Wednesday, 30 April 2008


The most recent entry on Victoria Cummings's blog 'Teachings of the Horse' reminded me of when I first had Dee. Unlike Silk (happy birthday Silk!) I don't think Dee has suffered ill treatment as such, but I think she has been pushed around a bit. At the riding stables, if the lesson was starting now, then the horse had to be ready now, and there wasn't time to tolerate a mare's moods or idiosyncrasies. At the end of the day the horses at a riding school are their stock, or working tools. All the staff at the school where I bought Dee were very caring and the horses were well looked after, but the horses had so many people handling them of such varying experience and capability that it must sometimes have been hard on them.
When I moved Dee from the riding stables, and became the main person handling her, she would not let me groom her neck and didn't like having her head touched. She could also be a nightmare to tack up. She would turn her tail to me every time I tried to approach her with tack, and often put her ears back and look quite menacing. I never felt I was in any real danger from her, but it just was not possible to get near her. For a while I did not groom her head or neck but just stroked her there every time I brushed the rest of her. Then I started 'stroking her' with a small and very soft brush, and gradually built up to grooming her fully. She now particularly likes having her forelock combed and becomes very sleepy and relaxed. With her tack I just tried not to hurry, talking to her quietly, stroking her and making reassuring noises. She would always eventually decide to allow me to put on her tack, but to begin with it could take 20 minutes. I discovered that she preferred to have her saddle put on before her bridle. I feel this is a matter of trust for Dee - if I trust her to have her head completely free while I put on her saddle, she will trust me to tighten her girth (cinch) with consideration. Once the saddle is on she is happy to be bridled.

It is such an obvious fact that kindness brings its own rewards - that you will have a happy and willing mount if you treat your horse well. We all respond to being given time and being treated gently. Yet so often when we are in a hurry or are feeling threatened, pressurised or overlooked we can forget this. For me the fact that Dee is now always willing to be tacked and enjoys being groomed is a constant reminder.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Settling in

I arrived at the stables late morning to muck out. My timing was perfect - I got there just in time to help the yard owner catch Red who had managed to get his rug half off. He kept running away from her, but eventually came to me so that we could resit his rug. Dee and Red will be a field on their own for a few days near the other horses, before Dee is put with the mares and Red with the geldings.

Later in the day I returned to bring them in and feed them. Because Dee can be aggressive, and Red can be a bit pushy when being led - and also because I have a problem with my left shoulder at the moment - I have to lead them in one at a time. Dee was the first one to come to me, so I took her to her stable first. Red became quite distressed, racing round the field and calling continually. I went straight back out to get him and he was very happy to arrive at his stable next to Dee.

Now today I have had to make a blogger's decision - to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or to leave out less attractive facts. I have decided to go for warts and all - or in this case, lice and all. Yes Dee has lice. I am mortified that my poor mare is lousy, but it does explain why she is so itchy. I have treated her, her rugs and numnahs today and will do so again in a day or two. Once again I am having to kill poor wee beasties. Red does not seem to be infected, but I dusted his mane and the top of his tail as well, just in case.

I rode Red in the arena for a short while this evening. He was the liveliest I have ever know him to be since I bought him last October, but did not do anything too challenging. I just walked and trotted him a little. He did not like being apart from Dee again - even though he was only 50 yards away - and called to her in a most heart-rending manner, and I could hear her responding. I had not realised they had bonded so much. It is all very new to Red though, and I'm sure he will settle down pretty quickly. I just hope he will adjust to being separate from Dee when he is put out with the other geldings.

Sunday, 27 April 2008


The horses are settling well, but are becoming a bit fed up of being kept in the stable all the time. Their 48 hour worming quarantine is nearly over now though, so they will be able to go out to graze tomorrow.

Worming is usually the first thing that happens when moving horses to a new yard - or so it has been in my limited experience. Although of course I want my horses to be healthy, I still always regret the need to kill the worms. I regret that my life is often inevitably detrimental to other life forms and try to remember this.

