoption Scheme they ran, where you paid £10 a year to adopt one of the horses or ponies in the scheme and you could visit them as little or often as you wished. You were also allowed to groom your chosen adoptee by arrangement and take them for walks up and down the lane. As an 8 year old who loved anything animal related, this sounded like something for me. I chose a pony called Red Mist, she was a beautiful liver chestnut Shetland mare, 11hh and lots of character. She was only a year younger than myself, and although she had a cheeky nature, she also had a heart of gold.
Red Mist losing her fluffy winter coatEvery Sunday from there on in, my dad would be kind enough to drive me down to the centre where i'd spend an hour or two pampering Red and taking her for little walks around the centre. The staff at the yard would show me how to groom a horse properly and what each brush in the grooming kit was used for. My passion and love for equines was growing rapidly. I'd spend ages pampering Red, getting her beautiful coat into a show quality sheen, only to release her into the field at the end to have her roll in the muddiest patch possible... But that was her cheeky nature. The little Shetland taught me a lot in a short space of time, not only about horses, but also the full respect these animals deserve, and before I knew it, the staff would let me help out grooming other horses and doing various tasks around the yard. I absolutely loved it. We were invited to attend the centres annual summer open day they'd hold each year, where they not only raised awareness of horse care and the charity, but also put on various equine displays in their outdoor arena. We attended, and were enjoying the occassion. Next thing I know, the manager of the yard asks me if I wanted to help out with some of their displays, leading some of the horses and ponies around the arena, I happily obliged. We stayed afterwards and watched a showjumping display... Watching the rider working with the horse to get them both gracefully and successfully around the course of jumps... This was the point my dad had dreaded, I turned to him and said those dangerous words "I want to learn to do that!". From that day on, I pestered to learn to ride. Now, as most of you are aware, horses are not cheap, in any way, shape or form. Whether it's keeping them, competing them or wanting riding lessons. It's definitely not a cheap hobby by any means. From the cost of lessons, to the cost of the riding gear and essentials needed, so it was understandable my father was hesitant. After continuing to visit H.A.P.P.A, and continuing to pester, it was soon a few days before my 9th birthday. My dad gave me the surprise of a riding lesson! I was more than ecstatic, with a mixture of anticipation, excitement and nerves, the day came where my dad drove me down to the local riding school.
We arrived at Severnvale Equestrian Centre, just outside of Chepstow, one typically miserable British evening (my birthday is at the beginning of February, we were lucky there was no snow), we were greeted by my instructor, Juliet, who fixed me up with a riding hat. She introduced me to my noble steed, a lovely 13.3hh chestnut gelding with four white socks and a blaze down his face named Solo.She helped me get on, adjusted my stirrups and took me up to the outdoor school. This wasn't my first ever riding experience, I'd done so before on a family holiday in France at the tender age of four. But I can't say I remember the experience, apart from a few photographs that are possibly lurking in my dads loft as evidence. This time, I was a little older, and I remember it like it happened yesterday. Again, I have photos from this day, and again, they're highly likely to be gathering dust in a loft, I should retrieve them sometime soon. Juliet put me on a lunge line, for the non-equestrian, a long tether attached to the horses bridle one end, and she holds the other end but with a 10 foot gap between myself and the instructor, this way I could get a feel for riding without feeling I was just being towed along by a human, yet she still had control of the horse if I had done something wrong. We started off like every beginner, with the basics. What the reins are for, how your body should be positioned, how to steer, and how to get the horse to halt and walk forward. We moved on to trot. At first I found this a little concerning, bopping around all over the horses back and finding it difficult to contain control of my steering. But after a few circuits, I soon picked it up and was able to balance in a sitting trot, followed by a rising trot and reading the rhythm of the horse. Juliet told me I seemed to have a natural rhythm and position for horse riding and I had done excellent for someone with near enough zero riding experience. My lesson seemed to be over in a flash. I didn't want it to end! But alas, my dad dragged me home.
