Time and Feel – part two

When I wrote my last blog back in July 2016 I intended to follow it up shortly after with some more of my story with Fleygur through the summer, but somehow the months have slipped by. I have missed the writing, it is cathartic for me and I thought often about what I would write, but it never made in on to the page. It is now nearly ten months since Roger died and I know that time alone is not enough to heal the pain of the loss. I have been on a journey over those months, one that I never would have chosen but nevertheless one that has taught me so much about me, those around me, loss, grief and resilience. I have had to consciously acknowledge and work on my feelings as I process my loss and make sense of my life.

Throughout last year I determinedly continued with all of the things that Roger and I had planned with the horses. I attended a riding clinic in May where I rode Roger’s horse in what would have been his lesson; entered Svipur in The British Icelandic Horse Championships in June, where I won the Elementary Tölt trophy that Roger had won two years earlier; took Fleygur and Jandi on a summer holiday to the Gower in South Wales; attended the ‘Icelandic Horse Summer Camp’ in August; and finally the Autumn Show at Oakfield Farm where Jandi and I won the Fancy Dress Class!

I progressed from being picked up, emotionally and physically by my wonderful friends in May and June, through quiet calm support and towing tips from my Dad in July, to packing loading and towing four hours on my own in September. Life had to go on and I did it with all the determination I could muster.

Fleygur and I on holiday, Rhossili Bay, South Wales

In August a house with a small paddock came up for sale in our village, and long term I couldn’t stay where I was as it was a short term rent. ‘When I am ready’ I said, ‘that is the sort of place I need to be’. It was near to the field I lease from the Church and I would have the support of my friends in the village nearby and the community in which Roger and I made our home. Then I realised, this was not just the ‘sort of place’ it WAS the place. So in October I moved home as well.

I had been back at work since June in a demanding senior job with lots of change and I wondered quite where my strength came from. I waited for the moment I would crash and burn. I knew I must be exhuasted but somehow I kept going. In that time I thought a lot about resilliance, where does it come from, how do you nurture it? It seems to me that resilience is to be gained from rooting yourself in your values and beliefs, your purpose, why you are here and why you do what you do. But its not just about looking back, it is also about looking forward with optimism to the future, or if you can’t manage to be optimistic at least with determination to get where you want to be and achieve your dreams. I like to think of it as a tree, putting down strong roots and reaching up with new leaves on its branches. Of course accepting what is and what can not be changed is a pre-requisite for this and an extract from what is commonly known as the Serentity Pray sums this up well,

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

My life with Roger is gone and I can not change what is, so I have to make the best of what I have. I am reminded often of a story told by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, whose husband died suddenly just over a year before Roger. She talks about a time she wanted her husband to be there for her and the children and was crying to a friend. He said, ‘Sheryl Option A is not available so we are going to kick the shit out of Option B’. And this is what I am trying to do, in the knowledge that my option B, as painful as it is without Roger to share it with, is a pretty good one and in that I am fortunate. I have my home, my health, my family and friends, and of course my horses.

What about those lovely horses?

So what about those lovely horses? How was the rest of the year with Fleygur? Those of you who follow the Facebook blog will know that I have been riding him, and that in general things went pretty well. I focussed a lot on keeping him calm and spent a lot of time walking him with just short sections of slow or medium tölt.  If he got too much I just got off and walked, the aim was to stay calm, him and me, it was not a battle of wills. We had a few little incidents, usually when riding in company where once something set him off he could be difficult to stop but I used the one rein stop where it was safe to do so and as my reactions and riding improved I learnt to sit deep and use my seat and body to ask for the stop. I also found someone in the village who was a good match for Fleygur, a calm, secure rider and this meant I could ride the other horses too. My bond with Fleygur grew strong, this feisty little horse, that I would have never chosen for myself, I think had begin to see me as his!

However as winter progressed work got busy and the weather got worse. Finding the time energy and motivation to ride got hard. I rode most weeks, but usually only once and although the I am sure the horses didn’t mind hanging about in the field, they really didn’t get the work they needed. More than once I thought that Roger would have been telling me I was mad to keep all four horses on my own. My confidence started to diminish, not just the riding but in my decisions about the horses care. The less I rode the more confidence I lost. Then a few weeks ago I fell off Jandi and was winded and badly cut my hand. I have continued riding but that knocked my confidence further and as Spring kicks in I know the horses will be full of beans, or rather Spring grass!

So what am I to do? Get help, that’s what.  Roger always said this to anyone who was having a horse issue, and it is good advice. I have booked into all the Icelandic horse clinics I can, put all the shows in my calendar and am arranging for some experienced friends to come and ride with me and help me get all horses out and ridden. We all have confidence issues from time to time and I will get this sorted – there’s that optimism and detminination again. I can’t let my feisty pony down now can I?

My Feisty Pony

In February I left my job, not because I had crashed and burned but because the time was right. I will still be working but in a more flexible way and I hope that this will give me time to explore my other passion of writing. I will have more time to blog about my journey with the horses, and who knows some Little Viking Horse stories or a book may appear too!

This last ten months have contained more significant and stressful life changes than I could have ever imaged but still, here I am, ‘kicking the shit out of option B’.

Time and Feel. Part one – The British Championships 2016

It’s the end of July, almost three months since Roger’s death and my feelings are still raw. Roger was such a big character, full of love joy and energy and the silence created by his continued absence is almost deafening. I miss his love and support in almost every aspect of my life and not least his encouragement and challenge in building our understanding of our horses and my abilities as a horsewoman.

Having decided early on to keep all four of our horses I made it my business to get on with things in my day to day life and with the horses, keeping to the commitments we had made together to attend a clinic for lessons in May, the Icelandic Horse British Championships in Dorset in June and our summer holiday with horses on Gower in South Wales in July.

None of this has been easy and although I have found purpose and some enjoyment my joy is lacking and I have cried a lot. I have cried more that I thought was possible and in a way I have never experienced before, from deep within my being and perhaps more wailing than crying. Not enough time has yet passed for the sharpness of the pain to diminish but nevertheless returning to work, getting on with life and working with the horses has been the right thing for me and what I know Roger would have wanted for me.  I am not so sure he would have recommended keeping all the horses though; in fact if I am honest I am sure he wouldn’t have. He was far less sentimental than me about the horses and would have mostly likely have said I should be more realistic and reduced to two, ‘every horse needs a job’ he said and I won’t have time to ride them all properly. He would have been right but I am stubborn as well as sentimental and he knew that too.

In my last blog I wrote about taking Svipur and Fleygur to the clinic in May. Fleygur had thrown in some surprises and had been reluctant to go forward. With the help of the trainer, Karen I figured that he was confused by my signals and tension and that I had to develop a new relationship with him. So over the next few weeks I paid attention to Fleygur, knowing that he was by nature an anxious horse who didn’t like change and not knowing how Roger’s sudden absence and the change in his routine might be effecting him. I rode him out with friends and on my own but focussed on keeping the rides very quiet, mostly walking and if tölting then only away from home and slow or medium speed never fast. If he became too wound up at any point I would just get off and lead him until he was well and truly calm before remounting. On most rides this meant that I walked the last section home to ensure he arrived home quiet and relaxed.

I had told myself that I would probably have to walk him in hand a lot for at least three months to manage my own expectations and I told everyone I rode with that this was my plan to manage theirs! I set myself this minimum time so that I didn’t rush things or give up before my plan had any chance of working. I also changed one of Roger’s habits and stopped giving the horses a feed when we got back from a ride. Roger use to ponder about whether this was a contributory factor in Fleygur’s rush to get home and I figured they didn’t need it nutritionally during the summers months anyway so there was no harm in dropping the practice. Okay it was a ‘nice to do’ thing and Roger had described it as a treat not a necessity so in this I went for the practical option and cast Roger in the role of the sentimentalist.

I didn’t ride as often as I had meant to. Returning to work was exhausting and even though I had the light in the evenings I often didn’t have the energy to ride after arriving home and getting everything else done , including having to fix the electric fencing multiple times after Svipur had broken it down, or repair yet again Jandi’s sweet itch rug after he’d torn it rubbing. There was more than one occasion when I wondered about taking up one of the offers I had to take some or all of the horses to ease my burden. I thought about it but I didn’t do it.

