Monday, 30 June 2008

Finding confidence

I had a lovely ride yesterday evening with my friend on her mare, Ash (shown in the picture). Dee and Ash lived together at Ridgeway so they are good friends.

In fact the ride was quite magical, and I came home feeling elated. My friend now keeps Ash at a small livery yard just down the road from Wyndham, so when we ride together we meet at the end of Wyndham's track. If you are a regular reader you will know that my mare, Dee, will not hack out alone, and we always reach a 'point of no advance' when I try to take her out. Tonight, sure enough, we reached this point on the track.

Now I have been reading the Horsey Therapist blog and was intrigued by her June 26th post 'visualizing'. In this she describes counting her horse's hoof falls to aid transitions. As we approached the 'point of no advance' on the track, I started to count Dee's hoof beats out loud: "1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4". When she stopped, I stopped counting. I let her stand for a few moments, and then started counting again at the same pace and in the same rhythm as her walk had been, gently tapping her sides with my heels on each count of '1', and moving my body a little as if we were walking forward again. After another few moments - which were noticeably more relaxed that usual at the point she naps - she walked forward a few paces. I immediately stopped tapping her sides, praised her and patted her, and then continued counting in time to her walk. She stopped again and I stopped counting. It was at this moment that my friend arrived, so I do not know whether I could have got Dee to walk on again, but she followed my friend's mare willingly.

We carried on with our ride in Coed y Wenallt with Dee following Ash. It was a beautiful evening with sunlight creating dappled patterns of brightness in the undergrowth. Apart from a few walkers and excitable dogs with pink tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths, the wood was quiet and full of the scent of wild garlic. We had a bit of trotting and cantering, and then I took the lead for a while, with Dee going ahead quite happily. This is not unusual - she has always been willing to take the lead during a ride, once we are actually out on the trail. We arrived at a point on the trail where there was a stile into a field in front of us and the horse track went off to the right at 90°. Dee stopped. Her ears were pricked, she was tense and snorting. She tried to turn back. We had hit another 'point of no advance'.

My friend is very understanding and willing to give me the time to try and help Dee through her napping. Usually she eventually has to take over the lead at such times, as Dee will walk on to follow Ash, but we decided to give Dee a bit more time last night and try the counting. I started to count. "1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4 . . ." gently tapping with my legs. Dee dropped her head and started to walk forward, and then stopped tensely again. She took another couple of steps and stopped. All her attention was still strained in the direction of the stile and field. I gently pulled her head round to the right a little, leaned over and pointed up the track, saying "We're going up there Dee. That is the direction of the trail." I then recommenced the counting. Dee looked up the track and started walking again, this time without stopping, and with her stride gradually becoming more definite and confident.

This is a major breakthrough for us - for Dee to find the confidence, trust, relaxation, or whatever it was, to walk on, in the lead, from a place she had found so scary, where she has stopped rigidly, rooted to the spot. I have never succeeded in doing this before. She led for the whole of the rest of the ride and walked in a much more relaxed fashion than usual - even trying to grab a mouthful of fern here and there. I am so proud of her and so pleased. I don't know whether the counting made me more relaxed and she could feel this, whether it simply distracted her from her anxiety, or whether it gave her as means to find release from pressure. Whatever it was, I'm hoping that I can build on this little by little and eventually give her the confidence to hack out alone. Our relationship seems to have developed such a lot over the last couple of weeks - it is remarkable, and wonderful.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

He's a champion!

I hope you'll excuse me going off topic for this post - but we've just got back from the Wiimbledon tournament. I'm happy to be able to tell you that I did not disgrace myself, despite being the oldest competitor. In fact I made it to the quarter finals, and was knocked out of that by one of the finalists. The eventual winner was our son, Richard - mii name of Kiml. He proved to be as good a player as we thought he was - only dropping one set in the whole tournament. It has been a most enjoyable day. Here you can see him receiving his trophy, a cheque for our charity, and a bottle of champagne from the organiser.