From that evening on, all I done was pester for another lesson. My dad was hesitant, as previously discussed, it's not a cheap hobby. I'd still go along to H.A.P.P.A on a weekly basis to visit and pamper Red and the other horses. Luckily though, my mum had a friend, Hilda, who lived in Blaenavon, situated south of the Brecon Beacons, approximately 30 miles away from St. Briavels (when you live in the countryside, 30 miles is nothing, ha ha), she owned horses and competed regularly in showjumping competitions across South Wales and South West England. She was kind enough to invite me to go and ride her daughters horse. Her daughter had gone off to University and because of such, her horse didn't get much exercise when he needed it. My mum drove me up to Blaenavon, where Hilda's home and stables where sittuated on the hills above the Big Pit (one of the largest coal mining pits in Wales). Hilda introduced me to her daughters horse, a 14.2hh dark bay thoroughbred called Sam (he was a thoroughbred that never grew, usually they range between 15.2 - 17hh). He was lovely with big doughy eyes and a fluffy mane. She tacked him up, and her husband, Terry, took me across the road to the field for a lesson. Sam was a calm natured horse, especially for a thoroughbred. Again he had me attached to a lunge line to begin with, after all, this was only my second ever lesson. We practiced my trotting, and before long, I was off the lunge line and controlling Sam completely by myself. It felt amazing to have control of such a large animal. We worked together and Sam helped me gain more confidence, that was until he slipped on the grass, went off into canter to get his balance back, I lost my balance and ended up falling off into the mud. Terry soon got me back in the saddle, I was a little shook up, but I knew Sam didn't mean to throw me off. We continued with the lesson and I gained better control of my steering. After that day, Hilda invited me to visit whenever I liked, even if I wanted to stay for a weekend where I could look after and ride Sam as if he were my own. From that weekend on, I would spend pretty much every weekend staying in Blaenavon. Hilda taught me more about horse care, from mucking out, to feeding, and she was kind enough to take me out on hacks around the valley too. She was even generous enough to teach my mum the basics of how to ride on her other horse, Andy. We'd go around the mountains and moors on the horses taking in the fresh air and scenery. During the summer, Hilda competed at a show held at Chepstow racecourse, she invited me along to be her groom for the day. It was a wonderful day, dry, and I also tried my first Ostrich burger there (delicious by the way). I watched Hilda blitz around the showjumping courses both on Sam and Andy. She won her class on Andy, and got a third with Sam. This day made me want to better my riding more, get to a level of being able to compete and I ended up completely immersing myself into the equestrian world.
Towards the end of the summer, my dad was kind enough to allow me to have official riding lessons on a weekly basis at Severnvale. Each Sunday, we'd visit HAPPA, followed by a trip to Severnvale for my riding lesson. Bless my dad for putting up with this every week, i'm forever grateful! Juliet remained my instructor, I gradually progressed, and before I knew it, I was able to walk, trot and canter with ease. I rode a variety of horses at the school. But I had two clear favourites. One was a 16.2hh bay Thoroughbred gelding named Ranjit, a large horse for someone of my age and size, but a gentle giant non the less, and a sweet 15.2hh mixed breed dun mare named Suzie. One day, my dad dropped me off at the riding school, then went to go and pick up my brother from a few miles down the road whilst I had my lesson. My lesson finished, I put Ranjit back in his stable, untacked him, gave him a pat and realised my dad still hadn't returned. I went up to the office in the yard, where the receptionist had just got off the phone to my dad, telling me the car had broken down, but he'd pick me up as soon as possible. To kill the time, I started helping the grooms with the yard work. Mucking out, turning some of the horses out to the field, sweeping the yard. I had just finished sweeping the yard when my dad showed up. Carol, the yard manager, was there also, my dad apologised, but she turned around to say I had been excellent, she hadn't seen the yard so tidy for a long time, and that if I wished, I was more than welcome to come and help out on the weekends in exchange for a free riding lesson per day I worked. I jumped at the chance, and of course, my dad didn't have any hesitation. After all, he would no longer have to pay for my addiction. From there on in, I would be at the yard from 7:30am until 6pm every weekend.
