I looked at Poppy and she looked at me. Well half looked at me because she was grazing at the time so she had one eye on the grass. Something felt different in a very nice way and I stood for a while, savouring the moment.
“Elise is coming soon so let’s go and get ready,” I said pulling a bit of grass out of her raggedy mane. Poppy stood, chewing, but she wasn’t annoyed when I put the headcollar on. She didn’t attempt to bugger off like she usually did and she walked very happily down the track towards the barn. Luckily, Bobby and Simon had obviously found something delicious to eat as they didn’t bother to come and cause any trouble.
There had been no one at the yard when I arrived, however the scene in the barn when I returned was surprising to say the least!
“Mum you are absolutely mad!” fumed a very cross looking young woman as she marched down the row of stables.
“Oh stop fussing!” replied her mother, wheeling herself along with a determined look in her eyes. They were accompanied by an old-ish man with a thick grey beard, wearing a brown knitted cardigan over a blue checked shirt. He looked like a dusty old professor, and he raised his eyebrows at me in a subdued sort of a way.
“Hello!” greeted the woman in the wheel-chair, “I’m June!” she had very sparkly hazel eyes and a mop of curly, ginger hair and the biggest smile. She had such a warm friendly aura I couldn’t help but smile back and say hello and introduce myself.
“Ooh what a lovely horse!” said June, enthusiastically. Poppy had a good sniff of June’s wheelchair and unfortunately deposited a glob of snot on the arm rest.
“Oh yikes! Poppy! I’m sorry about that, I’ll wipe it off,” I pulled a tissue out of my pocket and hastily removed the snot while June laughed her head off.
“Well the stable looks ok,” said the angry daughter who had marched back over to us. “Hi, I’m Susan, this is my mad mother June who is on a mission to kill herself!” she said by way of an introduction.
“Oh now come on Susan, I think that’s a bit harsh,” said the very harassed looking man who turned out to be called David.
“She’ll end up being in that chair permanently if she goes ahead with this!” Susan sounded extremely stressed. “I’m not getting involved anymore. I’m going!” and with that, she marched off.
June chuckled. “Don’t mind her! She’s just worried about me I suppose but I’ve always wanted a horse and nobody is going to stop me from fulfilling my dream!”
“Oh. Well that’s a very good attitude!” was all I could think of to say.
“My numbers came up on the Premium bonds so I thought, June, what have you always wanted? And the answer was a horse of course! So I found one I liked the look of on Horsemart and I bought it there and then and she’ll be arriving any minute now! I’m so excited!” June’s face was red with excitement while her husband seemed apprehensive but in resigned acceptance.
“Wow that’s certainly taking the plunge! Did you go and see her first?” I asked.
“Ooh no! As soon as I saw her face I knew she was the horse for me!”
I was gobsmacked and wondered how she would manage to cope with a horse. June could walk for short distances but due to an operation to fix a lumbar disc protrusion and a facet joint problem, she had to be wheeled for a while.
I groomed Poppy while June told me all about her back problems which had started after having children; her daughter Susan who had a horse elsewhere; her sons who were both dentists and various other bits of family life. She was very engaging and jolly and didn’t seem in the least bit bothered about her back problem or the fact that she’d not really done that much riding. She’d sat on Susan’s horse a few times many years ago, but “How hard can it be?” she said.
“Erm…” I was about to reply when Elise arrived so I had to go for my lesson. It was good timing because I suddenly realised why Susan had been so extremely cross.
“Yikes!” I thought to myself as I led Poppy to the school, “I hope she will be ok!”
“Walk her round let’s see you both moving!” called Elise as she stood in the centre of the school in her tweeds, looking very commanding as usual, and all thoughts of June left my mind. “Lovely, ok mount up!” I duly got on board and walked Poppy around the school while Elise watched and made helpful comments.
“Now then let’s build on the formation of trust,” said Elise as she walked over and attached a lunge line to Poppy’s bridle. “Take your feet out of the stirrups and cross them over in front of you.” I felt a bit worried and glanced at the ground which was a long way down.
“Don’t look down there or that’s where you’ll end up!” exclaimed Elise. “Goodness me, Grace, look ahead!” she was right of course.
We began by just walking round in a large circle a few times while I relaxed and sat deeper in the saddle.
“Ok that’s better now close your eyes!” called Elise.
“What!” I was horrified.
“Come along close your eyes! Don’t worry we’re only walking and I’ve got hold of her.”
I closed my eyes with huge apprehension and then opened one eye.
“Grace!” said Elise sharply.
“It’s scary!” I squeaked.
“Nonsense! Now take a deep breath and relax. You look like you’re about to have root canal work!” laughed Elise, heartily.
I took a deep breath and allowed myself to relax a bit more.
“Good. Now shut your eyes!”
“Oh Goddd!” I wailed.
“Come on!” commanded Elise.
“Ok! Yikes!” I closed my eyes. It felt so disturbing! “This is awful!”
“No it isn’t, don’t be silly, concentrate on your seat.” Elise said firmly.
I focused on my seat and my balance.
