A giant, an electric fence and the beautiful Scottish rain

So this weekend it was another double riding session. I think that as well as this being due to the opportunity both literally and financially of riding twice a week it has at least in part been due to the fact I can’t run.

Riding & Road Safety

Saturday was an opportunity to work on our riding and road safety manoeuvres. I have ridden out on the road quite a lot and feel confident about that along with the written part however the more complicated simulated route I was not so sure of so this was a great opportunity to work on this. This is a series of different obstacles you could come across on the road and we are taught how to negotiate them in the relative safety of the fields at the stables with beams for kerbs and flour for road markings. There are even fake traffic lights!

I have been riding the beautiful Am and the bolshy but sweet HB for Riding and Road Safety so far but on Saturday the stables were quieter and we were all able to have a horse each as many more were available. As the tallest person there by a country mile (to be fair the majority are kids) I was given MJ. Now MJ is a big horse, they believe there is some shire in him and he is a beautiful dun colour and his coat changes with the seasons. He is a friendly lad although he doesn’t like to work too hard. 🙂

I have ridden quite a lot with the lass who has him on loan from the stables so I have seen how fantastic he can be. Many of my friends in our group lesson also enjoy riding him but I have rarely had the chance to ride him and was wondering about him in the riding and road safety environment.

Well I found him difficult. I found him difficult to get moving and difficult to stop him from hugging the fake kerbs of the road or taking me into the electric fence. I assumed the electric fences wasn’t on as he was literally leaning on it and my stirrup was touching it but then I heard the shout, ‘Get off the fence, it is on!’. Woops. I was getting increasingly frustrated with him, which wasn’t fair as he wasn’t being naughty just lazy. We had a nice trot and I am definitely improving on looking behind me to check traffic. I did mistakenly signal left when I planned to turn right but I noticed my mistake quickly and corrected it. Apparently I don’t signal for long enough so I am practising counting to 3 while holding my arm out. The fact I have to practice this kind of worries me anyway! However when it was all over and we had been soaked to the skin in a Scottish ‘shower’ I was told that if that had been the test I would have passed. Really pleased but think they were being generous either that or didn’t see that during the emergency dismount my stirrup also decided to dismount!

A Sunday Hack

Sunday’s weather was horrible here, just heavy rain followed by slightly lighter rain followed by rain so heavy even the ducks took shelter. So full waterproofs it was! We all looked really beautiful and add onto that a hi-viz vest, well that’s a look everyone can enjoy. We were heading out and about as the school was pretty drenched and the rain over the last few days had softened the ground outside – time for longer canters anyone?

I had Au when I went to collect her she was happy because she was eating so got to do all the tack up no problem, but still after how many times I can never get my stirrups correct and have to fix them once on.We were last in the ride which made Au grumpy, she seemed pretty stiff initially in the walk and I had to push her on quite a lot which is unusual for her but I had been warned that she needed to be active from the start.

It was so green and lush in the countryside around the stables that all the horses kept trying to have a cheeky wee munch. I was lucky with Au that she listened to me and didn’t try to eat again after being checked the first couple of times. With MJ it is a losing battle as he is also tall enough to get to the leaves on the trees, Au & I were sometimes showered with leaves as a result.

After a great trot Au loosened off and when the call for the first canter came we were off like a rocket. She is brilliant in canter, easy to steady and steer – we kept a good distance from MJ as he was kicking up mud with his hooves and I think the pair of us decided it would be best if we could see! 🙂 It was a decent length of canter and the ground felt really nice and springy, not like the hard concrete feel of the mud trails previously. When we are outside we all canter in forward seat to keep off their backs and I felt my balance was good in the 1st canter.

In the 2nd canter I was taken a little by surprised. Usually in a larger group we pass the messages from the instructor back, well one of the riders didn’t pass back that we were to canter so all of a sudden they accelerated away from me. I was very lucky with Au that she is so honest she waited for me to ask her to go rather than just zoom off after them. That canter was great again but I didn’t feel I had her as straight, she also nearly grabbed a snack on the hoof! That was interesting! I should point out that this is not my instructor’s fault that I didn’t hear, I should have been paying attention myself.

