As I mentioned earlier, Poppy had a deep loathing for her bit. She made it perfectly clear each time I approached her with the bridle by clenching her jaws and holding her head up high like a giraffe.
I hunted through my garden shed to find the Bitless Bridle I’d used on a previous pony but was dismayed to find it mouldy, stiff and completely unusable. I wasn’t surprised because it was a cheap copy of a Dr Cook Bridle so I decided to try and find an official one. This wasn’t easy as they aren’t very common in the UK but thanks to the magic of the Internet I located a riding school in Wales that specialised in official Dr Cooks.
After several emails with Marjorie, the lady who owned the place, I realised I’d been talked into actually going up there to stay for a weekend!
“How did that happen?” I wondered. I only wanted to buy a bridle, however I was very intrigued to meet her and learn all about how to correctly fit the bridle, my only wish was that she lived a bit closer.
I felt very excited as I packed my case, typed the postcode into the satnav and set off. Due to having postnatal depression I’d not actually been anywhere on my own for several years so it felt like I was embarking on an adventure.
A huge burden of responsibility lifted off my shoulders as I entered the motorway and left Leeds behind. The satnav decided that the most direct route would be really boring and that we should take the scenic route instead, so 5 and a half hours later and with my back shrieking at me in pain, I finally arrived at the destination which was on the top of a large hill, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
A feeling of trepidation filtered into my body when I drove into the gravelled yard, as I realised how secluded the place was and that I had no phone signal. Yikes!
“Welcome! Welcome!” called a jolly voice as I stepped out of the car. I looked around and there was Marjorie smiling and waving in such a friendly way that my worries disappeared instantly. She was accompanied by a medium sized, very fluffy, pink pig who snuffled around my feet waggling his bottom.
“This is Arnold!” said Marjorie “He’s frightfully friendly and extremely intelligent, aren’t you little man?”
“Hello!” I said to Arnold who was nibbling the handle of my suitcase.
“Let’s drop your stuff and I’ll give you a tour!” said Marjorie very enthusiastically.
Marjorie, who looked about 50, was dressed similarly to Barbara from The Good Life, in denim dungarees. Her long, grey hair was tied up in what looked like a tea-towel which declared “Welcome to Bridlington”. (At least that’s what I think it said, I could only actually see ‘ome to Brid’ and pictures of seagulls)
A winding path led to a wonderful olde-worlde cottage with a traditional thatched roof and various outbuildings scattered around haphazardly.
The inside of the cottage was fascinating with large pot plants and colourful crystals everywhere, creating the feel of an Aladdin’s cave. Dusty old paintings of horses hung on the walls and here and there a photograph of Marjorie with various animals.
“We’ll park your stuff here for now and I’ll show you around.” said Marjorie, putting my case near the kitchen table. I noticed that Arnold had followed us into the kitchen but Marjorie didn’t seem to mind.
A very fluffy tabby cat sprang off the window ledge and followed us outside as if to join us on the tour.
“Come on Percy, you can come too!” laughed Marjorie.
Marjorie was very well-spoken and had originally lived in the South of England.
“I’ve always loved Wales!” she said, when I asked her about it. “The land here is perfect for horses. Look and learn my dear girl!” and she knelt down on the ground in the middle of a paddock full of ponies.
“Come along kneel down you can’t see from up there! Or I can’t anyway, not without my glasses. Where are my glasses?” Marjorie fumbled in her pockets. “Found them! Oh dear they seem to be in a crisp packet how did that happen? Oh well, never mind, look around and tell me what you can see!”
I looked around.
“Er well I can see a field!” I said, not really knowing what more to say.
“Not just a field my dear! Is it full of grass?” asked Marjorie, head cocked to one side.
“No!” The field was definitely not full of grass. Unlike the perfect billiard-green field at Poppy’s livery yard, this pasture was teaming with various weeds.
“Weeds are a very negative word for these marvellous herbs,” said Marjorie who then proceeded to point out several types of ‘weeds’ and explained the health benefits they had for horses.
It was so fascinating and eye-opening. I’m ashamed to say that I’d never given a moment’s thought to what was in the field at the yard.
“Sadly, not many people do,” said Marjorie heaving herself back onto her feet. “They generally think ’is there enough grass or is there too much grass?’ But that’s only a very small part of what a horse needs to eat. You wouldn’t just eat potatoes and nothing else, would you?”
“No!” I laughed.
“Right! Oh, hello where did you come from?” Marjorie was suddenly surrounded by a flock of Alpacas. “Have you escaped again you cheeky devils?”
The alpacas lived in an adjacent field but had decided to leap over the dry-stone wall to see what we were doing. Arnold the pig didn’t seem to like the Alpacas and he trotted off back to the gate.