Christmas arrived, and my main gift that year was riding gear, helmet, boots, jodhpurs. It was official, I had become an equestrian! Over the next year or so, I continued working at Severnvale, learning more and more each week about stable management and gaining more experience in the saddle. I'd started learning to jump. At first, jumping terrified me, but with the help of Suzie and Ranjit, my confidence grew, and before I knew it, I was able to do a course of small jumps with ease. I've had numerous falls over the years. Every time i'd dust myself off, wipe away the tears and get back on (more so, thanks to Juliet who would make me get back on). The summer soon arrived once more, and Severnvale had their annual summer show. Juliet encouraged me to enter one of the smaller showjumping classes, not only to gain confidence in jumping various courses, but also to gain more experience. I entered one of the lower classes using Suzie as my steed. I looked fairly smart, with a little blazer jacket to look the part. Even though the jumps were small, I was pleased myself and Suzie got placed second out of 16 entries! I also finished the day by entering some gymkhana games, gaining more rosettes of numerous placings, and falling off an appaloosa pony named Domino in the barrel racing. It was a brilliant day, and the buzz I got out of competing was incredible. I didn't care if I won or not, all I cared about was completing the task and not ending up on the floor (I nearly succeeded on the latter, stupid barrels).
Myself and Suzie on our first Showjumping competition where we came second place.
Towards the end of the summer, whilst the evenings were still light, Juliet would take our group lesson down to the cross country course that Severnvale contained. Now, if you don't know the difference between show jumps and cross country jumps, the main difference is show jumps fall down when knocked, cross country jumps don't. They tend to be solid, and made to represent natural objects and obstacles like logs, hedges, ditches and water. As we had all been competent enough to complete a course of small showjumps, she knew we could do small cross country jumps also. After all, Severnvale is not only a riding school, but an Eventing yard, producing Eventing horses up to 3* International level. The first time we went out onto the cross country field, everyone was nervous. Juliet took us down to a jump called the House Jump. It was basically a natural wood cross pole (even though this could be adjusted in both shape and height) with a roof over the jump, so you and the horse jump between the poles and the roof. It wasn't intimidating, as it seemed like a showjump but with a roof above. Safe to say we all went over it with no problems at all. Then Juliet progressed us to the water jump. The water jump had a variety of routes through it, from the novice, to the more advanced. We all trotted the horses through the water to not only get used to the different ground underneath, but also to learn how to encourage the horse to actually go into the water. After all, the horse doesn't know how deep it is, many occassions I have witnessed riders going for an unwanted swim after not riding towards the water with confidence (have you ever watched Badminton Horse Trials with anticipation someones comes off in the lake? No? You should!). I am however happy, and thankful, to report i've never taken that swim. We finished the lesson all being able to canter through and up out the step at the other side of the water. Whenever it was dry enough, Juliet would take us to practice cross country, getting us to do more and more precarious jumps as we gained more experience and confidence. From logs on top of mounds, to ditches and drops. My equestrian life was going pretty good, I was happy working at the yard, gaining more knowledge and progressing well on my riding skills. By now I was 12, I ended up doing Pony Camp that summer, four days camping at the yard, fun, games and horses. We were introduced to the game of Horse Ball. I can see the 'WTF?' look on your face as you read this so allow me to explain... Five riders to a team, a football with straps attached around it. The idea of the game is to pass it between three of your team members before you can score a goal in a large basketball style hoop either end of the arena. You can tackle your opponents for the ball. If the ball drops on the ground, you must reach down from the horses back to get it, you can not dismount! It's pretty much netball, combined with rugby on horseback. It's fun, it's fast, it's on the dangerous side... I loved it! The last day of Pony Camp consisted of a one day event (dressage, showjumping and cross country), again I came out second.
