First Polo Lessons!

polo-lessonHello! If you’ve read my last blog post you’ll know that the 100th horse I rode was a polo pony. I told you that I had a lot of exciting stories to tell you, and one of them is that I’ve started learning polo!!!

So far I’ve only had a few lessons, but it’s amazing how fast everyone’s progressed! The other new riders and I are nothing compared to the riders who have been playing several years, but already we’re managing to play chukkas in walk – and score goals!!

Polo, in case you don’t already know, is a game played on horseback that has been described as a bit like hockey. Usually there are four players on each team, and they all have a wooden mallet with which they have to hit a small white ball. As with most ball games, the aim is to hit the ball into the opposing team’s goal. This is easier said than done!

I thought I’d share with you some of the thing I’ve learnt in my first few polo lessons, as it’s great fun and very different to ‘normal’ riding.

Forget What You’ve Learnt

Polo needs a different riding style to regular dressage/showjumping, and polo ponies are trained to understand different signals. It’s similar in many ways so it won’t take long to pick up the basics, but if you try steering with the reins in two hands (even just to get out the way of the mounting block when you’ve got on) your pony won’t understand! Apart from having the reins in one hand and neck-reining, you have to hold the reins in a completely different way. It’s very strange to start with, so you almost need to forget what you’ve already learnt.

There’s an Art to Holding a Mallet

This is another thing that’s very confusing, even after several lessons. You can’t just grip the mallet – you have to make sure it’s facing the right way, try to remember how to wrap the ribbon at the end round your hand, and then position your fingers in the right place. This is very important as your arm is going to get tired from hitting the ball and it’s easiest if you’re holding the mallet correctly.

It Makes ‘Normal’ Riding Feel Over-Complicated

Once you get over the strangeness of polo riding you begin to wonder why you ever rode any differently!! The lightest pressure on the reins (even with them just in one hand!) will steer a polo pony much more easily than all those arguments you use to have with nappy riding school ponies. Polo ponies are trained to be forward and sensitive, but it’s also a more natural riding style.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

The advice that’s probably equally applicable for all ball games is to keep your eye on the ball. Being on speedy polo ponies, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but stay focused on the ball. If you let yourself get distracted by what other people are doing, chances are you’re going to miss it.

Just Go For It

Polo is something best learnt by doing and learning by experience. Practise makes perfect after all!! Get out there. Hit the ball. Try a faster place. Don’t hold back. The worst that  can happen is that you’ll miss the ball, and at the end of the day polo is a competitive sport!

Get Over the Ball

When you’re about to hit the ball you’re suppose to get out the saddle into a sort of light seat. However, it’s different from your typical jumping light seat in that you need to be actually over the ball. To get a better polo position, it help to think about getting your head actually above the ball, as this will help you lean out the saddle properly to hit the ball

Your Pony Will Help You

Polo ponies are generally very well trained! They’ve learnt what you’re trying to do and will automatically follow the ball to some extent. Sometimes they kick the ball themselves, which may be helpful or unhelpful. Even if you miss, your pony may help you and kick it along! Also, it’s important to remember to trust your pony! Polo ponies know what to do and will help you if you ride properly!!

Polo Is a Team Sport

One of the main things that makes polo so much fun is that it is a team sport! It relies on both individual partnerships with your pony and a collective team spirit, the combination of which makes it unlike many other sports. Possibly one of, if not the most important thing, is to back each other up, support, and communicate. Different people have different skills and it is only by supporting each other that you can succeed – meaning polo is automatically more sociable than ‘normal’ riding can sometimes be!!

Keep Moving

Polo is a fast-moving sport (when you’re ready for the speed!) and requires you to keep moving forwards. Don’t stop on the ball, just keep moving, and when you’re ready to up the pace a bit, go for it!!

Polo requires a whole new skill set compared to regular riding, but it also feels very familiar. At the end of the day, it’s still horse riding and if you already ride you will feel surprisingly at home in the saddle. Polo isn’t as intimidating as you might expect!

If you get the opportunity to learn polo take it!!! It’s the most amazing fun, and there’s something very satisfying about the clunk of your mallet hitting the ball!

Keep loving horses,

Horse Daydreamer xxx

 

 

My One Hundredth Horse!

autumn-horseHello! It’s been a while since I last posted anything, but I’ve decided to start writing again. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, so I should have some exciting stories to tell you, but I might be a bit irregular in how often I post articles. Think of them as a nice surprise! (I hope it’s a nice surprise!!)

Ok, so my first news – as you may have gathered from the title – is that I’ve now ridden 100 horses! I’ve kept a list of the names of every horse and pony I’ve ridden since I started learning properly, and it just kept growing!