So now after all the excitement, its time to go and see Dee, feed her, groom her, turn her out into her field, and muck out her stable. When we kept Dee at Wyndham previously, we used to have her on full livery and I only used to go up and ride or do some groundwork with her three or four times a week. Now that she is on part livery, I cannot imagine going back to full livery. It is so lovely to see her every day.

Friday, 27 June 2008


I recently visited Carolyn Resnick's blog and did her 'Quick Quiz'. One of the questions that interested me was "Does your horse help you by lowering his head and sticking his nose in the halter?" I realised that I did not know the answer to this question, because I had never approached haltering Dee from this point of view.

As a teenager, the first horse I worked with a great deal - outside of a riding stables environment - was difficult to catch. I discovered the way to succeed was to gently creep up towards him and when he showed signs of avoiding me, to turn away from him. Whiskey would then start to follow me and I could quickly get the halter rope round his neck. Looking back I now realise that he was actually joining up with me and deciding to allow me to catch him. He - and Sam, his elderly gelding companion - belonged to a lady who was the step mother of two girls who visited on alternate weekends. They often could not catch Whiskey and would phone for me to go down and catch him for them. I used to do this, but always felt I was betraying his trust a little.

Dee occasionally enjoys making Nor'dzin chase her round the field, but usually is quite happy to come to me. Yet I think I have always approached her with my habit of expecting her to be difficult to catch. I have not actually been dwelling in the as it is of catching Dee, but in the as I expect it to be. So since taking the quiz I have been holding out her halter - and her bridle - and have discovered that she does indeed lower her head and put her nose through the band. I ride her bitless, so putting a riding bridle on her is quite similar to putting on a leading halter. What a joyful discovery. I felt quite choked with emotion the first time I realised that she would do this for me. Such a simple act of openness on my part - requesting rather than taking charge - evoked such a trusting response from Dee. I now always do this and I am sure it is deepening our sense of communication.

I think Red is enjoying going out more often now that Jayne is looking after him. The only unfortunate aspect of the arrangement is that I usually arrive to look after Dee before Jayne is able to. Red does not understand why Dee is getting fed and taken out to her field, while he is left unfed in the stable. I always make a fuss of him, and give him a few carrots and some hay to ease his confusion, but of course I cannot give him his full feed in case Jayne wishes to ride him later. I hope he will gradually get used to the new arrangement.

I'm ending today's post with news of Wiimbledon. No not Wimbledon - Wiimbledon - a tennis tournament played on the Nintendo Wii console that is taking place in Cardiff on Sunday (29th June). Originally just our younger son was entering, but the organiser asked us if anyone else in the family would like to enter. It is the first tournament of its kind in the UK, as far as we know, so he is keen to have enough people taking part to launch it with a flourish. Consequently 'ö-Dzin had entered us all! So on Sunday some poor kid is going to be playing this old fogey at Wii tennis, and this old fogey will probably do hopelessly and embarrass herself! It is all for a good cause however. The prize is a trophy and a cheque for a charity. We are supporting our Buddhist charity and the Drala Jong Appeal. Please wish me luck!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


We were in Cornwall at the weekend teaching a retreat. As we were traveling down by train and it's a long journey, I treated myself to a horsey magazine to read. At the back of it were the usual advertisements for horses, insurance, property and suchlike. Our attention was grabbed by a property for sale with stables and 12 acres of land, about 50 miles from Cardiff and at a price we could probably afford. We started to talk about 'what if . . .' and fantasising about moving out into the countryside. We have had several days of 'new life lust'!

Perhaps we will do it one day - who knows - but until then I am trying to remind myself that change is new and exciting, but also has its drawbacks. A new environment could be a lot of fun, but it would not be 'the answer'. We would not 'live happily ever after'. It is a certainty that other disadvantages would emerge along with the advantages - this is the nature of our relationship with our lives. We yearn for something new and different and fail to live in the present moment appreciating what we have. The present moment is always actually perfect. Our present situation is always actually perfect.
I would love to have the horses living on my own land, right next to my home, rather than five miles away. I would love to be able to have them at pasture 24 hours a day through the summer, and most of the time in the winter. I would love to try Dee barefoot again, but where I could keep a close watch on her and have control of putting boots on her for any walking on hard ground. I would love to be able to stroll through my own land and sit by my own stream . . .