The only slight issue with Au out and about is that she is pretty nervous. At one point she spooked from her own farting! That was a first. Luckily she is quite easy to get back under control and I kept reassuring her, making sure she knew that I was in control and that everything was fine. Our last canter was up hill and do you know I reckon we could have passed the larger horses if we had wanted to! She was great and seemed to really be enjoying herself, I felt I had her much straighter again and I felt totally balanced on her in forward seat. We were approaching walkers and as always slowed to a trot then a walk a good distance before we reached them but unfortunately the dog they had with them scared her and she tripped making her spook. Again I just spent time talking to her. By this point it was getting really hot and waterproofs are NOT breathable regardless of what they say!! Luckily we were nearly back to the stables. Once there the usual routine ensued taking the tack off, lavender washing the horses, then we were just helping put rugs on and leading the horses to the lorry.

So two horse riding sessions, two different horses and two different experiences – going to be sad to go back to my once a week riding sessions. Oh and I have booked my beach ride with Cumbrian Heavy Horses again – this should be fun!

On the running front I am going to try a walk/run this week and have been keeping my interest in running going by reading a couple of books on running – Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Both good books but really different, only part of the way through Born to Run and I am enjoying it. Interestingly Running Like A Girl has made me more interested in upping my distances, watch this space – the M-word might crop up 🙂

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Sunshine & Stirrups

A brief update from this weekend. I was down at the stables twice this weekend which was lovely. A wee lesson & hack with a friend who was riding at the stables for the first time then Sunday I had my usual lesson.

The continuing beautiful weather means that we can’t canter outside and that the school is so dusty cantering in there is limited so there was a lot of walk and trot work this weekend. Although I did get one unexpected canter from Td!

Saturday’s session was lovely. Just a little short lesson in walk and trot in the school, my instructor was really checking my friend’s ability and I had to wake Td up! He was a little ploddy initially and wasn’t picking his feet up well in the trot so I gave him a little tap to remind him to use his back-end engine – I love that phrase by the way. Well, he sparked up entirely and we began to get a little out of control so I had to steady him a couple of times and he briefly broke into canter on one of corners. While I felt I had him back under control he still just makes me giggle, it just feels like he is rushing to get somewhere. After the short spell in the school, my instructor got Jm and we all proceeded to head out onto the tracks at the back of the farm. It was such lovely weather, blue skies and so sunny. The views were gorgeous, we could see all the way down to the Firth of Forth and with all the trees and many of the flowers in bloom it was a stunning landscape. The perfect way to see it is by horseback – or maybe that’s just me. With my terrible sense of direction I am rarely at the front of hacks (the phrase ‘Your other left’, has been used before) but with Td it is always advisable to put him at the front if you can. We did a bit of trotting outside during which I had to check Td quite a lot as he was convinced we should canter. I did release him halfway up one of the hills once he had got the message. On our journey back to the stables we were briefly on the road where I took the opportunity to test my riding and road safety skills.

There was a brief moment of panic by the horses when the motor bike who had kindly stopped to let us pass started his engine again and revved loudly. This sent Jm into a slight bit of a panic and Td shot forward but I had him back under control quickly. It isn’t the motorbiker’s fault but it is just another timely reminded as to why you can’t be complacent with horses on the road – after all these were all well-schooled responsive horses and it still gave them a shock (gave us all a shock too!)

Back in the stable I quickly washed Td down with lavender wash then had to turn him out as there were no other horses left in his stable block and Td is not happy about being left alone. He was being incredibly cute in the field drinking water then curling his top lip back after each mouthful. Even though he isn’t a particularly young horse I think I am always going to think of Td as a giant kid!

Sunday’s lesson was harder work and being at 3pm the school had just been heating up all day and was as dry as a desert. I got given B! Now I don’t often ride B, before I went for the beach ride on the Clydesdales last year I had a couple of private lessons on him to get used to the ‘throwing forward’ motion heavy horses do when moving into canter but I don’t think I have been on him since. One of my friend’s rides him and loves him but I just never felt I had clicked with him. I somehow always felt he was ‘letting’ me ride him rather than me being in control.

On Sunday it all felt a bit different. I did have problems getting him into corners and at times he would try to turn one way and I would have to fight him to get him to turn the way I wished to go. However, I think the turning issue was probably down to my balance as for a large horse he is incredibly responsive to the rider’s seat. The cornering issue is due to his size but I found it much easier to get him into the corners the faster he was going, I am not sure why that is. Last time I rode B I remember being quite scared by his speed, he fairly motors along in the school and I didn’t feel in control. Now I don’t know if it is because I have now ridden Ct or if it might be because even when P plays up I feel I can control him more but I actually felt in more control this time.

