Friday, 27 March 2009

Save our park!

I do not usually use my blog to campaign, but I would like to make an exception today for the sake of Bute Park in Cardiff.

We are most fortunate to have an extensive and beautiful park running through the heart of Cardiff. It has areas of formal ornamental gardens, is home for rare and unusual trees and plants, supports a varied wildlife, has sports fields and wild areas. The park is well-used and loved by Cardiff residents and many events take place in Cooper's Field near Cardiff castle, such as fireworks extravaganzas and horticultural shows.

There are a number of interesting sculptures in the park, such as the amusing one featured in this photograph. 'ö-Dzin has taken many wonderful photographs of Bute park—on his journey through it on his bicycle comuting to work—and you can see some of these at his fickr pages. Our lovely park graces the banks of the river Taff, with a number of bridges of differing styles traversing it.

Pontcanna Riding Stables nestles within the park and it is possible to ride round part of it on horseback. When I rode regularly at this establishment, before and after buying Dee from them, I used to cycle to the Stables along the Taff trail which is accessible near to my home. It was a real pleasure to visit Bute Park so regularly and witness its varying guises as the seasons and the weather changed.

The park was given to Cardiff by the Marquis of Bute in 1947 for the enjoyment of its citizens. However naughty Cardiff council are now planning to put a road through the park and build on part of it. This would be disastrous for the future of the park and set an unfortunate precedent. Many ancient trees will be destroyed for this development, and large areas of grassland.

If you too love inner city parkland and feel that it is an essentiual facility for the health of city dwellers, please sign the petition to urge Cardiff Council to abandon their plans to destroy part of our park. It does not matter if you live outside the UK, or have never visited Cardiff, please sign the petition online if you value the undisturbed continuation of this historic and beautiful park. Thank you.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Giving notice

Well the dastardly deed is done – I have given my notice at Wyndham Livery. I found this quite a hard thing to do—even though I know it has to be done—because Sally has been so kind to me, it is such a friendly and happy yard and I like being there. It was made doubly hard because Sally had already heard that I was looking at other yards and was a little hurt that she hadn't heard this from me first. I am sorry that I misjudged this. I felt it was better to wait until I knew whether I was moving Red or selling him – and it hadn't occurred to me that she would hear about it while I was still at the cogitating stage. She was nice about it though and we shall part on good terms.

I went up to Briwnant Riding Centre this morning to talk to them about moving Red there on working livery. They were most friendly and welcoming and I was there much long than expected. I shall be riding Red over for them to see on Tuesday. Unless there is something about him they really don't like—which is unlikely—it seems most probable that I shall move him there soon after. I liked the place and their approach to running the yard. I liked the way they were with the horses I saw them with this morning. The horses were friendly and looked healthy and happy. A lot of my queries were answered without my having to ask – such as how they managed the work for the horses to prevent them getting stale or bored, and how they expected beginners to behave when mounted so that the horses don't become hard mouthed and dead to leg aids.

They have a lot of land—about 93 acres—and the horses live out at pasture except when they are working. It is possible to ride through some of the fields to avoid roads altogether, or to access the higher part of the Wenallt horse trail. They have a menage and are setting up a cross country course. The views across Cardiff must be spectacular, but unfortunately today it was too misty to see very far into the distance. I will post photographs when I am up there on a better day for photography. The owners had read my blog and volunteered that it would be possible to hire one of their horses for 'ö-Dzin and I to hack out together once they were sure that we rode well enough to be entrusted with one of their horses. I really appreciated them saying this without my asking.

I still feel a bit churned up about having given my notice at Wyndham. It will be a big change and I shall miss Sally and everyone else at the yard, but at least I should now be able to afford to keep Red indefinitely – possibly into his 20s, by which time I will be in my 60s and probably we shall both be ready to retire.

