Kitting Out the School with New Sportswear

I’ve finally made the journey over to my new school, here in Spain.

 

 

Saying goodbye to my wonderful trainers and horses back in the UK was a real challenge, but something that I’m glad that I did.

 

The weather out here in Andalusia is uniformly stunning, although I must say that it took me a while to get used to the terrific heat that beats down from about 10am everyday – it was certainly a lot easier to muck out horses in grey old England, still I can’t really complain!

 

The house that the Equestrian school has set me up with is really quite charming. Built in the same 15th century style of the stables, there’s a feeling of authenticity within the tan-brown timber supports and the wattle and daub walls that somehow makes me feel like I’ve travelled back in time. Similarly traditional, but not as comforting, is the state of the safety gear here at the stables. Although this riding school has been financially profitable for a few decades, it appears that none of those funds made it back into the School’s supply of ropes, safety gear or saddles.

 

As a result of this lack of modern equipment, one of the first tasks that I have undertaken here is to ensure that the school is properly equipped with the right kind of equipment that will keep both the horses and riders safe.

 

 

Thankfully, with the internet and international shipping at my disposal, I’ve got access to dozens of great sites selling discounted sportswear and end of line stock, so picking out the right kinds of jodhpurs, helmets and silks has been a breeze. Although the financials of the School are very healthy overall, I’m making a conscious effort to treat this riding school as if it were my own – so saving costs wherever possible is at the top of my agenda.

 

With the new equipment winging its way over to me as we speak, there’s a new feeling around the School, partly due to the hiring and firings that I’ve enacted since I’ve taken over here.

 

It was never my intention to make so many changes upon my arrival here, however I feel it was necessary in order to instil the correct ethos into my school. Although I was a relative novice to the Equestrian industry when I first opened my school, I understood the basic values that I wanted my trainers to exhibit to the horses and our students. Respect is, first and foremost, at the top of my agenda. Respect for every student that walks through our gates and respect for every horse that we take care of.

 

When I arrived here a couple of weeks, I spent some time shadowing the trainers that had been holding in the fort for the last few years. A few of them were clearly very passionate about the art of horse riding, as well as the development of the students. However, there were a small handful of staff that lacked the necessary tact to work in one of my schools.

 

I won’t digress any further, needless to say they will no longer be a problem and our new equipment will soon lift the spirits of everyone here!

Settling in, Making Friends

The time has really flown by since my first arrival here in sunny Spain.

 

 

I really thought that I’d have more teething issues with settling in to a new country.

 

This is the first time I’ve worked and lived overseas and I must say that I’ve been surprised by the ease with which I’ve settled into the rhythm of a new country and work place. The fact that I’m essentially living a short walk away from my place of work has no doubt helped me to settle in that much sooner.

 

When you’re pretty much living onsite, you quickly begin to get to grips with the comings and goings of the people working for you. I found that after just a couple of weeks, I’d stopped being the ‘new English person’, who was seen walking to the Equestrian School each morning and back again in the late afternoon, and started becoming a regular fixture of the neighbourhood. When you’re so deeply ingrained into a culture, as I am here, it doesn’t take long to recognise the routines and rhythms that rule each day’s work.

 

Managing an Equestrian School is a role that naturally intertwines with a daily routine. I learnt pretty soon after opening my own place that you couldn’t spend all your time with the horses and students. The time spent teaching others and riding horses might well be enjoyable, but unfortunately it doesn’t contribute to the actual management  of the school itself.

 

 

The trick to successfully managing an Equestrian School is to understand the daily rhythms of the school: the intricate patterns of the horses’ routine, the rotating shifts of hands and the arrival of eager students.

 

Once you’ve got to grips with how your School functions on a day-to-day basis then you’ll be able to fit your own responsibilities in alongside them, with the ideal result of you being able to achieve all that you need to in a given day, whilst also having the time to be able to touch base with your instructors, students and horses.

