Friday, 25 February 2011

First real test...

...and I think we coped pretty well.  Nikki Pearson from the Cumbria Endurance Group brought her TB Donald over to my village and we rode out together.  After days of solo hacking, Bounce was a bit on his toes because there was another horse to show off to - another ex-racer what's more, but the two settled quite quickly apart from the odd bit of face pulling.
I had intended to drive the route first to work out its length, but that went the way of all good intentions - however I reckon it was around the twelve mile mark.  There was no danger of plodding today - Bounce was really putting his best hoof forward, and inclined to go a bit too fast if anything (that's how he won his races - determined to be in front!) However Nikki liked the fact that he can get into a nice rhythm and maintain it. He also has a good, purposeful walk, and was really working himself well, yet never got puffed.
We had one interesting moment when we passed a huge yellow digger - Bounce would probably have gone past it with little more than a glance had it been on the road, but it was in a field, partially hidden by a hedge and making creaky, cranking noises and he really didn't like that, so we had a bit of a dance and a snort and then he careered into Donald.  However, histrionics over, we got past the yellow dragon safely and completed the ride without any other episodes.
Horseback conversations can be the best - and Nikki was a great companion, happy to share her own endurance riding experiences and to pass on some very valuable tips and advice.  We talked about everything from heart-rates to haynets, and lots in-between - including knickers!  Of that - more anon.

Thought you might like to meet some more members of the family - so here's our senior cat Puskas - masquerading for reasons best known to himself - as an easter egg.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

In which Bounce lives up to his name...

Well a boy can't be angelic all the time.  Took Bounce out for a hack today and all was going well till he spotted another horse in the distance.  Immediately he went from bumble mode to full-alert.  I'm not really sure if he was cross to see a stranger on his patch or just delighted to have a change from the routine, but either way, he decided to make an issue of it.  True to form - as we approached the other horse, Bounce did a little sideways cavort - and then a ruddy great buck.
Happily for me, I didn't come off.  That's the funny thing with Bounce really - I honestly don't think he has any real intention of decking me. Heavens knows I'm a lightweight - both metaphorically and literally, so it's not hard to send me flying if a horse really wants to - and previous horses have been all too aware of this.  When he's in the mood, Bounce can buck for Britain - and he can choose his moments as well.  First time he ever did it with me, we just happened to be crossing a bridge over a river at the time, so that was a very interesting moment!  But so far (touching wood as I write this) he hasn't pressed the ejector switch.
Tomorrow Bounce and I are going for a longer hack (10-15 miles-ish) with a proper Endurance rider, so that should definitely be interesting.  I'll let you know how we get on!
This is a picture of Bounce at a show, looking like butter wouldn't melt...not sure what my cheesy grin is all about.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Talking horse...

No, not like Mister Ed (cue blank looks from anyone under Baby Boomer age...) - I just mean having the opportunity to talk about horses without seeing the listeners' eyes glaze over!  I did just that last night - at length - after being invited to do a talk to an open meeting of the Ellen Valley Riding Club.  It was a smashing evening - full of laughter and shared tales about horses.  My subject was The Great Clydesdale Migration - my brilliant adventure when I rode Clydesdale horses from the Isle of Skye to south Cumbria. I will forever be a huge fan of the magnificent Clydie after that trip - and Shires are pretty special too.
Understandably some of the members wondered why I now have ex-racers instead of a Clydesdale - and it's a good question.  In a perfect world I'd have both - and probably a Quarter horse and maybe an Arab, possibly even an Icelandic as well.
I actually think Clydesdales and Racehorses have something very important in common.  I know that might sound ridiculous - but here's my point.  Both breeds tend to be considered as brilliant at doing just one thing - for the Clydesdale that would be working the land - for the racehorse it would be winning races.  Obviously.  But both breeds actually have much more going for them - and I like to think I'm doing my very small bit to get that message out.  The days of Clydesdales earning their keep on farms may be over, but they can be fantastic riding horses - and racers can go on to do all manner of things once their time on the track is over.  What's more, both breeds really deserve to be given that second chance.
Here endeth today's sermon...with pix of a touching moment shared with my all-time favourite Clydesdale - Max.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Fitting quarts into pint pots...

