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

 

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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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Things to do when you have lost a shoe

This week Blondie lost a shoe so while I have been out this weekend going rambling for real, Blondie and the Woman have been playing games in the yard. It all looks very straight forward to me, but according to Blondie it’s harder than it looks.

The Woman started by setting up a little course, using things she found in and around the yard. We don’t have a school, and the only flattish field was too wet so she set up the course in the yard. First she let Blondie have a look at each of the obstacles in his own time and being a nosy horse this took quite a while. Then she introduced him to each task and each time he tried to do the right thing she gave him lots of praise, and even treats. When My Mate Roger and I were back from our ramble she had him all tacked up ready to show off what he had learned.

Walking Over An Old Rug

Walking Over An Old Rug

Well that looks easy enough, maybe he should try a mattress next time!

Figure of Eight

Figure of Eight

Next was a figure of eight around two buckets, a waste of good buckets if you ask me, they should be full of food!

Flag in the Face

Flag in the Face

Okay, I admit it did look a bit scary when the Woman waved a flag all over the place, but Blondie didn’t seem at all bothered, not even when she put it right over his head.

Into the Trailer

Into the Trailer

Out of the Trailer

Out of the Trailer

In and out of the trailer is no bother, we do that all the time. Okay, there are some potentially very scary plastic bags blowing around the place, but Svipur didn’t mind those either he just checked them out in case they had treats inside.

Getting Ready for the Side Pass

Getting Ready for the Side Pass

Side Pass Complete!

Side Pass Complete!

Now just a minute, those photos make it look like he did that straight off! Where are the ones in between of him making a mess of it?

Stand on board

Yes, very clever, even I could learn to stand on a wooden plank for a treat. How many treats did you get before you got it right golden boy!

The Golden Boy

The Golden Boy

A Celebrity Lifestyle Part 1 – It’s all about food.

I like this grass

It’s tough being famous, emotionally and physically draining, a fact that My Mate Roger does not seem to grasp. I work hard at keeping my stout round figure, as befits a hardy feisty horse of the Vikings, but I am constantly thwarted by his scheming. Once I even had to suffer the indignity of a ‘grazing muzzle’, and that’s an oxymoron as big as you have ever seen. These contraptions are in fact ‘anti-grazing’ devises, and even with my dexterous prehensile lips I had to work extra hard to snuffle up even a tiny amount of grass. It was not to be tolerated and I showed my displeasure by tossing my head and galloping around the field, but the humans did not relent. When the nasty thing began to rub my nose I appealed to the Woman, who is always more open to emotional blackmail than My Mate Roger, and it worked, briefly. After a day without the muzzle, spent eating as much as possible, it re-appeared with a hand-stitched fleecy lining! More concerted action was required.
I attacked the muzzle with my front hoof, which the humans had helpfully fitted with a metal shoe, and after two days the webbing finally gave way. With a shake of my head I was free. I stamped on it a few times, to make sure it wasn’t getting up and set about eating as much as possible before My Mate Roger returned.

Hay

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His next plan of attack was electric fencing, and this I admit has me stumped. I don’t like the stuff, having once got tangled up in it when I first arrived to live with My Mate Roger. He had arranged a nice little safe paddock from where I could be introduced to the other horses, Big Fat Cob and a big fat painted horse. Having spent a long time in the stable on wheels and not knowing where I was I thought a nice roll would sort me out, but I misjudged the fencing, got a sharp shock and when I tried to run away the fencing came with me, followed by two fat cobs and they didn’t look friendly. I kept running, and they kept chasing until My Mate Roger stepped in and stopped them , and the Woman cornered me and wrapped her arms around my neck to stop me running. I needed a treat after all that excitement and fortunately she had carrots.