But in fact I can sit in our large and beautiful garden that is almost like our own little area of countryside, and I can feel such pleasure in the things I love about our home. We have lived in this house for 20 years and have poured so much of ourselves into it. The largest bedroom is decorated as a Tibetan gompa and ornamented with thangkas (paintings on cloth). Many retreats have been held here and Lamas have visited. Our students have helped us build a retreat hut in the garden. There are several rooms in the house where I have painted murals, and we only recently finished these windows. It would be hard to leave all this behind.
Dee walked quietly beside me down to her field tonight. She is so clearly content and relaxed at this livery yard and I'm sure having our own land could offer her little more - and perhaps less. Life is good.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Relaxed view

There's been a bit of tension at our yard over the last few days. Person A and person B have not been getting on. Person A has made some sort of decision about the character of person B. The problem with deciding something like that about a person is that it fixes a view of them in our mind, and then there will be an unconscious tendency to encourage every interaction with that person to support our view. Anything that person says will tend to be allowed to add to our view of them, when even exactly the same words said by someone else would produce a completely different emotional response.

I try to live with a sense of every time I interact with someone being like the first time I have ever met them - setting aside any expectations, assumptions or prejudices on my side. I try to be open and fluid with whatever is passing between us. I also try to live the teaching I have received from my husband: always leave a person feeling happy that they met you. Over the years I believe I have got better at this and am more able to let go of the feeling that I have a right to vomit my self-referential, neurotic perceptions onto those around me.

Dee is a great reminder of treating each meeting as a new experience, because she is so different from day to day. I'm taking her down the lane on her own several times a week at the moment, to try and build up her confidence. On Tuesday it was quite windy, which means that the environment is more energetic, and everything is a little more scary than usual. Consequently I could not get Dee to go all the way down the lane, whereas earlier in the week we'd got right the way down and through both gates before we got to the 'point of no advance'. I no longer push her, as I know this will not work. It used to result in rearing, but we have overcome that. Now it results in backing without any regard for what danger we may be reversing into. So I just give her time and talk to her and try to make sure my body is relaxed and my breathing slow and deep. We sat there together for quite a while - Dee like a tight coil, ears pricked and snorting, and me trying to relax. Eventually she took two steps forward. I sensed they were going to be the only two, so I quickly praised her and turned her to walk back home. A tiny success, but hopefully we can build upon it.

I used to subscribe to a mailing on horse training tips. Their suggestion for napping was to make your horse work in the arena whenever they have refused to go out on the trail. So after our walks down the lane, when we have hit that point where she will not move forward, I always take her into the arena and make her work a little. I never take her into the arena after a hack out with another horse. Perhaps she'll make the connection one day. She definitely enjoys hacks, but just can't find the confidence to risk it alone. Hopefully one day I shall be able to give her enough confidence in just being with me that we can make it out on our own.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

A difficult decision

Dee is recovering very well - extremely quickly in fact. Cobs are so tough. Thank you to everyone who sent their wishes for her swift recovery. Sally - our yard manager - is putting Dee and Red out together during the day at the moment, so that Dee does not have to mix with the mare she fought with, but also does not have to be on her own. We have been walking her in hand everyday, and had intended to take her out for a short and quiet hack today, but as it is pouring with rain as I write, this may not happen.

Last week turned out to be quite momentous in several ways. We have been concerned that Red is not getting enough exercise. Lack of exercise makes him irritable and he has started to nip us. Despite all our good intentions we have not succeeded in riding out together more than twice a week consistently. 'ö-Dzin has quite a demanding job at Cardiff University and finds that going to the stables straight from work he has enough energy to ride or to do all the horse-related chores, but not really both. Doing both would generally mean that we were not home till at least 8 pm and still needing to have dinner. It was all becoming a bit too much and not good for the horses either. It is also quite a bit more expensive at Wyndham Livery, and realistically we were find it a bit of a stretch financially. So we came to the difficult decision to put Red out on loan. If we could find the right person, it would be better for us and better for Red.

