Friday, 22 January 2016

Horse Mad (as well as dog mad, tortoise mad and animal mad...)

I've always been horse mad and have been riding from the age of about 5, though in the last couple of years I've barely ridden as we moved to Newbury and I was only briefly helping someone excercise their horses. I miss it a lot sometimes. I don't miss it quite so much this time of year when you had to unfreeze the taps at the yard and jump from quite a height off of a horse with numb feet (it used to feel like they had shattered like ice!) There's nothing quite like exploring the countryside on horseback though and it was definitely one of my favourite parts.

Jumping with Sparky - 1999

I used to do a lot of schooling and jumping on my old pony Jack; he was a Dark bay Dartmoor Pony and super speedy! He loved jumping and loved a race too. We had a great bond and when I think back to all the crazy things my friends and I used to do on our ponies (like pretend to ride side-saddle... without a saddle!), I suppose you're fearless then. We had great fun and I know I was very lucky to have a pony to ride and attend riding lessons - my parents always said my brother and I chose the most expensive sports/hobbies; me horse riding, Simon chose golf and football.

Jack all suited and booted before we were off to a local show - 2002
Back in 2004 it was time to admit defeat where Jack was concerned and move onto something a bit bigger. Jack was only 12.2hh and it was getting to the point where my feet were catching on jumps and I could touch my toes under his barrel belly! He'd have continued to hold my weight for a long while; Dartmoor ponies used to carry men and equipment down into the mines years ago and are a very sturdy British breed, plus I was always very petite anyway. I did however want to make the move onto a horse, though initially getting used to the change in speeds of gaits was very strange (I was used to do rising trot pony-style, aka very quickly, whereas it was much more comfortable on a horse). Flash had come to our yard a few months previously mainly as a companion for the yard owner's ex-racer, but when I was offered the chance to ride him I couldn't wait. Flash was a big change from little speedy Jack; Flash was a Fleabitten Grey 15.2hh big fat slow cob but with a very loveable personality.
Day 1 with Flash - 2004
I looked like a flea on his back to begin with, rode with my stirrups far too short and booted him like mad around the arena while he plodded on swishing his tail! It took a LONG time to get his fitness up and it taught me a lot too. Soon I discovered a way to perk Flash up; going on hacks. He loved being out in the countryside and his ears would flick back and forth as he trotted along happily. He was never spooky which was great (except one time my Mum rode him and he decided to throw her out of the side door!), but he went from one extreme to the other.... If I went for a hack with my friends on their ponies and we broke into canter then Flash just thought it was a race and would gallop off with me, knowing full well I was nowhere near strong enough to stop this huge horse! I can remember doing a whole lap of the field once and eventually my friends catching up, only for me to jump off Flash, give him a whack while I was in floods of tears and make him walk all the way home beside me as punishment - only the punishment was that it was a long walk for me instead - I soon learned! We did eventually install better brakes on Flash in the form of a stronger bit and curb chain and eventually my strength built up to pull him up a bit more (or at least ask him...) - to this day we still call my arms my "Flash muscles".
Far too short stirrups! 2005
It took quite a few years but eventually Flash and I had a fantastic bond, he was my world and I used to cycle to the yard (in the next village) almost every day to see him and ride him until I passed my driving test, or just pop up to give him a carrot and a fuss. He used to love lying his head on me in the field where I'd sit with him for hours in the summer, or letting me warm up my hands under his rug in the stable in the winter. Before long we were amazing a few people at the yard by doing a few jumps and Flash always tried his hardest for me. Our main love was always hacking though and in the latter days that was what we always stuck to.
Flash was about 14 years old when I first started riding him and as he approached his twenties it was clear that he was struggling with arthritis so we took a more sedately pace on hacks, mainly just to stretch his legs which always helped. He was always on his toes though and he especially liked it when I would hack him to our house in the next village where Mum would feed him a carrot through the living room window (Flash enjoyed eating said carrot while checking out his reflection in the window!). Dad's dismay was clear when he found the slightly sunken hoof marks in his lovely front lawn, but I don't think he minded too much. At one time we had 4 of us on the front lawn - the neighbours even came out for a look!
Taken from my bedroom window - Flash having a snooze at the back!
The time came when work and studying commitments were taking over and so I made the decision to stop riding Flash, so the yard owner retired him into a lovely big field with some companions where he could gorge on grass as much as he liked! I eventually moved to Newbury with Jack but would always pop and see Flash each time we were back that way. Eventually it was evident that Flash's arthritis was getting particularly bad and it was a worry each winter as to how badly the cold weather would affect him, so in the summer of 2014 the decision was made to put him to sleep. I went and said my goodbyes which was incredibly hard, but Jack and my Mum came with me to say goodbye too. He still whinnied for me that day and I gave him lots of polo mints and carrots. I miss him so much sometimes, but during almost a decade with him I know we had a great time and I gave him lots of love.
2009 - such a handsome horse
Flash's picture now has pride of place on the wall near our stairs in the house; Jack took the below photo of me on a hack (back in 2011) and I so loved how the photo came out with the oak tree too. One day I hope to have a horse of my own again and only hope he is half the horse my lovely Flash was :-)
Em x


  1. Many many moons ago I used to go out with a chap who had horses. I enjoyed a hack through the countryside but could never quite see the appeal of the rest of it. Mike used to help out at a local stables when he was younger too. Lovely sweet photos of when you were younger & I enjoyed reading about your past horses x

    1. They're lovely animals to be around Jo, so inquisitive and affectionate. If I could I would have worked with horses all my life but sadly there's not a lot of money in it. So instead I settle for accountancy in the hope of one day getting my smallholding and horses! x

  2. That bought tears to my eyes. What a lovely chap your lad was - he looked very smart hogged and with his feather off. You must miss him so. We had to sell our horses in 2007 and it was so hard to part with my Fahal - we could read each other's minds and had such a special relationship.

    1. Thank you Bovey Belle, he was such a character. He was certainly the most loving horse I've ever had; he loved a cuddle and we had a very close bond. Yes his mane was so unruly and huge that in the end we hogged it and he looked so much smarter. I really do miss him.
      So sorry to hear that, that must have been one of the hardest decisions to part with them, do you still get to visit wherever they've now gone? x