Wednesday, 6 April 2011

In which - we do it!

I did it I did it I did it - and I've got the wrecked shoulders, lengthened arms, and achey thighs to prove it.  In fact this has been the first day since sunday that I've been able to walk downstairs without whimpering a pathetic little 'ow, ow, ow' on each step.
Okay - to be more accurate - we did it.  Bounce and me.  We did the Ullswater Endurance Ride and discovered for ourselves just why the very mention of Loadpot Hill can make even experienced endurance riders go slightly pale around the edges. And we not only lived to tell the tale, we arrived back in one piece with me still in the saddle - and Glory of Glories - Bounce passed the vetting and was announced both sound and fit.  Which for me had been the top, bottom and indeed middle of the whole thing. Don't get me wrong - I was delighted to take possession of (what must surely be) our hardest-won rosette yet.  But ribbons would have meant nothing if I hadn't brought my boy home safe and sound.
If that sounds a bit melodramatic -(it was just a horse-ride for heavens sake - wasn't it?) - then I can only say the sport isn't called Endurance Riding for nothing.  The Ullswater Ride was long, tough and demanding - and Bounce added to the already-considerable challenge, by pulling like a train practically the whole way round!  Of course most people just getting into the sport will do a few pleasure rides first to get themselves acclimatised before moving up a gear into the competitive echelons.  Not me and my horse.  Nu-uh. No siree Bob.   We just did one pleasure ride, then went straight for Ullswater.  The biggie. Little wonder then that the night before the ride found me seriously wondering how all the butterflies in my stomach had metamorphosed into giant black bats.
Normally I ride Bounce bitless - we two have hunted, cross-countried, showjumped, done a bit of western  and hacked for many miles together without feeling any need for metal in his mouth and in retrospect maybe I should have stuck to my convictions.  Instead I decided to err on the side of caution, thinking that a bit would afford me a bit of extra brake-power. Didn't. In fact all it did do was to irritate him.  I suspect half of the pulling was done to escape the bit as much as to make me let him go faster.
I rode in the company of a very experienced endurance competitor which was great in one respect as she clearly knew exactly she was doing - but in another sense added to the pressure a little bit as I was horribly conscious that we might be holding her back or spoiling her chances of making the grade.
In any case - we got home safe and sound, and I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I was particularly delighted to see two great chums - Annie and Therry - doing the ride on their fit and very able Clydesdales and they both had a great time.  Go Clydies!
So - will I do more endurance riding? I really hope so and I think that goes for Bounce as well. We learned many things on the Ullswater Ride - probably the most important thing being - that we have a great deal MORE to learn!  So watch this space...for the next chapter. And here are some pix from the ride...not in any particular order...

Thursday, 31 March 2011

In which Bounce has a change of pace...

Sunday's getting closer by the second and as I write, the weather is rubbish.  March is sticking true to type - it came in as a very sweet little lamb, and it may not exactly be going out as a fully-fledged lion but its pretty wild, wet and windy.  Hope its blown itself out by sunday.  Maybe better look out some thermals just in case!
Cumbria Endurance Group Chairman Ros Denby kindly gave up a chunk of her tuesday evening to help me with the route map and to talk me through the ride, what to expect, what I should be looking out for, what I need to do on the day and on the days leading up to the ride and so on.  Very valuable - and interesting stuff.  Ros is going to crew for me which is great because she's so experienced in endurance riding she'll be able to keep me right - if anybody can!
My husband Malcolm is coming along to film the event and my friend Kim Inglis is also coming along to record interviews etc, both on film and for the BBC Radio Cumbria show we co-present on an occasional basis.  All being well, these interviews will become part of our Easter Monday show (12-2pm folks, don't miss it!)  As for the filmed stuff - my plan is to turn that into a dvd for the Cumbria group and indeed anyone else who might be interested.
Last night was the final in the ex-racers showjumping points series we've been running at Greenlands Equestrian Centre (near Carlisle).  I've actually been doing it with my other horse Barra Lad, but he had a little bit of a puffy leg last night so I decided not to chance it.  Instead - I took Bounce.  We just did one class - the 75cms - as I wanted him to have a little bit of a workout but nothing too strenuous, and also to give him a change of work after all the hacking out we've been doing.  Actually Bounce and I haven't jumped for AGES and I reckon the rest from jumping may have done him the power of good, because he was on excellent form last night and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.  So much so - that we got second place!  We might even have made it to the red rosette if I'd been a bit surer about the jump-off course.  Not to worry - I was well chuffed with my lovely boy.  No photos from last night - but this is one taken at another showjumping day at Greenlands...
As you'll see if you look closely, he's in a bitless bridle, and that's the norm for him as he goes fine in it and I'm happy to know I'm not clunking him in the mouth.  However - I think at Ullswater we will go with a bit - just in case any extra brake-power is required...