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I did reach a truce with Big Fat Cob eventually, essentially by agreeing that he was in charge, and if there was any food going it was his. I have had to use all my Icelandic intellect, which is pretty awesome, to out-wit Big Fat Cob and get some of his share of the hay. Method number one, and not for the faint hearted, is to gradually edge closer and closer keeping a careful eye on his ears. If they flick back stop immediately and wait for him to relax. This is repeated until I am in optimum position, close enough to reach the hay with my front hoof, but not so close so as to provoke a full on lunge and snapping teeth. Next I reach out with my front hoof and scrape some hay towards me, out of snapping range, and then I reach down, extend my prehensile lips and eat the hay spaghetti style.
Method two is far more devious and depends on the relative differences between my intellect and that of Big Fat Cob, as well as the fact that Big Fat Cob is a spooky horse who thinks that horse eating dragons live all around, where as I know they do not exist. It’s very simple, whilst eating hay I spook suddenly and run away, taking Big Fat Cob with me. Once he is nicely on his toes a small spook is enough to send him far enough away to grab some of his hay, and if properly executed just a big flinch is enough. Devious eh?
All year I battle to keep my weight on, and all year My Mate Roger battles to keep it off. Even in winter I can put weight on, while the whole rest of the heard is slimming down. My Mate Roger is baffled, but I am full of tricks. I eat stuff that Big Fat Cob doesn’t even know is edible, I am first in the queue when there are any treats going, and hang about at places I know humans will appear at certain times, and if in doubt, in the absence of food, I conserve energy by doing absolutely nothing. I can do absolutely nothing for hours and hours.

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The Show Season Approaches

I love my rambling with My Mate Roger. Ambling down the country lanes, with the wind in my mane and wowing the locals with my amazing ‘chicken-pecker-chicken-pecker’ sounding tölt. Some times we go on our own, sometimes the Woman comes with us, with Blondie, Big Fat Cob or My Mare Gydja. This is me, and My Mare Gydja, taking a break on one of our rambles.

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As the winter days begin to lengthen, and we long for the grass to start growing again, I can feel the Show season approaching. My Mate Roger increases our rambling, we start to practice my awesome fast tölt, and My Mate Roger tries to explain to me the importance of speed changes. Apparently going as fast as you can is not always what the judges are looking for.

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Regular readers of my blog will know that my early show experiences were not my best. I got very anxious and didn’t understand what I needed to do. I still thought I was awesome, but My Mate Roger said our performance was embarrassing! Last year, however, was my year. Even the Woman said I was awesome, and one of the British Champions was heard to say that I was like a different horse. It was a good year. I won some trophies, and even Blondie got some rosettes.

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Apparently we are going to all the shows this year. The Easter Show on 4th and 5th of April, the Spring Show on the 16th and 17th of May (both in Dorset), the British Championships in Scotland from 19th to 21st June, and the September Show, back in Dorset!

Wish me luck, and maybe I will see you there.

Icelandic Horse events in the UK http://ihsgb.co.uk/news-events/events-calendar/

Editors note : not all the events listed above are on the events calendar yet. The sharp eyed will spot that LVH is double booked in June. LVH will be at the British Champjonships, but there will still be a display of Icelandic horses at the Kinver Fayre in Staffordshire.

The Spring Show approaches

It is less than a week to the Spring Show, and My Mate Roger and I are in hard training. Well, we have been for a few rambles, but there is more tölting involved, so it feels harder to me!  Apparently My Mate Roger has the week off, so we are going to be doing some real training this week. I think I am going to need to be very fit, considering all the things My Mate Roger is expecting me to do! Take a look at my schedule

Friday 11am
Group Ride from Oakfield Farm (be ready to leave at 11am) – small amount of road work, plus woods, bridleways and open heathland. Stop at the pub for lunch (there’s a field for the horses too). No charge but bring cash for lunch/drinks.

Saturday 4pm – Spring Fling Classes
Open to all horses and riders. Children, novices or those of a nervous disposition may be on a lead rein. £3.50 per class, or £15 for the whole lot. Helpers very welcome please.
Fancy Dress (Theme – songs and singers)
Handy Pony
Drunken Bending Race
Bean Bag Race
Dressing Up Race
Walk, Trot/ Tölt Race
Chase-me-Charlie
Piggy Pace Race

