I’m not really sure how to start this. There’s probably lots of brilliant, clever and hilarious ways to start something like this but for the life of me I can’t think of any, bar the truth that’s flying through my head right now…
What the heck am I doing and how did I find myself in this situation?!
And let me be frank, this ‘situation’ has so many questionable facets to it, it just further deepens the internal questioning. Probably the external ridicule too.
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12 years ago I said goodbye to my last ridden horse. My gorgeous coloured mare that my photography company pays homage to through the name. I’ve had other horses since her, but mostly youngsters not broken or share’s in horses being produced by others that I had a stake in. None of them were at home with me to look after directly or to ride. So the riding pretty much stopped, bar the odd hack on friends horses when I visited. So let’s say twice a year – definitely in seat bone aching territory each time.
But this was all ok, I was getting my fix of horses through my photography. I was living the horse dream through my work really and I didn’t have to get up early or have a car that smelt like a stable. Well, I did still have to get up early but the car now smelt purely of dog.
The smell of horse is much nicer.
I moved to Somerset late in 2016 and then found myself with an enormous personal change of circumstances shortly after. Life changed. Suddenly. But after all the tears, angst, self questioning and facing up to a divorce complete with all the social stigma that comes with it in the eyes of some…. My life started to slowly head down a much happier and sweeter path.
In time I found myself in a bit of unknown territory. I was in a relationship with someone who was seriously immersed in the horse world. I’m 46 and I’d never had a man in my life that knew one end of a Dr Bristol from the other (actually neither do I to be honest but that’s beside the point). Suddenly I didn’t have to hide my love of horses, I didn’t have to apologise for smelling a bit ripe at times or hiding a desire to smell leather like it was the elixir of life.
It became quite obvious that as much as I loved my partner’s (Tony) horse and the joy of just being able to scratch and sniff him (the horse!) whenever I liked the old feelings started to surface. Was it time to find my own once more?
However, I’d quickly slap the thought of it back down though or laugh at the NUMEROUS times various friends of my partner also asked when I was getting one of my own. Why on earth would I want to do that. I have my camera, I meet so many lovely horses as an equine portrait photographer and at the end of the day I go to bed knowing that there’s no early morning wake up call to trudge off into the dark in the depth of winter just to have my fingers get stuck to a metal gate or find the water pipes have burst once more and the yard an ice trap…
Then one day a switch flicked in my head, there was no turning back mentally. I knew I had to find a new horse to call my own.
I knew I was fully capable of not comparing anything new to anything I’d had in the past. Those were different times, I was a different person then (I bounced well, was far more flexible and had courage too). I’d been riding a bit this summer and wasn’t worried about any aspect of that. Except for jumping. I’ve not left the ground for a very long time. The mare I lost 12 years ago at 5 years old hadn’t started jumping as she was backed late in her 4th year and died at 5. We never got round to it. So it was probably well over 15 years since I’d jumped. This part was going to be the tough bit and I don’t know why really as I did a huge amount of very successful affiliated jumping.
Tony and I discussed it all a lot. He was super supportive and we began to make a mental list on what I needed – or should that be wanted.
The biggest question was what did I want to do with this horse, what were my aspirations???
So, lets go back a bit. I first started to ride at about 10 or 11. Not really exactly sure when but I know I was in middle school. I got my first pony at 13 and competed mostly in affiliated and unaffiliated show jumping, but did some hunter trials too. I was super competitive on my ponies and did well. When I grew out of ponies from an age perspective I still stayed with them as I was only 5’2” (still am, well, I might have shrunk a bit I suppose?!) and did mainly local stuff. As I went through adult life with other horses I did some unaffiliated dressage, a bit of hunting and then when the coloured horses came into my life they each did some County and or National level showing. So my background was probably fairly typical, in so much as I’d done a bit of everything along the way.
But that was then and this was now and many Christmas tree’s had died since the last red frilly was awarded. Despite everything I achieved previously it was clear that I had no real ambition to return to that kind of thing. I really just wanted a horse to hack and hunt. Clearly though I was somewhat rusty. Time doesn’t do nice things to your mojo either, however well you rode before!
As Tony hunts we decided it would be a good idea to find a horse that he could ride if necessary too. Something he could fall back on if his own horse came in sick or sorry the night before hunting. So it needed to jump well and lead the field into country too. Thankfully our country wouldn’t be the biggest so brave horses aren’t a full on requirement.
All of this sounds reasonable, except that I’ve got little legs as I’ve already mentioned and Tony is about 6’2”. Little Legs and Long Legs.
Yeah, so, we’d laughed at this and realised this would be an interesting process, but not impossible, but it really did make sense to look in this area if we could. On paper I probably only really needed something in the 15.2 area but my last horse was around 16.2 and the horses I’ve been riding this year all over 16hh. Hugo is 16.3 and a good Irish stamp. You’ll have seen pictures of his handsome grey head within my Facebook Page or Instagram feeds at times I’m sure, but I’ve popped a picture of the pair of us together this summer here too. One thing was certain, neither of us were keen on the idea of a full Thoroughbred.
We had a sensible budget but not a ridiculous one. We also had an age limit and it had to be a gelding. It needed to be able to go off the leg but be sensible about it. Hack alone or in company and be bombproof too. Ideally be able to ride and lead too for ease of fitness through the winter months for us both to share the load when necessary.
After a couple of weeks of scouring adverts and seeing horses I started to wonder if we were being unrealistic in our criteria. I began to feel like I was being too critical of the ones we did venture out to see. We saw some nice ones too, but I just didn’t feel right about them. Was I being too picky? Tony was adamant that we weren’t and that as we weren’t in a hurry we could wait until the right horse showed up… invariably they have a habit of finding you, rather than you finding them too…
…and that’s basically what happened.
Find out who turned up and how in the next part of this new series as I take you through my adventure back into the saddle at 40 something, being not as brave as I was at 20 something, attempting to take up the reins on the hunting field for the first time in 25 or more years and not having ridden regularly for more than 10 years.
The flipping tack shops look so different too.
What the heck is a universal bit anyway?
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See you next time!