It was at 99 for quite a long time before horse number 100 came along, and it seems very fitting that she was a special horse. My 100th horse is a polo pony!!! But more about that later…

100 is quite a significant number, it sounds almost exaggerated but it’s not, I promise! I’m yet to own my own horse (that’s a dream of mine that will come true one day!) and have been riding now for about eight-and-a-half years.

Mostly I’ve just had weekly lessons at my riding school, with occasional extra rides whenever there were Pony Club rallies or summer camps. I love horses but I’m not one of those lucky, lucky people who get to ride nearly every day.

As much as I wish I had a horse of my own, not doing so may be partly why I’ve been able to ride such a variety of different horses. From 4-year-old Connemaras to 16.2hh Irish Draughts, elderly thoroughbreds to cheeky little Welsh ponies, beautiful Andalucians to trustworthy trekking cobs, I’ve had the chance to ride many different horses and ponies!

It’s worth noting that all the horses I’ve ridden were relatively safe, enough to be in a riding school. They all have their quirks and difficulties – some of them were by no means easy – but none of them were dangerous or ‘problem’ horses. I don’t want to lie about my ability!!

Still, compared to people who have ridden the same horse for the past six years or so, getting on a horse that I don’t know doesn’t phase me. (And I know nobody would give me a horse they didn’t think I could manage.)

100 is a significant number, and it means I have lots of stories to share!! I know though that I’m far from being a ‘good’ rider, whatever that vague and ever-shifting label means, so I still want to learn as much about horses as I can! I’ll be writing about what I’ve learned (and what I love) here. I hope you’ll join me on the endless journey of equine obsession!! And I’d love to hear your stories too, so please share them in the comments!

See you soon,

Horse Daydreamer xx

Eriskay Ponies Aren’t Icelandic!!

eriskay ponyHiya!

One time when I was little we learnt about the native pony breeds of Britain at Pony Club. The trainee instructors who were running the session asked us what native ponies we had heard of before. Most people gave the expected answers: Shetland, Connemara, Welsh Mountain Pony…

Trying to come up with an answer nobody else would have, when it was my turn I said “Eriskay!”

There was a moment of silence before the trainee instructor replied. “Aren’t they from Iceland?”

I remember my surprise, because when I was little I thought the yard staff knew everything there was to know about horses! Even though I was certain Eriskay ponies were from Britain, I didn’t say anything. Eriskay ponies didn’t get added to our list.

It’s only since then that I’ve realised how few people have actually heard of Eriskay ponies!! They’re a very rare breed – the only reason I know of them is probably because the Eriskay Pony Society brought some to a country show near me every year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Eriskay ponies before, but I thought I’d tell you a bit about them!!

Without the people of Eriskay there would be no pony but without the pony there would be no people on Eriskay.

– Father Calum MacLellan, island priest of Eriskay

Eriskay ponies come from Eriskay Island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Most definitely not Iceland!!! (Iceland’s only horse or pony breed is the Icelandic.)

They’re about 12hh-13.2hh and usually grey, although black and bay Eriskays are found. Like all the native ponies, they have a thick waterproof coat and can live out all year round.

Traditionally crofters’ ponies, Eriskays are friendly and have a reputation as “back door” ponies! The nature of their work meant they were mostly handled by women and children, so only ponies with the best temperaments were bred from. Their work included carrying peat and seaweed, pulling carts, working in the fields, and taking children to school!

Although they’re very fond of human company, quick to learn, and versatile, Eriskays are listed as “Critical” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. This means there are less than 300 breeding mares in the world, and they are at risk of extinction. In the early 1970s there were only 20 purebred Eriskays left!!!

Since then Eriskay pony enthusiasts have brought them back from the brink, promoting the breed, but they still remain at risk. Apparently Eriskays are the rarest horse or pony breed in Europe, and even closer to extinction than the giant panda! (If you don’t believe me read this.)

The Eriskay Pony is the last survivor of the native ponies of the Western Isles of Scotland. It’s origins are ancient, certainly with Celtic and Norse connections. Carvings of ponies of similar proportions are depicted on Pictish stones throughout the north and west of Scotland.

– extract from a leaflet by the Eriskay Pony Society

These friendly, fun, and quite frankly adorable ponies are now very successful in all sorts of roles! Family ponies, children’s ponies, riding, driving, show jumping, dressage, Pony Club activities, showing, endurance, with disabled riders/drivers… even western!!! You name it; Eriskays can do it!

I hope you’re enjoying my blog!! Thank you for reading!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Keeping a Riding Journal! (Part 2)

horse diaryHello again!