Sunday 9am – Oval Track Classes
Sport A Classes – Open to any rider, horses must be born in or before 2009.
COSTS FOR SPORT A CLASSES £15 per class
Tölt*  T1 –Riders compete individually. 1. Begin at the middle of the short side and ride one round in slow tölt on either rein. Return to walk at the middle of the short side and change rein. 2. From the middle of the short side ride one round in slow tölt, lengthen stride distinctly on the long sides. 3. From the middle of the short side ride one round in fast tölt.
Happy Hackers Classes – Open to any horse. Rider not to have been placed in the finals of any Sport A Class in the preceding 5 years. Children, novices and nervous riders may be on a lead rein. Special awards for the best youngster in each class.
Happy Hackers classes cost £10 per class

Happy Hackers Tölt  – The test is ridden in groups of up to three riders on the oval track, instructed by the speaker. Sections: 1. any speed tölt. Return to walk and change rein. 2. slow to medium speed tölt. The rhythm of the tolt and the harmony between horse and rider will be judged. Flashy action from the horse will not increase the marks.

Happy Hackers 4-Gait – The test is ridden in groups of up to three riders on the oval track, instructed by the speaker. The horses show the four gaits as instructed by the speaker. They ride on the rein as set in the starting list. Sections: 1. any speed tölt 2. slow to medium speed trot 3. medium walk 4. slow to medium speed canter. The rhythm of the gaits and the harmony between horse and rider will be judged. Flashy action from the horse will not increase the marks.

* Tölt is a 4-beat lateral gait, where the footfalls are the same as in walk – left hind – left front – right hind – right front, in an even rhythm. Although this is a gait which can be performed at all speeds (from a fast walking speed through to canter speed) there is no moment of suspension as there is always at least one foot in contact with the ground. This makes the tölt very smooth and comfortable for the rider. For more information on gaits visit the Icelandic Horse Society of GB web site here

My Fancy dress costume for the Spring Fling is Top Secret. Then, on the Monday, there is something strange called the “Beer tölt “. I think that involves, the riders trying not to spill any beer while riding one handed, and the horses getting wet!

Blondie is also entering the Spring Fling, and the Happy Hackers Tölt, but then he is doing something called the Happy Hackers Loose Rein Tölt

Happy Hackers Loose Rein Tölt – All horses on the track at the same time, well spaced out. Show a slow to medium speed tolt holding the reins in one hand, with little to no contact and as few corrections as possible. The rhythm of the tolt and the harmony between horse and rider will be judged. Flashy action from the horse will not increase the marks.

 

I can’t do that. My Mate Roger is trying to teach me to be go well with less contact from the rein, but I can’t really get the hang of it. Blondie is so smug when he tölts along the road, with the Woman just holding the end of the rein in one hand. He does lose it eventually though, going faster and faster. I am not sure he is up to competition standard, though he seems to think he will get marks just for looking cute!

Finally Fleygur Fans. All Fans (as defined by those who have liked my Facebook page) who turn up to the show to visit me, can be entered in a special prize draw for one of my Polo Shirts. Looking forward to seeing you there, but if you can’t make it there will be daily updates on Facebook and Twitter (if a signal is available) and full report to follow on this blog.

Full Show Programme and details are here on the Solva Icelandic Horses website.

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Icelandic Horse World Championships 2013

Our first trip to the Icelandic Horse World Championships in the summer of 2013 won’t be our last.

We had booked the trip several months in advance, but as time progressed we were having second thoughts. Going to Berlin for the ‘WCs’ meant that we wouldn’t be going to Iceland again this year, and we had had such a fantastic time in October on the Round Up, that we wanted to go straight back!

But, we were already committed. Tickets, hotel and flight were all paid for well in advance. The arrangements had been made following an invitation on Facebook from another Icelandic horse owner, and despite only having met her once, and never having met any of the others in the group of ten, we signed up. At this point we did not really know that many ‘Icey’ people, had not been to any shows or clinics in the UK, and therefore didn’t know what we had let ourselves in for! Fortunately, we got to meet some more people at the British Championships, at a clinic run locally, and a Horse Agility Event for Icelandic’s, before heading off to Berlin.

Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, and in the final weeks we began to get more excited about the trip, and made a long shopping list of all the horsey things we wanted to buy while we were there!