I did begin to notice small changes in Fleygur though. He greeted me more noticeably in the field and I got more and more direct eye contact from him, and I even had one or two rides where he remained calm and steady through out. That felt good, but I reminded myself that this was what Fleygur could be like sometimes Roger would say he was ‘Mary Poppins’ meaning ‘practically perfect’ of course, and other times he would be wound up like a spring and it was rarely possible to identify a clear reason for the difference. I will return to my journey with Fleygur in part two of this blog post.

When a horse really looks you in the eyes, you know you have his attention. If you are lucky, you will have his cooperation. If you pay him attention too, you will have his loyalty.

When a horse really looks you in the eyes, you know you have his attention. If you are lucky, you will have his cooperation. If you pay him attention too, you will have his loyalty.

The British Championships were fast approaching and I had to decide what I was going to do. The last Show in May was just one week before Roger died. We had a great time as always and had been discussing which horses and which classes to enter at the BCs. It was going to be a big deal for me just turning up, never mind deciding what to enter, transporting the horses, camping on my own, competing the whole deal, but not for the first time members of the Icelandic horse community in Britain made sure I was not allowed to drift away. I was supported in my preparation, encouraged and even collected – me and the horses and driven to and from the Show, nearly four hours from where I live. I was fed, hugged and supported every step of the way.

I decided to keep things simple and entered Svipur in the elementary tölt class. This is the class where I failed to qualify for the final at last years BCs and the class that Roger won with Fleygur two years ago. It was a lovely trophy that sat proudly on our sideboard for that year and I had told Roger it was my goal to win it as well so that both our names could be on the same trophy.

Roger with the Elementary Tolt Trophy in 2014

Roger with the Elementary Tolt Trophy in 2014

Roger, worried that I would be disappointed tried to manage my expectations by telling me about all the up and coming riders and horses and urging me not to pin my hopes on wining it. I knew there were two mini shields left on the trophy and that meant just two more British Championships where I could realise my dream. Although I told no one, this was the reason I entered that class this year. I wanted to win the trophy with Rogers name on.

To accompany Svipur I took Jandi, for the experience and because I thought I might enter him in the Track and Trail class, the only class that can be entered up to the day of the show. This was the first show that Fleygur would not be at and I didn’t take him for two main reasons. Firstly as I have said before he was at his most difficult at shows and Roger and I often spoke of retiring him from competition as it was clearly very stressful for him. I didn’t think there would be anything to be gained in terms of my building my new relationship with Fleygur by over facing us both in this way. To go from a remedial programme of walking a horse for three months, ‘oh except for the bit where I compete him on the track’ in something that both he and I will find stressful would be nothing short of crazy. I also just didn’t think I would be able to control him on the Oval track and the last thing I needed at this point was a set back, for either of us.

The Show was hard emotionally though it was good to be among friends and people shared stories and spoke of Roger often. I cried as I prepared Svipur for the qualifying class and when we qualified in first position. I worked on my relaxation, knowing that in all previous years my performance on the second day in the finals was always worse than in the qualifying rounds and there was no doubt that this competition had a higher stake for me than any before. I entered Svipur in the Track and Trail class that evening because it would give me another chance to tölt him on the Oval track and because I had worked on obstacles with him and so I thought the class would be fun! We did a great tölt but were completely useless in the obstacles and finished up coming last,  pretty embarrassing for a co-founder of the event but it didn’t matter I laughed all the way round and had a great time. I had offered a friend the chance to ride Jandi but to my surprise he was really playing up, napping and not wanting to be separated from Svipur so we were about to withdraw him when one of the British Team members, Charlotte Cook offered to ride him, be my guest I said. He performed terribly on the track but despite his reluctance Charlotte and Jandi did a cracking round on the obstacles and won the class. In the evening Charlotte was presented with the new trophy for this event The Roger Bax Award and she immediately gave it to me, as the owner of the winning horse to keep for the year. Of course I cried again. There are six more mini shields to be engraved so I have six years to win the Roger Bax Award myself!

Finals day arrived. I got ready in plenty of time and could feel that Svipur was more relaxed than the previous day which was good; a relaxed horse produces a better tölt, as does a relaxed rider. The judge’s comments from the previous day had said I needed more impulsion and I wavered about whether or not to ride with a stick. I don’t usually at home and although most people do in competition I find that I am more balanced and even in my riding if I do not and I use my hands more effectively, at the last minute I decided to go in without. At the end of the first round of the Oval track I was not completely happy with my performance and when I heard the scores I knew that unless I improved they would not be good enough to win.

Riding in the final

Riding in the final

I needed impulsion and to worry less about holding Svipur back, he needed to be able to find the speed he was comfortable with and carry himself and I must not inhibit him through my nervousness, so as we started the second round I urged him on with my legs and my core letting him go forward and felt his back end lift beneath me. I knew now all I had to do was stay relaxed and keep encouraging him forward and use my hands as lightly as possible. It felt so much better and I allowed myself to smile.

We were all called for a tack check at the end of the class and as soon as I dismounted I was in floods of tears as the emotional tension broke. Tack checked completed, recomposed and remounted we awaited the scores. We had won.

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I will brush over the playing of God Save the Queen after the rosettes were awarded, as I know this new gesture was meant kindly and my friends were mouthing to me that they had asked for the Welsh anthem to be played, but suffice to say that as someone who is passionate about being Welsh and not a supporter of a monarchy it was a bit like when the South Korean flag was shown in the 2012 Olympics when it was North Korea who were playing, although probably a bit less likely to cause an international incident.

Roger would have laughed so.

 

In ‘Time and Feel – Part Two – Holiday in Wales’ I will write more about my journey with Fleygur and inspiration from one of Roger’s favourite horseman.

Saying goodbye and new relationship with the same horse

Saying goodbye and new relationship with the same horse

In my last blog I wrote about starting a new journey with Fleygur, without Roger. It was an easy thing to write after all I knew pretty quickly that I could not stand the thought of parting with Roger’s horse, but the emotional reality this week was hard, really hard. I struggled to cope with the necessary financial forms that had to be completed notifying the various authorities of my ‘change in circumstances’, and my emotional exhaustion made it hard to motivate myself to do anything, even to ride. I meant to, every day I said ‘today I will ride’ but I didn’t. Still the horses provided me with comfort as I knew they would and just visiting with them, spending some quality time and thinking about the new journey I am on with them all helped to keep me going and focus on the positives.

I remain overwhelmed by the responses I have had to Roger’s death (those are still the hardest two words to write) both from those who knew us and those who knew of us through this blog. I have had many messages of support and comfort and again I thank you for these. I want to assure everyone who has contacted me that I am receiving a huge amount of support from family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues, both practical and emotional. My loss has sharpened my need to write and I have chosen in this blog to focus on my journey with the horses and their part in my coming to terms with my loss, because this blog is essentially about the horses and our passion, Roger’s and mine for the Icelandic horse and my intention to share our learning and experiences with others. I know there are many facets of grief that I will have to deal with but they will not all feature here. I felt I needed to say this, to reassure those who have expressed concern for me and to be clear that the Little Viking Horse blog will remain essentially about the horses and what we can learn from them.

I say ‘our passion’ and ‘our learning’ still because in addition to my memories of our many conversations about our horses I have Roger’s note books where he recorded his thoughts and ideas as he sought to become a better horseman.

So with all that said I will return to the lessons I learned from the horses this week.  I did not ride all week, but I did spend time with the horses. Gydja is on painkillers daily for her arthritis and so daily I needed to bring her in for a feed. I have long been able to lead Gydja with no halter just cupping my hand under her chin but now that she has discovered that there is a feed at the the end of our stroll together I do not need my hand either. At first Jandi and Svipur would try to get ahead of Gydja or block us at the gate to try to secure the food for themselves, but I was firm with them making them back up away from me and now just a gesture is needed, mostly, to check them and keep them in line. It very satisfying see them all trooping behind Gydja and I now they have learned their proper place!

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Repetition and consistency, especially consistency will be important in my being able to handle four horses at liberty in the field. Icelandic’s are known for being ‘biddable’ on the ground and generally having good manners but these still have to be taught and maintained. It is very easy to create a pushy nippy horse and I have had to curb my natural inclination to give treats all the time for this reason.

