Sunday, 9 June 2013

36. The Beach Ride

Cockles crunched under the weight of the big cob’s heavily feathered feet as he picked his way around the rocks of the bay. Summer had come at last and Abigail had decided that the time was right to take the recently broken in Simba out to the beach. He’d taken to ridden life remarkably well given his rocky start to life and had nearly got over his separation anxiety, though he still got very distressed if he was ever turned out or ridden alone. Despite that, he had proven to be a very safe and unflappable schoolie and had become many of the children’s favourite within weeks of him being allowed in lessons. He was still a little green in the school but it was hacking where he really came into his own.

Beach Ride

 ‘Alright ladies, we’ll have a canter here I think, then take it a bit slower when we get onto the sandy bit - we don't want anyone to spook remember!’

Abigail smiled back at the rest of the ride - Mhairi had leapt at the chance to ride out on the beach and had twisted her friend Kelly's arm into coming along. While beach rides were available for most of the year, it was very rare for them to occur during such good weather and she was convinced that Kelly would never have taken advantage of it if she hadn't said anything.

 Beach Ride

Abigail clicked her tongue and Simba surged forward into a bold, ground-covering canter, mane and tail flying in the breeze like a warhorse of old. She glanced back to see Mhari half-halting and trying to keep her weight down through the stirrups in a vain attempt to get Jazz to apply the brakes.

Beach RideChuckling to herself, she brought Simba back down to a trot.

'Alright there Mhairi?'

'Yeah, I'm good - Jazz is in one of her 'OMG OPEN SPAAAACE' kinda moods, she'll settle down once we've had a gallop I think.'

'Ok, well don't hesitate to let me know if you're having any trouble! I think we'll just stick to trot until we're out on the main sands in case a certain someone tries to jump the rockpools again...'

Mhairi grinned sheepishly; the last time she'd been out with Jazz, she'd taken up David's jokey dare to clear a particularly large rockpool, complete with resident crabs. Jazz had been all too keen, until something in the water moved and she skidded to a stop, flinging Mhari out of the saddle and onto the other side. She was still trying to convince David that she had in fact won the dare as he hadn't specified that the horse had to jump over it as well...

Beach Ride

As the sea got closer, Simba's ears pricked and he let out an excitable whinny before coming to a standstill, staring, goggle eyed at the waves. Abigail rubbed his neck gently and tried to encourage him forward but he wouldn't budge.

Beach Ride

'Ok, you two, go on ahead, I think I'll just let Simba get used to the sight of everything before we get any closer. Don't get out of my sight and absolutely no swimming until I join you and give you the ok, have you got that? You can paddle but no deeper than knee height.'

'Yes Abigail' the girls chanted in unison. They knew her well enough by now to have learned her 'beach health and safety' talk by heart.

While Simba stood in awe of the sight in front of him, Mhairi and Kelly legged their mounts on and cantered away. Freya the Fjord struggled to keep up with Jazz's sudden acceleration at first but it wasn't long before they were racing each other across the sand.

Beach Ride

The canter moved up a gear into the gallop and when Mhairi lost her stirrup for a minute, Kelly moved up into the lead.

'Hey, that's not fair!' she yelled over the wind 'I had a disadvantage!'

 Breathing heavily, they dropped back down to a trot and let the horses cool off. Jazz still fought for her head, despite being given a long rein.

'Does she ever switch off?' said Mhairi, shaking her head in disbelief. 'You'd think she was supercharged or something.'

Beach Ride

'Nope' replied Kelly 'I don't think I've ever ridden her when she's not been jumping all over the place! I mean, that's good for jumping and stuff but when you're trying to work on your collection for dressage it's a nightmare.'

Beach Ride

'Want to go for a paddle-but-only-knee-deep?'

Beach Ride

Mhairi laughed. 'Only knee deep, got it!'

Beach Ride

'Sit back Mhairi, pitching forward like that is only going to make her speed up.'

'Hrumph, you try holding her back! It's like I have a tank in each hand!'

'Yes well it's still not helping. Push your heels down and half-halt when-'

'Kelly. Shut up. If I'd wanted a lesson I'd have stayed at the yard.'

'Alright, have it your way, I was just trying to help!'

'I know, I'd just rather not think about schooling when I'm at, you know, the beach.'

'Yes but you can and should ride the same way, no matter where you are - you need to take control and -'

'Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Now come on, it's a lovely day, try to enjoy yourself!'

Beach Ride

The cold water was a relief on such a hot day and both ponies trotted through it gratefully, kicking up cool spray with every stride.

'Are we knee-deep yet?' pondered Mhairi.

