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’.

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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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

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.

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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