Red kept kicking the stable door this morning, telling us he wanted to get out, but was happy to settle for another net of hay in the end. Dee is looking a rather sorry sight at the moment. She's losing her winter coat in certain areas, but not everywhere yet, and her summer coat is coming through rather thin and dull. Her summer coat is a chestnut colour, whilst her winter coat is a dark bay, so she's looking a bit like a patchwork. It is strange that it was Red we were most concerned about a couple of weeks ago, but now I would say that it is Dee that is looking in poorer condition. I'm going to buy some linseed oil for her tomorrow. I'm sure she will soon pick up condition now that she is being fed a more balanced diet.

We took Dee and Red out for a leg stretch yesterday which they enjoyed, and they got along much better with the gates on the driveway. We'll probably do the same this afternoon if the rain holds off. I hope to be able to get up there in the morning to see them turned out into the field - I think they will be quite frisky.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Safe arrival

Yesterday was tiring but enjoyable. I went up to Ridgeway in the afternoon, cleared out the last of our things, and prepared the horses for the ride to their new home. I'm sure I removed half a horse's worth of hair from Dee! It was incredible. Unfortunately it was drizzling while I was up there, so I had to groom them in the stable - not ideal at this time of year and I feel as though I have inhaled a lot of dust and hair. Having delivered the last few things to Wyndham I returned home for a five minute break before it was time to go back up to the horses to ride them to their new home.

A friend kindly drove us and our tack up to Ridgeway. We tacked up Dee and Red, swept out the stables as best we could and then set off. The rain had stopped and it was a pleasant, warm evening. It must have been after 6 pm when we were finally ready to set off. The woodland wildlife was busy with their evening routines and the midgets were out. The low sun gave the new spring leaves an almost florescent glow, and the slopes of the wood had a hazy carpet of bluebells. The birds and squirrels were busy in particular, and the birdsong was delightful. Fortunately the midgets were only a problem at the beginning of the ride and we were mostly untroubled by them.

Red set off at an unusually good pace down the track. They usually dislike this steep track from the stables, with its loose stones and uneven surface, and plod along it slowly, needing encouragement all the way. But yesterday evening they seemed to understand that something new was happening, and they were both eager to walk at a brisk pace. We decided to only walk them all the way as neither of them are fit at the moment, and it would be the longest ride they had done for quite a while.

After the track, we rode through the Ganol - one of my favourite parts of woodland in this area north of Cardiff. It has a particularly peaceful atmosphere and feels really old. It also has a nice wide track through it where we can ride side by side. At the end of the Ganol we had to turn right to go down the road to Coed y Wenallt (Wenallt Wood or White Wood). Often at this point the horses have a moment of reluctance to turn right, because they know that the quickest way home is to the left. However last night they rode on happily, with Dee merely glancing back. After a short distance on the road we turned into the track down to the stream in Coed y Wenallt. Red seemed a little uncertain about stepping through the horse gate, so Dee took the lead. It is a strange thing with Dee that she will not go out on her own, yet once were are actually out on a ride she often likes to take the lead. She led from this point for the rest of the ride.

We had a few moments of anxiety because we could hear motorcycles noisily racing through the wood. We did not particularly want to meet up with a bunch of scramblers. Fortunately they had moved on by the time we crossed the stream and entered the part of the wood they could access. We were now in the last stretch of woodland riding. I had not ridden this part for over a year and it was longer than I remembered. The trees grow quite densely here and the track is narrower, so it was quite gloomy. Dee became a little edgy and did her nervous dance - putting her head down to look closely at anything unusual on the path, whilst at the same time stepping sideways away from it. 'Anything unusual' could be a log, a piece of string, a stone . . . She looks so beautiful when she does this - arching her neck and pricking her ears, and she feels very light on her feet.