'I don't think it's even over their fetlocks but I wouldn't push it, Abigail might explode or something, you know what she's like.'

'Oh I don't know, maybe deeper water might help slow Jazz down a bit, you know, make her shorten her strides.'

Beach Ride

'If anything it'll probably make her go faster as she'll be working extra hard against the current so no, not a good idea.'

 'Oh lighten up Kells, let's see shall we; come on Jazz, trot oooarrghhh!'

Mhairi kicked on at exactly the same moment a terrifying looking clump of seaweed surfaced and Jazz panicked, leaping straight up in the air and bucking sideways, tossing her rider out the side door seconds later.

'Oh not again' muttered Abigail as she watched from the other side of the beach, standing in her stirrups to get a better view. 'She's getting as bad as Tamarind... Come on Simba, let's go and get them.'

Beach Ride

'You ok Mhairi?' Kelly queried, pulling Freya up beside her friend.

'Yeah, I'm fine, just soggy. I knew that was going to happen by the way, she'd been staring at the water for ages.'

'So why'd you fall off then if you knew she was going to dump you?' Kelly rebuked with a smirk.

'Because...oh shush, just because. Jaaaaazzz, come on girl, the sea monster's not going to eat you!'

Beach Ride


Beach Ride

By the time Abigail arrived Mhairi was safely back on board, no worse for wear; the only indication that she'd hit the deck, a fine coating of sand down one side and the slight squelching sound she now made when they went into trot.

Beach Ride

'Before you say anything Abigial, we weren't even properly paddling!' she stated firmly 'There was obviously a really dangerous animal out there and Jazz was just trying to protect me from it.'

'What, by chucking you off? That sounds more like a tactical sacrifice to me!'

Mhairi shot her friend a dark look and Kelly burst out laughing.

'In her defence, Abi, it was a genuine spook, she wasn't being irresponsible...well, just chose to ride Jazz out of the confines of an arena so I suppose she kinda was but...'

Abigail chuckled. 'Oh I wasn't going to blame you, these things happen on the beach. As long as you're both alright that 's all that matters.'

Beach Ride'Really?!' The girls looked at each other in disbelief. Normally Abigail would be throwing a fit at even the merest sign of rule breaking and especially a fall but evidently the good weather had improved her sense of humour too.

'Simba seems to have chilled out a bit more now.' said Kelly, nodding towards the stallion who trotted onwards, his frame clearly more relaxed and calm than before.

'Yes, I think just letting him take in his surroundings for a few minutes was the right thing to do. He's never seen the sea before so it was bound to spook him a little. I know of so many people who throw their horses in at the deep end - literally - on the beach and then wonder why they end up bolting and throwing people off.' She looked back at Mhairi and smiled. 'That wasn't aimed at you dear, I don't think Jazz even knows what the word 'slow' means.'

Beach Ride

'Anyway, I think he's ready to have a little paddle, he seems keen enough now.'

 On approaching the water, Simba lowered his head and sniffed it, ears pricked in interest. He nibbled on some seaweed, had a little splash with his foreleg and then completely lost interest and carried on as though he'd lived on the beach his whole life.

Beach Ride

Beach ride bombproofing = success.

Beach Ride

The group trotted on until the light began to fade and it was time to head back to the horsebox, the only evidence of their visit, hoofprints in the sand.

Beach Ride

(Fun fact, I actually shot this last year and have been meaning to make up a photostory with the images for MONTHS!)

Saturday, 8 October 2011

35. Bareback To Square One

(In case anyone's wondering, it's pronounced 'Mah-ree' ;))

Mhairi and Fergus

‘ what are you planning on doing today then? Got another Olympic training regime to get through?’

Though Mhairi laughed as she slung Fergus’ reins over his head, her friend Kelly’s expression remained unchanged. It was well known on the yard that she was totally dedicated to her riding and often appeared to spend more time working on her position than actually enjoying herself.

Jazz and Kelly

‘No, nothing like that. I need to improve my lateral work, that’s all...’ she said, stroking Jazz’s nose thoughtfully.

‘You need to have some fun more like – when was the last time you went out on a hack?’

Kelly shrugged and stepped up onto the makeshift mounting block. ‘I don’t know, last year maybe? I don’t like hacking, there’s too many distractions and things.‘

Stefani, Mhairi and Kelly

Mhairi shook her head sadly. ‘What are you like?! Honestly, imagine not liking hacking.’

‘Well you said yourself you don’t like schooling, so we’re even!’

‘I said I don’t mind schooling, I only hate it when we’re going round in circles all day cos’ let’s face it, that’s just dull.’