I also thought about developing my relationship with Fleygur, of course he is the same horse but we need a new relationship. He is the most intelligent of our horses, learning very quickly but he is also the most anxious and was closely bonded with Roger quietly watching his every move and I did not know how all this was effecting him. So I decided that each time I went to the field I would greet Fleygur first and say goodbye to him last, usually with a scratch on his favourite itchy spot. Over just a few days he was more visibly acknowledging me when I entered the field and I was getting more direct eye contact, though one day I did catch him looking over my shoulder directly at the front door of our house – perhaps looking for Roger, who would have usually arrived after me?

At the weekend I attended a clinic that Roger and I had booked onto some weeks ago, my first time away from home since losing Roger. Friends kindly collected two of the horses for me and rather than camp as Roger and I would have done I was invited to stay in the house. These things made it possible for me to go though I won’t pretend it was easy. I cried as I packed, cried when the horses marched up to meet me when I arrived, cried before I got on Fleygur for the first lesson that would have been Rogers, and cried some other times too. I missed Roger hugely, and on Saturday lunch time missing that I could not share with him what I had learned that morning I took some time on my own and cried some more as it dawned on me ‘Oh my god, this is forever’. Feeling the need to hear Roger’s voice I read through some of his musings about the challenges Fleygur presented in his note book and thought back over my lesson.

It had started well, Fleygur is a forward going horse, very forward, and over the last year Roger had worked on improving his walk, getting him to stretch forward and down and walk in a more relaxed fashion. Karen, the trainer commented on how improved his was but then as I asked him to walk on a smaller circle he just stopped and wouldn’t move forward. I turned him and we tried again. He stopped. I backed him up and tried again and again he stopped. Was he testing me? I was more assertive and as I became more insistent with my signals to walk on he became more agitated, but he wouldn’t go forward. This was completely unlike Fleygur something was wrong. I was riding in my own saddle, a treeless Solutions saddle, could it be that? We took the saddle off, checked everything we could think of popped it back on and I tried again. He stopped. As I explored the problem with the trainer we realised part of the problem. Same horse, but different relationship, different rider…. different signals!

Out on on hack it didn’t matter, he was secure and knew the job well enough that some blurry signals didn’t get in the way but in the school out of his comfort zone, and mine, the accuracy of my cues became more important. I had been giving him mixed messages, my voice and my rein aide and the tilt of my body said ‘walk on’ but my seat said ‘stop’ and if in doubt Fleygur stopped. Not a bad default position. The problem was my tension possibly combined with the saddle I was riding him in where I could feel his back muscles and he could feel every bit of the tension in my seat. Roger had taught Fleygur an excellent stop using his seat alone, sometimes backed up with a voice command. If Fleygur did not stop on the button he was asked to back up six steps and the exercise was repeated. Instead of being more insistent I breathed out and consciously relaxed my seat and asked for the walk on again, bingo! For the afternoon lesson I swapped back to Roger’s saddle, a Trapezius (flexible panel) saddle, and concentrated on staying relaxed. This produced much better results but equally it was clear to me that forming a new relationship with Fleygur as my riding horse and building his confidence in me was going to take time.

The next day Fleygur was offered the opportunity of some downtime, as I rode Svipur in the lessons, but instead he choose to protest being left in the paddock on his and and charged around the place shouting and working up a bit of a sweat even though Svipur and I were in plain view all the time. I was pleased with Svipur’s performance and received positive feedback on my riding and our progress since the last clinic last year.

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It was a tough decision to attend this clinic on my own but I am glad I did. I was surrounded by people who knew Roger and we talked about him often over the weekend. It was a supportive place to be and kept me connected with the community of Icelandic horse owners in the UK where Roger and I made many new and good friends.

Today we celebrate Roger’s life and bid him farewell and the horses will be part of this too. In writing this blog I have asked for nothing in return I just wanted to share our passion and experiences with our horses that others may enjoy and learn from them with us. In response to Roger’s untimely and sudden death I have received many messages from around the world and know that our stories, Roger’s, mine and the horses have reached many people, and some have asked if there is anything they can do.

Roger was a passionate and caring man and he cared deeply for those suffering as a result of conflict in the world, where ever they were. After he died I found an unposted cheque in his bag made out to the British Red Cross in response to their Syria Crisis appeal. Roger was very fussy about who he gave money to and careful with our money so I know this cheque was not written lightly. I have therefore have set up an page with the British Red Cross and if anyone wishes to make a donation in memory of Roger they can do so here http://www.redcross.org.uk/rogerbax

Thank you

 

We need to talk about Fleygur

We need to talk about Fleygur

I have always known that being with the horses has been an important part of my relaxation and stress management but more than this, and particularly since owning my own horses I have come to realise how much there is to learn from just being with them. In striving to be a better horsewoman I have paid more and more attention to the subtleties of their behaviours and looking for that ‘gentlest touch and slightest try’ (Ray Hunt, much quoted by Roger Bax!). It hones your feel, reaching for your horses mind and body looking for a connection a way of communicating that brings harmony to your relationship and your riding. It’s quite a quest and I don’t for a minute think I have reached my goal. Roger was the one who loved the schooling and training, I loved to just ride! However Roger and I spent many hours talking about how each of our horses was getting on and being a big reader Roger spent hours and hours reading and we have a bookcase full of horseman and horsewoman wisdom and many DVDs of our favourite trainers. More and more I used horse related analogies when tackling issues at work and I know we were both quite capable of boring others on the subject of our horses but it was an endless source of connection and shared passion for Roger and I.

We were however very different riders. Roger was what I would call a ‘hot’ rider, there was a lot of energy in his riding even though he never appeared to move! .

Roger had more varied and longer experience with horses that I did. He had owned horses most of his adult life, rode with gauchos in Argentina, went to see clinics the States, trained his own western schooled horse and later played Polo. Somewhere between his Western riding and playing polo however he lost some of his gentle touch, sometimes a lot of it!

Roger and Smurf the Polo Pony

Roger and Smurf the Polo Pony

I use to ride Western

I use to ride Western

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However although he was not short on opinions or afraid to share them he could also be humble. ‘Horses are a lesson in humility’ was a favourite saying and he sought lessons, help and ideas from a range a sources and worked hard on his riding over the years we had together. For the last few years I have watched Roger explore and develop his riding and regain more and more of his gentle touch as he drew back on his Western experience and studied classical riding but he always enjoyed the speed of a powerful horse. For my part I have always favoured quiet horses and can quickly lose my nerve if my horse becomes difficult to handle for some reason. I learned an enormous amount from Roger and he was humble enough to credit me with improving his relationship with our horses and challenging his ‘hot’ riding when I thought it was getting in the way.

So why do we need to talk about Fleygur? Fleygur was Rogers horse. I thought he was mad to buy him. Fleygur had been much loved and well cared for, certainly his weight was better controlled by his previous owner, but when we went to try him he had not been ridden for some time and obviously had separation issues from his mare. When Roger rode him out of the school and away from the mare he was clearly struggling to control him and there was no way I was getting on! However as he didn’t ‘buck bolt or rear’ even under extreme stress Roger decided that there was a good horse underneath all this and so he bought him.

This blog has already documented much of their journey together from scoring 1.8 (out of 10) at his first competition to his later rosette winning and riding in Rogers favourite class the T1 Tolt – the one where he could ride really really fast! A hot rider and a hot horse. But he did also refine his riding and control and I nearly cried one year because I was so proud, when Roger and Fleygur did a really nice Four Gait performace and they looked so good together and not at all out classed.

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The day Roger died we went riding. Roger hadn’t been to the field for a few days as he had been unwell, we thought with flu. As I brought Svipur and Fleygur in from the field with Rogers brother-in-law Roger was waiting at the gate talking to his sister and as soon as Fleygur heard his voice he pricked his ears and nickered to him. Rogers horse.

One of the many things whizzing round my mind that first night without Roger was what to do about the horses. I didn’t see how I could keep them all, it wasn’t practical. How would I keep them ridden and properly cared for and then there was Fleygur. Famous, funny, fiesty Fleygur. I rarely rode him, he was too strong for me. Rogers horse, how could I part with Rogers horse? I couldn’t, but I might have to.

I was inundated with offers of support with caring for the horses, not just from the Icelandic Horse community in the UK but also from people in the village. It was heart warming and my hope grew that in the middle of my grief at losing Roger I was going to be able to keep the horses who I was sure were going to be such an important part of me getting though this.