“They love visitors!” said Marjorie, biting her lip and looking slightly concerned. “But they are a bit naughty. We must get them back into their own field.”
Rounding up the Alpacas was reminiscent of a Benny Hill scene with the whole flock running around in circles followed by myself and Marjorie trying to herd them towards the gate but not succeeding as they kept splitting into two groups at the crucial moment. Finally, when we were almost collapsing from exhaustion, they decided for themselves to leap back over the wall and wander off as if bored of the game.
“Phew!” said Marjorie, doubled over and gasping for breath. “Well that’s our exercise for the day! Or indeed the whole week! Now we’ll just grab some milk and then we’ll go and have dinner.”
‘Grabbing some milk’ did not involve a trip to the local shop. No, it involved actually milking a goat.
Marjorie had five goats and they could all roam freely around the yard and fields. Similar to the Alpacas really, as they had just demonstrated that they could go wherever they fancied!
The goats were very amenable to being milked and it didn’t take long before Marjorie had filled up a jug.
“Right let’s have dinner!”
Dinner was out of this world as it was all her own produce and tasted divine. We dined in the lovely old kitchen, which had traditional oak beams covered in horse brasses, accompanied by Arnold who ate his dinner out of large ceramic bowl next to the fireplace.
“He’s like a dog really!” said Marjorie eyeing him fondly.
But the best was yet to come as Marjorie had a wonderful home-made wooden hot tub over-looking the most incredible view of wild hills, un-touched by humans. It was truly the most amazing experience to sit in the gloriously hot water whilst being entertained by a beautiful peacock who strutted around, showing off his fantastic tail feathers.
“I don’t know where he came from!” mused Marjorie. “He turned up last summer and never left so he obviously feels at home.”
I couldn’t blame him for making it his home, it was such a stunning place to be.
My bedroom turned out to be a conservatory at the back of the house separated from the living room by a large, flowery curtain.
“Arnold sleeps in the spare bedroom, I’m afraid,” said Marjorie apologetically “and he would be most upset if I turfed him out!”
I didn’t mind at all as I was so tired I would have slept anywhere. I wondered if Arnold slept on a bed or if the room was filled with straw like a stable… Sadly, I never got to know the answer as I didn’t want to appear completely nosey. Anyway, the bed in the conservatory was perfect and I had the best night’s sleep I’d had for years.
I was woken at 7 by the extremely loud, ethereal sounds of the peacock and the smell of cooking breakfast got me out of bed very quickly.
“Today you will meet my partner in crime!” said Marjorie waving a spatula around, “Bloody flies get everywhere! Get away from our breakfast!” The big fat bluebottle managed to escape out of the window.
“What was I saying? Oh yes, Julie is coming to give you a wonderful day of training! She’s absolutely marvellous.”
Julie arrived shortly after breakfast and turned out to be a very friendly, easy going woman of around the age of 40. She was dressed very simply in jeans and a pink checked shirt and long, blond hair tied back in a ponytail. As I had no idea what to expect, the day unfolded into the most magical experience.
“Usually we do this work in groups but you’re very lucky because a one to one is so much more effective.” said Julie, as we walked to the pony field.
“Now have a look at the herd and without giving it too much thought, choose 3 horses that you like and 1 that you don’t.”
I looked at the herd and instantly chose 3 that I liked. Each one reminded me of the ponies I had loved over the course of my life.
Marjorie quietly collected them and led them over.
“Now the one you don’t like?”
One horse stood out immediately to me. He was a large, bay sports horse, named Andy, that made me feel uneasy.
Marjorie let the 3 ponies run loose into her indoor arena and then she collected Andy.
As they walked past me, Andy stopped and put his nose on my heart very gently.
“He’s telling you that you don’t need to be afraid.” said Julie and with that I promptly dissolved into tears.
Julie led me into the indoor arena and handed me a tissue.
“Talk to me about your fears,” she said kindly, as the big horse came over and put his nose on me again.
In a jumbled mess I spoke about my fear of Poppy, how she had come into my life and how I felt such a huge burden of responsibility to do the best for her but how terrifying it was to know she could run so fast.
“Come and stand next to Andy’s side and put your hands on him.” said Julie. “Now close your eyes and just feel his energy.”
I stood with my hands on Andy’s warm, powerful shoulder, feeling his large muscles. His skin was soft as satin, just like Poppy’s and he was very tall, just like Poppy. He stood so still and so calmly, breathing very rhythmically. I began to breathe in time with him. Fear melted away and a sensation of love began to emanate from my heart. Andy curved his neck around and put his large nose on my head, very gently. More tears poured out and Julie and Marjorie stood in perfect silence, holding the space.
I suddenly felt calm and no longer afraid and I could see that there was no malice in Andy and no malice in Poppy. They were just horses…
To be continued…