First do no harm…

First do no harm… You may not know, but I am a surgeon in my other life, so “first do no harm…” is the mantra that I live by, day to day, and try to apply in every interaction in life, human to human and human to horse. Above is another doctor, who I am sure shared the same mantra.

Now I know we all love our horses and we work really hard for them and with them, and nobody that got into horses ever did so with the intention of causing harm. But here is an awkward truth:

“The intention to harm need not be present for a horse in fact to be harmed”

So how might we harm our horses?

The first most obvious example is blood. Now we all may have different standards but one of my basic principles is that nothing I do to my horse should make him bleed.

I’m not saying I have never caused a horse to bleed- when Paddy was in work, I rubbed his side raw in a jumping lesson, not with a spur but with a spur rest. Yes, he does have incredibly thin skin. But that wasn’t an excuse. I rubbed his side raw because my leg position wasn’t good enough in those days and I was gripping with my calves, in that “knees out, heels in” stable, secure and incorrect position that jumping trainers encourage because it decreases the number of ground slaps that might occur in any one lesson.

It wouldn’t happen now. Four years and hundreds of pounds of seat focussed lessons later my leg position has changed entirely, my seat is now secure and I aid with the inside of my foot not the back of my calf.

When Cal was young I rubbed his mouth raw with the bit. The well meaning livery yard owner gave me some crystals to mix with water to harden up his mouth. I was an idiot and uneducated and I used the solution and carried on schooling. No one suggested I should learn to use the bit better or learn to keep my hands still (independent seat again); it was the young horse’s soft mouth that was the problem and there was a caustic solution for that.

First do no harm…

Rocky has not had a sore mouth. Now we have learned that the bit should only act up or out, never down on the bars, that the length of rein is dictated by the horse, that the frame dictates the length of rein and the horse’s level of balance and schooling dictates the frame. And I have a more secure seat that allows me to think forwards with my hands without losing balance.

So obviously I’m still not perfect, but I’m learning and trying to be better all the time. And if I caused one of my horses to bleed in a competition I would eliminate myself and kick myself and run for home to train and improve myself so it could never happen again.

First do no harm…

There are other more insidious ways of causing harm to a horse. The modern fashion of riding Low Deep and Round, also known as deep stretching, well behind the vertical, has been shown by more than 50 scientific studies to be physically and mentally damaging for the horse. Modern science is proving what the Old Dead Guys knew by keen observation- closed postures and curling the front of the horse rather than riding from the haunches leads to problems with kissing spines, suspensory ligament pathology, SI joint damage, hock arthritis, and also to stress and gastric ulcers first from having their vision limited and then from learned helplessness.

First do no harm…

This horse is behind the vertical- red vertical line included for reference.

Please don’t take my word for it: read the research for yourselves

And then make your own minds up. But please remember

“To know and not to do is not to know”

So we are naturally too quick to criticise others, and all of us are just doing our best. How will we know if the work we are doing is correct?

Luckily horses are very clear once we have learned to look and listen.

I’ve altered the quote below (from Maya Angelou)

“I have learned that horses will forget what you said, horses will forget what you do, but horses will never forget how you made them feel”

So how do we know that our work is good? In a world where so much teaching is against the horse rather than for the good of the horse, how do we tell the difference? How do we know whether the work made his body feel better? Which after all is the whole point of Dressage- from the French verb ‘dresser’ which actually means to train, to sculpt our horse into a thing of beauty that is empowered rather than diminished by our interventions.

Did it make the horse feel good?

What signs do we look for to know it made them feel good?

My favourite sign is helicopter ears- they go soft and floppy and assume all sorts of funny angles. Rocky has huge ears, as do all his family, so this one is pretty obvious, as well as being visible from on top! No good photos of Rocky but this photo of Beat makes the point.

Gary and Beat demonstrating helicopter ears beautifully

Another sign is soft liquid eyes, with relaxed ‘eyebrows” and slow blinking. When the work is good, the horse is calm, because horses are kinaesthetic and they find it frightening to be out of balance. When their balance is aided to improve, they relax and chill out. They almost look stoned after good work. Stoned, not exhausted.

Breathing slows and calms: soft hurrumphs or gentle chuntering are signs of a relaxed mouth , tongue and larynx as well as relaxed brain. Harsh sharp breathing, breath holding, or sharp snorting, teeth grinding or calling out are all sure signs of a horse either stressed or on full alert.

More on the mouth from James Dunlop:

“In the French Tradition, it is the state of the mouth that governs everything. There are three mouths possible. A dry mouth, a soaking wet one with gobs of foam on the chest and legs, and a moist one in which the lips are just moist and the lower jaw relaxed. The third mouth is described as being ‘fraiche’ and offers a gentle murmur (L’Hotte) as if to be ‘smiling’ ( Beudant) . It is to this third mouth that we should aspire.”