However  just looking after them was not the issue I was most concerned about. I knew I had to ride Fleygur and soon, I had to know if it might work. It’s not that I haven’t ridden him before but always with Roger and always with the possibility that I could swap back if I needed to. It’s not that I lacked a positive connection with Fleygur, he knew me and I recently taught him to self load into the trailer having had success with Jandi, though with Fleygur I only needed to show him once. I was also reminded by a friend that in the early months of owning Fleygur, when his behaviour was at it’s worst and Roger developed back pain Roger had considered selling him. As a last resort and because I was too sentimental to allow Roger to sell him I offered to ride him and Roger rode my armchair cob, Beanie. For three months I rode only Fleygur and gradually he calmed down. Rogers sister also told me that Roger had said recently to them that I had been the one that had ‘sorted out’ Fleygur initially not him. Maybe I can do it again?

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So this week I rode Fleygur, with a friend who is a trainer and judge as back up! As usual Fleygur was nice and calm on the way out and a feisty little bugger on the way home. We also had a scary moment on the bridleway when two very big dogs ran barking at a gate we passed, the horses coped with this well but when a man popped up suddenly from behind to wall (to apologise for his dogs!) both horses decided to try and leg it. Fleygur turned and tried to run and for a brief moment I thought this was it, I was about to be in a head long bolt on a horse that was too strong for me, it was not going to work.  Then I remembered the one-reign stop. My emergency break. Roger had been teaching the horses this in recent months and had made me practice it. I dropped my right rein and pulled the left in a straight line back to my left hip, moved my left leg back to ‘disengage’ Fleygur’s hindquarters and he stopped. I didn’t have to be strong, just accurate and quick. I did it. Thank you Roger for this extra tool in my kit bag. After a short break we carried on with our ride and sure Fleygur was a bit on his toes and fiesty but he did listen to me and his clear four beat tolt is lovely to ride.

I am still struggling to comes to terms with my loss. I feel unbelievably sad. Some people say I am being brave, or that I shouldn’t try to be brave but I am not doing either, I am just trying to deal with is, accepting what can not be changed even though my heart rails against it. The simplest tasks are really hard to start and even harder to complete and often when I am not expecting it the tears flow. The Celebration of Rogers life with his family and friends is not until 1st June and I know that I have a long way to go to deal with my grief but every day my interactions with the horses give me some peace and some smiles. It was a strangely emotional thing to get on Rogers horse, last ridden by Roger the day he died, but I am so glad I did. Now I am going to start my own journey with Fleygur without Roger. I don’t know how we will do, how long it will take or if we will succeed but we are going to give it a try.

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The day a huge hole opened in my heart and in my life

I met Roger the same year I first met Icelandic horses and considered myself very lucky indeed to find a man who not only shared much of my outlook on the world, but was also as passionate about horses as I was, probably even more so. I quickly realised that in my 40’s I had finally met my true soul mate and we fell in love so quickly that it was painful to be apart almost immediately and we have spent little time apart since. Roger was romantic, passionate and sensitive. Of course as Roger would say “people are patterns” and I will not pretend that either of us always showed our best side to each other but we have remained close passionate and in love throughout.

Although I converted him to the joys of Icelandic horses very early in our relationship we were put off from buying them initially by the prices at the time. We did not then appreciate fully the special joy (and frustration!) to be gained from riding these gaited and spirited horses. He helped me buy my first horse Beanie (Big Fat Cob) and we searched for a suitable horse for him. This did not go at all well and after being thrown a couple times he finally converted from ‘Big horses’ and together we started our journey into the world of Icelandics, not just in the UK but travelling to ride in Iceland and to see these amazing little horses strut their stuff in World Championships in Germany and Denmark.

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Our first Icelandic horse Fleygur was something of a challenge both because of his anxiety issues and because of our inexperience but we preserved, got help and learned and grew as people and as riders. Fleygur had such personality and funny little ways I often imagined what he was saying and provide a ‘voice over’ Jonny Morris style much to Rogers amusement. With Rogers encouragement and having seen other ‘talking animal’ blogs on Facebook I set up the Little Viking Horse page and gave Fleygur his voice. My intention was to entertain with a positive, slightly funny portrayal of our horses with the hope of also educating people in the UK about Icelandics and promote interest in the breed. The website followed as a more effective way to provide the educative side and this provided space for my own voice too. I guess the writing urge hiding inside me had to come out sometime. The feedback and engagement I received from all over the world inspired me to continue and one year Little Viking Horse was even short-listed for a Social Media Award and he was later adopted by the Icelandic Horse Society GB on their website. I was amazed by the response I had but Roger remained my biggest fan and many many posts were tested on him first. I sometimes wondered what I would write when one of the horses died, how would I break the news? Would I still blog? If it were Fleygur would Svipur take over the mantel of Little Viking Horse?

On the evening of Saturday 7th May Roger my best friend, my husband and my soul mate died suddenly and unexpectedly. A huge hole had just opened in the middle of my world.

We had spent the Friday evening having a lovely meal with family and although Roger was still recovering from flu and a possible chest infection he was up in the morning to enjoy some archery with his sister and brother-in-law and then we all went for a ride. A lovely spring day and a beautiful ride, Roger and Fleygur did their super fast ‘bat out of hell’ tolting on the way home while the rest of us followed at a more sedate pace.

Back at the yard it was clear that Roger was now exhausted and after lunch we waved good-bye to his sister and her husband and went to bed for a nap. He was uncomfortable and a temperature check read 38.1. As a retired nurse he ran through his symptoms took paracetamol to lower his temperature and commented that if it wasn’t for the fact that we thought he had flu and a chest infection, which as someone with mild asthma he would often get if he had a bad cold or flu, he might feel a little more worried about how he was feeling. I might have been more worried too but he had been checked out that week. The previous Tuesday morning I had driven him to Accident and Emergency has he had complained of chest pain when we woke up. He reassured me all the way there that the most likely explanation was ingestion but he had never asked me to take him to hospital with indigestion before, so of course I was worried.  The ECG was normal, though his blood pressure was a little high so reassured we went home and he made an appointment to see his Doctor on the Thursday.

He spent much of Wednesday in bed and that evening he phoned the out of hours Doctors number to run through his symptoms again and seek a view about if he should go back to A&E, the conclusion was it could be flu and that he would probably be okay to wait and see his Doctor in the morning. On Thursday the Doctor checked with the hospital about his test results and could find nothing specific other than slightly high cholesterol (blood pressure was improved) so given the temperature which was lowered by paracetamol flu seemed the most likely explanation. The slight discomfort in his chest, a chest infection. A high temperature is not, Roger and the Doctor told me is not a symptom that would indicate a cardiac problem.

We talked about the dream home we were about to buy and settled on a Nordic style sitting room. Roger said that although he felt like shit he didn’t feel like sleeping and would go and watch some television. I stayed in the bedroom and had a short nap. I don’t know for how long, but when I woke up I got dressed and walked through to the sitting room. Roger was lying on the sofa, not with his head propped on a cushion to watch the TV, though the TV was on but flat on his back with his mouth open just like when he snores. Roger, I said. No response. I shook him a little ‘Roger’ I said more loudly my own heart rate increasing. Nothing. He was warm but he wasn’t breathing. ‘Roger’ I screamed and ran barefoot to my neighbour bursting straight into their home ‘help me help. Roger’ though I felt I could barely speak.

My neighbour, a nurse performed CPR but even as I tried mouth to mouth I could hear Rogers voice in my head saying ‘there is no point in breathing air into the lungs if the heart is not pumping the oxygen round the body’. An ambulance had been called and I grabbed some shoes and both our mobile phones but as we waited I realised it was already too late. I went in to shock and a haze of disbelief descended over me. This can’t be happening. Roger don’t leave me. I love you.

The ambulance arrived. I called my brother ‘I need you’ ‘I’m on my way’.  CPR, adrenaline I don’t know what else and as they worked a glimmer of hope rose in me, but then I noticed they did not use the defibrillator, it’s no use if there is no electrical activity at all. It has to be used immediately. They could not get a tube down his throat, there was no response. He was gone. I was numb.

I wailed when the undertakers took his body away, I have cried some since, but I have not yet sobbed. I know it will come.

It’s been just over a week. My family, friends and neighbours have been amazing. I was immediately surrounded by people sorting things making decisions trying to feed me, hugging me and just being there but I wanted to do each step of the formal processes around Rogers death myself, on my own. I don’t know why I just did. I spoke with the Doctor, took to call from the Coroner confirming the cause of death as a massive heart attack, registered the death and started the plans for the celebration of Rogers life.