We did some trot work, circles and turns with us trying to achieve inside bend while keeping the horses out in the corners. My instructor asked me to push B on quite a bit and it felt like a fast trot but she said that he could do better. Once I had him in a better trot I found I could get him out to the corners much easier however I still had a problem of him transitioning back to walk unexpectedly. To try and change this I started to push him on more then use my inside leg to keep him moving while using circles and turns to slow him once he felt like he was gaining too much speed. This seemed to work much better and I was definitely relaxing and even warming to B, I kind of hadn’t expected that.

Next up…canter. Now again I was slightly unsure on this one, I have seen B pin his ears back and fly around that school but with the dust and how little cantering we have been doing I was pretty sure I could cope with him today. We were only doing one short canter on the left rein due to the desert-like conditions. I started off in trot with my instructor saying she would tell me when his trot was good enough to ask for canter, it took me a couple of corners to get a good trot then ….I got a brilliant transition from him. I mean so good that my instructor actually shouted ‘lovely transition’. I got a lovely controlled canter up and around the school before pulling him back to trot. The look of surprise on my face said it all as everyone else kept telling me it looked good.

After a wee cool down it was back to the stables where B proceeded to shove me about while I untacked him and lavender washed him. He is a very cuddly horse though and it perfectly happy for people to scratch his ears and belly all day long while he chews contentedly on his haylage. I also helped my friend with Am as she can be a little bite-y when being dealt with and unfortunately managed to take a chunk out of said friend’s arm previously.

Another lovely weekend spent bumbling around at the stables, I could get used to this – although I doubt my bank balance could. Back to a bit of Riding & Road Safety revision next week, wish me luck. Oh and no motorbikes would be great 😉

Ponies & Pizzas

I mentioned previously that my stables were closed for two weeks then I happened to be away on holiday for the weekend they re-opened which meant a whole three weeks with no riding. Whew, so obviously what you should do here is ease yourself back in or… do as I do which was to have a 3 hour hack on the Friday night and then a lesson on the Sunday. Currently my legs are questioning who authorised this decision.

So Friday night was a new venture for the stables, the adults who ride there frequently badger our instructors about the fact that the kids get ‘own a pony’ days, picnic rides and little mini pony camps while we don’t. So in the first of a few evening rides we had a beer & pizza night, with horses. It was a brilliant idea and worked really well. Someone drove the horse box up to a picnic site and left it there with the hay nets all set up and the drinks, seats, napkins etc all in the back then came back down the road. Then we all arrived, placed our order for pizza and set about getting our horses ready – I had the lovely Mr K again who greeted me with a look of ‘this is clocking off time so why do I have a saddle on?’

We only walked and trotted as due to the warm weather the ground is like concrete out there and the usual canter tracks were dusty and solid – you could hear the hoof beats in trot very loudly. Of course the fact we couldn’t canter didn’t stop Mr K having a shot at cantering at every opportunity. He is one of the nimblest horses I think I have ridden – you have to keep a check on him but once you have done that he is fine with trotting. I was also taught quite early on that he is one of the horses who if you don’t work the reins i.e. squeeze then release he will fight you and speed up anyway leaving you feeling like you have no control. I also love the fact that to catch up with the bigger horses after a pee stop he tends to try and canter rather than trot. I was caught out by this once before so I am now on to him and make sure to check him during the trots.

It was a truly beautiful night. We were pretty much undisturbed heading out and back from the picnic spot and were encouraged to move around chatting to others but we didn’t quite manage it – I think we were still all a little ‘no we will stick with what we are comfortable with’. It was lovely though to just be able to chat and chill out while riding through the countryside.

The picnic was really well organised, our pizzas were waiting for us and there was plenty of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to go around – I think I should have drunk more water as I felt pretty ropey later on. Mr K was happy with his hay net although I had to spend a little time convincing him that he wanted it rather than to have a good itch using my back as a scratching board. The horses were all given a good drink and wiped with lavender wash before we settled down to eat. Ct is not great at staying tied up so his rider ended up holding him but he was a pest! A cute, funny pest. He wouldn’t stop trying to eat everyone’s pizza, drink the beer and cider then decided to eat the tree above us all promptly causing a shower of leaves into our pizzas 🙂

By the time we got back it was over four hours since we left and while I had a great time I was starting to feel really unwell (dehydration and totally my own fault – I am old enough and ugly enough to know that I should drink more). I put that down to the mistake I made when turning out Mr K (with his harem of women T and Au), I left his head collar on and just unclipped his rope. Immediately I realised my mistake and had to chase after him, luckily for me if you walk up to him with confidence Mr K just stays where he is so it didn’t take long but still very embarrassing – I know better than that!