I always get off the horse after a work session and look critically at the muscles. Is the neck soft and inflated, are the under neck muscles soft, does the neck come nicely out of the shoulder girdle. Does it look wider at the base than the middle of the top? A good neck should be an even triangle  from withers to poll, and from shoulder girdle to poll. The LDR horses have this weird tube of muscle that runs up from the middle of their necks, with no splenius or trapezius; in layman’s terms they have a hollow missing triangle just in front of the withers and also under the pommel. This photo below is an example of a horse showing aberrant muscle development from excessive flexion.

A lovely reminder of the missing neck muscles, also showing why forward down and out is the healthiest position for the neck

Is the lumbar back full? Does the hors’s skin shine and glisten and move smoothly over his frame or does it look dry and tight and stuck to the bones? Is the tail carried, not clamped,  does it swing softly as he moves? If the tail swings, the back can’t be braced.

And finally, does he look proud after work? Does he go strutting back to the field to tell his mates how cool he was? Does he look better and stronger and bigger each time? Does he offer the improved posture next ride without having to do the prep work?

If he offers the new posture or the new body usage next time, you know it felt good and he’s choosing to seek that posture. If you have to do all the work all over again, every time, it didn’t feel better. And that means it probably wasn’t right. So don’t repeat it…because if you aren’t improving your horse you are breaking him down (Charles de Kunffy).

and first do no harm…

Barefoot Breakthrough

Our long awaited barefoot breakthrough came gradually overnight. Those of you who follow us regularly will know that Cal, the gorgeous grey, has not been the easiest of barefoot performance horses. In fact had he been my first attempt at keeping a horse barefoot, he would have been back in shoes long ago and I wouldn’t be writing this post.

So why bother, if barefoot can be so difficult? That’s a long story, and the story of our recent life; but the short version is that Paddy convinced me many years ago of the benefits of barefoot, becoming sounder, happier and more confident on all terrain once his shoes were removed. He really was a barefoot breakthrough.

And Cal broke his carpal bone as a 6 year old, so I am determined that my horse of a lifetime will have every possible protection against early onset arthritis. Whatever else you believe, there is no doubt that shoes increase concussion on the horse’s joints. You only need to listen to the sound of shod hoves on tarmac to understand that. Steel shoes transmit vibration at the same frequency which gives manual road workers “vibration white hand”, and also interfere with the proprioception in the horse’s limbs, allowing them to load their limbs faster, harder and more often than the limb is ready for. If the horse’s bare foot can’t tolerate challenging ground, I take that as a sign that the tendons, ligaments and bones aren’t conditioned for that work either.

The barefoot experts reading this will know that good strong feet are the result of Diet, Exercise, Environment and Trim. Heathy bare feet, and by this I mean high performing bare feet, that gallop and hack and jump as well as work on a school surface and wander around a field, can only occur when the rest of the horse is healthy.

We feed a species specific diet: clean bagged feed with no GMO products or added preservatives, low sugar low starch , organic wrapped hay. The horses are out 24/7 on a field with various surfaces, and are grass restricted in summer, because Cheshire rye grass is great for growing milk cows but not so great for growing healthy equines.

Our horses don’t do 20 miles a day like horses in the wild,  but they are on a track system that encourages movement, and have to move around for shelter, water and hay. The field has sand tracks, a pea gravel feed area, and, in winter, lots of soft sandy mud! They hack out on a variety of surfaces, although I have been booting Cal for challenging surfaces like the stony tracks in Delamere Forest.

Trim is considered crucial by some, and by others to be largely irrelevant. I’ve always been on the side of those who consider it largely irrelevant, but Cal has had runaway toes for about 2 years and I had been touching these up every two weeks myself to limit the slipper effect. Any trim will only last as long as the foot grows- to correct the trim you need both correct growth and correct wear.

a better barefoot
summer 2017

Although immensely better than 3 years ago

a pathological foot

the top hoof is still pathological. There is still a curve in the hairline, and the toes are still too long. His soles were also very flat at that time, although his heels were a hundred times better. Although he has never had full blown laminitis, his hooves bear the classic hallmarks of long term mild inflammation, despite him being incredibly functional on his less than perfect feet.

Suddenly, these last few weeks, we have a barefoot breakthrough. I have not needed to touch up the toes at all. He is wearing his feet evenly, and he is a whole lot more comfortable on stones.

Barefoot breakthrough- stonking hooves

So what led to the barefoot breakthrough?

A healthy hindgut. And therefore, finally, a healthy body.

And how did we achieve that?

We started feeding Cal Phytolean. This supplement was developed by the amazing scientist Carol Hughes. Her whole focus is using natural plant-based products to achieve optimal whole horse health. We’ve also started feeding Phyto-GI and her incredibly bio-available Co-Zin.

Gone are the days of batch testing hay or haylage and balancing a bespoke mineral mix to each batch. We had previously been doing that religiously for 5 years.

Carol’s approach focusses on a healthy biome i.e ensuring the horse’s gut population of bacteria is healthy, so horses can cope with variation or imperfections in their environment. After a couple of years of minimal progress, we finally have healthy functional feet all round.

And barefoot horses are great in the snow 🙂

Hacking around Linmere Lake in Delamere Forest

Hope you all had fun in the snow today.

Use your words carefully

Use your words carefully; a post inspired by Lucinda Green.