At last we reached the end of Coed y Wenallt and rode the short distance down the road to the driveway to Wyndham Livery. We had been riding for nearly 2 hours. I'm sure Dee recognised where she was because she walked faster and faster. She seemed happy to turn into Wyndham's drive, but then getting down to the stables turned out to be the most eventful part of the whole expedition. We opened the first gate and went through, but every time I closed it and got Dee near enough to bolt it, she nudged it open again. In the end we gave up and left it closed, but not bolted. Then we tried to get through the horse gate halfway down the drive, but Dee couldn't make this out at all. Then when 'ö-Dzin tried to do it on Red, Dee decided he was getting too close and started bucking and trying to kick him. She is usually quite tolerant nowadays of other horses near her on a ride, but at this point I think it all became too much for her. Eventually we succeeded in getting them both through the gate - still mounted - and rode up into the yard. The owners were waiting for us - despite it being quite late - and helped us settle them in, for which we were most grateful. Red was completely unperturbed - he had a warm stable and a feed and that was enough for him. Dee was quite wound up, but was not too anxious to settle to eat her food.

This morning Dee was still quite excited, but Red was perfectly relaxed. We are going to take them out for a short ride later to stretch their legs, as they will be stabled for the first 48 hours in their new home. So we have safely arrived.

(PS the photograph is of toadstools growing on the muck heap at Ridgeway - taken by 'ö-Dzin)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Saying goodbye

This evening we moved all our cupboards and things from Ridgeway livery. We shall miss the beautiful view down the Wenallt valley, and the expansive skies.

I have often sat quietly on my own gazing out over the valley in this peaceful place. I would sit and open my senses, allowing myself to enter into the experience of the environment - the flight of birds and scurrying squirrels, the wind rustling in the trees, the aroma of horses and dung, the delightful sound of the horses munching, the stable cat purring beside me, gentle sunshine on my face - trying to allow my mind to be quiet and empty, but aware of everything.

Tonight we let the horses to come up to the stables for a feed on their own, rather than leading them up. This is such a nice thing to do and will not be possible at Wyndham. We opened the field gate for Dee and she just slowly made her way up to the stable and walked in. Red had not quite got the right idea. First we had to remind him that he had to go round the fence in front of the stables - that he couldn't just walk straight from the gate to the stable. Then he was a little confused about going into the stable and had to be coaxed. He got to his feed eventually.

We are looking forward to the ride down to Wyndham tomorrow - it is a pleasant ride, mostly through woodland. Their new stables are ready for them with fresh flax bedding, and we have already been warmly welcomed by several people. It will be interesting to see how Dee reacts to returning there.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


Red is an 11 year old cob x thoroughbred, 16 hh.

He is a kind and gentle fellow who does not realise how big and powerful he is. When we first bought him he was quite pushy and we have had to gently teach him a little respect. He is a willing learner. At first it was quite dangerous being in the stable with him - he had no awareness of where you were - but he has gradually improved through simple measures, such as insisting he steps back before setting his feed down for him to eat.

In some ways he seems quite daft - leading him through a gate smoothly can be quite a challenge - but then he also shows great intelligence at times. He is a communicative horse. He whinnies when he sees me or 'ö-Dzin (my husband) and will come to call. When I ride him out alone he frequently calls to the other horses, until the point on the ride he recognises as being homeward, and then he stops neighing.

I am quite proud of myself in finding Red. I had asked our yard's owner to act as our agent to look for another horse, as I felt I lacked experience. But I found Red, rode him the first time on my own, and decided he was a good horse. Then the yard owner came with me to check him out, and agreed he was a good horse. He shook his head a lot when we tried him out for the second time, but decided it was simply a habit. I asked them why he was ridden in a martingale and was told that it was 'because they look nice'. When I took the martingale off, he stopped shaking his head. I have not developed such a strong bond with Red as I have with Dee as yet - even though he is friendlier and more communicative than Dee - but I am becoming fond of him.