Sunday’s lesson took place early in the morning, which can only be a good thing as the temperature just kept climbing and even though it was warm I felt ok. Now, I know my instructor well enough to have realised that if I said I hadn’t ever ridden Jm on Friday night’s ride then a lesson was heading my way sometime soon. Now Jm is the type of pony I have always feared. A wee rascal essentially. He bucks going into canter, will happily potter off and do his own thing unless checked and has sometimes flown round the school so fast you just see the dust. I have a fear of bucking, no matter how many times I have managed to sit to it and I have managed to sit to it all I remember are the falls at my previous stables. This raises my nerves, I’m not ashamed to admit I hoped I would never ride Jm so it was with a sinking heart I went to the stable to get him.

Then I couldn’t get him out of his stable, no matter with all the pulling, the tapping, the turning he wasn’t budging. I was getting quite nervous now, what was this lesson going to be like if I couldn’t even move my horse from the stable?? Of course my instructor came along and he immediately moved forward and out the stable. At this point I must have had a face like a slapped arse as my instructor said ‘Do not ride Jm with an attitude, he will not respond to you if you have an attitude. You will love him.’. Yeah right I thought.

Due to the dust in the school we did a lot of our lesson in one of the fields, which is quite fun. We were trotting around bushes in figures of eight, trotting around different objects to check the bend on the horses and doing transitions from walk to halt and walk to trot. And if I am honest I started to love Jm even at this point! Every time I took my eye off him he would hare off towards the gate and look at it as if to say ‘Well I am done!’ then once I had got him listening a bit more then I found he kept wanting to go and hang out with my instructor, again very cute and also made me realise I had to work with him. He did a little jump up in the air and tripped a few times making me giggle away. He kept looking surprised every time we met one of the other horses, in other words he has character.

Now the part came that I was dreading – off to the school for canter work. Now I have seen Jm canter and he bucks like a trooper going into it, not always but often and it is only him trying to sort himself out there is no malice in it, you can see that. So off we went towards the school, first to go for the canter was T and as always she did it beautifully (the lass riding her was brilliant), then P was up now he did buck like a mad wee thing but his rider sat very well and the instructor shouted to kick him on and he immediately settled and they had a beautiful canter down the long side ot the school. My turn…

Well he went like a rocket, I got a lovely transition, I barely needed to move my outside leg and we flew around the school. I don’t think I took a breath but that’s something to work on. My instructor told me that I had essentially stood up in the stirrups so that next time I had to try and sit to his canter. On the other rein I was essentially a bit lazy and didn’t ask properly expecting another easy transition but no luck. It was my third attempt before I got him cantering but it was another beautiful but quick canter, we even got a lovely turn across the school in. What a star!

By the time we were finished the sun was really hammering down and the school is like a little sun trap at the best of times so we made sure they were washed down with lavender wash and given a good drink. I gave Jm lots of fuss and attention which he seemed to enjoy. He did keep getting a fright from his automatic water trough as whenever he drank it would make a funny noise while refilling. Quite cute really. So what did I learn? Never, ever judge a pony before you have ridden it. Oh and hold on tight if you canter Jm 🙂

Why Do I run?

Aah running I love and hate you in equal measures.

So I went to the physio last week about my ankle as I thought I was about ready to start running again, a wiser soul than myself recommended I see the physio rather than just start so…that ended in me getting exercises, told not to run until I have full inflection in my ankle and getting taped up like some form of athlete. So I thought a post on why I run could be nice just now as I can’t run and I wanted to let everyone know it isn’t always about the aesthetics of the body.

As you are all aware I am a runner, not a fast runner, not a particularly good runner – I know everything I am meant to do but don’t always do it. The run following a curry was not a great idea nor was the run after  one too many alcoholic beverages – my running buddies pointed out they were getting drunk from the fumes I contest that but anyway….

So why do I run? I run because I enjoy it. It really is as simple as that. Running clears my mind; it takes away the distractions and stresses of everyday life. It is something so simple in many ways that if I feel down or angry I can pull on my running shoes and when I come back I feel that things are a little clearer.

I like the way I feel when I run, I feel strong and capable of anything. In races, I run against myself and in all honest sometimes against my friends. But at the end no matter what happens we cheer and hug, I have had low moments in races and the acts of support from total strangers have always touched me. Then there are all the times I wouldn’t have got round without my friends I made through running.