My equestrian life was going well until one day when we had a cross country lesson. Suzie was being ridden by another girl, one with less experience, therefor Suzie was more appropriate for her. Ranjit was on stable rest after a ligament injury. And all the other usual horses I would ride regularly were being used by other clients. I was on Rosie, a huge, chunky 16.3hh dappled grey Irish Draught mare. I'd ridden her once before in the indoor arena. She was a strong horse, sometimes unpredictable and could be spooky. But this time we were out in the fields, doing cross country. I didn't have the walls of the arena to save me. I remained calm, and we completed some of the jumps fine. We came to the water jump, full on canter, as we exited the water, a rabbit shot out from behind a log next to the step directly in front of Rosie's path. Safe to say she freaked out, and bolted up the field with me on her back. I tried to pull her up but she was too strong and I couldn't stop her. I managed to gain control by the time we'd reached the gate. We turned around and started to trot down to the bottom of the field to join the others. Suddenly, she bolted again and threw me forward, I lost my balance and fell off. Landing on my feet. You may thing 'Huzzah! You landed on your feet!', but it was the worst thing ever. All the pressure had been forced into my knee and I twisted it upon landing. I was in agony, and was shaken by Rosie's bolting and her sheer strength. I limped back to the yard and phoned my dad to pick me up. For the next week I could barely put weight on my right leg, on the plus side I got out of PE lessons in school, after all, I hated field running. A visit to the doctor confirmed I had just badly twisted my knee and needed to rest it for a few weeks. I took a week off riding but soon enough I missed the horses and returned to the yard the following week. My knee was still sore, but I could bare weight on it. As long as I didn't do any heavy duty work, and took a sit down every so often, I was able to continue to work on the yard with the help of paracetamol. I didn't ride the first week back. My knee was still too sore to keep my leg bent in the saddle and stirrup. But the following week I felt ok to ride again. I was on Drummond, a rather handsome black 16.2hh Hanovarian cross, he was known as Mister Nasty of the yard, purely because he'd try and take your face off if you approached his stable. But outside of the stable, he was a gent. I got on, but as soon as I did I was filled with nerves. We were riding in the indoor arena, I knew Drummond was a great horse, yet all my confidence had gone. I didn't want to jump as I was filled with dread that the horse may bolt and i'd lose control again. It was like starting back at square one. It took a number of months and a lot of encouragement from Juliet to gain my confidence again. During this time, she also took time to show me Natural Horsemanship, or Horse Whispering if you'd prefer. She has a diploma in the subject, and not only did I find this fascinating, but it also helped me understand how a horse thinks. Understanding the psychological aspects of a horse, how natural aids and not artificial ones (whips, spurs etc) can be used to benefit the horse and using the knowledge to work with them better. That Christmas, we took our annual yard trip to London to watch the Olympia International Horse Show. We would watch some of the top showjumpers competing, the Whittakers, Peter Charles, Nick Skelton, Geoff Billington... It reminded me of how I wanted to learn to ride in the first place, and upon return from the event, I managed to get my head into gear and 'man up'.
By the time I was 15, I was still in the saddle and in full swing. I still worked at the yard every weekend and throughout the school holidays, getting to a point where I was in charge of 15 - 20 horses on my own every weekend. Along with my free lessons, I was getting paid a small wage on top. Id also been given two horses to work with. One belonged to the riding school, she was called Kim, a 15hh bay welsh mare. She was only 5 years old and although sweet natured, needed a lot of schooling as she was very green (uneducated), the second horse was on the yard, but belonged to a lady who kept her there, the horse was called Poppy, she was a stunning 16.2hh bright chestnut Swedish warmblood mare. Her owner wouldn't allow anyone to compete on her. But after a conversation with this lady one day, she agreed, if I took the time to school her in showjumping properly then I could compete her. So I took up the challenge. Poppy was a great horse, a little inexperienced, but with hard work and perseverance, she was jumping courses with ease. I progressed through my jumping and was jumping much larger and more complicated jumps and courses, both in showjumping and cross country. I was competing at every chance possible, in both showjumping and eventing. I never enjoyed Dressage, both competing in it and observing, and would only do a dressage test as part of a One Day Event. I even began to win competitions, taking home prize money and 1st place rosettes. Pony Camp came around again. And on the final day on the One Day Event, I came second on Titch, a 16hh bay Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. We lost out first place by 0.26 seconds! What a rip!
Sadly, this was to be my last competition.
A few weeks after Pony Camp, we moved house, and although we still remained in the Wye Valley, it was too far for my dad to be driving me to the stables at 7am. And being a rural location, the public transport was pretty much non-existant. With a heavy heart, I left Severnvale, along with all the friends, both human and equine, that i'd made.Every now and then I still had an equestrian trip. My mums partner had shares in racehorses, so i'd visit the racing yard fairly often. I even got a chance to ride one of the horses, but it didn't work out too well. I discovered I was not made to be a racing jockey. I got on with life, being a teenager, I was already into my rock and punk music and continued to discover more of the music world, going to gigs and buying album after album. At this time, I was also drawing a lot more. Throughout my childhood I'd spend much time drawing, whether it was horses or other animals. I even won my first art competition at the age of 7, when I drew a portrait of Nelson Mandela meeting the Queen. Kind of a heavy subject for a seven year old to draw, but we'd be discussing the occasion in a school project at the time.