Use your words carefully, because they reflect what you think, and actually can reinforce what you subconsciously believe. Use your words carefully, because they will reflect and reinforce how you behave. Use your words carefully, your internal dialogue as well as the external conversation.

A light bulb book for me this year was Shad Helmstetter’s “What to Say When you Talk to Yourself”.


 By listening to our internal dialogue (the little voices in our head) we can hear when we are self-critical, or self-sabotaging. Once you have listened to your internal dialogue you can pick aspects of it to re-programme, and improve. For example “I am always late”, “I’m a late person”, “I find it really hard to be on time”. If I say that to myself all the time, what is the outcome? You’ve guessed it- rarely on time. If I change that to “I am often late because I try to fit too much in and am unrealistic about how much time things take” then that phrase allows me to change: I can decrease my commitments, say no occasionally, make sure I include journey time and cup of tea time and hey presto, “I am now often early”. Use your words carefully, and choose good ones.

What’s this got to do with horses I hear you cry? Well everything, as everything to do with horse also has to do with life.

Use your words carefully when you talk about your horse.

Phrases I have heard recently “Rude down the rein” “Just taking advantage” “Just being a brat”

“Just being a brat” was me. Our youngster Rocky was pretty easy as a 4 year old.


This year he has found his body and has been throwing some amazing shapes. It’s been scary, amusing, testing, in varying degrees. When the international standard movement and that athletic warmblood body turn up at full power, it feels spectacular. As we are getting too old to bounce, he went to boot camp, twice. He came back both times better but still making shapes. At the last clinic with Patrice, I ‘finally’ realised the shapes were a reaction to the rider being out of balance. That’s why I always felt I was sat in the middle of the buck, or leap, he was putting me back where he wanted me to sit! As he is young and slightly crooked, the left side of his body feels like an empty space. When I sit level, he levels himself, the left side of his body comes under me, both hind legs can go forward and hey presto, so can the whole horse. So the shift in mindset is that he’s allowed to tell us when the rider is out of balance, but quietly and politely. An ear flicker would be adequate, rather than a full blown capriole. So we listen to him, quietly, and he turns the volume down. The last few rides have been delightfully uneventful!



“Just taking advantage” was a comment made by a friend when we were chatting about the recent Lucinda Green demo masterclass at Aintree.  A lovely ex-racehorse had misunderstood the complex grid and had run out past the tiny skinny, twice. The rider had allowed the horse to run past the obstacle and so the horse had learned- “Oh, it’s OK if I run past this little silly thing because he lets me”.

Horses always know where their feet are.

So Lucinda’s instructions were to stop the horse, immediately, so he couldn’t run away past the fence. The rider was then to ask for rein back, reversing away from the fence enough to allow a repeat approach. She then uttered the phrase which absolutely made my evening “Regroup. Let him breathe and then ask him to take you over the fence.”

And he popped it beautifully. Such a simple change of phrase changed everything.

Use your words carefully.

Just look again at the difference between those 2 phrases.

“Taking advantage”.  He wasn’t. He was doing what he had been taught, very quickly, by being allowed to run out on two previous attempts. Horses learn in an instant. Once it was explained to him that the run out wasn’t the correct answer, and he was given time to regroup, he found another answer just as quickly. The correct answer, for which he got rewarded. How many riders or trainers do you know that might have chased him in, given him a smack, got stronger and louder, when all the horse needed was the time to think and a better explanation?

Use your words carefully.

“Ask him to take you to the fence.” A lifetime of sympathetic horsemanship and horse-centred training summed up in that one phrase.

You can almost hear the horse saying “Oh, OK. Just that? Just pop over that stupid thing? OK, I can do that.”

“Rude down the rein” or “he just barges into me” are phrases we hear often. To me, that description sums up a horse that is completely on the forehand, running forward out of balance. This is really clear if you look at postures in standing position- are the front legs slanted backwards, does the horse’s chest protrude over its forelegs, do the horse’s chest muscles look like GG boobs?


This photo is of Rocky, our youngster, demonstrating slight downhill balance. 

It’s less obvious but equally distressing to the horse when you see them ridden “in an outline”, nose tucked in, face behind the vertical. Look at the slope of the torso from croup to shoulders; is the horse level or running downhill? Look at the front leg movement in walk, do the forelegs get placed in front of the shoulders or do they only pick up when the horse’s chest has already gone over the top of them? This horse is also falling over forwards. That’s why he barges into you; he can’t help himself. That’s why he’s bearing down on the rein; he’s catching himself, every stride. And just because it looks pretty, looks like the pictures in the magazines, that doesn’t make it correct. Every forward movement is done with momentum rather than control… imagine how stressful that must be for a prey animal that always knows where its feet are.

The answer, of course, is to teach our horses better balance. And we do this by basic dressage, the classical way, for the good of the horse, to build a better, more gymnastic body, not just to go out and compete at Novice dressage for the rest of our lives.