I put an advertisement in the window of our local horsey shop and had had a response within a couple of hours. I was amazed. Jayne came with her daughter to see Red and rode him in the arena. She is an experienced and capable rider and has owned horses herself in the past, so she knows what she is doing. We were able to come to an agreement and signed the papers yesterday. In the morning she took him for a long ride - they were out for over three hours. Red behaved perfectly - apart from neighing the entire ride - and Jayne seems happy with him. I have asked her to keep an eye on his feet as he is barefoot and not used to such long rides - but I have full access to him anyway and can check he is doing okay. Initially we have a trial period of two weeks, with the full terms of the agreement clicking in on 1st July.

It has felt strange only mucking out and feeding Dee, but I will be glad to have more time to spend with her. Red will stay at Wyndham and we shall be able to have him to ride out together once a week. If it works out it will be ideal in the long term for us and for Red. I'll let you know how we are getting along in future blogs.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


I take my elderly mother shopping once a week. She finds the weekly shop quite difficult now, but still likes to be there to make her own choices rather than have me do it for her. We used to shop in our local 'village' but she started to find that too demanding this year - having to dodge in and out of several shops to get all we need - so we now go to a big supermarket where we can get everything. Lately we've been going early and having breakfast there before starting our shopping.

This morning we were just getting to the end of our meal when I had a call from my yard manager. It was about Dee. She'd had an altercation with another mare and the vet had been called. The other mare involved is 17hh - considerably larger than Dee - and shod on all four feet, whereas Dee is only shod on her front feet, so inevitably Dee had come off worse. It is possible that Dee started it - we shall never know - but certainly the other mare finished it.

The vet was due to arrive at any time, so we left doing our shopping and went straight over to the yard. Dee has a number of cuts on her hind legs, haunches and round her tail. She is clearly very bruised and in pain. The yard manager was concerned that she had been hurt under her tail as she had been bleeding there a lot. I made mum a cup of tea and found her somewhere comfortable to sit and went to talk to Dee.

Dee is not a demonstrative horse. She does not like to be fussed over and I've never really found a spot that she really likes me to rub, although she does like having her forelock combed. This morning however she was happy to receive some attention. I stroked her head and neck and she rested her head on my shoulder, relaxing so that I could feel the full weight of it. I stood with her in this position for quite a long time, feeling her hot, damp breath through my clothing, enjoying this quiet period of closeness. The bond between us is strong even though she doesn't often show it. I found it moving to sense how glad she was that I was there.

Eventually the vet arrived. A couple of the cuts are quite deep, but the vet decided not to stitch them, as they are on her legs where there is not much skin to stitch. There was nothing serious under her tail fortunately. I have medication to give her over the next few days and will be keeping her in of course. My poor mare. I'm sure she will be fine in a few days, but it is horrible to see her so uncomfortable.

At last we returned to the supermarket to begin our shopping again, a couple of hours behind schedule. Life will be busy for the next few days while Dee needs more attention than usual. Suddenly the regular routine of my life is disrupted and I am forced to be more present in the moment to flex with the needs of the current situation. As always, living with horses offers endless opportunities to remember to live with life as it actually is, and savour the present moment, rather than trying to live the life I might wish for.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Bareback riding

Yesterday I decided to ride Dee down to her field to turn her out, rather than lead her down. I used to ride bareback quite a lot at one time, and feel it is an excellent way of improving one's seat, and also a method of creating a closer sense of connection with the horse. However I had not ridden bareback for nearly a year - certainly not since I injured my knee last October, so I was a bit trepidacious.

When I started riding again about six years ago - after a gap of approximately twenty five years - I went to a riding school and had lessons. These were practically the first lessons I had ever received. I learned to ride when I was about eleven at a riding stables near Solihull Lodge, just outside Birmingham. I doubt such an establishment would be able to exist today, as being taught to ride consisted of being put on a horse in a training ring and just going round and round at different paces until it seemed that you were staying on okay and managing to post at the trot. The girl who was in charge of teaching had been taught to ride by gypsies. Her lessons included bareback riding, where we were told to lean right back, almost lying on the horse, to find our balance.