We were away for 10 days last week, teaching Buddhism in Germany, and I was a little horrified to see that Red had lost quite a lot of condition in that time. Usually I give him a few hard feeds a week so that he is not relying only on hay, but he did not get these while I was away. He also managed to keep losing his rug, so the yard owner had kindly put one on him for me. When I brought him up for a feed on Monday, he kept looking at me and then nudging his stable rug - I think he had been cold. I decided to keep him in that night, in a warm rug with plenty of bedding, and give him a good feed and two hay nets. He looked much better yesterday morning and indicated that he wanted to go out by ignoring his hay and kicking the stable door. I put an extra under-rug on him before I turned him out. Although it is quite warm when the sun shines during the day, it is still cold at night.

Red has lost a lot of condition over the winter. Despite his size, he is not a brave horse in the herd and lets all the mares boss him around. Consequently I do not think he has been having as much of the hay as he's needed of that given them in the field. Being at Ridgeway has been wonderful for Dee - she has been reintegrated into a herd and had time to recuperate, but I think it does not suit Red so well. Although we love this wonderful, peaceful hillside, we have decided to move both horses back to Wyndham, our previous yard. Wyndham is not so beautiful as Rideway, and is rather too close to the motorway, but it is much easier to get to and there are always people around doing things with their horses. Ridgeway is near the top of Caerphilly mountain and access is via a steep dirt track nearly a mile long. It can feel very isolated and I find I do not ride as often as I did at Wyndham. It also means that 'ö-Dzin can only get up there at the weekend, whereas he will be able to join me for a ride after work at Wyndham. Also Red will get a feed morning and evening and live in overnight in the winter at Wyndham, which I think will suit him better. I believe he has been used to a little pampering and has found it hard to live out through the winter. Dee loves it, but she is a much hardier breed.

Tomorrow we are hiring a van to move our cupboards and things, and then Friday evening we shall ride them down to Wyndham. It will be interesting to see how Dee reacts to being back there. She was not unhappy at Wyndham, but often very nervous. She will not be kept in a field on her own this time however, as she has proved herself as safe in a herd, and I believe it was this isolation that contributed to her edginess. I am excited about the move, as I am expecting to ride a lot more often - although I am not especially looking forward to having to muck out two stables every day!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


Dee is an 18 year old Welsh cob, 14.3hh.

I am by no means an expert horse owner - in fact I would describe myself as a beginner. I rode horses a great deal in my teenage years and early 20s, but was never fortunate enough to be able to own one - for this I had to wait until I was 50.

I began riding regularly again about six years ago at a local riding stables. This was in fact the first time I had ever had any formal teaching in horse riding. I had to unlearn a lot of things - in particular gripping with the knees! It was also the first time I had ever ridden in an arena and found this quite frightening to begin with. I found it interesting to later discover that many of the young people who learned to ride at this establishment were nervous of riding out in the open.

It was at this riding school that I met Dee. She was a good all-rounder for a rider of average ability. She was a bit slow sometimes, but rallied if the lesson was interesting or involved jumping. I had never really done any jumping before - other than popping over the occasional log in a wood - and Dee was the horse that gave me confidence to try. She never stopped or swerved before the jump if I failed to show sufficient intention to take it, and she always sailed over with ease. I had a number of tumbles off other horses during jumping lessons - usually those that would nearly stop before the jump and then do a huge leap. It was on Dee that I had the courage to jump without reins, with my arms held out in front of me, and on Dee that I jumped the largest log in the paddock, despite having watched several of my comrades come to grief at it.

Dee is no angel - in fact she had a reputation at this riding stables of being a thoroughly nasty piece of work. She was kept in a field on her own because she had killed or severely maimed (depending on which story I listened to) another horse, and always had to be the horse at the end of the line. I had experienced her dancing backwards in order to get to a horse she didn't like in order to kick it. Indeed, she was a mare with attitude. I felt she was also a pretty unhappy mare - although the staff at the stables said she was fine, and they were much more experienced than me.