When I called into Wyndham after my visit to Briwnant, I discovered that all the horses were being kept in today because of the weather. Red was sweet and pleased to see me. He let me groom the mud off his legs without any fuss or my having to tie him. I hope I am doing the best thing by him and that he will settle quickly in his new home. It took him a long time to settle at Wyndham. However he settled very quickly at Ridgeway which was also pasture livery, so perhaps he will settle quickly at Briwnant as well. Perhaps it is the amount of time they spend stabled at Wyndham that was the reason he took so long to settle. We shall see. I think it will be nice for him to be in a mixed herd of mares and geldings again. He was always fond of Dee even though she pushed him around.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Wild ponies

Today in the UK was Mothering Sunday. My mother—who is 92 years old—has not been very well this winter, and consequently has not been getting out and about that much. So we decided to take her out for a drive today, finishing at a coffee bar for drinks and cake.

The weather continues to be delightful – sunny and bright and quite warm. I felt a little over-dressed in my winter clothing, but am loathe to get out my summer clothes in case I jinx it!

We set out after lunch. I didn't want to drive too far as Mum tires easily, so we headed north out of Cardiff towards Merthyr Tydfil, then east towards Abergavenny, and finally doubling back to Cardiff via Caerphilly. Heh – let's have the Welsh for those: Caerdydd, Merthyr Tudful, Y Fenni and Caerffili. This drive includes some striking landscape as it touches the edge of the Brecon mountain range. The loop back from Merthyr to Caerphilly crosses open moorland. I had never been along this narrow lane that crosses Gelligaer Common before, and it was wonderful with extensive views.

Driving slowly along the lane we were enjoying the golden gorse bushes, and delighting in the purple hue of the hillsides, and the valleys decorated with evergreens. We saw ahead of us animals that were larger than the sheep that are ever present on Welsh hills. At first we thought they were cows, but quickly realised that in fact it was a small herd of wild Welsh Mountain ponies. They were quite inquisitive when we stopped and would let us stroke their noses, but not get any closer than that. Several of them had rather dramatic manes. They all looked healthy and well fed, apart from one that looked older and thinner than the others. I think he may be the herd stallion.

It is good to know that we have these ponies living wild so near to Cardiff, and we shall certainly be visiting Gelligaer Common again before too long, to see if we are lucky enough to come across them again. If you would like to see the full set of the photographs of the Welsh Mountain ponies, please go to our flickr page (there are pictures of mum and I there too).

Friday, 20 March 2009

Working livery

I am having to re-visit the idea of working livery. My livery costs have just gone up by £20 a month and my monthly income has just dropped by considerably more than that. The drop in income is hopefully only temporary, but nevertheless it has to be accommodated. Horse expenses are starting to feel too much to cope with again. In addition to this, Red is challenging me in the stable again now that I am not handling him everyday, which is tiresome. We are working it out, but I feel he might be better behaved if he were doing more and getting more exercise.

I've written to three livery yards to enquire about working livery. I've chosen these three for particular reasons. The first is a yard where close friends livery horses, the second I have ridden at a number of times and know the set-up, and the third is close to where we are now. I am not going to rush into a decision, but it seems that it will have to be working livery or sell Red.

The first yard has an extremely good reputation and is recognised as one of the top ten riding establishments in Britain. I know the place is trustworthy and Red would be well looked after. There are trails to ride, although they are not so conveniently accessed as the trails by where we are now. I would be able to ride with my friends which would be most enjoyable. My only reservation about this place is that most of his work would be schooling and I am not sure whether he is temperamentally suited for this.

The second place is a riding stables where 'ö-Dzin and I have ridden many times. The couple who run this yard are most pleasant and the horses all seem happy and well cared for. It is in a beautiful rural area, and the riding that is asked of them is hacking rather than schooling and includes beach riding. I think he would have a good life at this place. I also believe that they allow riders that they trust to hack out unaccompanied, so there may be the possibility of hiring a horse and riding together.

The third yard I do not know anything about but it is very close to where I am now so that it will be easy to check them out. If they want to have a look at Red I shall be able to ride him over there and have a look around. I have met groups from this yard on the Wenallt trail and the horses look well cared for. I believe they do some schooling, but he would get trail riding as well for variety. Perhaps it may be possible to hire a horse here to hack out together as well, or at least we could join a group ride. This place has the advantage of being nearly as close to home as I am now and so Red would still be able to ride on familiar routes. However this could also prove to be a disadvantage, as it may be unsettling for Red to be near Wyndham, but no longer living there. A complete change may be easier for him to adjust to.