Although I appreciate that such methods of teaching are insufficient to aspire to disciplines such as dressage, or to become a proficient show jumper, they did imbue me with an instinctive sense of riding. My riding may have been crude (and probably still is), but I was relaxed and confident, and capable of riding even the most difficult horses at the stables - and in fact used to prefer one spirited pony that most of my group would not ride. After only a few weeks of these basic lessons I was going out on hacks. After a further period of time, I was leading groups out on hacks. At a weekend we would regularly hire out several of the horses for a few hours and would be able to just take them off on our own. I'm sure such freedom of access to riding stable mounts would not be possible these days.

Despite my lack of formal training I must have acquired something of a reputation as a capable rider, as I always had access to a horse that the owner needed exercising. I enjoyed the freedom of in effect having my own horse throughout my late teens without actually ever being able to own one, as this was beyond my parents' means. One horse I cared for - a six year old called Whiskey - was known as a 'horse-without-brakes', but I used to ride out on him for whole days, often alone, without any problems. Another horse I exercised for a lady had the most uncomfortable saddle it has ever been my misfortune to sit upon, so I used to hack him out bareback. I used to come off fairly regularly, but still had fun.

So it was with pleasure that I climbed on Dee's bare back to ride her down to her field. I put the training pressure halter on and looped the lead rope round to make a rein just in case she decided this was a great opportunity to race to the field. But no, she was quite happy and relaxed and we quietly plodded down the lane.

Half way down the track it occurred to me that I would have to get off! I have had to adjust how I dismount since injuring my knee. I can no longer vault off athletically as I used to, but have to slide off slowly in order to ensure that I touch the ground with as little impact as possible. This controlled slide was not going to be possible to achieve without a saddle and a stirrup to assist my descent! It brought an aspect of my Buddhist training clearly to mind - a reminder that our consciousness is mounted on our current physical form and that one day we shall all have to face the experience of dismounting from it. We may try not to think about our mortality but our death is actually the only thing in our life we can totally rely upon occurring. As a Buddhist I try to notice the 'little deaths' that continually happen - the death of the moment, of an occupation, of a state of definition. The Nor'dzin who was writing this before you actually came to read it has now died - she is gone, gone, gone forever. The you that just read that sentence is also gone.

So I was grateful for this potent reminder that I had created for myself by getting on Dee's back. I smiled at the inevitability of the situation, and when we arrived at her field I slid down as carefully as I could. I still landed more heavily and from a greater distance than usual, so the walk back to the stable was a bit of a hobble, but I am still glad for the experience and my knee had recovered by the time we were ready to go home.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Rubber mats

Last week was one of those weeks that seemed to be so busy that it flew by and I couldn't believe it was over already. Friday crept up on me so unexpectedly that I forgot to write up my feed and bedding needs for this week on the yard noticeboard. So blogging didn't happen last week in the midst of all this.

I've been exploring stable matting for a few weeks. It had become a little overwhelming - so many types of matting to choose from, and so many suppliers. I found a place only 20 miles away from home and decided to go and have a look at their mats last Thursday. I took my boys with me to help with navigation in case I got lost, and Mum came along for the ride. Mum is 92 on Saturday and still running her own home. She is an amazing lady and always happy to come out for a car ride.

The drive to the matting company was most pleasant, in beautiful sunshine through green and pleasant countryside for the most part. Unfortunately the mats the company produced turned out to be unsuitable to my way of thinking, even though they claimed that they regularly sold them as equine matting. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to buy and how much I should expect to pay after receiving samples and quotations from a number of companies. When we got home I decided I'd had enough and had to just order some mats from somewhere. I started my search for suppliers again and this time discovered a supplier only 9 miles away that somehow had eluded me previously. I phoned up Green Oak Equine in Newport and felt satisfied that the mats they supplied were as good as any of the others of that type that I had found. By now I had mat-search lag and just wanted to get them as quickly as possible. Green Oak offered to deliver them the following day and for free because we were so local and on the way to a show he was attending. This was too good to miss.
So on Friday morning 12 rubber mats were delivered. I helped him unload them off the trailer, leaving them outside our stables ready for laying in the evening. Poor Dee. This was too much for her - a large pile of scary black things appearing right outside her stable. She didn't dare put her head out of the stable door again that day.