Some people told me not to think about the future right now just take one day at a time but that’s not how I work. I lay awake all the first night thinking through all the things I had to make decisions on. I was frightened to sleep I thought if I did I would dream that Roger was still alive and then would have to face the terrible reality all over again. One of the many things I thought about that night was will I ever blog again? What becomes of Little Viking Horse, not just the Facebook page, but all the horses? Roger and I were a team, I went out to work and he did everything else, everything. How will I cope?

I knew at least that I had to let people know what had happened, and for so many of us social media and Facebook is just another part of the way we communicate now. Fleygur’s voice was and still is silent in my head and anyway this post needed to be from me. Once I was sure that family and close friends had been informed I posted the news on my own Facebook and then on Little Viking Horse.

I was blown away by the response, on both my personal account and on Little Viking Horse. I received so many messages of support, love and encouragement and a few women private messaged me to tell me about losing their husbands in similar ways and offering me comfort and hope. I am very glad they did. People often say in situations like this “Nothing I can say will help but…..” But it does, it really does help and I thank everyone who contacted me in this way.

I realise this is a very public thing to do to blog about the death of the man that I loved and so soon when I am still raw and struggling to come to terms with what has happened, but this was not a private happening Roger had touched many people and Little Viking Horse appears has done the same. It is out there, people know and many people care. I can’t do the British ‘stiff upper lip’, close the curtains, shut people out, don’t talk about it. It’s not me. I don’t consider the many many kind words and offers of support as intrusions. Of course I cry when people speak to me and they say how sorry they are but I need to cry, it’s part of the process I have to go through and it has helped me hugely to hear peoples stories of how Roger gave them some advice they valued, encouraged them or their children, was kind or made them laugh.

I have not been able to face dealing with any of our affairs, car registration, banks or anything else. I know I need to get these things done and I need to prepare myself for going back to work but for now I am still numb, my memory is shot to pieces, I cry as soon as I see someone who I last saw before Roger died and I can’t concentrate properly. I don’t feel confident enough to drive and I haven’t been able to listen to the radio, watch TV or play music, so I guess I am not yet ready for the whole reality of life without Roger.

What I do know is the only time I have felt anywhere near normal in these first few days is when I have been with the horses, just getting done what needed to be done for them. On Sunday I rode for the first time and I know that the horses will be an important part of me getting through this. I don’t know how I will manage with them all yet but they will be part of my journey.

I wasn’t sure when I posted the news of Rogers death on the Little Viking Horse page whether that would be the last post I ever made, but the writer inside me was already writing in my head and gradually I realised it wasn’t a choice I was making, I had to write. This webpage allows me to voice my thoughts and I know that gradually Fleygur’s voice will return to me and his joyful, self centred musings will continue on Little Viking Horse.

Roger wanted me to write this blog, he loved it. It will continue.

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Two steps forward, one step back – The British Championships 2015

Two steps forward, one step back – The British Championships 2015

Roger has often said that ‘horses are a lesson in humility’ and on the journey to success it is helpful to remember that sometimes you will take two steps forward and one step back. In my last blog I wrote about how well Fleygur had done at the Spring Show, mainly because of how relaxed he was. Since the show he has improved even more, bringing his back legs under himself to power from behind and producing a much nicer and relaxed walk.   Roger has been using a number of exercises to relax him, get him listening and into the the right shape. We had high hopes for the British Championships, though tinged with a little apprehension. The British Championships were being held in West Linton, Scotland, a place Fleygur had never been, and we suspected that part of his success at the Spring Show was his familiarity with Oakfield Farm.

During preparation for the show Roger was having problems with Fleygur’s floating panel saddle slipping forward. When it stays in the right place it’s great, but too far forward and the panels press into his shoulders. When we bought him he wore a crupper, but Roger was concerned about how this might effect his spine, and Fleygur didn’t seem to like it much. Two weeks before the Championships Fleygur’s new Top Reiter Start saddle arrived and he seemed to go well in it.

For my part preparation for the show was difficult. Work commitments took me away from home so I couldn’t ride much and I had developed a sore back which was taking time to heal. I could not get time off before the Show, so Roger took the horses to Scotland on his own on the Thursday, and I joined them on Friday night.

A rest stop on route. Feeling Small

A rest stop on route. Feeling Small

On route to the British Championships. A seven hour trip.

On route to the British Championships. A seven hour trip.

On the first day of the Show Roger had the opportunity to attend a short clinic with a top rider, Charlotte Cook. Fleygur went well and with Charlotte’s help Roger was able to improve his performance even more. The next few hours for Roger were spent organising and running the Track and Trail class ( a new innovation for the BCs). I would love to enter this myself sometime but even though I had designed it my work commitments meant I couldn’t even get there to supervise Roger! After running around all day later that evening Roger picked me up at Edinburgh station and we went to bed late and exhausted.

So Saturday morning found Team LVH all together and ready for our classes, or were we?

Camp LVH for humans

Camp LVH – for Humans

Camp LVH - for Horses!

Camp LVH – for Horses!

Fleygur was entered in two classes the first was Intermediate Four Gait, where he has to show walk, trot, canter (on the correct lead) and slow and fast tolt.The second class was Intermediate Tolt, requiring slow and fast tolt. Because this is the BCs I couldn’t help Flegur with his anxiety by having Svipur in hand near to the track, and the lay out of the event meant that the track was along way from where he really wanted to be, back with Svipur.

It was immediately apparent that Fleygur was not happy. For both events he was difficult to mount, when he doesn’t move a muscle usually and as soon as Roger was on board he was trying to take off. For the first time ever he was also napping and refusing to go forward. We had never experienced this with him before and Roger had to use all his strength and riding skill he had just to keep Fleygur going forward and to stop him from going up. Trying to use more subtle aids and small moves to improve listening and shape were abandoned in favour of just staying in control!

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Trying to keep him calm

Oh no, not the armbands!

Oh no, not the armbands!

Roger struggled in the Four Gait to get four gaits and barely managed any trot at all! To get trot Fleygur has to relax and lower his head, and this just wasn’t happening. Canter wasn’t much better and I could see that Roger was struggling for control. However despite all this he did manage to scrape though into the final albeit in last place. His tolt class was much better and although I have seen better slow tolt, his fast tolt was good and he went through to the final in the leading position.

In between him fighting with Roger he did produce some nice gaits, and he wasn’t shouting so we hoped that by the finals day he would have settled and could be in with a chance.

Now it was my turn with Svipur in the Elementary Tolt. At the lunch break, having not ridden Svipur for a week or had the chance to show him the oval track I led him in hand through the warm up area and up to the track. He was really on his toes and by the time I put him back in the paddock I was starting to feel nervous. When the time came however he calmed nicely with my usual pre-hack exercises which include ‘kissing the stirrup ‘, responding the pressure by flexing at the poll, a bit of rein-back, and generally moving his feet around. All the stuff that completely failed to work with Fleygur earlier. However I completely underestimated the time before the class and barely got any tolting in before I had to be in the collecting ring, where I found I had to lead the class in. This is a disadvantage on Svipur, as he will go better on the track with a lead. I was just getting into my rhythm when Svipur spotted a rake lying by the side of the track, a track he had never been on and he was out front, and obviously it was there to eat him! Despite not being a spooky horse he spooked sideways and stopped dead! He went on again almost straight away but by now I had lost my rhythm and was guarding my sore back and we never quite recovered. As a result his tolt was  inconsistent and ‘rolling’. I was called for a tack check so didn’t hear my scores but I knew it hadn’t been a good performance and although we didn’t come last, we didn’t make the final.

Tack check is a standard part of Icelandic shows to ensure that tack is within the rules and correctly fitted and that the horse does not have any injuries. In the preliminary rounds this is done on a random sample, and in the finals all horses are checked.

Fleygur and Roger at the Tack Check

Fleygur and Roger at the Tack Check

I was really down about my performance and to be honest I had not been in a great mood since I had arrived. I was tired and felt under-prepared. I definitely was under-prepared. Note to self: I can not just swan up to a show at the last minute, having not ridden my horse much in the last few weeks, do barely any warm up and take him on a track he has never seen before and expect a good performance! The best advice for Roger and myself that afternoon came from Charlotte Cook. For Roger ‘focus on what went well’  and for me ‘get your horse on that track this evening’. So after the days events had finished I tacked up and did just that. Svipur behaved perfectly, no spooking and we did some nice tolting with a bit of coaching from Roger. I tried to get a little trot too, Svipur’s weakest gait, but despite me thinking I had trot Roger told me it was pace so I stopped. I don’t want to teach him ‘piggy pace’! I think I will need some help with knowing what my horses feet are doing, and can feel some more lessons are needed. Roger took Fleygur for one round of trot, just to prove he could and we called it a day.