Lucinda was very strict on this. She made sure we all understood how horses see- their long distance vision is from the top of their eyes, so they need their heads up to see the fence. Their short distance vision requires them to look down, hence why they might put their heads down to check out ditches or water. As riders we have to allow and indeed encourage the correct head position, and not be pulled out of the saddle if the horse changes. If the rider tips forward the horse has to lift both himself and the rider off his shoulders to jump the fence.

An analogy Lucinda used for a better seat connection was to ride plugged into the saddle, like a 3 point plug, with longer reins, with most of the horse in front of you not behind you. This is the same seat Charles teaches, although he emphasise elbows more. It’s the Classical seat that has served for hundreds of years for dressage, jumping, and even warfare. Of course one should go with the horse over then fence, but never ahead of the horse. The feeling was likened to row 25 of the airplane, when they put the most passengers at the back so the thing takes off. The canter has to have enough quality, not speed, that the horse has options and choices. Lucinda said she never looks for strides, and indeed she didn’t measure any distances for any exercise during the whole evening; if the canter is good enough the horse can choose. And the fences weren’t big: the point of the exercise was to teach quick feet and quick brains, not to prove scope.

Lucinda said she likes to ride as if a 5 bar gate could pop up at any point in front of her and the horse could jump it at that moment. Patrice, our regular trainer, says a dressage horse should be able to jump a four foot fence out of every stride- that is the definition of ‘in balance’ and ‘on the aids’. Interesting that both these ladies have evented at 4 star level. They are not afraid of the whole horse turning up at full power- they are most afraid of the whole horse not turning up!

Be honest now- do you have that feel in most of your rides? I know I don’t…but what a great image to work towards.

So just spend a few moments this week, as well as listening to your horse, please also listen to yourself. Listen to the words you use when you talk about your horse, and choose them carefully. And be very careful of the words you use when around your horse. Horses are incredibly sensitive to intent, and respond much better when listened to and acknowledged rather than being told “Get on with it you beggar!” A horse that is loved and respected will try his heart out for you.

And make his body better and stronger by working him in balance so he can try his heart out for you, for years and years and years.

Winter is coming…

Winter is coming…whether we like it or not. For the traditional horse keepers amongst you, this means months of mucking out in the dark, clipping, changing sodden rugs, riding for fitness in the dark or paying for indoor arenas.

Winter is coming, and the winter preparation for track kept horses is slightly different. Our field is about 6 acres. We have a summer track around the edge, a hard standing area for giant hay feeders and the middle is split into 3 paddocks. This summer, one paddock has been grazed by Gary’s TB, who needed extra weight and needed to be segregated from the others because they bullied him horribly. It turns out he has had Kissing Spines, and now his back has been injected, and he is moving better, he is allowed into the herd; presumable he doesn’t look like the weakest link anymore. That’s another story for another day though.

Winter is coming, which means the grass will finally be safe for the grass sensitive Cal to eat without going footsore. The other two paddocks have been left long to act as standing hay for winter. Our grass doesn’t really turn onto foggage as our weather generally is not cold or dry enough, but we had great success last year introducing them to the long grass one paddock at a time, until they had access to the whole 6 acres for the worst part of winter. Allowing wider access reduced the footfall in any one area, and thereby reduced the mud damage. A couple of the gateway gaps were trashed by spring but they have recovered really well over the summer. And the gravelled feed area proved a life saver last year: the feeders were easy to fill, the horses didn’t get mud fever, their feet were brilliant from standing and loafing on pea gravel. I’ve made a road from haylage store to feed area from old stable mats, eventually this will be stoned too.

The horses made their own gateways last year. This year the electric tape is staying up and electrified for now, but if they start barging through willy-nilly again, it will get unstrung and put away for winter. I’m not sure how well the solar energiser will work over winter!

Winter is coming, and it’s a good time to take stock.

Gary and I have had the most excellent year. We have continued the brilliant monthly clinic lessons with Patrice- Cal is getting stronger and more established in his work, Rocky got through his teenage tantrums, although we had a bit of outside help with that, and Beat settled in lovely and will be the most fabulous event horse if his KS come right. Cal and I have been to 2 British Riding Club Championships, both team trips with friends from the Exceptionally Cool Riding Club. The East Clwyd Riding Club is most excellent, and has been rightly shortlisted for the NAF Riding Club of the Year Award- Please vote here

The Horse Trials Championships were obviously the most fun; bonus was we had a season best dressage and a lovely double clear.

Previously known as sicknote, Cal managed to remain sound for a whole summer. I got really brave and took him down to the Dovecote Stables for 2 ridden lessons with the legendary Charles de Kunffy. Now I will admit, in my dreams I wanted it to be a breakthrough clinic where we got to clean changes. However, Charles is a genius at getting to THE thing; and the breakthrough turned out to be that there is no point doing all the funky stuff until his body submission issues are completely sorted. Many people who know him think Cal is an angel; he’s not hot, he doesn’t dance or jig or bronc, but he does just do this tiny brace in his neck, and fractionally lock his jaw, and he doesn’t ever yield his brain. So the Charles lessons turned out to be all about ensuring we get a good topline, with a lifted back, swinging shoulders and a soft lumbar back. And that’s OK, because when I take that horse to the harder work, that works much better too! Except for trot/canter transitions…if Cal can’t brace we can’t yet do them on demand…..more practise.

