Thursday, 21 April 2011

Eat up mountains

Well the sun was shining last night so after feeding the kids - cheated a bit and warmed up a pizza for them - figured I had time to ride both of my horses that are in work at the moment. First up was Amelie - my big gangly youngster by Secundus out of my old Dramiro mare, Cavalla. She is what you call a late starter, rising six she damaged herself so badly on the edge of a lorry ramp at four years that it was touch and go if her leg would ever recover. Recover it did and she was broken in last summer at age five. She was one of these mares that asks a lot of questions - you know the type - 'ask me to do it but explain why it would be a good thing first please'. A big, gentle girl in all other respects she has a habit of arguing with you with her head and neck. This is because she is as long as the Mersey tunnel and has built up a huge muscle under her neck to balance out that long back. It's coming though and she is going to make a hell of a nice horse. I just have to concentrate in the school on not fiddling with my hands as when she shoogles her head at me it feels like I am landing a trout!
Amelie, waiting for tea in the snow this winter. Not the prettiest horse in the world she is what I call an intelligent girl and is going to be super. In time she is going to be what I call a 'proper jumper'.

She has a lot in her favour though - a great temperament, unfazed out hacking by much except soggy ground which causes her to screech to a halt so quickly that I have nearly been a human cannon several times. She is also completely trusting, so much so that if you are on the ground with her she will stick like glue to you if in unfamiliar territory.
School work has though, due to the unsettled head and mouth been a bit slow to come - however last night she settled brilliantly and worked great for 20 minutes then we set off around one of my fields in the sunshine. One of my livery's, Julie, on her beautiful ex racehorse, Jerry (more about him another day - his breeding is stellar and he is star) came with me. As we slowed down to a walk and meandered down a slope into the trees a couple of roe deer bounded out and we and horses watched them as they hopped over the fence and away - white tails bobbing like cottontail rabbits.
Then the spell was broken and the horses were alive and itching to go so turning we galloped back up the hill, the inertia of a day in the office blown away - just how I like it.
My gorgeous grey boy, Garth - jumping for fun here in the pouring rain up in Aberdeen.

After cooling off it was time for a quick spin on Garth, or Kilmeaden for posh. He's my show jumper. A grade B, he's rising 14 now and came to me with more quirks than you could shake a stick at, two years ago. I swapped him, unseen via the internet, for one of my homebred youngsters, when I realised that I wanted to go jumping again having had a few years off with my beautiful babies. When they turned into strapping toddlers I realised that I still wanted to jump and so Garth arrived.

A handsome grey Irish lad Garth's well and truly at home here now and as the sun set last night we also enjoyed a canter around the field - this time startling a buzzard sitting on a fence post who only launched himself into the air when we got to within about 20 feet of him. Garth's a powerful horse and cantering in the open on him you feel you could eat up mountains - a pretty good feeling as the sun sank behind the Fife hills. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Turning full circle

So much has happened since I last blogged (note to self) get in front of this computer more often and get blogging! I made a decision during this last grey, snowy winter and that was to get my own horse numbers down to a more manageable number - I was up to 11 at one time and decided that that way madness lies. So with that in mind I decided that I had to sell some of my homebred youngsters. The first project was Bella. Bella is a fabulous four year old out of a great old eventing mare, Corrie, who was by the stallion Cornell's Court. Bella's dad is De Nero (no it's not a spelling mistake De Nero was from the MorayFirth stud in Scotland, the other De Niro is the famous stallion).
Bella as a foal.

Anyway Bella popped out black and beautiful, pretty much the spit of her dad. When we came to break her she proved to be a complete star - no hassle just took everything in her stride and finished the summer popping a little course. Then came the hard part - who to sell her too.
Bella and her mum, Corrie.

I am rubbish at selling my horses, I will never again breed them to sell - I hate it - I would rather keep them all. However that just ain't possible. I advertised her and a few people came to see her. One lady offered me the full price but much to my husband's horror I said no. She just didn't ride well enough - you know the type - get on a young horse and grab the reins tight. I have seen young horses flip over when riders do that - not Bella though - she just stood there with her head tucked on her chest, a little puzzled that she could no longer move freely but no panic.
Bella showing off her great canter while getting broken in.