The evening was spent with the other competitors and visitors, a meal, giving out some prizes, thanks to those organising the event and some silly games (for those that didn’t sneak away at this point!). The Icelandic Horse people are a friendly and supportive bunch.

Finals day arrived. As I didn’t qualify for a final had the option to ride in a ‘Three from Four’ class, but I declined. I already knew I couldn’t get trot and I didn’t want another poor experience on the track. I would rather keep in my mind the nice tolting I had done the evening before, besides the class started at 8am and I needed my rest! Instead I spent the day being groom for Roger.

Fleygur was not much better and was still difficult to mount and handle. Now we were questioning everything. Did the new saddle fit after all? Was he in pain? May be it was just that he didn’t know the place. Should he just do tolt classes, avoid group classes, should we show him at all?  Roger tried to focus on the positives, Fleygur had shown a nice fast tolt, and his trot when he does it is good. He wasn’t shouting and anyway he was going into the final in his first class in last place so what did he have to lose? I advised Roger to treat it as a warm up for his Tolt final.

Slow Tolt

Slow Tolt

Trot at last!

Trot at last!

It worked! This time he got all the gaits and managed to move up two places winning a fourth place rosette. It had been a struggle though and even at the end Fleygur didn’t calm down and fizzed about on the track. I can’t help but wonder how well Fleygur could do if we can get his anxiety under control.

That horse is giving me a funny look!

That horse is giving me a funny look!

Forth place in Intermediate Four Gait

Forth place in Intermediate Four Gait

His last class was Intermediate Tolt final but Fleygur was still fighting, and he didn’t go as well as the day before. He dropped from first place to third and as if to underline his fall the skies opened and chucked down a load of hailstones. Welcome to midsummer in Scotland!

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The final Tack Check accompanied by hailstones!

That evening over a glass of wine Roger and I conducted a post mortem and made a list of things to do and things to remember for the next show in September and all the others. Here it is:-

1. Always bring rain sheets (what ever the time of year). We did take them, but we didn’t for our first show in 2013.

2. Keep the weekend before the show free to practice and prepare

3. Get to the show early enough to get your horse on the Oval track, even if it is only once and practice your test

4. Always use the same warm up routine, different for each horse.

5. Work out a fixed warm up routine for each of them before the next show! (20 minutes for Svipur, 10 minutes for Fleygur)

6. Bring an alternative bridle and saddle (or don’t change your saddle two weeks before a show!)

7. If Fleygur is playing up get him going forward, rather than slow paced exercises at walk

8. While out hacking do timed tolts and trots to match the classes.

9. Consider teaching Fleygur one class, e.g T1 because the familiarity might help his anxiety

10. Have an honest debrief on what we have learned on the first night, and write it down.

rosettes BCs 2015Fine looking fella

Focus on what went well

Focus on what went well

Success is a Journey not a Destination – Reflections on the Spring Show

Little Viking Horse usually writes his own reports on the shows and whilst not doubting what an awesome horse he really is I thought his fans might find it interesting to hear a more balanced view of his achievements and some reflections on how far he has come.

Fleygur’s performance at the Spring Show was my favourite. Of course there were horses there that were more powerful, more flamboyant and more talented, but I was delighted with him.

Loose Rein Tolt

Loose Rein Tolt


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Impressive Pace Horses


Beautiful tolting

Beautiful Tolting

 

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Nice Moves

 I was delighted with his recent performance, not because he won his Intermediate Tölt class and came a very close second in the Intermediate Four Gait, although of course that was great, I was delighted because only a few weeks earlier we discussed withdrawing him from competitions all together, and this could have been his last one.  He really pulled it out of the bag at this show and achieved some good scores and placings, but the main reason he will be back is that Fleygur seemed so much more relaxed and Roger wasn’t having to fight with him all the time. They have come such long way since their first ever show, the British Championships in 2013.

Let me wind back a little to give you a sense of quite how far he has come. When we bought Fleygur in 2009 he was our first Icelandic horse. He had been very well cared for (his previous owner was much more successful keeping his weight down than we are!) but he had not been ridden much for a couple of years due to his owner developing a back problem. When we tried him out he was difficult, he was an absolute gentlemen on the ground but the complete opposite when ridden away from his mare. I couldn’t believe my ears when Roger said ‘we’ll take him’. So why did we? Roger describes it like this

He was frantic. He shouted constantly for the mare and felt like he was going to explode at any minute but he didn’t, and he didn’t buck, bolt or rear and I just felt he wouldn’t. He felt really wound up but I thought he was a good stamp of a horse

I could add that as winter was approaching and his owner was keen to find him a new home as soon as possible his price had recently been cut in half and Roger always likes a bargain!

Fleygur continued like this for some months. He did everything you asked of him, but he was always anxious when ridden out alone. He didn’t spook but he lent on the bit and pulled, all the time. If you gave any release he would take off with you and I have never known any horse walk so fast on the way home, an uncomfortable short choppy walk. Even when I hung back on my cob, if you let him Fleygur would continue his speed march home disappearing out of sight round the corners. I once got so fed up with him marching home that I made him stop and insisted he stood still. If he moved I was determined to stand still longer, I now think that it was a silly battle of wills that was not really going to teach him anything, but I was so frustrated and uncomfortable it was what I resorted too. The thing is he stopped every time I corrected him but eventually he started trembling and I could feel him starting to boil over. I really thought he might go crazy so I jumped off and walked him for a bit. He immediately calmed down and I was able to remount and ride him home.

I stopped riding him. He was too strong for me and I didn’t like the amount of contact I needed just to have some sort of control, and anyway he was Roger’s horse!

After we had owned Fleygur for about six months Roger developed a sore back and the more he rode Fleygur the worse it got. In all other respects he was a lovely horse to have around. A real character, quick learner and a dream to handle on the ground, but this wasn’t going to work and Roger said we would have to sell him. Being the sentimental one I offered to swap horses for a while. I was hoping Roger would be able to sort out his back and we could keep Fleygur, so for three months Roger got to ride my lovely armchair Cob, Beanie and I was back on the horse that use to make me cry with frustration.

Over those months a number of things changed. We changed his French link snaffle for a Waterford, which he couldn’t lean on in the same way and gave me something to work with. We went to Iceland where we rode lots more horses and had some lessons. We asked everyone we met, in Iceland and back home about how to deal with horses that pulled. I tried really hard not to ‘pull back’ and to get him to relax but the progress was so slow I barely noticed it. We didn’t really know other people with Icelandic horses back then, and before the days of Facebook groups it was much harder to make and keep the links and find out what was going on.

We visited a Western Equestrian Show locally which seemed to be the antithesis of the riding we were doing with Fleygur, nice quiet calm horses all on a loose rein. It was clear that Roger was seriously thinking of going back to Western riding and buying a Quarter horse. At the event we met a human and equine physiotherapist who gave Roger a treatment and recommended he reviewed his riding position.

We decided we needed to know more about Fleygur and contacted his breeder for help, We booked a lesson with Janice Hutchinson at Siamber Wen Icelandic’s where we discovered that Fleygur had always had a good tölt, and that he use to have a nice trot too, though we had not been able to find it up to that point, but we also found out that he had always been an anxious type of horse. It appeared that Roger was right, he was a ‘good stamp of a horse’, but he did have issues!

Janice told me I might make a good enough rider in a couple of years time if I worked at it and although I had only recently returned to riding, I had ridden since I was six so I took this quite badly! The thing is, now I look back she was right, I am still working on it, but my riding is significantly better now. After her feedback I made a determined effort to stop ‘wiggling’ in the saddle and Janice made a significant correction to Rogers riding position too, which he has maintained ever since and his back problem has not returned.

We continued to research, got help and lessons from Fi Pugh at Old Hills Icelandic’s and that summer we took Fleygur and Beanie to the Gower Peninsular on holiday, and on one particular day riding over the Common at Cefn Bryn I commented to Roger that Fleygur really wasn’t pulling, even though we were heading back to the yard. We swapped horses and Roger rode him the rest of the way home. He announced that it was like riding a different horse. I was so chuffed.