I enjoy pushing myself as hard as I can when running (at times) and love that feeling you get when you realise just what your body is capable of. I know there have been comments that the push it attitude isn’t the best but it works for some of us and I am one of them. I never want to wet myself during exercise or vomit because I pushed myself so hard, but yes I enjoy feeling like I gave something my all and my limbs are shaking. I enjoy getting faster times, I enjoy complaining about a hard hill session and I like eating a cake when I feel like it.

In short, running I miss you and I promise you even though I will hate every minute of those first runs – legs tired, lungs bursting and every part of your mind telling you to stop – I will persevere because I know that running is now just part of me. I am officially a runner!

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June WWC

So June was a bit of a busy month for me. I got injured and have not been running since, some wee twats tried to steal my bike and damaged my back wheel so badly I need a new one, I tried a dressage test for the first time and I got a new job! So an interesting mix.

On to the Wartime Wardrobe Challenge round up though. Firstly I have been taking inspiration from Franca at Oranges And Apples for a while now over her charity shop finds and finally bit the bullet on a lovely sunny Sunday at the start of June went to the charity shops in Stockbridge for a look about with a mate. For me one of the inherent problems in second hand shopping is that I don’t have the time or patience for it – it is only because I cancelled my riding lesson to spend time with my friend that I was free that Sunday. But do you know what? Patience and a lazy Sunday combined to make it a lovely trip. I also came away with some lovely finds. A pair of tweed cropped trousers (brand new with tags so half the coupons), a purple vest top which is perfect for dressing up and a cream jersey shirt printed with birds which has gathered quite a few compliments – I think it might have prompted one of my friends to actually hit the charity shops.
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I also thought that I needed some flat shoes for work and bid on some worn once shoes on eBay by my favourite brand. I also bid on some boots by the brand blowfish again worn once. I didn’t really expect to win both items but I did meaning that before I knew it I had two worn-once pairs of shoes winging their way towards me. Now I have to say that I was stunned by the quality of both pairs, due to my ankle injury wearing my favourite Irregular Choice heels have been out and to have a pair of their flats to wear at work, unfortunately they are a size smaller than advertised but I am in the process of stretching them. The blowfish boots fit like a glove I have wanted for about a year and a half.
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I am now really being won over by second hand clothing, I am trying not to go too mad with eBay bidding and trawling the charity shops as I doubt I need that much more clothing and there are plenty of items that I see and think ‘oh that’s lovely I want that’ and for me I need to reduce my consumption even if it is of coupon-free second hand items. I am now thinking that I am going to go with a one in – one out method of shopping, if I want something then something else has to go. I am hoping that this will help me to look at the items I own more critically – does it suit me? Do I love it? Would someone else give the item a better home? I also hope to continue to support the businesses that are doing great ethical and sustainable work including People Tree, Finisterre and Rapanui – my money should be used to support businesses I believe in and I also want to spend time looking for new brands to support and shop through websites such as fashionconscience which do a great job of bringing many different brands together, including the smaller ones and giving a one-stop shop for ethical fashion which I think it a brilliant idea.

After discussing my coupon free purchases on to mention the coupon purchases – I think you may all be beginning to see that I have a little bit of a shopping problem. I really didn’t think I bought that much maybe a couple of things every couple of months but this challenge has really made me focus, having to count up the coupons is almost the equivalent of a wardrobe weight watchers and I am definitely seeing where those extra pounds are spent and why my wardrobe is getting increasinly full!

The first purchase to mention is some new leggings from a company who I think are amazing! Traidremade. I bought some psychedelic print leggings which are made from two different materials recycled from left over materials from other companies sewn together into panelled leggings, they are brilliant. I had order the red ones pictured online but was emailed to say they didn’t have any of those left and text me a picture of the ones below asking if I would like these ones. I love them and the customer service was brilliant, really friendly but efficient. The leggings arrived quickly and while they aren’t perhaps as stretchy as the one piece material leggings I own they are certainly more unique!
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This month has been so busy that I think I am going to split out the sustainable exercise and transport aspect of this post into its own post. Basically my other purchase was some minimalist running shoes, bought before the injury and received afterwards. It was a palaver getting them but the company (New Balance) were great with customer service and even gave me a discount and free delivery due to the mess up with delivery. I have also been looking into the ideas of what to do with old sporting clothing so I think a separate post is justified, it is an area I am really interested in.