We arrived on the Tuesday, a few days into the show. I won’t dwell on the location of the hotel which was, at best described as “edgy”. Suffice to say that once we had established where to buy supplies of water (or beer), snacks and salads for lunches, and which train to get for the fifteen minute journey to the show ground, we were happy.

Most of the “old hands” headed off to explore Berlin, or get some rest before the next day, but Roger and I couldn’t wait to get to the show even though it was late in the day. I am glad we did. It gave us an opportunity, while it was quiet to locate our seats, and explore the grounds. Basically meaning finding out where the best stands were in the shopping area, and seeing some horses. We were already having equine withdrawal symptoms since leaving our little herd the day before.

Early in the week there are not as many people about, so basically you can sit anywhere. We were able to sit near the front to watch the Mares Breeding Assessment, and enjoyed it more than we expected to. The young mares were graded for their confirmation, and the scores announced as they came in to show off their gaits. It was really helpful in helping us understand what was being looked for in each of the gaits, and we got so see a lot of horses, several of whom we would have liked to have brought home!

We also really enjoyed the Pace Test, and the Pace Racing, and it was great to be able to cheer for the British riders in these events. I think Fleygur from Siamber Wen should be worried, as Roger definitely has his eye on these events!

In the days that followed we watched the early rounds of each of the classes and very quickly became experts in which gaits were the best 😉  It was good to be able to sit with members of the British Team for some of this, as well as other supporters, and learn from their experience and expertise.

The last couple of days of the show were certainly exciting, with the finals in each of the classes, but actually we found some of the earlier events more impressive and memorable. The horses and riders compete individually in the earlier rounds allowing you, and the judges I imagine, to focus properly on the performance of each partnership, and they get to choose their own music. I know that many people felt that the Icelandic rider who rode to “First we take Manhattan then, we take Berlin…” was arrogant, but there was no doubting it was a powerful performance, and it is true, it would have seemed supremely arrogant if he hadn’t won, but he did! For me though, the most impressive performance was from Magnus Skulason, in the Five Gait, whose transitions were amazingly smooth, almost breathtaking.

But Icelandic Horses are not just about gait competitions. In fact, for me they are not even mainly about competition. It is the Icelandic horses’ nature and versatility that has won me over to the breed, so it was also great to take time out to see the performances in the small arena. “Youth in Motion” was an entertaining display from young German riders and their horses, including everything from bareback, bridle-less riding, to jumping, quadrille, dressage, tolt and pace demonstrations; and some dancing around with poles, which I think has something to do with working with bulls!

 Bull fighting

 

It was great fun. As was Connie who has somehow managed to teach her Icelandic to hula-hoop!

Hula hoop

The Icelandic Horse is hardy, and long lived, and it was moving to see so many twenty year old+ horses in the “old heroes” display, and although one or two looked as if they may have been better off staying in the paddock, most were impressively fit, and a great advert for the breed.

Another highlight for Roger and I, was meeting so many people we knew. We met up with people who had been on the Round Up with us in Iceland last year, and with a number of the staff from Ishester who had organised the trip; and a couple of the horse farmers/breeders whose horses we had ridden. Roger, who has a great memory for faces, also made sure we had a long talk with the guy from the movie “Kraftur” and talked saddles with Benni. For those who have been around a long time, and know “everyone” this is probably normal, but for us it was like meeting all our favourite celebrities at once!

Having said that I am not sure I will forgive Fannar, the MD of Ishestar for setting us up to be interviewed on Icelandic TV so that the whole of Iceland could laugh at our attempts at pronouncing Icelandic Horse names. It was slightly surreal to get a message on Little Viking Horses Facebook page the next day, from a fan in Iceland saying she had seen “My Mate Roger” on Icelandic TV!

I can’t say the closing ceremony was particularly impressive, and it did drag on a bit, but I am glad we stayed right to the end, and that I got to run down onto the track to grab a picture of most of the British Team. I think they had had a tough week (flash flood in the campsite, injuries and a disqualification!), but they were all smiling at the end.