I said in part one that I’ve been keeping a riding journal for a year and have found it really helpful. This time I’m going to share some more extracts from my riding journal, and give some ideas about what you could write.

jumped grid of 3 fences, difficult on left rein mainly because the pony I was riding kept napping towards the other horses, need to fix outside elbow towards stomach & keep tummy muscles straight to be get stronger grip on rein to stop napping – worked but difficult

– extract from my riding journal, July 2015

 

practising jump off skills (even though I don’t compete much), 3 fences across the long diagonal, small because focusing on lines & straightness not the jump, the horse I was riding tanked off a bit, he use to hunt in Ireland & can be quite strong, repetitive exercises not best for the horse I was riding as he thinks he’s a know-it-all, jumped from other direction & he was better because he wasn’t expecting it

– extract from my riding journal, August 2015

 

first time ridden pony, challenging but in a good way, sensitive, fast, did Prix Caprilli but with ground poles instead of jumps, when I ride a pony/horse I know is sensitive I tend to give very light aids but my instructor told me I shouldn’t do that, need to keep under the thumb & constantly use lots of rein, rein contact will stop the pony from rushing off & remind him that I’m there

– extract from my riding journal, October 2015

 

best ride ever with the pony I was riding (the same pony as in the July 2015 extract above), in a good mood before lesson, single jump at B & then a long related distance down the other long side, in warm up quite forward going when I kept my leg on but I needed to keep him straight, not as nappy as usual though not perfect, serpentines working on standing up/ironing board/jump position,  had to circle after 1st fence as not straight enough after to jump related distance, need to work on straightness but kept pony forward going & stopped him from napping, my instructor said best jumping seen me do

– extract from my riding journal, December 2015

In each journal entry I always list which horse I was riding, where I rode, and what I did. Then I usually write a bit about what the horse is like, and try to analyse (at a basic level!) their way of going according to the scales of training. To finish I add what I learnt and/or achieved, but generally I try to keep each entry chronological so I might write this earlier if it fits.

And, of course, you can’t forget the date!!!

Hopefully this will give you some ideas about how to keep a riding journal! Let me know how you get on!!

Happy riding!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Keeping a Riding Journal! (Part 1)

diaryHiya!

I started keeping a journal of my riding lessons just over a year ago. I’ve found it really helpful in keeping track of my rides, progress, and achievements, so I thought I would share what I’ve learnt with you!!

I keep my riding journal in note form rather than full sentences because it’s quicker and I find it means I’m more likely to keep it up to date. Here are a few extracts from various entries over the past year!

jumping lesson with superstar little pony, jumped grid of about 2’6″, need to keep my hips further back in jump position (I have the bad habit of standing up rather than actually going into jump position), need to kick on just before the jump even if I know the pony I’m riding will jump it

– extract from my riding journal, January 2015

 

first time ridden pony, jumped like the Irish hunting pony he is: very fast & very big, he “jumps like a stag” as my instructor said, told to give with my hands more over the jumps than I normally would, grid built up to 3’ (usually I only jump about 2’6”), amazing lesson

– extract from my riding journal, February 2015

 

rode two horses as we swapped half way through the lesson so we could compare different horses’ way of going:

first pony forward going & fun but not very responsive breaks, very speedy & hard to slow down, took ages to get downward transition, he didn’t have any rhythm so needed to work on that, 20m circles in walk while encouraging him to stretch & relax, some improvement

second horse not very off the leg & hard work, slow walk but more active trot, felt had to rely on tugging reins to steer (which I don’t normally do), he was heavy on the bit & on the forehand, worked on trying to get off the forehand, told not to do lots of long trots as that would put him more on the forehand

– extract from my riding diary, May 2015

 

flat lesson, tried to collect & extend paces , difficult, didn’t really understand how, instructor explained differently how to collect & extend & it suddenly all made sense, I had to “bounce him” along the short sides of the arena to collect & “then let him go” down the long sides to extend, much better after that

– extract from my riding diary, June 2015

Some people like to keep a traditional paper diary in their tack box so they can write in it straight after their ride, others write it on the computer or their phones. It doesn’t really matter how you keep a riding journal, but I recommend that you do! It really helps you remember all the tips your riding instructor gives you, and you can look back to see how much you’ve improved your riding!!

If you have your own horse it can be useful for recording his/her training. If, like me, you go to a riding school you probably ride a lot of different horses, and keeping a riding journal is useful for remembering each horse’s character for the next time you ride them.

Do you keep a riding journal? What’s the best tip you’ve ever learnt for riding?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the extracts from my riding diary – part two will be coming soon!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Blue Skies and Horse Dreams!

sky horseHi!

It’s nearly the end of 2015 and the start of 2016, so I’ll wish you an early happy New Year!!

Come January, we all start thinking about turning our lives into the lives we want. The scattered, abandoned promises of last year are forgotten as we enthusiastically come up with our New Year’s resolutions. Is it just me, or do New Year’s resolutions always seem to be the same, repeated then forgotten every year?