Monday, 28 March 2011

In which our hero and heroine catch some rays...

... if truth be told, I should have been working today - but the sky was blue and the air was warm and the online forecast says it's going to rain tomorrow, so what's a girl to do?  Well - what this girl did - was to play hookey.  Not all day.  I worked in the morning and in the late afternoon and even in the evening. But when the sun was at its highest and the sky was at its bluest - Bounce and I headed for the beach. Frankly it would have seemed churlish not to...

As you can see, we practically had the place to ourselves - miles and miles of it and in the sunshine too.  I was in a state of bliss - especially since Bounce was at his absolute best.  And just to prove he was there too...

We trotted and cantered for long stretches on the sand, occasionally seeing a dog walker and a few sandpipers, but that was all.  I like working Bounce on the beach - the sand is much more forgiving than the hard road, though of course you do have to look out for the occasional deeper bits.
Could have stayed there all day.
It's just a few days now till the Ullswater ride and the nerves are starting to kick in. I am very excited about the ride and looking forward to it massively - but there's still just that little bit of me that insists on getting antsy about the whole thing.
When I come back in my next life - I would like longer legs - and a whole lot more bottle please!

Friday, 25 March 2011

In which Bounce is angelic...

We had the nicest possible day yesterday.  It was warm, it was bright, it was beautiful so Bounce and I took ourselves up to Caldbeck for a spot of hillwork.  We had an interesting moment when we passed one of those big road salt containers - this one happened to be open and had a large sheep right beside it, so Bounce decided it must be a dragon in disguise.  However, after we'd danced sideways round it, snorting indignantly all the while, we then passed heaven knows how many more of them along the way and he didn't so much as glance in their direction.  That's so like him - once he's decided a thing isn't really a threat, he crosses it off the list, unlike some horses which will forever freak out at the same bogeyman.
Turned out to be quite a social day which was surprising since we hardly saw a soul.  I think sunshine brings out the nicest side of people - so those we did see all had a friendly word to say.  Spoke to one cyclist - who turned out to be the husband of a fairly new friend - and then had a joyful meet-up with great chum Val Armstrong (of Radio Cumbria fame) who just happened to be taking her three aunties for a drive.  She was particularly taken with the fact that my horse was flirting with her - well, he is a bit of a lad!
We also saw lots of animals, and I really wished I had a camera when I saw the sweetest little Shetland foal - tiny little thing but full of fun as it trotted alongside its Mum.
Caldbeck is in a really lovely part of Cumbria, and I always enjoy going there, but being there with Bounce made it all the more special.  He was in an excellent mood - and very businesslike about the whole thing.  I love the way that he plays an active part in the relationship - he's definitely not the servant, but has feelings and opinions of his own. We don't always agree, but we generally manage to negotiate and come to some sort of compromise.
Today's pic shows Bounce - in thoughtful mode...

Monday, 21 March 2011

In which Bounce gets a cob on...

... and if that sounds bizarre - it's local lingo, meaning he was not his usual happy self.  They always say mares are the moody ones, but I reckon geldings can be just as stroppy, and Bounce was certainly a grump when I took him out yesterday morning. 
I think I know why though - for one thing I'd been warned that some miserable weather was heading my way and I wanted to get him out before it hit - so he didn't get his breakfast first. Bad Mummy!  Secondly - we've been riding out in company the last few days and he's enjoyed that, particularly when one very pretty mare joined us.  Yesterday we were alone, and that clearly didn't suit.
I know my boy well enough to read the signs and for the first mile or so of our ride, an indignant buck was always just simmering away on the back burner.  He sent a few 'this isn't fair, why have I got to be doing this?' whinnies back to the other boys still tucked up in their stables, and when we got to the turning which would have given us a short-cut home we did have a bit of a discussion about it.  However, he gave in gracefully and a little while later I felt the irritation and tension ease out of his body as though he'd decided he might as well just put up and shut up and get on with the job.  I do love that horse.
People who aren't accustomed to horses might well think they're all just much of a muchness - that a horse is a horse is a horse.  Couldn't be further from the truth.  They all have their own personalities and idiosyncracies, their likes and dislikes, their fears and favours.  That's what makes them so special.  Developing a bond with a horse is one of the most magical things on earth.  Bounce and I don't always see eye to eye, but we do know one another pretty well and I genuinely adore the socks off him.
Picture for today - our young Black Lab Dixie who is the absolute embodiment of joy and a book all on her own. 