We have done 6 ODEs, including an unaffiliated 90 at Eland. Not bad for a full time surgeon! And finally we finished our summer season with the FOTH qualifier at Berriewood- first out on course for individual 3rd and a team win. It was at 80 level again, rather than the planned 90, but this last month has been mad busy so I didn’t feel ready to step up.

For those of you who haven’t noticed, this was all done without shoes. With 24/7 turnout on a track system.

Cal Foth Berriewood 2017

Naughty turned out leg in the showjumping photo- much winter homework required!

Cal XC Berriewood Fotj 2017

Winter is coming, and the horses are getting furry. The working horses will get a shallow trace clip when they get really furry, just to enable us to ride them. I think the TB will need a rug, depending on how much coat he grows, but based on last year’s experience, the others won’t need a rug.

Winter is coming. I was musing the other day that we need to work out how much of what we traditionally do over winter is done for our human convenience, and how much is done for the horse’s benefit. Shoes exist for human convenience. Horses don’t need shoes, they need good feet. And good feet don’t come easily once they are brought into the sphere of human influence. Stables exist only for human convenience. Stables don’t make good feet. Clips are for humans really- people want to use their horses over winter and are taught they can’t do so unless the horse is clipped. Clips lead to rugs, and lead to stables being required. Horses can easily deal with temperatures from -5 to 25 degrees Celsius, if they have adequate forage, shelter and hair. As well as friends. Friends are crucial. When it rains, our horses huddle behind the hedge, or in the dip, taking it in turns to be on the outside. When it stops, they go for a mad 10 minutes play, get warmed up and then get back to eating. Forage ferments in the equine caecum, providing their own central heating system. They eat for about 16 hours a day, to trickle feed their caecum. Their fur can stand up, fluff out, the dense layers of unclipped fur resist rain beautifully and they are often completely dry underneath the herringbone pattern the rain forms in the long top hair. Mud is a great insulator, as is snow and ice if we get a proper cold spell. Our horses only really use the field shelters if it’s wet and windy, or nights like tonight, persistently wet with their full winter coat not quite through yet.

So our choice is to let them deal with winter as naturally as possible. We still ride regularly, with fluffy numnahs to prevent damp hair rubbing. We hack and school and jump and drag-hunt and do farm rides. I’m careful not to work them so hard that they overheat on warmer winter days. The horses cool themselves off perfectly mooching around the field after being worked. We feed ad lib unlimited haylage and grass, along with one hard feed a day. They have ample shelter and they have each other. And the natural lifestyle keeps them fit, in mind and body. It’s not always easy. It’s certainly not always convenient. But it is a valid choice, and our horses are the better for it.

And all we have to do is pooh pick and knock off the odd bit of mud.

Winter is coming. So what? Horses have been doing winter for millions of years, without us as well as with us. Here’s to winter training!

Been busy having fun…

Been busy having fun, all the best intentions to post but just been too busy doing the do to put fingers to keyboard; apologies all.

We have been busy having fun with the Classical Riding clinic crowd. A couple of true examples of how horses introduce us to new and precious friends. I was eventing at Eland Lodge and asked on Facebook if anyone was around to video a test. Cora, one of the lovely ladies who has trained with Patrice for many years, came not just to video, but helped warm me up for dressage, whilst deftly controlling her toddling twins, did poles for the SJ warm up, kicked my butt when required and even helped wash Caltastic off after XC. Above and beyond. Cora is also a dressage judge so great to get some insight into how to gain marks and still ride honestly according to our Classical principles and training. I fed her and the kids cold pizza and juice at the event, but will get the opportunity to feed her nice gin when she stays over at this month’s clinic as a proper thank you.

Then the Equestrian Journey Clinic- Cheshire went International!! Kim, one of Patrice’s pupils from Colorado, came over to the UK on an Equestrian Journey road trip. She stayed with us, was lent various horses to have lessons on, videoed every minute, took loads of notes and was a great and enthusiastic contributor to the group learning experience. She’s a trainer and rider so was keen to maximise her learning in this intense holiday. And her coming over here just showed us that one can never travel too far for good teaching. The Yanks have really been missing Patrice and are wildly jealous of how fortunate we are to get her invaluable input every month. Kim had a great lunge lesson on Cal and really showed me how the skating pelvis feeling can extend the walk, and she showed me how fabulous his walk can be…and it’s not quicker, it’s muuuuch looooonger.

I’ve been busy having fun, but as well as doing our flatwork homework, ready for our Charles de Kunffy lessons in September.
(it’s OK, I’ve told Cal and he’s really excited too), we have also managed to squeeze in a little bit of eventing! Interestingly, this year I have been (mostly) detached from our results. I have used the competitions to test whether the training is working, and looking for improvements in way of going, strength and consistency. I am no longer afraid of making mistakes, because mistakes are where we learn, and we have to stretch our comfort zone for progress to occur. I have been mostly doing unaffiliated, because it’s cheaper, and there are now so many unaffiliated event running over BE courses that the argument for paying extra for the quality of course no longer applies.