In the latter part of June I went shopping with my mum to help her pick out a dress for a family friend’s wedding. I am known within my family for not being shy over saying if something doesn’t suit and that I make decisions on buying things quickly – I can’t stand indecision on something as straight forward as clothing (this is probably something that contributes to my purchasing problem – I like it, I get it). Anyway as always when shopping with others and without any money/coupons to spare I immediately homed in on a dress, a nice bright one with a real summery vibe about it – it wasn’t by an ethical provider, in a colour I don’t own anything in and I was confident had 0% sustainable fabric in it. So what did I do? Try it on of course, then proceeded to suit it – I even had other random customers in the shop telling me it suited me. But I didn’t have the money or the coupons so I left without it, my mum got a beautiful dress that really suits her. When I wore my old green dress to the wedding, I didn’t implode or have people laugh at me in fact Mr Inelegant Horse Rider said I looked lovely. There is a lesson there for me. I really like the green dress and I am planning on wearing it more and more, probably eventually turning it into an everyday dress but that’s fine.

One big challenge completed – I did well and bought nothing at the Royal Highland Show, it is always typical that companies such as Joules do fantastic deals at these shows but I didn’t need anything and was happy to just help a friend look.

I also received this beautiful ring and scarf as belated birthday/Christmas presents from one of my best friends who was up visiting from London, she knows my tastes so well! She also left with about 3 bags full of clothes! Swishing and recycling are brilliant!
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I thought it would be a good idea to use half coupon values for anything I pick up second hand but brand new with tags this means I now have just 14 coupons to last me the rest of the year (eep) and actually I am excited by this prospect instead of nervous, I have to be very careful and continue to focus on the sustainable aspect of my consumption. 5 of these coupons are also already earmarked for new running shoes towards autumn time, once I am able to run again meaning really I only have 9 left!

Miles run: 0 (sob, this is really difficult – heading to the physio next week)

Coupons Remaining: 14 (!)

A Review of AnnaHarvey Farm – Jumping, galloping and trying not to fall off

So last year after many years in the ‘planning’ stage (for us that meant forever saying we needed to go on a riding holiday) my mate and I finally did our horse riding holiday. We opted for Ireland to experience some cross-country riding and we were recommended Annaharvey Farm. It is in County Offaly and not a long drive from Dublin although to be fair it wasn’t me doing the driving! As an aside we stopped at a service station for some food and I was pretty impressed, home-made soup, fresh fruit and lovely coffee. I reckon the service stations in the UK should follow their example.

Initially we were having problems locating the farm but I think out satnav took us a slightly obscure route and once we followed the printed instructions we located it pretty easily. We received such a warm welcome and our room was beautiful. We were staying in the farmhouse, all cosy with open fires and big windows with a view across their fields.

Our lovely digs for the weekend.
Our lovely digs for the weekend.
This makes it look sunnier than it was, but we are from Scotland so riding in the rain isn't a problem!
This makes it look sunnier than it was, but we are from Scotland so riding in the rain isn’t a problem!

We were talked through the timings of our lessons and hacks for the next two days, given all the information we needed and left to settle in. We ended up heading to the nearby town for dinner and afterwards falling into bed apprehensive of the next two days!

I should also mention here that I hadn’t been jumping for nearly two years and had done only two jumping lessons in preparation for this holiday. I am happy to jump but I am always slightly relieved when I clear the fence and my exit from the jump is still not particularly great.

After an amazing breakfast (the food at Annaharvey was fantastic) we collected our riding gear and headed over to the stables. At this stables we were required to wear body protectors for jumping, I had been wearing one for around a year following my three falls at my previous stables but had recently taken it off in an attempt to improve my posture and my confidence (totally personal reasons here).  It felt strange putting it on and almost immediately my nerves were heightened again. We had a discussion with our instructor about our levels of ability and what we were hoping to get out of the lesson (this had all been done prior to travelling as well but it was good to go over things and be able to ask questions).

So on to the real part I know you all want reviewed, the riding!

Both days we did two lessons combining jumping and flatwork then we did another hour ride in the afternoon out into the fields both were cross-country style rides. We were told we would be riding different horses for each lesson with our various needs taken into account and constantly assessed. For example my friend tended to have more forward going horses while I had steadier ones due to my nerves. I have to say as well my nerves were always treated so well with the instructors helping me through various situations and never making me feel silly for being nervous.

