For those that know me, this will come as no surprise - the nerve I had as a young jockey left me a while ago - and while my riding is my sanity, finding a horse with a positive can do attitude that can take it or leave it from one day, week or month to the next, is a challenge in itself.
For years I rode my daughters' ponies, from 11.2hh to 14.2hh, keeping them fit for them to ride and compete. The majority of that was for my elder, gutsy go get 'em girl, for which nothing was too big and any competition a challenge she relished. For me, a lovely hack, a good day's hunting and the odd bit of combined training was plenty to keep me interested. So when the girls didn't have time to ride - being away at college or school - I thought I'd get a horse for me. And I did, but it didn't work out as planned and after three years, I couldn't ride her at all, so rather than waste her talent, I sold her and three years on she's as happy as ever. Knowing when to make that decision isn't always easy, but making it when I did was perfect timing.
Once gone, I spent several months without a horse and not riding, but that wasn't me either so I went on the hunt for something else, trying this and that, almost buying something that ended up being sold before I could get a second look. Being bolted with on a horse I was led to believe was as safe as houses, did nothing for my frayed nerves, so when I walked into a yard and saw H standing looking back at me, I was really taken with this little horse, just clipped and washed standing under heat lamps in the middle of January, that as it transpired had already seen three yards in a week.
Roll on three years and my blank canvas has become quite a soulmate. He's not perfect, but I didn't ask for perfect, I wanted something that was 'nice'. Nice to handle. Nice to other horses. Nice to ride. Nice on the road and importantly nice to me. He ticks all those in bucket loads, but isn't without a wicked sense of humour. Leaves are scary, helicopters landing above his head (literally) are not. Pheasants are scary, dustbin lorries are not. Tennis balls are scary, being chased by out of control dogs is not - you get the gist. All that said his trust is extraordinary at times - so much so, when he met a recumbent cyclist for the first time on our hack this morning. He pays no heed to cyclists passing him at ridiculous speeds, but this was new. The cyclist stopped and said good morning as he's seen horses take fright at his strange looking contraption; H looked on in complete bemusement, turning round to ask me to tell him it was OK. I did, the cyclist moved off and H watch him go. We carried on on our way and it is for these moments that this little horse has a huge place in my heart.
However, his quirk when he has one (and I'm pretty convinced it's linked to his sense of humour) is his behaviour when out competing or hunting. Competing with me, he's been very good. Competing with others has been interesting to say the least. Throwing himself on the floor during his dressage warm up at his first ODE was the worst. The brilliant jockey on board flipped off, got back on and off they went into their dressage test. The result meant nothing, he did it and was as if nothing had happened. One lazy pole show show jumping and one stop XC at a 'hole in the ground'. But he completed the day. Since then, I've done the odd dressage test without incident, but put him in company again and he again got above himself, even having been to the same venue less than a week earlier, turning on a sixpence at speed just because the show jump judge asked the jockey what her name was.
None of his antics are malicious, but when you're as nervous as I am, particularly when both of us hit the deck last summer (of which I remember nothing), a small out of character blip becomes an insurmountable worry, even if it happens when I'm not riding him.
So this week, as part of my 2019 goal planning, I gave myself a good old fashioned talking about 'manning up', not being a wimp over nothing and sorting my head space out. I booked a lesson with my regular instructor Ingrid and off I set, taking my apprentice photographer (AKA hubby with my camera set up to point and shoot) with to capture the chaos!
It was brilliant fun. We both worked hard and even though H's sense of humour popped up occasionally, it was only to ensure I was with him - tennis balls again and a noise from next door - not to challenge what I was asking him to do. He jumped well (when he wasn't being lazy over the early little poles) and even when I got it wrong (too many times to count), he jumped regardless. I even asked, much to Ingrid and hubby's surprise to have the jumps made a little less little! This is only the beginning of our revised journey. I just need to man up more and keep wearing the brave pants.