So we did the Riding Club Horse Trials 80 Qualifier with East Clwyd Riding Club. Cal did a nice test and a double clear, with a couple of time faults. The team came second, and we qualified for the championships!!!

Cal and I then did the unaffiliated 90 at Eland Lodge, with Cora’s help- thanks again. He did a nice test, we had 2 stops show jumping, (jockey oxer wobbles) but he stormed the cross country, again with a few time faults.
We did the 80 at the Cheshire Shield st Somerford, which is always a good track, and got a lovely double clear.

And then we went to the NAF BRC National Horse Trials Championships. As always, after a couple of tricky years with the horse’s health, the main achievement is actually getting there, having qualified, arriving there with a fit horse, ready to go, is something I am now grateful for every day. I do love those events where you get a gorgeous frilly just for arriving safely!! We had a great time, arriving the day before, team building over a lovely pub dinner which even involved wine! The show jumping and the cross country were cleverly set to be challenging at the level. Only 10 teams posted a finishing score, and our team came 8th.

Cal chose the best day to put all the training together, we scored a season best dressage and a double clear, this time with naughty time penalties. I can’t decide which was the best moment. The dressage test felt lovely and fluid and he felt rideable and aidable at every moment. The show jumping just felt fab and the cross country was a huge buzz.

A great result for a day which I wasn’t expecting to happen- in my head July and August were going to be the youngster’s busy time because Cal would surely be struggling with his breathing. Oh well….he’s not too bothered.

So now we have a month and counting before I present my gorgeous ‘peasant pony’ to Charles at the incredibly posh Dovecote stables. He will be the cheapest horse there, by a full order of magnitude, but his training is coming on in leaps and bounds and I (and Patrice) feel confident that his work is good enough to shine through. As long as I don’t get too starstruck or succumb to lesson brain.

We have one more Patrice clinic before then- trot half pass and canter to walk transition to nail by then so everything is set up for the next steps.

And gorgeous Gary has made the most amazing pull out bed for Travis the Truck now so we can sleep in luxury while we are down at Dovecote Stables. I can’t wait to go back to the pub next door- lunch there in March was the most lush food I have had this year.

So there you have it- been busy having fun.

Horses can event barefoot, they can event from a field; naked and hairy and scruffy most of the time, they will stay happy and healthy and give you their best work when you ask for it.

I’m not sure why Cal hasn’t had breathing problems this year- we have fed organic haylage, golden paste pellets, spirulina, jiagolaoaun, and Succeed (for his hindgut) all season. He has had the odd cough, and some clear snotty discharge, but never felt breathless. The rapeseed is planted further away this year; maybe we have just been lucky and it’s far enough away for the horses not to suffer.

I won’t know until next year.

But for now we will keep busy having fun while it lasts.





If you ain’t having fun

If you ain’t having fun, you ain’t having nothin’.

Excuse the vernacular, I think I’ve been hanging out with the Bermuda Babe for too long.

If you ain’t having fun, why the hell not?

It’s summer, the days are long, the ground is drying out, or setting solid depending on where you live, the horses are in their summer coats, the riding diary is full and everyone has come out of hibernation.

If you ain’t having fun, are you having troubles?


Horses can be emotionally and psychologically draining as well as financially. Humans tend to be goal and task orientated, horses however live in the present moment  and have no idea what it’s all about. They will never get the point. They don’t know they are meant to be eventing in summer and doing dressage and show jumping prep in the winter. They just know they have a body that somedays feels good and somedays feels bad. Our job as the rider is to repay them, for the gift of being allowed to share that body’s athleticism, by daily attention to good work that will improve and enhance that body’s capability, not break it down.

If you ain’t having fun, maybe you are taking it all a tad too seriously?

While I have been suffering from frustrated competitive ambition for the last two years due to Cal’s various health issues, I have had the luxury of examining exactly what I enjoy about owning horses. Now obviously the answers are deeply personal to me but the exercise has clarified a lot of “stuff”.

For example- I love jumping. But if, as seemed likely at one point, the horse I have doesn’t love jumping, would I pass on that horse? Or would I find a way to still enjoy owning that horse? I decided I would find a way to still love owning that horse, and would do my best to do right by him. The resulting freedom that decision brought opened up a whole new phase of education, about husbandry, and horse health, and managing my expectations, and working to the horse’s timetable, not my own. I concentrated on getting him as healthy as I could, and taking each day as it came, and doing the basic foundation work, from Classical training principles. And guess what? Cal has come back, for now, stronger, and better, and fitter, and is jumping brilliantly. My riding has improved no end, I have learned to listen to his body and mind, and analyse the feedback I am receiving, and work with what I have today, and progress has been rapid and rewarding.

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What makes competing fun? For me, it gives me a framework to base my horsey homework around, but I also love seeing my mates, having a beer, and joining in the group activity.

This year I have made it a point to say yes to every horse related learning opportunity that also involved fun.