Now I have to wait to hear from these places, so that we can take our explorations to the next stage. I'll keep you posted ...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Horse quiz

I'm picking up on a quiz that is circulating in horse-blog-world. See also Grey Horse Matters and A Bay Horse. If you want to join in the quiz the questions are as follows:
1. How old were you when you first started riding?
2. First horse ridden:
3. First horse trotted on:
4. First horse cantered on:
5. First Horse fallen off of:
6. Most recent horse fallen off of
7. Most terrifying fall:
8. First horse jumped with:
9. First horse who ran away with you:
10. First horse that scared the crap out of you:
11. First horse shown :!)
12. First horse to win a class with:
13. Do you/have you taken lessons:
14. First horse you ever rode bareback:
15. First horse trail ridden with:
16. Current Barn name:
17. Do you ride English or western?:
18. First Horse to place at a show with:
19. Ever been to horse camp?:
20. Ever been to a riding clinic?
21. Ridden sidesaddle?
22. First horse leased:
23. Last Horse Leased:
24. Highest ribbon in a show:
25. Ever been to an 'A' rated show?:
26. Ever competed in pony games/relay races?:
27. Ever fallen off at a show
28. Do you ride Hunter/Jumpers?:
29. Have you ever barrel raced?
30. Ever done pole bending?:
31. Favorite gait:
32. Ever cantered bareback?:
33. Have you ever done dressage?:
34. Have you ever evented?:
35. Have you ever mucked a stall?:
36. Ever been bucked off?:
37. Ever been on a horse that reared
38. Horses or ponies.
39. Do you wear a helmet?:
40. What's the highest you've jumped:
41. Have you ever ridden at night?:
42. Do you watch horsey television shows?:
43. Have you ever been seriously hurt/injured from a fall?:
44. Most falls in one lesson:
45. Do you ride in an arena/ring?:
46. Have you ever been trampled by a horse?:
47. Have you ever been bitten?:
48. Ever had your foot stepped on by a horse?:
49: Favorite riding moment:
50. Most fun horse you've ridden:

So my answers:
1. How old were you when you first started riding? about 8 or 10 I think.
2. First horse ridden: Jason
3. First horse trotted on: Jason
4. First horse cantered on: Midnight (see 9)
5. First Horse fallen off of: Midnight (see 9)
6. Most recent horse fallen off of: Dee
7. Most terrifying fall: I've been pretty lucky in that although I've suffered a few injuries, I've never had a really frightening fall. I think the most frightening experience was coming off Midnight when he bolted, but this was because I was very young, it was the first time I had cantered and he was completely out of control. In my memory he was a huge horse, but in reality he probably was only about 15.2 – I was riding little ponies mostly at that time.
8. First horse jumped with: Whisky

9. First horse who ran away with you:
Midnight (see 4, 5 & 7)
10. First horse that scared the crap out of you: Dee
11. First horse shown :!) Whisky – but I've never had the opportunity to do this sort of thing very much.
12. First horse to win a class with: never won anything because I never really entered anything.
13. Do you/have you taken lessons: starting having lessons when I got back into riding in my late 40s, but I don't have lessons now.
14. First horse you ever rode bareback: Jason.
15. First horse trail ridden with: Whisky.
16. Current Barn name: Wyndham Livery.
17. Do you ride English or western?: neither really as I ride treeless and bitless. I use Western reins.
18. First Horse to place at a show with: never happened.
19. Ever been to horse camp?: no.
20. Ever been to a riding clinic? no.
21. Ridden sidesaddle? no.

22. First horse leased: never done this.

23. Last Horse Leased:
never done this.
24. Highest ribbon in a show: I've never had a ribbon or a rosette ... sob!
25. Ever been to an 'A' rated show?: don't know what that means.
26. Ever competed in pony games/relay races?: I think I did do a bit of this as a teenager.
27. Ever fallen off at a show: no.
28. Do you ride Hunter/Jumpers?: no.