 

After making a few personnel changes in the early weeks of my management, the team we have here has settled in nicely. My days are long, with my daily activities comprising a mixture of meetings with my instructors, to discuss the progress of our students, my stable hands to talk about the condition of our horses and the groundskeepers, so that I have a watchful eye over the state of the stables and training yard. I’ll know I’ve had a good day when I get to see all my staff, chat to a few of the students and also enjoy a ride out in the beautiful Spanish scrub for a good hour in the afternoon.

 

I know I’ve had a great day when I get to do all of those things as well as, cleaning my house, working on the little scrap of land in front of it and reading a few chapters of whatever novel I’m reading.

 

Those days don’t come around too much, but at the moment I’m happy to put the success of this Equestrian School above my own need to complete a trashy romance…

Making the Move: Leaving England

In the last few weeks I’ve been making the final preparations for my big move to Spain.

 

 

There’s been lots to get in order over the last few weeks.

 

Ironically enough, I’ve barely had any time at all for horse riding! Moving from England to Spain is looking to be just as stressful as moving house from within the country. All the same hassles apply: finding a competent removals company to take my belongings over the 1000-plus mile trip, fitting out my new home with new furniture and sorting out all the tax and administrative things that I need to live and work in Spain. On top of this, I’ve been swamped at the stables, hiring new staff and reassigning responsibilities to the existing members of the team that are going to have to take on the roles that I was fulfilling here.

 

I’ve got complete confidence in my team to continue attaining the high standards that we’ve been building up to for the last year – they all understand what it is that we’re trying to achieve here and my departure does not change any of that. The majority of my current team have had years of experience of working for more traditional stables. They’ve been embroiled in the constant drama and gossip of racing schools, where trainers and hands are at each other’s throats and horses are forced to train beyond their capabilities. They’ve seen what can happen when the business of horse racing and competitions take priority over the creatures that we are supposed to be caring for – and they know that my stable was never intended to be like those places.

 

 

In the last year, I feel like I’ve created the kind of place that I would have wanted to ride at as a child. Free of pretensions and full of passionate people who are at their happiest when they’re with horses, I can trust my friends here to continue to welcome both horses and people of all ages who are looking for guidance, stables or simply like-minded individuals.

 

Now, with the school in safe hands, I can confidently look forward to my next adventure and what I need to achieve in Spain.

 

The Spanish Equestrian School, which I’ll leave nameless for the purpose of this blog, have been kind enough to offer me a place to stay close to the School. The first few weeks after the move will be concerned with me getting to grips with how they currently function. Before I attempt to make any changes to the way that they work, I need to understand how they operate. I’ve ridden on the continent before, but only as a tourist. These opening weeks will be my opportunity to absorb Spanish riding culture. I need to understand how they treat their horses as well as what their cultural norms are in terms of stimulation and exercise.

 

 

I’ve spent the last year raising the standards of how we operate an equestrian stable here in the UK, now it’s time to take my experience overseas.

Making a New Start in Spain

The winds are changing and so must I.

 

 

There are a few moments in every person’s life when they need to take stock of what is happening in their life and where they need to go next.

 

Routines are funny things – they can provide equal measures of security and ennui. For the last year I’ve been content with the shape of my own routine, but there’s a cloying feeling at the nape of my neck each morning that tells me that I need to change.

 

My lifestyle has transformed quite dramatically over the course of my professional career. I made my way in the world initially by working in law. I can’t say that the daily rigmarole of office life or petty disputes was that thrilling to me, but I always understood it was a means to an end. That end was a stable of my own horses, which I could ride at my leisure in the glorious English countryside.

 

Through the endless hours of late nights, sipping down instant coffee whilst scratching my head over a difficult case, I would tell myself that all this toil would be worth it. When all I could see when I closed my eyes was strip lights and lines of legislature – I took a breath of fresh air and imagined the peace and tranquillity of my future stables. Acres of fields for miles around, a team of riders, trainers and stable hands dedicated to the well being of the horses living there and the development of riding skills. I knew that patience would see me through the mire of my predicament and that this bright, happy future would not be too far off.

