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’.

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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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

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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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