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’.

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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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Celebrity Life Style Part Two – It’s all about Boot Camp

Celebrity Life Style Part Two – It’s all about Boot Camp

I can do absolutely nothing for hours and hours but unfortunately doing nothing is not an option as Spring approaches. This is not, I have to point out because I am “full of Spring grass” or My Mare Gydja is “in season” or any other equine related biological explanation. No, the excessive level of activity in the Spring months is all created by a devious human invention. Boot Camp.

My Mate Roger tells me it’s preparation for the Shows and calls them ‘clinics’ but whatever cuddly supportive name he wants to give them it basically means being dragged all over the country in the Stable on Wheels and then having to go round and round in circles while various humans comment on the finer points or otherwise of my gaits. My gaits are fine just the way they are Thank You!

Home again its me

Various tricks can be used to deter the humans from taking you Boot Camp. There are obvious annoyances like losing a shoe just before said event or going ‘a bit lame’, though it has to be said that these are more a case of happen-stance than careful planning on my part. More often than not I have to accept that the Boot Camp experience has to be endured but no one said I had to endure it quietly. I make it my habit to shout, often and loudly to my mates. As a result of this behaviour My Mate Roger decided on one occasion that it was a good idea to take me to Boot Camp on my own, I was not impressed. I shouted all though the night even though there were other horses nearby and My Mate Roger was camped right next to me. By the morning I was a bit tired and My Mate Roger hadn’t got much sleep either. I don’t think My Mate Roger was happy with my performance on the track that day as this silly plan has never been repeated and one of my herd always accompanies me now when I go away.

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My Mare Gydja has her own clever method for making the humans look silly. It basically involves performing perfectly the very thing your human has identified as ‘the issue’ on the first ask at Boot Camp. She went to Boot Camp a few years ago as a ‘four gaited horse who possibly due to an injury as a youngster didn’t like to tölt’. The Woman wanted her assessed to decide whether to accept that the tölt was lost or whether it could be trained back. ‘Let’s see you try the tölt’ said the trainer. She watched for a minute and then gave her verdict. ‘Nothing wrong with that tölt at all’. The Woman was dumbfounded. For an encore My Mare Gydia showed flying pace when asked to canter round the corner of the school which is not bad for a ‘four gaited’ horse! She’s a clever mare who likes to keep the humans guessing. I have my own version of this trick. I spent years pretending to My Mate Roger that I was such a tolt machine that I couldn’t trot.

There are some benefits of Boot Camps though. Fleygur Fans come to visit and give me treats, I get to stare meaningfully at the tent entrance so that the humans feel obligated to feed me hay as soon as they get up, still wearing their pyjamas

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….and then there’s the horse whisperer. She dispenses wise words and wisdom to My Mate Roger but what she whispers to me is for my ears only and I’m not telling.

Check out what she says at 3mins 30secs

Boot Camp season approaches!

Read “Celebrity Lifestyle Part One” Here https://littlevikinghorse.com/2015/03/01/a-celebrity-lifestyle-part-1-its-all-about-food/