 

 

I wasn’t wrong. Today every breath I take is fresh. The team of dedicated equine professionals that I yearned for all work for me and I’m happy to say that the horses in my care are in excellent shape. I spent the best part of a decade saving and preparing so that I could be in this position and this last year has felt like a dream. Setting up the stables and assembling a team of wonderful people to help me has been the culmination of years of work, but I now I feel like I need a new challenge.

In the last few months, I’ve been receiving messages from a Spanish Equestrian School. They’re looking for new management (as well as someone proficient in Social Media and SEO Marketing) and even if I don’t speak a word of Spanish, they’re insisting that I’m the best person for the job. Initially, I chose to kindly decline their offer. I’d not even spent a year in my own stable, an enterprise that I’d spent my entire professional career saving for, so the idea of abandoning it now and up sticks and moving to Spain, seemed reckless at best.

 

That was a few months ago, though and regardless of how old you get, a lot can change in the space of a month.

 

There wasn’t a point when I stopped enjoying riding my horses around this beautiful country side, but I felt a sense of detachment that certainly wasn’t there beforehand. When I should have been completely in the moment, speeding along an empty bridleway at 6am, I felt my mind drifting off to what it would be like to be doing the same thing on a recently broken stallion, along a dusty Spanish trail.

 

 

Returning from my ride, I’d look around at the hustle and bustle that I’d created and I could tell that they’d be fine without me.

 

It was time to make a change.

Keeping Our Horses Happy

I’ve already discussed the dangers of anthropomorphising our animals.

 

 

It doesn’t matter how many Disney movies you’ve seen or touching animal-led Dramas, the fact remains that your animals are not capable of the kind of emotional resonance that you’ll see on the big screen.

 

I may have been induced into my passion for Equine Behaviour through such films, but I’m under no illusion that Jackson, or any of my other horses for that matter, has the capacity for the same kind of emotional resonance that a person has.

 

With that being said, there can be some tell tale signs that might suggest your four-legged friend isn’t as happy as he could be. If you happen to spot any of these signs – don’t despair! You have plenty of options, it’s just a matter of troubleshooting and getting some advice from a trainer/vet:

 

Not as social with other horses

 

 

Take a look at how your horse behaves with his stable mates. If he’s grooming other horses and being groomed himself, then this means that he’s feeling sociable and comfortable in his surroundings. However, if he’s standing at a distance from the other horses and not engaging with others, then this might be a sign that he needs cheering up.

 

What to do: Try spending more time with him. Whether it’s an extra half hour of grooming or a long hack out, the extra hour could be the difference in lifting his spirits.

 

Long bouts of sensory inattention

 

 

This is another signal that you might be only see if you spend a long time with your animal. A keen eyed stable hand has also got a better chance of this, as they’ll be around your horse more frequently. Prolonged staring at a wall and a lack of reaction to audio or visual stimuli can signs that your horse has began to tune out his environments.

 

What to do: Sometimes what your horse might need is a change of routine. Visit him at an odd hour, or try exercising him on different days – if he remains the same way, contact your vet. 

 

Bed in disarray

 

 

When you come to turn out your horse in the morning his bed should remain largely in place. A relaxed horse will be content with their bed, whereas a stressed or unhappy horse may well pace around his stable, causing his bed to become pulled apart – this is a tell-tale sign of stress in racing horses, but could also suggest that your horse isn’t happy with his environment.

 

What to do: Try and make his stable more comfortable. In winter you could invest in affordable, environmentally heating in the form of a burner that uses wood pellets and briquettes. In summer, try improving ventilation to allow the air to flow more freely. 

 

Leaving food – losing weight

 

 

If the livery hands are reporting that your horse isn’t touching his feed, or if you notice that he might be losing weight, then you should consider contacting a vet. This can often be a sign that he might not be happy, but it could also related to his physical health.

 

What to do: If in doubt, it’s always best to seek the advice of a trained vet; they’ll be able to examine your horse, as well as it’s lifestyle and be able to determine what the matter is.