Saturday, 19 March 2011

In which she starts to wonder...

...just how big a challenge she's really taken on.  A little knowledge as they say can be a dangerous thing, and I keep getting little snippets of information about the Ullswater Ride - and most specifically about something called Loadpot Hill.  Now that sounds quite cute doesn't it - like the gentle sort of undulation you might find in Bilbo Baggins territory perhaps. Or then again, perhaps not.
Why am I starting to think it's maybe not exactly benign?  Because all the riders who've done it seem to speak of it in tones of respect if not downright awe.  I've actually detected a definite bond between Those Who Have Done Loadpot, and spotted a certain gleam in their eyes when they look upon those who are about to do it for the first time.
So - deciding I really should find out more - I googled it.  Which is where the dangerous knowledge bit comes in.  I found a newspaper report from 2006 when the ride was very nearly called off altogether because 'the weather threatened to make the planned route over Loadpot Hill, at 671 metres high, too dangerous for the horses.'  And I found a walker's report which simply said ominously that Loadpot is not a good place to be in the mist.  
Hey ho.  At least I can reassure myself that they've never actually misplaced a rider there - or not for long anyway.  Also - I'm going to be in excellent company.  Alas Ros Denby who was originally going to accompany me has had to change her plans, but Jean Gilbert has stepped up to take her place, and she has enormous experience of endurance riding, so I know I'll be in good hands.
Bounce and I have been making the very most of the lovely weather we've been having over the past few days, but I rather suspect any optimism about Spring arriving might yet turn out to be a tad premature.  Still - we'll enjoy it while it lasts.
Today's photo is of my other horse Barra Lad, who is definitely feeling that his nose has been pushed out of joint since Bounce is getting all the attention.  Barra Lad is also an ex-racer, but he's a real pipe and slippers sort of chap who doesn't even like taking the lead when out hacking with another horse, so was certainly never destined for greatness on the track.  I don't care though - he's a thoroughly nice character and we get along very well together.  So here he is...

Monday, 7 March 2011

In which she wonders why her legs are aching...

... just a little bit, and then realises it could possibly be because of the rising trot she'd been doing for quite a large part of a 28k pleasure ride just the day before.  Yes - t'is true - my boy Bounce and I have done our first ride with Cumbria Endurance and we have not only lived to tell the tale - we both positively loved the experience.  Any slight fears that he might not be quite fit enough proved groundless as he trotted along like a good 'un with ears pricked and determination in every stride.  Frankly I reckon he'd have been quite happy to go round the whole ride again, especially if he could have persuaded me to LEAVE THE BRAKES ALONE!

The ride was at Mockerkin near Cockermouth and true to form I got lost on the way there - twice.  First of all I nearly ended up in Cockermouth.  Then I nearly ended up in Whitehaven.  Then I really did end up in Mockerkin, which is a beautiful little village, but has the kind of twisty, twiny, up-hilly roads that made me enormously grateful I was driving a nice little horsebox and not towing a trailer. My thanks to the farmer who helped me to turn-round and head back the way I'd just come...

Did eventually find the location - and met many of the Endurance gang and discovered that it's completely true what they say - this is a very friendly and helpful sport.  It's also a very inclusive one - you'd be really hard-pressed to pick out a 'typical' Endurance rider or indeed horse, because all sorts do it - and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Must also congratulate the organisers for sorting out the most perfect weather - bright, clear and cool with perfect visibility over the enchanting Lakeland countryside and not a pesky fly in sight.  I frequently became so entranced with my surroundings I completely forgot to look where I was going, so it's just as well I was riding with Ros Denby, Chair of the Cumbria group and highly experienced Endurance person, who kept a close eye on her map, never missed a single marker along the way and managed to hook me back whenever I was in danger of straying off the track.

Our two horses were a pretty good match - my ex-racer Bounce and Ros's pretty coloured part Arab Yoffi are both keen, forward-going chaps and apart from the odd 'Yeah, who do you think you are anyway' flick back of the ears and sidewards evil-eye glance, they rubbed along together fine.  On the odd occasion when we saw other riders up ahead, I had to convince my lad that he really didn't have to overtake them and beat the rest of the park to the finishing line, and when we found a nice uphill stretch I admitted defeat and let him have his head for a while - but apart from that, he was a bit of a star and I was delighted with him.
At the end of the ride I was given the choice between a bar of chocolate and a rosette - it was a tough call, but it had been a special occasion and I wanted something to mark that, so the ribbons are now adorning the wall in my office.  And very pretty they look too.

Here's a couple of pix taken during the ride - just look at that sunshine and scenery - and the great big grin on my face.  Says it all!