We went to watch the great Charles de Kunffy teach,..for 4 days. I filled a notebook with notes but the immediate takeaway message was the daily vocabulary of training- bend, straight, lengthen, shorten, sideways, transitions and patterns. There are hundreds more gems in those notes alone, filtering through gradually into our work. Does that sound too serious? What could be more fun than turning your average “peasant pony” into a correct and beautiful riding horse.

I leapt (ha ha ha) at the opportunity to have a jumping lesson with Yogi. Yes it was expensive, but the value obtained was huge. I treated it as a group learning experience, kept asking myself what I was seeing, what I liked, what that horse needed, and tested myself against what he said to see if I was right. The take home from that clinic was discipline, every step, every line, every jump, has to have a plan.

And we got to share a day of fun and frolics with Wocket Woy and the Pwoducer. Cal was brilliant, as were good old Leo and the ex police pony. We laughed and giggled and got abused, and jumped some fences, and even ate some cake.

You can watch the video of the day here

If you ain’t having fun, just eat the cake. Always. Life is too short not to eat cake 😉

I went to see Yogi Breisner doing a demo about schooling racehorses over fences. As we now have an ex-racehorse this seemed useful. It was a great demo, and reminded me that there is always a degree of forward needed to jump a fence. Obvious…but when we get obsessed with control and perfection and pretty, forward is easy to forget.


Although ex-racehorses can do pretty too.

Everyone’s definition of fun will be different. I have learned to love the journey. And enjoy the training, and the use of the patterns and exercises to create a horse more capable and more beautiful than the one I started with. There will be more setbacks, as sure as horses are horses, but I am now in a much better place to maximise the good times and be phlegmatic about the bad days, because I know that although progress in gradual, change is immediate. I don’t need to practise doing something badly, I now have enough kit in my toolbox to think around a problem and find an exercise to change the dilemma. I have great eyes on the ground, fabulous friends, a helpful and truthful husband, and lovely horses. And I know that horses work better when they are laughing too, and dancing with us.


Or not 🙂


 The best best thing about competing 

The best best thing about competing is when the preparation and the hard work pays off and your horse is simply awesome. The best best thing about competing is celebrating a good day with well earned bubbles. 

Friday at Kelsall Hill felt like it was meant to be a good day for us. The weather was perfect for Cal, cold and slightly overcast with no chance of pollen. The ground was also perfect, firm with just a bit of cut and good thick grass cover. 

The best best thing about competing is being part of a big party. As Kelsall is our local event it was also lovely to see people and catch up on gossip after winter. The team at Kelsall Hill had worked their usual magic and the courses all looked immaculate, although the numbers on the show jumping were almost completely hidden behind the beautiful flowers. Luckily I had walked the course the night before and made sure I had checked every number up close. Some competitors hadn’t been so thorough and were caught out by the START sign leaning on fence 9, jumping that backwards for instant disqualification. How cross would you be?

Dressage was OK. Cal was very pleased to be at a party and was very on his toes. An extra canter transition and a tense walk meant I wasn’t expecting much enthusiasm from the judge. 

All I was worried about was the show jumping anyway! 

The best best thing about competing at BE80(T)  is that coaches are there to help with the warm up. I was glad to see Linda de Matteo was the show jumping coach- I know, like and trust her from previous clinics. She warmed us up very positively and also stopped me from doing too much jumping before we went in.

Cal was a little superstar and jumped a beautiful clear round. After all the angst and doubt and fear, once we cleared the first fence it felt easy. As it should- this is a horse I was starting to do 100 on before he got ill.

Once we had got the dreaded show jumping out of the way I knew cross country would be fine. I decided not to wear a stop watch; we would go at an appropriate speed for him and not worry about the time. The exit from the water wasn’t flagged so I chose the quickest way out to the right so we could trot through sedately and breathe. We galloped the rest in his rhythm, I did not really need to do much kicking, but did do a bit of setting him up for the bigger fences 

And he cruised around beautifully, very close to the optimum time. 

Bear in mind that last year we either had numerous stops or were eliminated at every event. I even got David to ride him at one event to see if he could do better, to see if the problems were all down to my muppetry. 

So what has changed?

When we moved to Delamere Forest, Cal’s breathing was really bad the first summer. He was diagnosed with Pasture Associated COPD and had to have daily inhalers through a babyhaler. 

Last year he had steroid inhalers every day, which seemed to keep the airway inflammation under control but, in retrospect, the steroids completely wrecked his feet. I’ve shown the X-rays in a previous post   

So I have built a better horse from the inside out. I have focussed on the flat work over winter, finally concentrating “enough” on my homework from Patrice Edwards to have transformed my position and learned to use the exercises to train for strength and athleticism. Cal’s trot now has cadence and suspension, and his canter has lift. 

This year he is on Succeed for gut health, Golden Paste Pellets for minimising inflammation, magnesium, salt and a very tight barefoot friendly diet. Spring hasn’t really sprung yet, but so far he looks good, and if there comes a summer day when he can’t breathe, I just won’t ride that day. Feet take months to grow, breathing problems can be variable. 