Saturday

Our first lesson was a jumping lesson, after a good warm up where Sarah and I were being constantly assessed. It was clear to me that I was out of practise with jumping, even though I had been given a couple of jumping lessons with my instructor back home. I used to jump most weeks and  still trying to do it by eye, which does not work. I am quite tall and was given a handsome massive grey horse called Ollie who was an absolute gentleman. After warming up we started jumping, each time I successfully completed a jump I was so pleased. As I started off on another try I put Ollie into a beautiful smooth canter and we approached the jump I watched to gauge when I should move to jump position. Well I miss judged, I was thrown forward onto Ollie’s neck and given a real dunt up the arse. It did give me a shock and I was a bit shaken. The instructor chatted to me about what I had done wrong and then asked me to jump again, I was nervous but she was very calm and considerate and asked if I would prefer to go for it in trot – I said I thought I would but then put Ollie into canter as it is much easier to jump in canter (again that’s a total personal opinion there by the way!). We flew over it beautifully and I came out the lesson feeling better but still a bit shaken – lots to work on there then!

Half an hour later and we were back for our second lesson – this time flat work and we have another couple of women joining us.  I was given another massive paler grey horse called Jacob. He was very tall and also very slim, I felt perched on top him and after my first canter had to ask for a swap – I just felt out of control.

I know, I know he isn't that big - I have said it before I am a jessie
I know, I know he isn’t that big – I have said it before I am a jessie

The instructor was very understanding and pointed out all she wanted was for me to enjoy myself and that me being nervous was not something she wanted. They brought out a lovely dark bay horse called Serengeti for me and she was brilliant. She really helped with my confidence responding to everything I asked of her. It was quite a nice set up for the lesson with the instructor getting us all to warm together then taking us individually to on end of the school to work on something specific while the rest of us were told to work on something else at the other end. It worked well, although we got told off for chatting a couple of times – not working hard enough 🙂

She definitely restored my confidence - amazing horse
She definitely restored my confidence – amazing horse

After this lesson we headed to the farmhouse to get something to eat and a cup of tea (or twenty – I do love tea). They were busy making cakes for the competition the next day and we received a couple of free samples while we chatted in the conservatory. Next up the part I had been apprehensive of…..cross-country!

There was a much bigger group of us for this outing. There were some of the kids we had seen helping out and also a couple of riders with their own horses. A different instructor again, she seemed scarily efficient initially – barking out orders to all of us. I was given another grey horse, Simbad, this time and told he was an old hand and would look after me. Great, I thought because quite frankly I have no idea what I am doing here! Nerves mounting we went into the arena to warm up, the kids weren’t helping my nerves as one boy shot past me on a pony shouting that he had no control. We were amazed to find out that the boy was riding Jack, a pony my friend had been riding in the previous lesson and who hadn’t seemed to want to move at all.

We moved off from the stables up the dirt tracks with everyone riding side by side chatting away. I started to relax as I got chatting to others on the ride and the instructor made sure to talk to my friend and I. The call came from the instructor that we would all have a quick trot up the hill to get to the warm-up field. I’m not used to trotting alongside other horses so this felt a little strange to me when all of a sudden two boys shot past on their ponies, one being the aforementioned Jack, with the instructor shouting at them. As a punishment for letting Jack get out of control one of the boys was told to hop off and undo the gate to the field for us, watching him trying to get back on gave everyone a laugh not least the boy himself who twice fell over because he had a fit of the giggles.

Once in the field the instructor told us to go and warm up our horse, I was totally confused as normally I am given a bit more instruction than that also this field was filled with dips and hills. Basically I watched the others then copied some of what they were doing, the instructor came over to chat to me and explained I should try up hill canters, get used to Simbad and how to slow him, when to kick on etc. So while I was getting to grips with SImbad the others were off around the gallops, wow! I was far too nervous initially, kept convincing myself i could try them tomorrow then on the tenth time of the instructor asking I bit the bullet and said I would give it a go. Two horses went at once (well Jack went alone but that was to try to tire him out) so I got put with an experienced kid who explained we could just canter round. So off I went, the kid looked back and asked if I was happy to go faster, I nodded and we kicked on. Then she shouted that if I wanted to really go for it I should pull alongside, with my confidence growing with each stride I pulled Simbad alongside and my god! It was like an accelerator had been hit we flew along overtaking the other horse and flying back up into the field. Pure exhilaration!  After that excitement we went to a set of tyre jumps (I was too nervous for that) but I did do the drop off, which felt huge at the time. It was so difficult not to look down but Simbad knew what he was doing. Everyone was so sweet to me all encouraging me to have a go and not being phased if I wimped out. We meandered back to the stables with me feeling pretty pleased with myself and Simbad. Not a bad day’s riding at all!