The Evolution of Horse Riding Culture

The culture around horse riding has changed a lot over the years.

 

 

There was a time when being involved in the horse riding world, in the UK at least, meant inevitably mixing with a certain kind of person.

 

To the lay person, these people would be informally known as ‘horsey’ folks. You’re probably familiar with the kind of stereotype that I’m talking about. They’ll wear jodhpurs, even when they’re not going out riding, and will most likely speak with an accent that is so well spoken, it becomes almost unintelligible. Other cliches that prove to be surprisingly true include: buck teeth and a general air of snootiness. Although it might seem like I’m painting in broad strokes, such people do truly exist.

 

I remember crossing paths with characters such as these and the interactions would always vary. I’ve met some wonderful people through riding, but back in the early days I definitely got the feeling that I wasn’t completely welcome in this culture.  Today, I can understand where they were coming from: my initial passion and interest in horses had nothing to do with the creatures themselves, it was derived from a fantasy about the relationship between the horse and the owner; a fantasy that had been originated by the popularisation of the act of horse riding. This was a cultural movement in itself and no doubt something that these ‘horsey people’ did not appreciate.

 

 

Television and Hollywood were, of course, to blame. During the 80s and 90s there was an irrepressible surge of what can only be described as Equine propaganda. Adaptations of classic stories such as Black Beauty and Pocahontas emphasised the individualistic nature of the horse, suggesting that they were capable of incredible acts of bravery. Thrilling action-adventure romps, such as The Mask of Zorro, the Lord of the Rings and Hidalgo popularised the bond between the horse and it’s owner. These stories captured my imagination, leaving me aching to own one of these incredible creatures and develop a similar relationship with them.

 

This intention, borne out of a childish fascination, grew into a full fledged obsession, to the point where I proved to be far more dedicated to my horse than even the oldest of hands. I had to work hard to earn their respect – whether I wanted it or not.

 

Times change though and it’s partly in thanks to the dissemination of initial outsiders (like me) who’ve preferred to stay true to our own ideals, rather than assimilating into the more conventional Equine culture. So what does this mean in real terms for the development of equine culture and the way that us ‘horsey’ people treat each other?

 

I believe that the nature of horse riding and how it’s perceived in this modern world, has completely changed. Today the world of horse riding is a much more open and accessible one. Instead of standoffish characters who aren’t interested in your story or where you’re from, we now have people like me who’ve had the chance to grow up and develop our own form of Equine culture. I’m not going to judge you for wearing a fur pom-pom riding hat silk or straight up blank you when I walk past you in the yard. I’ll be interested in where your horse is from, what style of riding you’re into and what you’re aiming to achieve this year.

 

Horse Riding used to be a past-time whose cultural values were dictated by a ruling social class. Now things have changed and I hope that, if you were thinking of starting but were intimidated by the possibility of being socially ostracised, you’ll consider taking the plunge.

 

Trust me – it’s worth it.

 …

Leaving Jumping Behind

Since I bought back Jackson, the style of riding that I’m interested in has changed significantly.

 

 

Being of a more senior age than some of the other girls who use the stables, I’ve often felt a pang of guilt (or is it jealousy?) whenever I’ve seen them take their horses over the jumps.

 

Back when we were both starting out on our riding journeys, when he was a three year old gelding that I had part-ownership of and I was an eager seventeen year old, hungry for a challenge, we would have had no problem with clearing heights of 1.2 metres, sometimes even more. So what’s changed?

 

I’ve already discussed how proud I am of my old Arab. Although many stable owners would be considering putting him out to pasture at his age, after riding him for a couple of weeks now I know for certain that not only does he want to keep working, but he also wants to perform.

 

Anyone who has owned multiple horses, or has trained at an Equestrian centre, will know that all horses are different. Although we’re often warned against anthropomorphising our creatures – it’s an inevitability when you spend so much time with them.