Eventually my old friend Ernest Dillon came up here to teach at my yard and once he'd seen her pop a few fences asked to buy her for his partner Aileen. I couldn't be more chuffed as the mare Bella came out of had belonged to a dear friend of mine who has died of cancer. When she knew she was dying she asked me if I would take her old mare and if we could, together, breed a last foal from her. She chose the stallion and it gave me a huge amount of pleasure when the foal was born and Maggie decided she was the best foal she had ever bred.
Anyway what it means to me is that Bella has gone to a great home where she will be loved and produced correctly to show jump, and Aileen is keen to do some dressage on her as well. So I wish them both well and will let you know how Bella gets on - in fact you can follow her adventures in Bella's Blog. The ironic and great thing is that I met my friend Maggie at a shared lesson with Ernest years ago and we became firm friends. Ernest knew both Maggie and Corrie, Bella's mum very well - so everything seems to have turned full circle here and I can't wait to see how Bella gets on.

Hoofbeats on a heavy heart

Cavalla with her last foal, Cornflakes
I love my horses, I am an otherwise sane working mum of two with a busy job on a monthly magazine but I am hooked on my horses. Maybe it's genetic I don't know, my lovely mum thinks I must be a throwback to some wild ancestor who had horses running in her blood. She shakes her head gently at me and sighs as if its all slighly bewildering this love of mine .
I am starting this blog on a sad note though as I had to have my old competition mare put down this week after 17 years of enjoying each others company. I wrote some words down the day she died and perhaps it was that that made me start this blog.
She was leader of a herd or horses that I have built up and bred over the years. From them I have learned a massive amount about how horses integrate and communicate. But most of all she was my favourite.
I bought her to show jump with when she was a just-broken five year old. I learned far more over the years from her than she ever did from me. While we were jumping she looked after me when I couldn't see a stride 2ft in front of me and her joie de vivre carried us both through to jump courses I never thought would be possible. She retired injured at 9 years old but because I am lucky I was able to keep her on our small farm and I started breeding the odd foal from her.
At one time I had 11 horses, which for someone with a young family and busy job on a monthly magazine was a little crazy. Now back down to a sensible number of equines, five, (my husband considers two to be too many) I thought I would blog over the next few months on how life goes with them all. They range from my stunning old 16-yr-old showjumper Modetia, to her gorgeous rising 4-yr-old daughter, Coco Pops (number two son choose that name)
But first some words I wrote on losing my beautiful old girl Cavalla, which I dedicate to anyone who has had to stand beside a beloved horse at the end.

That Bloody Foot!
As the vet walked into your stable, I put my hand on your head and whispered for one last time.
'Ssshh its alright, you'll be ok'. But of course you weren't. Ever suspicious of that veterinary smell, this time you were right, you had cause for alarm because he meant you quiet harm. Yet you let me settle you as I had many times before, smoothing that forelock over your eyes. 'Sshh' I said and the tears rolled slowly, silently down my face.
That foot let you down, that bloody foot - still we had nine years more than they predicted these vets with their needles and pessimism. They didn't factor in your toughness and grit, that you were head of the herd here and not ready to quit. With shoeing and care you enjoyed many more years – even finding your forte as a mum with foals at your feet. In fact you enjoyed this so much you'd even take young ones that weren't yours - guiding them with maternal nips..
What I learned down the years with you is that it isn't the training and winning that counts, not really, not to any real amount. It it time shared and enjoyed in the company of an old friend, it is the feeling of pride in knowing you've loved such a horse and in turn are loved in that equus way that says feed me and care for me, keep me warm and safe, don't shout, don't hassle me with whips and spurs for I have something deeper to give you than that. At the end of the day, after all these years, it's not the rosettes that I'll miss it's the quiet time with my arms round your strong neck, you nuzzling my back for a shoulder scratch or ruefully watching you canter away, more glint in your eye than an old horse has a right too, as you pretend once more that your youth has returned and you're scuppering my plans of a hack or a jump just because you can, just because you feel high.
Down the years we galloped in fields and on beaches down grassy lanes over wild heather reaches. We trotted and cantered around the arenas straight planes. We jumped over ditches and fences and poles. But most of all we became friends you and I. A mutual understanding grew over 17 long years that in the end made it all harder to bear that that one bloody foot was to end it all.
With the sound of the vet slamming his door, the restless scraping of hooves, the quieting hand, spinning gentle lies, then a crash to the ground and the world became still.
All has stopped for you my old friend but I'll never forget all you gave me and taught me. To make me feel better I dream that that foot is now sound and you are running wild on far away beaches, your head again high, your summer dapples gleaming as you gallop by.
Old friends are by nature the best and the worst to let go of when you face that test.

To my horse Cavalla

Picture of Cavalla and Cornflakes

Thought that you might like to see a photograph of my lovely mare Cavalla - who I lost recently and who I talked about in 'Hoofbeats on a heavy heart'. This is a photo of her with her last foal who is by the RID stallion, Euro. My eldest son named him Cornflakes but his registered name is Calvalla's Boy. He now belongs to a friend of mine and hopefully you will see him out eventing on the Scottish circuit in 2012.