29. Have you ever barrel raced? no.
30. Ever done pole bending?: no.
31. Favorite gait: canter.
32. Ever cantered bareback?: yes - and stayed on! At one time I used to ride bareback a lot – out on the trail and everywhere.
33. Have you ever done dressage?: a little but only for fun, not competition.
34. Have you ever evented?: no.
35. Have you ever mucked a stall?: I'm tempted to say no ... but the truth is of course yes.
36. Ever been bucked off?: no - I have found I have been able to sit bucks on all the horses I've experienced this with ... so far.
37. Ever been on a horse that reared: yes, Dee. She reared a lot when I first had her – when I was on her and also when I was lunging her. Horses are very large animals when they are rearing in front of you...
38. Horses or ponies. I have always felt that 14.2 - 15.2 was my ideal size range. Red still feels a bit big for me at 16hh.
39. Do you wear a helmet?: yes, but I didn't when I spent a week on a dude ranch in Montana.
40. What's the highest you've jumped: about 2½ - 3 ft I would guess.
41. Have you ever ridden at night?: yes – in an arena.
42. Do you watch horsey television shows?: occasional.
43. Have you ever been seriously hurt/injured from a fall?: yes, 2 years ago I seriously injured my right knee.
44. Most falls in one lesson: only once per lesson was quite enough.
45. Do you ride in an arena/ring?: I do occasionally but only if I have to.
46. Have you ever been trampled by a horse?: no.
47. Have you ever been bitten?: yes, a few times.
48. Ever had your foot stepped on by a horse?: yes, too many times.
49: Favorite riding moment: jumping a really big log in the practice field at Pontcanna. Dee loves to jump and gave me the confidence to try because I knew I could trust her. At least one person had come off already at the jump because it really looked huge as you approached it – it was not terribly high but quite broad. Several other people in the class had refused to try it. I said to Dee: 'Come on Lass, we can do this' and we sailed over it, impressing our instructor.
50. Most fun horse you've ridden: I think that would have to be Whisky, a 6 year old gelding who I had the pleasure of riding for a few years as a teenager. I used to go out for day-long rides throughout the summer and had a really nice relationship with him. He taught me a lot and I realise with hindsight how much he trusted me.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A funny horse

This photograph was taken on Sunday. We just about managed to grab a half hour in the arena between the bursts of torrential rain. 'ö-Dzin rode Red first and he was really good and willing. Then our friend—who you can see in the picture—rode him, and Red was a little naughty. You could almost see him thinking, “Who is this? Why do I have to have this person on my back that I don’t know?’ He kept doing little bucks if she asked for anything more than a walk – and even the walk was reluctant. He’s a funny lad.

Last week I took him on another slightly adventurous ride. We went the road way to Rhiwbina Hill and then back through Coed y Wenallt. This is the first time that we have ridden this route on our own and he did get a little nervous, but behaved well despite this.

This morning he was in a mood. I had to put a headcollar on him and tie him in the end, because he would not stand still to be groomed and tacked, and I was not keen on being bitten or trampled. I know he is a bit ticklish under his belly, but this morning he was being excessively silly about the mud being removed. We then rode the Coe y Wenallt circuit – through the wood and back down the road. He was less nervous about the far end of the ride this time. However we have had a lot of really strong winds here over the last week, and there was quite a lot of debris on the trail. This made him rather spooky.

He is a funny horse. I prefer to ride on quite a loose rein, but this is not always possible with Red because he is likely to suddenly head off the track into the undergrowth if I let my concentration lapse. The track is clearly visible, but he just seems to like to wander off it if he is given the chance. On one of 'ö-Dzin’s first rides on Red—before we were aware of this idiosyncracy—Red quietly walked into a hedge. It was quite tricky for them to extricate themselves from its prickliness, and the only way out was to back him. This seems like a strange thing for a horse to do. Does anyone else have a horse with this habit?