British Team

A final thought. When we got home, Roger and I put on some DVDs we have of Icelandic competitions, some of which were over ten years old. We were struck by how much the riding has improved. In all competition, and equestrian sport is no different, there is a risk of using extreme measures to win. Sadly, for horses this can mean poor riding, or inhumane methods. I hope that we continue to see improvements in the training and riding of Icelandic horses, and that judges remember to reward the spirit and free flow of the Icelandic horse….and don’t just score highly the flamboyant or extravagant, at the expense of the function of the gait, or the welfare of the horse. 

The majority of what we saw in Berlin was good riding, beautiful horses, and friendly people, but with hindsight, and I little bit more knowledge, I now see that some of what looked impressed at the time would not meet the criteria I set out above, and arguably should not have been scored as highly as it was. This is an issue that needs more debate in the Icelandic Horse community, and in Equestrian sport in general.

At the end I was struck by what a small world it is, and how the Icelandic horse is uniting people in many countries. The next World Championships is in Denmark in 2015. We intend to be there.

 

A New Addition to the Herd

Fleygur Fans following me on Facebook will already know that we have a new addition to our little herd. Those humans who already have Icelandic horses will know by now that they have been infected with ‘the addiction’. There is no cure and no hope. The only way forward is the treatment, and the treatment is tough.

More Icelandic horses. You have the collecting bug, you have no choice.

I got a clue that something momentous was going to happen to us when Mini Fleygur  (see Fleygur Immortalised post) started sending postcards from somewhere in the north. Apparently My Mate Roger and The Woman were visiting Midfield Farm, in Cumbria.

Mini Flegur at Midfield

This is the home of my breeder and many of my relatives. The collecting bug had taken hold and without a word to their nearest and dearest they had secretly planned this visit. Other Icelandic horse owners had spotted the signs and knew what was coming.

My Mate Roger was introduced to one of my brothers Fylkir and yes, you guessed it, he was for sale.

My Brother

But it was my nephew Svipur who really caught their eye……a blond whippersnapper.

Eye shadow

And so that was it.  The deal was done (well, after a few rides, lots of questions and some tough haggling from My Mate Roger). The young whippersnapper was soon to be on his way.

My Mate Roger and The Woman made preparations, which much to my annoyance including cutting my paddock in half with electric fencing. My Mare Gydja was selected as the babysitter apparently because she is the quiet one and least likely to bite him, and she disappeared in the stable on wheels for several hours.

Blondie in the trailer

When the stable on wheels returned Big Fat Cob went to inspect. He was not impressed that this intruder was so close to My Mare Gydja. You see while My Mare Gydja is MY mare Gydia, Big Fat Cob likes to thinks she is his. I find it easier to let him think that. He is a 15hh Cob, wouldn’t you do the same?

So the Baby Blondie was finally here and introductions were made. Big Fat Cob was not at all polite .

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He took every opportunity to let the Baby Blondie know he was not welcome.

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I, on the other hand behaved impeccably. This young whippersnapper was going to need training and I am the horse for the job.

Hello Blondie

The Gentle Touch

I am passionate about horses, and spending time with my horses has helped me reflect on how I deal with people and on my leadership.

It is not a spiritual journey. I don’t believe that horses are a more superior beings trying to help develop us towards a greater purpose or a higher evolutionary level, or that they have insight into our thoughts, or that we can communicate with them telepathically. Though there are some people who believe all these things. This is a personal reflection on my own learning that I shared once with some colleagues on a leadership course.

I have been passionate about horses for as long as I can remember. The photo below is of me with my mother and brother. I am on the coloured pony. Wow. No hats, no bridles and our feet don’t reach the stirrups! How things change.

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I was 46 before I realised my dream and bought my own horse, a lovely Welsh Cob called Jackobean (known as Beanie). My partner and I now have three; the Cob and two Icelandic horses, including the famous Little Viking Horse whose blog I have appropriated to post this.

I have found that just like my forty-two toy horses when I was a child, real horses are collectible! I have promised my mother that we will stop at three ….. 😉

Three Ponies

My partner, Roger is fond of saying that “horses are a lesson in humility”. When things are going well this reminds me not to be complacent, or to forget that the unpredictable can catch me out. But it is also good to remember this when things aren’t going as I intended. Before getting cross and reacting in possibly counter productive ways, I try to ask myself “why did the horse do that?”