It took us about an hour and a half to lay the mats after we had sorted out the horses for the evening. Dee was reluctant to come out of her stable with the evil mats sitting there right in front of her. But she was slowly coaxed to brave it, and with much snorting, wide eyes and pricked ears she did allow herself to be led out past them to be turned out in the field for the night.

Our sons, Daniel and Richard, came and helped with the task, having been tempted with the prospect of being bought a meal out after the work. The mats are heavy - about 45 kilos each - so it was quite hard work manoevering them into place. The supplier had suggested we did not cut them, but let them slope up the wall, so this is what we did, only cutting them in the corner to allow them to lie flat against the wall. We then put the bedding in and the stables were ready to receive the horses in the morning. The difference of feel underfoot was immediately noticeable and it is great to think of the horses being in more comfortable stables. They are not stabled too long in the summer - just during the day to keep them out of the flies - but in the winter they are in from dusk till morning, so the mats will be essential then.

Monday, 2 June 2008

A well organised yard

One of the things I love about being back at Wyndham Livery is that it is so well organised. Yes it is quite a bit more expensive than other places I might be able to find to keep Dee and Red, but there are many benefits that go above and beyond mere expense. Both of the horses are now looking really well - their coats have a lovely sheen to them again and they both look as though they are about the correct weight. It is such a relief to feel they are well and content. I am too inexperienced a horse owner to keep them somewhere that is even more DIY than here - I need the support of a yard manager who has the expertise and experience I lack.

The photograph shows the little shed that we are allocated for storing our feed and tools. I love the quality of the light in this photo (as well as the shadow of 'ö-Dzin taking it!). It has been balmy and cloudy here, continually feeling as though the weather is building towards a thunder storm. Here the sky had become quite lowering, yet the light was still bright.

As well as the shed, we also have a place in a secure lock-up to keep our tack, and space in another little room for our cupboards for storing hats, chaps, numnahs and other miscellaneous horse-related paraphernalia. The livery has a daily routine and is efficiently maintained. The horses clearly like the routine. There is an air of it being a place that is thriving which I like - it creates a positive and healthy atmosphere. I have heard that some livery yards suffer from interpersonal conflicts - that there can be cliquey groups, lack of consideration, the 'borrowing' of people's gear, and such like. Fortunately I have never experienced this. At Pontcanna everyone was friendly and helpful, at Ridgeway I found the same, and now at Wyndham this is also true. My experience of 'horsey' people generally has been that they are kind and sensible people who put their animal's needs before their own.

I thought I would explain the name of my blog in case any of you were curious - although I am sure you will have guessed. 'Ceffylau' is Welsh for horses. Although I am English by birth originating in the Midlands, I have adopted my husband's country. Both our sons are Welsh, so I really think of myself as Welsh more than English these days. 'ö-Dzin and I started trying to learn the Welsh language about five years ago. Although he is Welsh born, Cardiff is not a very Welsh city and the use of the Welsh language has only become more common and more encouraged in the last fifteen years or so. For the first two years of learning Welsh I attended classes several days a week, and this has given me a good basic grounding in the language. However once we became involved in horse ownership there was no longer time in my week to attend classes, so I have been attempting to carry on learning on my own. 'ö-Dzin and I try to talk to each in Welsh a little every day, and I have various books and cds to help me. He still attends classes as these are sponsored by his employer, Cardiff University. 'ö-Dzin particularly enjoys Welsh language music, and I often hear him singing to Red in Welsh as he grooms Red and I groom Dee. I think they enjoy this (and so do I!).