 

 

I’d initially planned on taking on Jackson as a secondary ride for purely nostalgic reasons. I’d kept in touch with Lizzy, my friend from home, and had called her regularly to check up on them both. She’d always be as surprised as I was to report that he was remaining so spritely, despite his advancing years. Still, I knew that by the time I took full ownership of him, both of us would be getting a bit too long in the tooth to be attempting anything near the kind of jumping that we used to do.

 

Up until his move from Lizzy’s farm to my stables, I knew that he was mainly being used as a training horse. It might be a general rule to keep inexperienced riders off of older horses, due to their tendency to grow somewhat particular in their later years, but she had clearly trusted him enough to disregard this. Lizzy had used him for jumping shows whilst they were both a lot younger, but since she’d moved into the working world and had put her competition days firmly behind her, Jackson had been relegated to the position of a starter horse – a role that he had performed admirably – but, perhaps he was put into this role a little too early.

 

Each time I take him out hacking, I can tell that he wants to be pushed that bit faster. When we ride past a jump in the arena, I can sense him pulling towards them. My instincts tell me to calm him down and hold him back, but that’s where the guilt kicks in. If I continue restricting him to the safe types of activity that he can easily do, then soon he will lose the impetus to attempt anything else. Soon, he’ll simply be content with mild trots around the yard and he’ll no longer be the Jackson that I knew; the Jackson who loved nothing more than to gallop through the trails of the New Forest, tearing up the tracks and spraying mud on the hedges.

 

I’ve decided to stop protecting him from himself. He may be a little older in years (comparatively) to me, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to condescend to him. So now, from time to time, when I feel him pull towards a jump (as long as I know that the landing won’t damage him) we’re both going to take it and maybe we’ll take a trip back down to the New Forest on a quiet weekday afternoon.

 

Who knows, we might even recapture the same dizzying speeds of our youth…

Jackson Returns Home

The Summer months are a great time for bringing old horses back in to the fold…

 

 

That’s exactly what I did this week with my 28 year old Arab gelding, Jackson.

 

Jackson was quite literally the first horse that I ever rode and it feels so good to have him back with me again. When I was a teenager, about 17, I’d spent a gruelling year earning money washing dishes in the local pub. At this age most of my friends were busy dolling themselves up and trying their luck getting served in the pub – or out partying. Not me though. In my seventeenth year, I was scrubbing pots and picking baked-on cheese off ramekins – all so I could pool money together with a local girl for our first horse.

 

Horse sharing is still a great option for anyone looking to take their riding skills to the next level. For me, owning a horse (or at least in part) was always going to be the way towards improving my skills as a rider and fulfilling my lifelong dream of having a horse as a companion. At that age it was probably best for me to just have part ownership of him anyway. People often look back nostalgically at their youth, seeing it as a time when they had all the time in the world. But, in truth, there were just as many hours in the day back then as there are today.

 

I remember my teenage years being incredibly hectic. On top of the responsibilities that I had around the house, I had my college work to stay on top of and then there were extracurricular activities and all the social events that came along with them. The 12 hours a week that I spent caring for and riding Jackson never felt like just another activity that I had to dedicate my time to. When I cleaned out his stable, made his bed, scrubbed out out his hooves or took him out hacking, I never felt that I was wasting my time or that I was missing out on anything else.

 

There was something so calming about his presence. I know many horse owners gain a great pleasure from talking to their horses as if they were people. But, aside from a simple ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ I never really shared that much with him; I never felt that it was necessary. Doing all the little things to make sure that he was comfortable was my way of communicating. He saw me doing it and I believe he had at least a small grasp on the relationship that we had. I would feed him, clean him, brush him and in return he would adhere to my commands and take me across the trails of the New Forest.

 

15 years later and that feeling of serenity is still there. I know that I’ve changed a lot over those years but Jackson still feels like the same horse. He’s been stabled just a few miles outside of my childhood home for all this time, cared for well by my friend, who took full ownership of him when I moved away.

 

Although I know he’s got probably got less than ten years left of good life, I intend to make everyone of them as satisfying for him as possible.