Horses are prey animals, essentially when they see something they don’t immediately recognise they ask themselves “will it eat me?”, and make ready to run away – or sometimes run away first then turn to look to decide “will it eat me?”

With the exception of the Tahki in Mongolia, there are no truly wild horses in the rest of the world. All other horse breeds are created by humans, but all horses have kept this highly developed flight instinct.

Mongolian Horse
Mongolian Wild Horse

Though it is also true that Icelandic horses, bred for 1000 years in a country with no natural predators, seem less inclined to ‘leg it’ than other breeds when faced with the unknown.

Horses are also social animals and are very adept at reading body language and facial expression.

Relaxed Beanie
Beanie and I relaxing in the field

So my first lesson on being successful with my horses is that I have to be acutely aware of myself and the messages I am giving. If you get on a horse and tense up, breathing quickly, the horse will pick this up and, believing there is something to be scared of (will it eat me?), it is likely to run. It’s a bit like nuts and bolts really – if the rider is nuts the horse bolts!

The second thing I noticed is how important my focus is. I was riding up a country lane one Sunday and enjoying the view across the fields, my mind off in a world of my own. So having spent the last ten minutes staring off to my left I should not have been surprised when, on reaching an open gateway, Beanie promptly turned left into the field! How was he to know that I wanted him to continue straight up the road if my focus and attention was somewhere else? He just went where I was looking.

Gydja enjoying the view

 
Horses move away from pressure and are extremely sensitive. A horse can feel a fly on its back and twitch a muscle to dislodge it. In other words you don’t need a megaphone to communicate with a horse. If you apply a small amount of pressure, and keep it there until the moment horse makes the slightest effort in the right direction the next time less pressure is required. This is how an accomplished rider can move anyone one of his horses feet in any direction – and you will barely be able to see the rider move.

However the consistent use of excessive pressure, such as the ‘kick, kick, kick’ of an inexperienced or poor rider has the effect of “deadening” the horse to the cue. The communication gradually becomes less effective. Equally excessive and unjust pressure can be counter productive in other ways. Like the rider I observed at the Horse of the Year Show once trying to bully his horse around the course by hitting him with a whip at every jump. At the fourth jump the horse said “sod this for a game of soldiers” and slammed on the brakes sending the rider over the jump on his own – much to my satisfaction. (Editors note: he wasn’t hurt).

I try to understand the horse from the perspective of the horse, and it is perfectly understandable that Beanie, being a prey animal is reluctant to walk into our horse box. It’s a dark enclosed space from which he can not escape.

trailer

Believe me if a half ton horse does not want to go into the trailer you can not achieve it by force. Using the principles I have outlined has enabled me to go from taking two hours to load my horse, to five minutes. Though, remembering that horses are a lesson in humility, I probably should not have told you that until after I have loaded him on the trailer for our next holiday!

Roger also says that every horse should have a job. To have success with a horse it is important to keep in mind what you want to achieve and work towards it. It could be as simple as riding out on your own. After all one definition of riding is “going in the direction you want, at the speed you want and keeping the horse between you and the ground”! Even this can be a challenge for some horse owners.

People are not prey animals so how does this translate into how we might to relate to people? I think what I have learned since having my own horses and spending so much time with them, is the importance of being aware of how what I do impacts on others.

Gentle approaches can more powerful than some people imagine.

My horse related lessons for leadership are:-
1. Be self aware and stay calm.
2. Be focused if you want others to follow – if you stop paying attention don’t be
surprised if you get unpredictable results.
3. Use the gentlest touch and reward the slightest try – if people are going in the right
direction quit nagging and don’t shout.
4. Reward people who are trying to do what you want – or they will stop trying.
5. Understand what motivates people and work with this not against it
6. Have a clear vision and build steps towards it

When I started this blog about my passion for horses – some of you may have made assumptions – so for the record – I don’t want to win any horse races, show jumping or dressage competitions – and I don’t hunt.

Gydja is my Icelandic mare.

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We are still getting to know each other – but if you want to know my vision for us take a look at this… We are a long way from this yet, but making small steps