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!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

In which our heroine is dumbfounded... receive 'The Stylish Blogger Award' - and can't quite decide whether she's more dumbfounded about the award - or about being called 'stylish' - but is in any case highly chuffed.  The award was presented by my good friend Janice Horton who writes a mean book as well as a mean blog - and her latest work Bagpipes and Bullshot is set to hit the heights.  I heartily recommend the book's purchase - but please don't do it till April 1, because that will allow her to barnstorm the mighty Amazon's bestseller lists.
Winners of this esteemed award are asked to list seven facts about themselves - and then pass the award on.  So here goes...

1/ I once fell asleep while reading a news bulletin on Border TV - and woke up in time to find myself still talking - and describing the local football team as 'The Cuckoos' instead of 'The Cumbrians.'

2/ My proudest boast is that I was part of The Great Clydesdale Migration, riding Clydies 450 miles from the Isle of Skye to the south of Cumbria - and I was the only one to ride the entire trip.

3/ David Essex once asked me out for a curry - and I had to say no! (my heart still bleeds over that one...)

4/ As part of the legendary (?) girl group Donna and the Donettes, I once sang 'Hey Big Spender while clad in camisole, stockings and suspenders - in front of an audience!

5/ I did the Leap Year proposal thing and fortunately was accepted!

6/ Mills and Boon published nine of my books - under the pen-name of Rachel Elliot and it still grieves me that I didn't make it to the tenth.

7/ Animals are the heartbeat of my life - especially my horses, dogs and cats.

And now to pass on the Stylish Blogger Award - and I have no hesitation whatsoever in presenting it to:

All very worthy winners.

Tomorrow I'm doing my first endurance ride.  So I have a saddle to clean - and a horse.  All being well - I'll report back and let you know how it went.  Touch wood!

Friday, 4 March 2011

In which knickers are dropped...

...into the conversation.  Heavens - what else could you possibly have thought I meant?  The aforesaid undergarments are obviously of prime concern to endurance horseriders, because they have now featured large in two conversations about the sport.  The subject first came up as Nikki and I trotted our horses round the peaceful lanes and she passed on a few timely tips about riding kit.  Then the K word made another appearance during my first meeting with Ros Denby - who chairs the local Endurance Group and has gallantly volunteered to buddy me round Ullswater.
It's not hard to see why knickers are so important - endurance riders are in the saddle for hours so the last thing they need is to be wearing anything that nips, rubs, pinches or in any other way causes discomfort.  Thongs would most decidedly not be a good option!  The rest of the kit is important as well especially since you can be riding in just about any kind of conditions from pouring rain to blazing sunshine, so layers seem to be the sensible way to go.  Then there are all the things you need to carry with you - map, first-aid kit, bottle of water to keep you hydrated, mobile phone, watch - and those are just the very basics.  Those who get seriously into the sport often have special saddles, bridles, numnahs and generally sport Global Positioning Systems on their wrists to boot.  Oh yes and speaking of boots - it's a good idea to carry a spare one of those as well, in case your horse casts a shoe.  Not exactly a sport that lets you travel light, but then you are trying to cater for every eventuality.
I really enjoyed the meeting with Ros - she's passionate about the sport and it shows.  She's also, by her own admission, competitive, so while I'm sure she'll take my total inexperience into account, she'll still want us both to do our best.
So - are the nerves starting to kick in yet?  You betcha.  I know my horse, I know he can be solid as a rock and utterly dependable - but he can also get excited and antsy and hard to hold.  To be honest I'm expecting him to show both sides of his character during the endurance rides.  I'll just have to hope that we finish the ride together and in reasonable shape - that'll do me fine for the first one at least.  I'll leave the fine-tuning for later.
Today's photo shows our senior dog Zara.  She's a German Shepherd/Retriever and we got her from a local rescue centre just after we got married - instead of going on honeymoon!  We've had her for 10 of her 11 years and she's as close to sainthood as any dog could be.