The best best thing from the last few months, for me, has been having my horse back. When he wasn’t jumping well last year, I lost loads of confidence. He never really looked ill. His feet were never really that sore. I thought I couldn’t ride, that I was causing the stops. Friends came up with various theories- I was catching his mouth, I was blocking his back by pushing with my seat instead of kicking, the horse has lost interest/ confidence/ condition… it is really hard to keep riding positively into a fence, kicking like mad, to then grind to an ignominious halt.

The best best thing about competing again was being reminded that when isn’t right, it just isn’t right. When your good horse stops performing, there’s something wrong. The trouble is that the decline can be so insidious. Horses are hard wired to hide pain or weakness- the easy target is the one that gets eaten by the big cat. So we need to be carefully tuned in to hear their feedback. 

It wasn’t all feet last year. He is still ouchy on hardcore and stony tracks, although he just slows down and he does keep his ears forward when on tough terrain. 

Look at his beautiful hooves- on a good surface he can fly.

That’s my favourite picture from the weekend- there was no flying last year. 

The best best thing about competing is that occasionally we get frillies. 

The best thing about competing

The best thing about competing is that entering competitions makes me focus on my training goals. The best thing about competing is that entering competitions gives me a concrete timetable to direct my work towards, and when eventing is your main discipline, that timetable has to include basic fitness, fast work, jumping practise and cross-country schooling

as well as flatwork. We have had a great winter mostly working on our flatwork, as always with the help of the amazing Patrice Edwards, and Cal has been feeling stronger and better than ever, with a good canter (finally) that feels effortless and adjustable. So the best thing about competing is that it forces me to test the training.


The best thing about competing, and training for competing, is that we get to catch up with old friends. Winter can be dark and dreary, especially with working full-time and having horses living out; some days it just seems too much effort to ride, let alone enter anything. This winter my surrogate pony club mum, the lovely Judith, has organised regular riding club jumping clinics with Richard Carruthers. These have been great fun, watching combinations develop, and the camaraderie, thrills and spills and banter have been inspirational. A bit of continuity has also allowed Richard to be inventive: in this lesson he put Cal in a hackamore to see if less inadvertent clutching rein action might improve his way of going. We still had a couple of stops but it did make me realise where I might possibly have been tightening my hand when thinking “oh heck”. My current tasks is to retrain myself to kick every time I think “oh heck”!! The hackamore won’t stay in for ever, but it has been a useful exercise, and doesn’t allow me to micro manage at all, so all I can do is keep asking for forward, which is very much what Cal needs.

The scariest number I ever heard is 4000: this is the number of weeks in an average 80 year lifespan. 80 years sounds like a very long time, 4000 weeks by contrast sounds surprisingly short. It’s so easy to let a week drift by, or a month, when one isn’t focused. Horses set their own timetable, for sure, but a sense of time passing is handy for those of us with busy lives and other distractions, like a full time job and a home business on the side.

Rocky set his own timetable this month; no sooner had I ordered his new saddle then he developed an abscess and was waving his front foot around like a dying swan. He came down to the house for a few days for poulticing, which was quite testing. Note to self, must handle him in more inventive ways, rather than just doing basics, as nappies went flying across the yard and he did pirouettes and levade whilst the tape was going round his foot. After 8 days there was no real improvement so we took him to Brownmoss for x-rays. The x-rays showed a tiny abscess, quite deep in the foot, so no point digging and no point poulticing. We chucked him out in the field again for it to work its own way out. This took another week; he got really good at chasing the dogs on 3 legs and doing perfect pirouettes to turn around. It was all good hind end strengthening. He finally looked sound the evening before we went away for Easter weekend, so will get ridden out tomorrow.

Rocky handing in his note excusing him from games

The best thing about competing is that it makes me clean my tack properly! I’m quite good at looking after my tack for durability and checking stitching for safety, as most of it is second-hand, but it rarely gets a full buff and polish unless we are going out somewhere. Rocky chewed Cal’s leather reins, so I have the choice of looking scruffy in lightly chewed leather tomorrow or doing dressage with rubber reins that don’t give the same nice elastic feel…we’ll see.

The best thing about competing is that it forces me to tackle Cal’s mane so that it can be plaited; as a friend once said, he has two good manes, one on each side, that take quite a lot of taming. He also hates having his mane pulled, so we have to do a few handfuls at a time, or do it really quickly before he gets too cross.

Cal showing off his two manes

After photos tomorrow LOL.

The best thing about competing is the anticipation. To keep ourselves moving forwards, we are told to do something every day that scares us. You can’t grow in your comfort zone, only in your stretch zone. Well, having not competed properly i.e. jumping, since last summer (I don’t count dressage as competing because I am now so detached from the outcome), I am indeed feeling stretched! Here’s to growing!

The dulcet tones belong to Richard Carruthers, videos courtesy of Brent Sansom, many thanks Brent.

And finally, my stepson Barney stomped way out of his comfort zone this weekend, walking 100 miles in less than 48 hours, raising over 4K so far for Cancer Research UK and St Wilfred’s Hospice, in memory of Pam, his dear and wise friend. I am uber proud, and would ask you to consider donating to the 2 very worthy causes.