Throughout my later teens, my equestrian life became almost a distant memory. I was working in a local pub and became more involved with my punk, my horror and my art. So much so, I left the picturesque world of St. Briavels and the Forest of Dean behind and ended up studying art at Newport University in South Wales. Eventually I ended back up in the North West, Warrington. I was looking for work doing whatever, in the mean time I focused more and more on my art work. However, even though my equestrian life was in the past, it hadn't seemed to have abandoned me completely. During the beginning of my 'art life' (as we'll call it), I painted numerous pieces, inspired by the style of traditional western tattoo art. I created numerous images, discovering it was a very versatile style. One of the first main pieces I created was a demonic looking horse, entitled My Little Evil Pony.My Little Evil Pony - Painted 2009
Excuse the crude painting... I was still exploring this style of art, as well as the acrylic medium I was using. But around the same time of creating this piece, I had an urge to return to the equestrian world. At the time, I was 21 and I was residing with my Dad in Warrington. I found a riding school a few miles away and booked a lesson. The lesson was a one on one private lesson, I was on a horse (who's name I don't remember) but he was a 16hh black cob type. A slow and steady fella, not what I was used to, but probably for the best considering I had been out of the saddle for five or six years. We went out into the field, and it was like learning to ride a bike... You don't really forget. The instructor put me through our paces, first with flat work, followed by some jumps situated in the field, including a water jump, I aced it and the instructor said she'd place me in an appropriate group lesson the following week. Sure enough, a week later I turned up for my lesson. I was on the same horse again, for whatever reason. I started my lesson, I had a different instructor from the previous week and I noticed all the other members of the group were children, no older than 10 years old. I felt out of place for sure. I found the instructor patronising, and upon development of the lesson, discovered these children were only just learning to canter. Not only did I find it frustrating, but I didn't feel comfortable either. I spoke to the instructor after the lesson, where she'd clearly seen I was able to canter and more, only to have her tell me this was the lesson the previous instructor said I was suitable for. After not getting very far in convincing the instructor I was better than that, I left, and didn't return.
I continued to focus on my art, eventually setting up an online store, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with. Over the next few years, my life was pretty much art, I was able to make a profit and had quite a lot of success selling work mainly to the alternative USA market. My work was published on numerous sites, blogs, zines and magazines across the world. It was enjoyable, and as with the equestrian work, I found myself just as dedicated. Over those few years, not only did I progress with getting my work seen across the globe (mainly thanks to the advancement of technology and social media) but my painting quality improved and the horses would creep back every now and again.
I had been on holiday back in 2008 to Italy. We visited various towns and cities across Tuscany, including Rome and Florence. Whilst in Florence, there was a vintage fair in the square. As a fan of vintage and Victoriana, I took plenty of photos. There was a beautiful, fully working Victorian carousel in the centre of the square, with the most glorious carousel horses in a range of colours and flair. A few years later, whilst rummaging for a reference photo I'd stored on my computer, I came across the photos from my time in Italy, including the pictures of the glorious carousel. It prompted me to paint the next piece, not only was it an interesting subject to myself, but the colours were bold and it was equine related.
Carousel Horse - Acrylic on Bockingford psper 2010
The art continued, but towards the end of 2011 the work and demand were starting to dwindle. I needed to get a 'proper' job and to leave Warrington.