Mhairi and Kelly

‘To each their own I suppose.’ replied Kelly as she adjusted her stirrups. ‘What are you going to do today then?’

Mhairi grinned and Kelly groaned. ‘Oh please, don’t tell me...’


After ten minutes of walk, trot and canter, and once she was absolutely certain there were no staff members watching; Mhairi dismounted.

‘This is a really bad idea Mhairi, Abigail’ll give you such a telling off if she finds out!’

Kelly and Mhairi

‘Ah, but she won't find out, will she? Oh come on, it’s not like I’ll be jumping him or anything, I’m not that stupid!’

Kelly and Mhairi

‘See? He’s fine! Fergie’s a good lad, he won’t do anything unless I ask him to.’

Kelly and Mhairi

‘...that’s what I’m afraid of...’


Minutes passed slowly, and Mhairi and Fergus settled into a sedate walk as they watched Kelly ride Jazz up and down the arena, turning and bending down the track with well rehearsed precision.

‘How’s the lateral work going then? That was a really nice shoulder-in you had going there, I didn’t know Jazz had it in her!’


Kelly nodded, a slight smile forming on her face. ‘People underestimate her because she’s so fast, once she knows what you’re asking her to do she’s really responsive and she’s brilliant with leg aids thanks to her gymkhana experience. If only I could bring her head down a bit, she carries it really high all the time...’

Mhairi and Kelly

A few cantered circles later, the complaints began...


‘You shouldn’t do that you know; it’s really dangerous!’

‘Yeah, yeah, get back on your circle or whatever, everything’s fine!’

‘I’m just saying, it’s not a good idea to do that at any time, even when you do have a saddle on!’

‘I know that but come on, this is Fergus we’re talking about, he’s so bombproof you could put him in a warzone and he’d probably just stand there and graze!’

‘Totally not the point though, horses are unpredictable animals, he could spook or trip or well, anything could go wrong!’

Some people think that everything happens for a reason, that fate has laid out an unchanging course of events for everyone in life, but sometimes, things just happen. Poor judgement might have something to do with it too...


Paddy was in a bad mood. It had been raining the night before and his turnout rug had leaked, leaving him with cold and soggy withers when he was brought in and tacked up earlier in the day. Normally he was positively angelic under saddle and only growled and kicked if you came at him with a curry comb but this afternoon he really wasn’t feeling the need to be amongst other horses.

Sally, his rider, was fully aware of this and for the most part kept a safe distance from the other two when she entered the arena. It was only when she tried to bypass them on the track that his true feelings towards them became known...



The normally unflappable Fergus shrieked and leaped back in shock, Mhairi clinging onto his mane like someone possessed.

‘Steady boy, steady boy, steeeadddyyy!’


Her words were lost on him as he turned in mid air, anxious to escape the threat of sharp, unshod feet.


Mhairi clung on as best she could but eventually gravity took over and she tumbled to the ground in a heap as her mount trotted off.



‘I know I shouldn’t say it...’ said Kelly, ‘...but I really did tell you so! Are you all right?’

Kelly and Mhairi

Her friend grinned and picked herself up off the ground, brushing sand from her hoodie and jodhpurs. ‘I’ve done worse!’ She strode over to the wall and fetched her horse who was standing sheepishly as though waiting for her.

Kelly and Mhairi

‘’Anything could go wrong’ – oh you had to go and jinx it for me didn’t you?!’

‘Jinxing had nothing to do with it’ said a rather haughty voice from behind them.


‘It was your own fault for being so stupid. I’ll be having a talk with Abigail later on about this, mark my words. Children shouldn’t be allowed to ride unsupervised.’

And with that, she turned Paddy away and trotted off to the other side of the arena.

Children?! Who does she think she is? She’s only a couple of years older than us!’

‘She’s got a point though Mhar, you could have really hurt yourself...’

Kelly and Jazz

‘Yeah, well she didn’t have to be so hoity-toity about it though did she? Still, I suppose you’re both right, I shouldn’t have done it...with witnesses.’

Fergus and Mhairi


Sunday, 1 May 2011

34. Two Degrees of Seperation

The auction was surprisingly quiet given the circumstances. Over thirty horses and ponies of varying degrees of quality had been seized from a highly unsuitable owner a few months before by a horse charity and now, after a bit of rehabilitation, the best were being put up for sale and adoption.

David and Nikolai wandered through the building, tutting at the state of some of the ponies and lauding the condition of others. They hadn’t intended to go inside but when they passed a sign that read ‘Cobs and Ponies for saleCHEAP-’ they just couldn’t resist.

They probably wouldn’t buy anything anyway, they were only looking after all.