The Gower

The Gower

Although this was a break through the problem wasn’t fixed and there were plenty more challenges to come, but now at least we knew that we could give some release to Fleygur and that returning to a softer feel was not out of the question. As Fleygur became more relaxed and his bond with Roger grew stronger his character really began to shine through. He has become so relaxed at home that Roger often doesn’t tie him up and I really think he would go anywhere with him.

Two years later and we were offered the opportunity to buy Gydja, Fleygur’s mare, how could we say no? When we brought her home it was clear that Fleygur recognised her and although this now presented us with the opportunity of each taking an Icelandic horse to one of the shows, we had not really thought through the likelihood of this increasing rather than decreasing his separation anxiety! Nevertheless I am glad we bought Gydja, she is a lovely gentle but spirited horse and I think Fleygur was pleased too! You can read about his Favourite Day Ever on this link

It was around this time that Fleygur began his celebrity career, I started his Facebook page and later the website and YouTube channel. Later that year he even got short-listed in the Finals of the Equestrian Social Media Awards 2014 (Talking Horses category) and got his photo in the Guardian Newspaper! Clearly it was time he had his own logo too, designed by a colleague.

Little Viking Horse in the Guardian Magazine

Little Viking Horse in the Guardian Magazine

   

We started taking Fleygur to clinics (or Boot Camps as LVH calls them) at Old Hills Icelandic’s and had lots of good advice from Karen Birgitte Rasmussen and began to think about shows….

The first show we attended was the British Championships in 2013. You can read Fleygur’s account here, but believe me he underplays what a disaster it was! Fleygur was barely controllable, and shouted the whole time for Gydja. Roger tried his best to calm him, but nothing seemed to work and he scored a very low 1.8 in his first ever class. Despite putting a good face on it, and lots of encouraging comments from people, Roger was gutted.

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A very wound up horse

We attended more clinics and started to attend shows at Oakfield Farm in Dorset. These were much more relaxed events where we were able to work on Fleygur’s separation anxiety. He still shouted a lot but his did sometimes put in some quite good performances and at the next British Championships in 2014 were he was much improved and brought home the shields for Elementary Tölt Champion and Elementary Combination.

Elementary Tolt Final

Winning the Elementary Tolt at the 2014 British Championships

 However his anxiety constantly hampered his performance and even though he was often placed in his classes he was still too stiff, too ‘upside down’ and often called out for his mates. We had a long way to go, and had begun to question whether taking him to shows was really fair on him, as he got so wound up. Quite how far we still had to go became most apparent when Roger took him on his own to a team training event (otherwise know by Fleygur as ‘Mega Boot Camp’). He travelled well on his own, but once at the event he called – all night and when Roger rode him the next day he was exhausted and tense, this was not a winning combination. It was a tough weekend for Roger and although he got some good advice about preparing for the Easter Show the following weekend his confidence was not high.

Fleygur was entered in two classes but when we got to the show it was clear he was not feeling himself. He was subdued and didn’t eat all the food provided – which is unheard of for him. He played it all down a bit in his Easter Show Report but we were worried about him. Roger withdrew him from one class, and declined to ride in the final of the other. For the first time Fleygur came home with no rosettes. Had it all been too much for him? Was it fair to keep asking him to perform on the Oval track when he got so tense? Had he gone as far as he could? Perhaps it was time to gracefully retire him from competitions and for Roger to concentrate on bringing on our new youngster, Jandi.

Time to retire?

Time to retire?

We decided to give him one more go at the Spring Show at Oakfield Farm Icelandic’s. It was a place Fleygur had been to several times, and the atmosphere there is relaxed. Roger entered him in two intermediate classes, Tölt and the Four Gait. We would give it one more go, and decide whether or not to take him to the British Championships in June based on this.

As we attended more shows we had progressed from me having to hold Svipur near to the track to keep Fleygur calm, to me walking with him in hand after Roger had warmed him up. This meant that Roger could watch the other competitors and concentrate on what he had to do in his next class while I focussed on getting Fleygur to relax. I kept him moving and focussed on me, talked to him and knew where he liked to be scratched or massaged best. It seemed to work and both Roger and Fleygur were more relaxed entering his classes. We couldn’t do this for the Intermediate Tölt as I was riding Svipur in this class too, but probably because he had Svipur with him he stayed calm and went on to win the class.

Fleygur in tolt 

He performed well in the Intermediate Four Gait too going on to win second place with a score very close to the winner, but it was not his placing that pleased me the most. It was how much more relaxed he was, and although he still needs to bring his hind legs under him more, and we need to try to help him be less stiff in his back, his shape was much improved – and he didn’t shout! Well maybe once. He just looked so much more relaxed. This video shows the tolt section of his Intermediate Four Gait class, there is still more to do, but for anyone who saw him at his first competition in 2013 this is a huge improvement.

Svipur and I got a third in the Intermediate Tölt and Roger and I were also presented with our Winners rosettes for the 2014 Rider Rankings.  So the Spring Show was a big success for the Little Viking Horse.

Spring Show Success

Spring Show Success


2014  Rider Rankings Winners - Non-FIPO Elementary Tolt (Catherine), V5 Elementary Four Gait and T8 Elementary Tolt (Roger)

2014 Rider Rankings Winners – Non-FIPO Elementary Tolt (Catherine), V5 Elementary Four Gait and T8 Elementary Tolt (Roger)

 

  

Roger and Fleygur in the Four Gait

Roger and Fleygur in the Four Gait


So much more relaxed

So much more relaxed


It was a lovely show with good food, great company and excellent hosts. When we started with Fleygur we knew next to nothing about Icelandic horses and the gaits and sometimes I still feel I know nothing, but what I do know is this – being with our horses should be fun. It could have been the right decision to withdraw Fleygur from competitions, it’s no fun seeing your horse so stressed and at some point he will retire from being a ‘sports horse’ and just be a rambler instead. The competitions are actually a small part of what we do with our horses. It’s not all about winning but knowing that you are making progress and being recognised for that is a wonderful feeling.

The Icelandic horse community in the Britain is welcoming and helpful and there are many people who’s advice and help we have sought along the way, so thank you to everyone who has been part of our journey so far.

 

A final few photos from the Spring Show.

Flegyur in tolt

Flegyur in tolt


Five Gait Class. Riders of all ages.

Five Gait Class. Riders of all ages.


Relaxed at Oak field Farm

Relaxed at Oak field Farm


A well earned shower

A well earned shower

 

 

 

 

 

Fleygur relaxed on the track

Fleygur relaxed on the track


Discussing saddle fitting

Discussing saddle fitting


Who said Icelandic Horses can't jump!

Who said Icelandic Horses can’t jump!


Third place in the Intermediate Tolt

Third place in the Intermediate Tolt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning from Feedback Part 2 Fleygur and Roger

Roger wonders how a horse that can be so calm and cooperative, while out hacking, can be so wound up, and mad at a competition. Basically Fleygur does not like to be separated from his mates, and this is probably the biggest challenge.

The comments from the Judge, for Roger and Fleygurs’ practice round were,

“Rather tense and slightly pacey, but improving. Straight on the diagonals”  NB Fleygur was ‘screaming’ at this point!

” Tenses on circles, and not fully co-operative. Rather uneven tempo at times.

“Good on diagonals, beat very good”

“Second circle irregular, owing to horses disobedience”

“Rather high shape/outline. Rushing in walk, but nice movement and good halt”

“Some conflict between horse and rider, but well done for keeping him as calm as possible!!”

So a lot of room for improvement! At this point, Fleygur and Svipur were on the same score.

Here is his second performance.

Roger comments…

“Basically, Fleygur, who usually hangs on my every word, was not listening. In fact he was in another universe . So for most of the test, I am trying not to be tanked off with. Any release I give, he simply goes faster, or turns for the door, where his mate Svipur is. He does not so much pull, but is constantly evading contact, raising his head higher, and thus  making it harder to engage his back-end, the only way I can get direction is with my seat, and leg. It feels like I am riding a different horse, but at least he isn’t pulling, and screaming like he did at the British Championships. At the walk, he comes back a bit, and feels like he is listening to me. So basically, it all felt a real challenge. So would I do it again? Yes, because he improved from his last outing, he showed no signs of distress afterwards, and I think teaching him to cope with stress in a competition environment, will transfer to the other things we do.”