...or to be more precise, trying to squeeze 24 hours worth of stuff into 12.  If anyone out there knows the secret, please do tell.  There just ain't enough time in the day.
Had to make do with a quick whizz round the block with Bounce this morning - and to be perfectly honest I'd had quite a hard time persuading myself to get up early enough to ride out - bed was just so warm and cosy and the sky beyond the curtains looked a bit murky and uninviting.
However, I did the deed and was really glad I had, because it turned out to be a beautiful morning, cold and crisp and blue-skied and it was a joy to be with my boy Bounce, just the two of us all alone on the quiet country roads.  Well, alone apart from the skinny little lambs who went running to their indignant mamas as we trotted past their fields - and the two ducks who sent us skittering across the road when they suddenly launched themselves from the riverbank - and the entire field full of birds who lifted as one into the sky, chattering their disapproval at being disturbed in such an unseemly manner.
Riding out in the company of friends is always a delight, but when it's just you and your horse and you're getting on just fine together, and you see his ears flick back to listen when you talk to him - there's not a lot nicer in the world quite honestly.
As far as preparing for the endurance ride goes - so far I've just been concentrating on getting Bounce out for as many hacks as possible, but soon I'll have to start working out things like our average trot speed and calculating distances and so on.  Today though - I just enjoyed the ride.
Here's my boy a couple of weeks ago, enjoying a bit of a cavort in the winter sunshine...

and here am husband calls this one my 'Eskimo Nell' pose...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The other half of the partnership... me.  Gilly Fraser.  Used to be a fulltime Journalist, but took redundancy from Border TV a couple of years ago and have been happy freelance ever since. Happy because I no longer have to get up at 4am to do GMTV presenting or production shifts - but even more so because I can now spend more time with my horses.  Of course being freelance means never saying no to any job offered - as the aforementioned horses (and dogs and cats) have to be fed.
My working life is now an interesting mix of writing (primarily for Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine and Cumberland News) - PR (for Paragon Vets, RealFarm Holidays and Santa School to name but three very different clients), DVD production and various other stuff.
As mentioned yesterday, I'm in the process of getting myself and my horse Foxmeade Dancer (Bounce) ready to do a 40k endurance ride in April.  I've been riding him out most days, just on the roads.  Ridiculously we don't have a single bridleway in hacking distance (apart from one that could only be reached by riding along a horrendously busy stretch), but thankfully there are some great - and quiet - country roads, so it's easy to rack up the miles. I'll also do some beach work, probably starting next week.  In the meantime, to get myself fit, I've started taking Pilates classes - and I'm really enjoying them.
Here's another picture of the photogenic member of the partnership...

Friday, 18 February 2011

in which our heroine accepts a challenge...

...and the challenge is this - to take part in a 40k endurance ride round Ullswater in April.  As challenges go, this is right up my street.  I love horses, I love riding, I love the Lake District - why on earth would I refuse?  Ah but there's the small matter of getting not just myself fit after a slothful winter but also my horse.  He's normally quite a fit chap - likes to keep moving, likes to keep active.  But he too had to suffer the stir-craziness of being stable-bound by frosty, icy roads (and a neurotic mother who wouldn't let him venture out onto the nasty hard rutted field, just in case...)  Consequently - we have quite a ways to go - and not very long to do it in.

Let me introduce you to the important member of the partnership.  This is Foxmeade Dancer... looking a bit gorgeous I think, after a shower.  He's a Thoroughbred, ex-racer, 16.1 in his socks and better known to his buddies as Bounce.  In his racing days he won a few races over hurdles, then injured a tendon and was retired from the track and came to live with me.
My original intention was just to get him fit and ready to rehome - it never even occurred to me that I could ride an ex-racer.  I thought he'd be far too hyper and hot-blooded for me.  But he's a gent -an absolute sweetheart. oh yes he can have his moments - he is a horse after all, he does have feelings and little moments of impatience such as when he wants to go faster than a trot and I don't - and I can actually hear him snorting the words 'Oh for God's sake Mother!' But usually we get along pretty well together.
We've been together for a couple of years and in that time we've done lots of hacking, a fair bit of low-level showjumping, tiny bit of dressage, some cross-country - and he's turned out to be a bit of a dude at western. So he's a real all-rounder.  But - apart from a couple of very enjoyable pleasure rides (when his brakes went awol) this will be our first go at endurance.
I'm doing this through the Cumbria branch of Endurance GB - but if at any time you fancy finding out more about the sport itself or the national body, there's loads of good stuff on their website -