A well deserved delicious meal in the nearby town then back to the farmhouse for some cider and a seat in front of the fire.

Sunday

I was a little stiff the next day but not bad, my poor mate hadn’t been riding regularly for a while and watching her getting down the stairs for breakfast was a little amusing (I know I am a terrible friend). Another brilliant breakfast, served with a bit of chat from our hosts and then out for another day of riding.

Our first lesson was another jumping lesson. I had a lovely cob called Dougal, great fun but ooft he was hard going. I really had to pester him into canter then keep reminding him to canter. There was one great jump that we did where he took off from canter and landed in trot, I’m still not sure how he did that. We were working on doings lots of jumps including double jumps which was lots of fun. I have videos but this blog currently does not allow me to post these.

On to the second lesson of the day and more jumping – seriously after this you would have thought I would be pretty good at jumping or at least better than I am. This time I was on a beautiful lad called Warpaint, I was told I should ride him with light hands and as I apparently do this they thought we would work well together. I have to say I really enjoyed this lesson and although I was told off as we had a bit of a ‘Sunday canter’ going on I did feel that I probably did some of my best riding on Warpaint. He was a brilliant jumper so it was nice to practise getting my position correct, I didn’t have enough compulsion at times and I think this contributed to my second dunt out of the saddle and again I got a bit of a fright (embarrassingly I burst into tears which I wasn’t expecting and the instructor was so lovely about it all). I have a video of that jump which is actually really helpful as I can quite clearly see how far behind the movement I actually am with him. Lesson hammered home that time, judge the jump timing on the horse’s stride.

A true gentleman of a horse, totally loved this horse - he is awesome!
A true gentleman of a horse, totally loved this horse – he is awesome!

Saddling up for the third and final time it was another cross-country ride. Unfortunately, the stables had a junior cross-country competition going on so we couldn’t use the cross-country course that they have. Instead we headed to the other sets of cross-country jumps in the fields on the other side of the stables. While waiting to mount we watched the youngsters warming up, they were brilliant. We actually headed out round the course to watch properly after our ride and it looked such good fun.

I had Serengeti again and I found that I had quite a high level of trust in her (strange for me as often I am very nervous with unfamiliar horses). We had a great instructor, in fact she had taken us all day on the Sunday but was still full of energy and giving us tips and pointers as we walked and trotted out to the fields. One incredible fast canter in forward seat and we were are a row of seven tyre jumps! We each jumped the last one to show our jump position and get the feel for the horse jumping then it was time to line up. As always getting the horses to head away from their friends was the trickiest part and while I only managed to do two jumps – and Serengeti ran out on the second – my mate did all seven and I was so impressed.

As we were heading back our instructor suddenly turned into what looked like a bush and disappeared from view, a little unnerved I followed only to discover a set of three jumps in this thicket. The jumpers were made from felled trees with branches and foliage still on them giving them a real authentic cross-country air – or is that just me. As usual I didn’t want to do all three so lined up for the first one. Serengeti did an amazing jump and it felt so natural in the canter that as I rode out of it I automatically lined up for the next one. However, I pulled her up just short as I realised that it was a double and I wasn’t sure about my positioning yet. Rather than be disappointed I had such a ridiculous grin on my face for the whole ride back, I had done cross-country fences!

This experience was something I will never forget and although this might be quite a long review it is as much for me writing my memories of the holiday as it was to recommend to others. I truly believe that holiday helped me overcome my fears of jumping, it has helped improve me as a rider and given me an appetite for cross-country that I didn’t think I would have. I can’t recommend Annaharvey enough, the instructors were great, the horses well looked after and great to ride (not always easy so a good balance), the accommodation was lovely and the hospitality I can’t rate highly enough. The local town was also friendly and the restaurants we ate in were good food for a decent price. All in all a 5* experience and since we can’t go this year (something about my friend getting married ;)) I hope to be back next year – I am desperate to do the water jump nerves or no nerves!!

*disclosure* The opinions expressed in this post are my own and I have not been paid for this review.

I would also welcome any comments or feedback about this review as it is the first I have done of a riding stables – is it too long? does it cover everything you would want to know? would it be helpful to have a summary of the review at the start? Any feedback appreciated.