 

Seeking Harmony

Seeking Harmony

Isn’t it amazing? I think Roger looks so calm, and controlled on horseback – and all that is going on in his head, and in his ‘seat’!

Judges comments on the second performance,

First Movement – figure 8 – ” Good even beat. Accurately ridden. High outline. Some tension”

Second Movement – circles – “Circles a little irregular, 2nd better. Riders hands a little high. Horses shape high”

Third Movement – walks – “Rushing, but outline nice. Good halt”

Final comment – “Well ridden, though hands a little high”

Plenty of work to do before the Spring Show, in Verwood, Dorset. 2nd to 5th May. Watch this space!

Learning from Feedback – The Judges comments

Fleygur has shared his experiences of the U.Ks first Tolt in Harmony Competition in an earlier blog, and has posted the links to the YouTube videos. There is a lot to be gained from watching the other performances too, and I will certainly be studying them hard, to see what I can learn for Svipur and myself.

I was very nervous about taking part. I have never ridden in an Icelandic Horse competition before, or even very much in a school, and it was my first time at such an event, with my young horse, Svipur. I did so much better than I expected, and the encouragement and support from all the others was great.

I think that Tolt in Harmony is a great event. I really wish to be the best rider I can be for my horse, and for us to go in harmony. I am concerned that many equine competitions lead to rough riding, and dubious methods, so I really wanted to support something that is designed to promote harmony, and does not value flashy action over the welfare of the horse.

The feedback for my practice round was:

“A little tense and pacy, but improving. Even speed, not quite relaxed enough and head carriage too high”

“A better beat in the circles. much better tolt, but circles irregular”

“Nice transition to walk, rushing the walk, not quite straight, try a longer rein”

“Very good halt”

Here is my second performance on Svipur,

He slowed down every time we got near the gate, and was reluctant to go forward in the last section. I was trying to give a longer rein for the walk, following feedback from the practice round, so that he could stretch out and relax, but I ended up with uneven reins, and not a straight line! Something to work on.

So, here are the judges comments that go with the performance on video.

First Movement: Tolt a figure 8: “Beat slightly pacy, but better than earlier [the practice round]. Much lighter contact” [than the practice round]

Second Movement : Circles: “Beat better on the circles. Nicely ridden”

Third Movement: Walk : “Early transition to walk. Rather tense and rushing. Outside rein longer that inside, but good halt”

 

I hope this is helpful. Image

Judges comments for Roger and Fleygur to follow in the next post.

A Grand Expedition to Wales

A Grand Expedition to Wales

Last September the whole Little Viking Horse herd decamped, and went on a Grand Expedition to Wales. It was not my first time, I am quite famous in Wales already, but it was the first time we all went together. In these dark and damp winter days, Fleygur Fans might enjoy reading about it. Here is what the Woman wrote…..

“One of the things we love to do with our horses is “ramble”. A quick brush, check feet, tack up and head out. Our Icelandic horses are perfect for this. Easy to manage on the ground, easy to get on and off, sure footed and hardy.

One of the other things I love is the Gower peninsular, in South Wales. This is the place where I have spent most of my holidays since I was three years old. As I child I would practice my ‘horse whispering’, with the semi feral mountain ponies on the commons, and ache with envy when I saw someone riding a horse along the beach.

Wild Ponies on Gower

Wild Ponies on Gower

Finally, aged 40 something I met the love of my life, Roger, and bought my first horse, a Welsh Cob called Beanie. Roger and I now have four horses, Beanie, and three Icelandic’s – Fleygur, Svipur and Gydja. So, now I get to combine all the things I love, as we take our horses on holiday with us to Llangennith, on Gower, each year.

Just over a mile from our caravan is Tankey Lake Livery. It’s a friendly, lively yard where nothing is too much trouble for Sharon, who runs the place, and we, and our horses now see this as our second home. From the yard you can ride directly onto Llanmadoc Hill, without touching a road. Even if that was all there was, that would satisfy a weeks riding, while you weave your way around the various tracks, and make the obligatory stops at the Britannia Inn (which does great food), and Llanmadoc village shop/cafe for tea and cakes – but, that is not all there is. There are another four commons, with equally great views, and route options, all within easy riding distance and with minimal road work. Then of course there are beaches.

Fleygur and Roger on Llanmadoc HillSvipur and Catherine on Rhossili Bay

This year we took all four horses with us for the first time. The older horses quickly recognised where they were, and knew immediately which path to ‘suggest’ as the quickest way back to the yard, but for Svipur this was his first time to Gower. He is young, and has only been with us for few months, so we were not sure how he would respond. He was a star, and a real ambassador for the breed. Apart from being admired for his looks, he took it all in his stride and was a pleasure to ride. Even on his first trip to the beach he didn’t put a foot wrong. I wanted to use the opportunity of the beach ride to get a good canter or gallop from him, as he still favours pace when ever he can, and he was great. Leading the gallop and streaking away from Beanie, and Sharon’s cob, Keano – I was, once again living my childhood dream. For a moment Roger thought that I had lost control, as we galloped on when the others pulled up – but Svipur and I were just having too much fun! As soon as I asked, he slowed , and then stopped, and then walked as calmly as he had before the gallop.

Gydja and Catherine on Rhossili Down

Gydja enjoying the view

Of course Wales, like Iceland has changeable weather, but even knowing this, I foolishly set out for a ride one day without any waterproofs. We had just made it onto the second common when, glancing over my shoulder, I saw the rain approaching. We turned for home, and our usual gentle rambling was abandoned in favour of some fast tolting, trotting and gallops, as we tried to out run the weather. We almost made it, reaching the paths above Tankey Lake yard just as the rain started. I wanted to take the lower, more sheltered path, but Roger didn’t want to snag his new Top Reiter trousers on the brambles! So we separated. No problem for Gydja, she gave a little nicker as they left, and then settled. Fleygur, on the other hand, objected and we could hear him screaming from the hill, as Roger led him up to the higher path. On the top of the hill, despite doing a good impression of a really wound up horse, he stood stationary and quiet, on command, for Roger to mount; resuming his calling only once they were underway again. One minute we could hear him some where behind, and above us, and the next, they were way in front. We trotted up to join them, and it was apparent that Roger had enjoyed an exhilarating gallop through the driving rain and wind on the top.

Galloping is not the norm for us however, and our riding would probably be considered sedate by many. It is our habit to ride for a while, and then get off and lead, particularly up the hills; we ride for about fifty minutes and then walk for about ten minutes. As we do not have the option of riding Icelandic style, with a herd of spare horses, this enables us to be out for a number of hours with just two, helps to keep us fit, and builds the bond with our horses. One of these quiet rambles, with Fleygur and Gydja, took us directly from the yard over Llanmadoc Hill, and then, Ryer’s Down. After a lovely canter along the grassy tops, we dismounted for a steep drop into a pretty valley, and a meander along a secluded, tree lined path. The quietness of this route, away from any sounds of traffic, added to the feeling of going back in time, as a further decent on a stony path brought us to a small stone bridge, known locally as the Roman Bridge.

Gydja and Catherine near the Roman BridgeNew friends for Little Viking Horse

We have sometimes stopped at this tranquil spot for a lunch break, but this day we climbed on up the stony tack the other side, emerging into a small clearing, and one of those cottages that starts you thinking, “If I won the lottery….” The couple living there admired the horses, and after we had waxed lyrical about the unique qualities of Icelandic horses for a while, Jonathon and Kath offered us a cup of tea, and the horses a small patch of grass (which they leave un-cut for the wild horses that roam Gower, to graze). We un-tacked and let the horses loose, Roger having finally persuaded me that the grass would be sufficient incentive to keep them close by. Gydja dutifully munched on the grass offered, but Fleygur persistently grazed his was toward the herb garden, and had to be retrieved several times. It was great to make friends with some more of the local people, and as we rode on Fleygur had also secured another fan for his Little Viking Horse blog.

Gydja, Catherine, Fleygur and Roger at Rhossili

Gower is a truly beautiful place to ride, and I love it what ever the weather. (There is never bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!). This year, despite some very windy and wet days, we also enjoyed some great weather and fantastic riding and we will be back again next year .

If anyone fancies planning their own trip to Gower we would be happy to share details of our favourite rides, and introduce you to Sharon at Tankey Lake Livery. As well as the campsite, there are Bed and Breakfasts in the village, and self catering cottages at the Livery.” Places to stay.

Friends walking into the sunset