One winter I started to hear rumours that the staff were discussing getting rid of Dee because of her continuing aggressive behaviour which always got worse in the spring. Although never aggressive towards people, she could be intimidating in the stable and difficult to tack up. I was not sure what form 'getting rid of' would take in Dee's case, given her history, but I did not feel it was going to be good for her. So after long discussions with my husband, we offered to buy her.

To cut a long story short, we bought Dee in January 2005, continuing to keep her at the riding school on working livery. Gradually this arrangement became less and less satisfactory for me - she never felt as though she was my horse - and we moved her to a new yard. I was warned by the riding school staff, that she would become unmanageable if she was not ridden or lunged every day and that she was probably more horse than I could cope with. I was also told I should never sell her because she was so dangerous.

In trepidation, my husband and I moved her. For the first few weeks I was quite anxious about how Dee was going to behave, but she settled quickly in the new yard and definitely seemed happier. At first I did ride her or lunge her every day in the arena, but gradually started to relax with her as she showed no signs of going crazy without her 3 hours of work, 6 days a week going round and round in circles. She could be rather challenging on the lunge line and she would not hack out alone. Any attempt to take her beyond the end of the lane to the yard on her own resulted in spectacular rears, or being backed into hedges and ditches - although she'd happily hack out with other horses. I read a lot of books about natural horsemanship and did a lot of work with her in the arena, often without any tack at all, and she clearly enjoyed this. It was a joy to play with her and have her follow me around, and to watch her cantering over jumps simply because she was enjoying it.

A year later I had to be away for 3 weeks, which was the longest period of time that Dee had ever been without working for many years as far as I knew. On my return, I started to ride her in the arena again, but she became very difficult. She seemed extremely nervous and I came off a number of times when she suddenly span on the spot and careered off to stand in a corner. I lost my confidence and became extremely nervous about working with her. With the help of the yard owner, we came to the conclusion that she was in pain and so called out the vet. After x-rays - a procedure that usually requires sedation, but Dee was so interested in everything she simply stood and let it all happen - we discovered that she had deformation of several of the vertebrae at the withers which was causing inflammation and pain, probably resulting from an old injury from a fall. The remedy was complete rest, but we were warned that she may have to be retired. I believe Dee had learned to tolerate a level of pain through constantly being in work, but had lost this tolerance during the three week break, so that she could not cope once I started working her again.

We decided to find somewhere less expensive to keep her, where she could spend more time turned out. We felt that we had made a commitment to Dee - and I feel I have a special bond with her - so we ignored all advice to have her put down. Dee was a lot better now after 2 months of rest and all the inflammation had settled down, so I decided to risk it and ride her up to the new yard - about an hour's ride at a walk - rather than put her through the ordeal of being boxed. I was very nervous to begin with, wondering if I was going to be thrown, but she clearly enjoyed the ride and behaved perfectly, following two horses she had never met before. This was in April 2007.

The amazing lady who owned the land and stables of her new home thought it ridiculous that a horse had been kept on its own for years because of a single incident. She felt that her isolation may be contributing to her nervousness as horses are of course herd animals. Through this lady's courage and kindness, within a week Dee was settled in the herd with 7 of the horses - with no unusual signs of aggression. The three foals were kept separate for their safety to begin with, but within a month they were also back in the herd and Dee was taking her turn babysitting them. This clearly demonstrated the herd's acceptance of her. It brought tears to my eyes to see her grazing happily with the other horses. I felt my hopes for her had been realised. When winter arrived, and the herd were fed hay in the field, Dee clearly became herd leader, but as long as she got her pile of hay first she caused no trouble. She'd even let the foals share her hay pile sometimes.

With careful adjustment of her tack, and advice from my vet, I gradually started riding Dee again and she is well and coping with light work. There has been no recurrence of inflammation. However we have never been able to overcome her refusal to hack out alone. In the end I realised that I had to simply accept that this was how it was with Dee and stop battling with her about it. However there was no arena at the new yard, so it was difficult for me or my husband to do any riding unless someone else was going out, so in October 2007 we bought Red, so that we could hack out together - but let's keep the rest of the story for another day.