Equus Serpens - Acrylic on Bockingford paper 2011
I found a job working in fashion retail. It was ok, not a dream job, but it paid the bills and enabled me to move out. Just after Christmas 2011 I ended up in Manchester, purely because it was a lot closer to work and I was able to commute much easier. The retail job lasted around six months, when I quit due to the idiot of a manager who would treat me differently because I was more 'alternative' with tattoos down my arms and metal in my face. It was for the best that I left. I wasn't happy working for the company and knew any skills I did hold were going to waste. It wasn't long before I found a new job, it was still within the retail sector but with a twist. I ended up working at Hard Rock Cafe, where I still am today. Again, it's not a dream job, but it allowed me to be me. Skip forward a few years, I was still painting and drawing, but it was clearly getting less and less. This was mainly due to the time my job consumed (and still does to this day). Over the last few years, I glimpsed back at my equine career I once had. I missed being around horses. The only equine encounters i'd had were seeing the odd police horse every now and then around Manchester. In the August I went to visit my brother in the Isle of Man. I've been going to this island all my life, since I was a toddler. I decided to visit parts of the island I hadn't for years. I remembered they had a horse sanctuary on the island, predominantly for the retired tram horses who pull the passenger trams along the promenade. It was a free activity, so I popped along. It gave me a yearning to be around horses once more.
At the Home for Horses Rest, Isle of Man August 2015Late last year, I had a yearning to get back in the saddle. I was off work one day in December, the weather was miserable and cold, so I decided upon a sofa day in front of the television. Flicking through the channels, I came across the coverage for Olympia International Horse Show in London. I hadn't really been following the showjumping world for a number of years and was a little out of touch with the latest top level riders and rules, but non the less, I settled down with a brew and watched away. I was surprised to see that a lot of my equestrian heroes were still competing, including the Whittakers. The excitement of the sport was still there, and once again, it reminded me of why I fell in love with these creatures to begin with. Watching the power and grace these animals hold, I realised I needed to get back into the saddle as soon as possible. After a quick Google search, I discovered a yard, John Shaw Equestrian Centre, based in Urmston, I was able to get to it easily using public transport direct from my house, and I could also just about afford the passion that equines cost. Over Christmas I ended up getting new riding gear, I hadn't even booked a lesson, but felt it would force me to get back in the saddle as not to waste the money for the equipment needed. Sure enough, I phoned up the riding school where I was recommended to try the 'Adults returning to riding' class they held at weekends. I booked in for the following week and turned up at the yard on a rather damp January Sunday. I had a mixture of nerves and excitement. I was introduced to my steed, Teddy, a cute black 14.2hh cob type. He was forward going, but lovely. Throughout the lesson, we done the basic three paces and popped a jump at the end if we wished to. Lyndsey, my instructor, told me I was far too good to be in the class and advised I moved up to the more intermediate level the following week. For the next few weeks I remained in the intermediate class, gaining confidence and trying to remember how to do all the aspects of riding correctly. I rode a variety of horses, and enjoyed my lessons. Before I knew it Lyndsey said I would be suitable for a higher level class again, where the work is based around jumping practices. This appealed to me greatly. I moved classes once more, and had to change instructors in order to progress. From mid-February onwards, i've been riding on a weekly basis, getting back into the swing of the equestrian world, and determined to do some small, in-yard, competitions before the year is out. In the past six months, i've made new friends, both human and equine, as well as taken part in events such as a 13 mile trek to Dunham Massey and back.
Myself and Samson at the Dunham Massey ride.
I've grown to find favorite horses, including a seven year old 16.2hh Anglo-Arab, Sparky, and my latest buddy, Bruno, a rather cheeky 15hh brown cob mix, who, last week, thought it'd be fun to take me down to the far end of the field to play with bunnies! I'm progressing through my showjumping, and I know before long I'll be back to where the 15 year old me left off. I hope to return to the equestrian world in a more full-on basis. For the long days and the hard work involved with these creatures, what you get in return is priceless. It's incredible how an animal, somewhat seen as intimidating, dangerous and untrustworthy by a large number of people, has infected me with a passion that has never left. I urge anyone to take up horse riding, not only does it give you a sense of freedom and self power, but it's incredible exercise and will give you a passion that lasts a life time. Working in harmony and building a partnership with these graceful and magnificent animals. Hopefully sooner, rather than later, i'll be back at a yard, shoveling poop and picking hooves.
If you've managed to make it this far, well done. And thank you! Please be sure to check out the links below for more information on some of the places mentioned in this post.
The toublesome, but lovable, Bruno. June 2016
H.A.P.P.A - Horse & Pony Protection Association
Severnvale Equestrian Centre
Isle of Man - Home of Rest for Old Horses
John Shaw Equestrian Centre
Severnvale Equestrian Centre
Isle of Man - Home of Rest for Old Horses
John Shaw Equestrian Centre