As they passed by one pen, Nikolai nodded towards the back. ‘What about that one? The little bay-and-white. I like his face.’

David squinted. From what he could see of the horse under all that hair and fluff, he did indeed look like a nice kind of animal. Perhaps even riding school material... ‘Hmmm, ok, let’s have a look at him then. Come on lad, c’mere!’ He clicked his tongue and held out a hand to the gelding, who, after giving the proffered digits a good sniff, padded over to the fence, followed closely by a heavily feathered liver chestnut skewbald.

David nodded approvingly as he cast his gaze across the horse. He lacked condition but otherwise appeared to have good conformation and he really couldn't fault him for looks. Nikolai seemed to think the same and after a moment's pondering, he went off to find the seller to ask all the usual questions. He came back a few minutes later with a headcollar and leadrope which he put on the cob without any trouble. The majority of the other horses had already moved off to the other end of the pen where one of the auction staff had put down some haylage for them. Only the cob they were interested in and the chestnut skewbald remained up at this end. 'According to Mr Murphy over there' he said, scratching the gelding's nose absently. 'his name is 'Pirate'. He is about twelve years old -although this cannot be confirmed- but one thing we do know is that he is partially blind in one eye.' David frowned. 'Argh, that's a pain, I was hoping he'd be completely sound.' Nikolai shook his head. 'The vets have already looked at him and say that it isn't a serious issue - they think he has had it for a very long time and has learned how to cope with it.' 'Can he be ridden though? That's the question.' 'Apparently so. From what they can guess of his history he's well used to tack and has been ridden by one of the people here.' 'What do you think? Should we chance it?' 'I will take him outside and put him through his paces first, then we can decide.' 'Good idea.' As he turned Pirate round to leave the pen, the other cob let out a shrill whinny and threw his head up, Pirate echoing him as he walked off in the opposite direction. 'Hey, hey, calm down lad, calm down!' David said soothingly, patting the gelding's neck softly. 'It's ok, he's not going anywhere!' 'Here' said Nikolai, tossing over a length of soft white rope from the depths of his coat pockets. 'I think he might be quite dangerous if he isn't restrained. Mr Murphy told me that they are never seperated and that he might not know what to do with himself when they are. His name is Simba by the way.' 'Cheers, I'll get a halter made up before you leave, hold on...' Sure enough, as soon as Pirate was out of eyeshot, Simba exploded.

'Steeeady lad, steady!' He bucked and reared, leapt and plunged his way around the small pen, sending ponies skittering to the corners of the other end in fright.

Although still young, he was very strong and after only a couple of minutes he'd managed to wrestle the rope from David's hands. Squealing like a pig, he took off at a canter, spinning on the spot and neighing his head off as he tried frantically to find his friend. Finally he stopped and stood, trembling in the middle, looking completely and utterly lost. David walked over to him slowly, hands out as through approaching someone with a hostage and gently picked up the rope. Now that he'd expended all that energy and fear, he was much more approachable, yet he still seemed worried. He was a very nice example of a cob though, David thought. Green yes, but he had potential... A sharp sounding whinny from the other side of the building announced the return of Pirate and Nikolai, and Simba's ears shot upwards in delight. 'So? How was he?' Nikolai nodded, the traces of a rare smile picking at the corners of his mouth. 'Good, very good. He needs more food and training but he is a very nice little horse. Very nice.' He gave him a pat and let his hold on the leadrope lessen slightly. 'He has a little attitude on him - tried to bite me once - but I rode him around for a minute bareback and he didn't put a...ah...hand wrong?' David smiled. He sounded perfect. There was just one thing... 'Well, he sounds exactly what we're looking for but there's a problem.' Nikolai raised a quizzical eyebrow as he took both halters off the cobs.. 'Yes?' David jabbed a thumb in the direction of Simba. 'We'll need to take him as well. Classic seperation anxiety - if we don't take him too he'll go mad without having his friend around.' The Russian nodded and stood back a little so he could assess the heavier cob's build. 'He's not had much training that I can see but we've dealt with worse -' Roscoe' -and once he's learned that it's ok to be away from Pirate for at least some of the time I think he'd make a really nice riding horse.' Nikolai nodded again and folded his arms. 'So. Prices?' 'Let's go and speak to that Mr Murphy then. I hope you're good at haggling - I can't even talk Aiden into selling me something that he and I both KNOW is only worth a fiver...' As the two men bartered with the seller nearby, Pirate lipped at the ground for leftover wisps of hay while Simba nuzzled into his friend's shoulder. Now that their future was secure, the cobs were calm once more.