Still, I like January! It feels like a fresh start, another chance, full of endless possibilities and opportunities. A few years ago I came across the concept of blue sky thinking, which I think is very poetic and suitable for New Year. Anything is possible, there are no limitations!!!

Sometimes it’s slightly sad reflecting on the past year, but the overriding feeling is one of hopeful positivity for the future.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

– Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

Do you celebrate New Year? Usually there’s a party on New Year’s eve, with people traditionally singing Auld Lang Syne, and then everyone setting off fireworks at the stroke of midnight!!! The sky is filled with colour and light!!

I’m determined to stick to my New Year’s resolutions this time! I want 2016 to be the year I fulfil my horse dreams and thought I’d share my horsey New Year’s resoultions with you:

  1. To work towards my Pony Club C+ test and be ready to take it by the end of the year.
  2. To start entering more shows and competitions (I’ve not done much competing but the last show I did was fun).
  3. To continue volunteering with horses and gain more equine experience.

Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions, and have a very happy New Year!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Christmas With Horses!!

christmas horseMerry Christmas!!!

One of the things I love most about Christmas is the magic and beauty of this time of year. I volunteer for a horse charity and the excitement of the children I’ve been helping makes it really feels like Christmas!!

Before the children arrived for their riding lesson we (me and the other volunteers) decorated the suprisingly patient ponies in tinsel. They looked like fluffy, four-legged Christmas trees by the time we were done! We tied tinsel around their necks, in their manes and tails, and behind their saddles. The ponies were very interested in staring at themselves in the riding arena mirrors once we were done, but the children loved it!!!

I told you in a previous blog post here that I was going to Olympia Horse Show this Christmas. I went, and it was every bit as amazing as I’d anticipated!

The extreme driving, which I’d never seen before, was very impressive – the carriages had four horses and turned really tight circles between cones/blocks at speeds, according to the announcer, of over 25mph!!

The Household Mounted Cavalry Musical Ride was incredible too! I’ve done drill rides before, which are similar, and I know how difficult it is. We only tried to trot really slowly through each other, but they were galloping full speed and jumping over each other’s spears as they did so!!

There were so many things at Olympia worth telling you about that it would take forever, so I won’t try to tell you about any more for now. I’ll just say that, if you’ve never been to Olympia before, you should defintely go next year if you get the chance!! It’s brilliant, amazing, fantastic!!!!

My last riding lesson before Christmas was so much fun! We played gymkhana games, and I think my leaning-out-the-saddle-to-pick-things-up skills made up for the fact that my pony had a tendency to canter off to join the other team instead!!! Though, to be fair, it might have helped that I was riding quite a small pony while some of the others had 16hh horses!!

I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Bye for now!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Bareback Moonlit Hack!!

moonlit horseHi everyone!

It’s that time of year again! The nights are getting colder and darker, the daylight hours retreating. Soon it’ll be winter!

For us horsey people winter means frozen fingers, endless mud, and searching for that rug which always seems to disappear when it’s needed. Catching or turning out a horse becomes a challenging feat with the navigation of thick mud, and puddles that forget they’re suppose to be puddles, not lakes!!

Ok, now I’ve done the compulsory complaining about winter weather, I have to admit I actually quite like winter! The starry skies and dark shadows are beautiful at the yard after dark.

The last time I was at the stables I’d just had an amazing riding lesson. The horse I’d ridden was being used again in another lesson, so I got to help turn out the ponies. There was a group of us turning out several ponies and we decided to ride them out to their fields. We rode bareback with just an extra leadrope on the headcollar, no saddle or bridle!

I got to ride the tiniest, fluffiest, cutest little pony ever!!! He was the pony I learnt to jump on and I hadn’t ridden him for years!! I’d thought I was too big to ride him but everyone else thought it was ok, and he didn’t seem to mind. His winter coat was growing through and, because he was unclipped, he was like the fluffiest teddy bear ever!! Just so cute!!!!

It wasn’t very late but once we left the yard it was black as night. Our ponies went in the fields furthest from the stable yard, so we had to ride through fields, ditches, banks, and the woods to get there!! Really, it was like an unofficial hack – but bareback and in the dark!!! Above us hung a beautiful moon, the stars hidden behind patterned clouds. We had a head torch, but it was only faint and the light didn’t reach far.

It was a magical moment, riding that little pony out into the night! Riding with just a headcollar is easier than you’d expect if you’ve never done it before. There was plenty of laughter along the way (we were, after all, going on a night time adventure!), especially after we turned the ponies out into their field and had to walk back to the yard without getting stuck in the mud!! Now that was difficult!!!

See you next time!

Horse Daydreamer xxx