“That’s better! Now really be aware of what you’re feeling. Be aware of how Poppy is moving and allow yourself to move with her.”
It was a very peculiar experience to give up control to Elise and become more aware of how it actually felt to ride Poppy rather than be completely focused on everything I was seeing.
Poppy took such big, smooth strides and I could feel that she was also very relaxed even though she was walking quite fast.
“Now let go of the reins!” said Elise.
“Are you mad?!” I said opening my eyes wide with horror.
“Close those eyes!” commanded Elise. I closed my eyes again. “Now I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I thought you weren’t ready.”
I thought about that and agreed. Elise was an excellent teacher and always knew how far to take someone without going too far.
“Ok now let go of the reins.”
“Aarghh!” I squirmed inwardly but I let go of the reins.
“Excellent! Put your hands on your thighs. Now remember to breathe and let your legs hang long. Move with her!”
Although it was terrifying initially it soon felt quite magical. I felt completely relaxed and at one with Poppy.
Elise began to move us around the school doing small circles and large circles and then we went over low poles, all with my eyes shut and no reins! It was a very exhilarating and powerful exercise and I definitely felt more connected with Poppy afterwards.
“Excellent! Well done you!” said Elise with a big smile on her face. “Obviously, don’t practice that on your own!” she laughed.
“Ha! No way!” I agreed. “That was amazing! I could really feel her body moving even through the saddle.”
“All these small steps are what will help to bring you both together and then it will be so much easier when we start with all the dressage training.”
Elise showed me a few more pole exercises for homework and then went on her way.
I led Poppy back to the barn, feeling absolutely fantastic, and was greeted by a scene of great excitement. In my absence, June’s new horse had arrived and so had Sally, Jack and Green-Haired Alex which was fortunate because at least they knew what to actually do with a horse and had led her into the stable. David had no idea whatsoever and June wasn’t much better. Her excitement had turned to nerves when the reality of buying a horse suddenly was right there in front of her face.
June’s previously glowing face had turned rather pale, to say the least.
“Oh dear, erm I’m not really sure of what to do first!” June mumbled.
“Don’t you worry luv, we’ll all help you!” smiled Jack who had warmed to June’s open and friendly nature. “When I bought my first horse I didn’t have a clue either. At least you’ve already sorted out your stable, I had to keep my horse in the garden for the first week!”
“You never?!” laughed Sally.
“Yes she did!” I nodded, remembering the sorry tale of Jack’s crazy impulse buy.
“But you seem so sensible!” exclaimed Sally in total shock.
“Ha!” laughed Jack “Every now and then I get an idea in my head and I just do things without thinking! I didn’t even know how to ride.”
“No way!” said Alex who also couldn’t believe that Jack could be so crazy. “What happened?”
“Well I’d always wanted a horse and I woke up one day and thought ‘bugger it I’m buying one’ so I went to the auction and just bought one. Then I realised I didn’t have anywhere to keep her so I put her in the garden until I found somewhere!” Jack laughed her head off as she remembered how mad she’d been.
“I didn’t even know how to groom her! The livery yard owner had to teach me!” continued Jack as everyone listened, open-mouthed in shock.
“So how did you ride her?” asked Sally, completely dumb-founded.
“Some of the girls at the yard gave me lessons.”
“Wow! What happened to that horse?” asked Alex.
“Well she turned out to be in foal.” said Jack.
“Oh my God! A bogof!” gasped Sally.
“A what?” asked June.
“Buy one get one free!”
“Oh!” laughed June.
“She had a beautiful foal but I didn’t have a clue how to train her so I sold her.” said Jack, sadly.
“Ahh that’s a shame. What happened to the mum?” asked Sally.
“She got colic and had to be put to sleep. So then I bought Buddy.”
“What a story!” said Alex.
“I’m glad I’m not the only daft woman!” said June looking a bit more cheerful. “My daughter thinks this will be the death of me.”
“Rubbish!” said Jack “We’ll help you to prove her wrong. My mam said the same to me and so far, I’m still alive!”
“Let’s give her a brush and some hay,” said Alex grabbing a haynet and tying it up for June’s new horse, Beatrix. I must say, she was a truly stunning horse with a beautiful, dapple-grey coat and an almost silvery looking mane and tail. I could see why June had fallen instantly in love with her.
Luckily, Beatrix had arrived with a full wardrobe of tack, rugs and grooming tools so we all enjoyed teaching June how to groom. She managed to get out of her wheelchair, with the help of David, and had a great time brushing Beatrix’s beautiful hair.
I was so impressed by David’s kind and calm manner. He clearly adored June and even though what she was about to do was exceedingly dangerous, he supported her dream to do it.
June’s surgeon was, of course, totally horrified and completely against the idea but June didn’t give a hoot. This was her life, she was 65 and she was going to live her dream.
“All my kids are adults and I’ve spent my whole life looking after them, looking after my parents and David too. I love you David but it’s my time now!” said June.
“I love you too!” smiled David and it brought tears to all our eyes.
“Wow what a great guy!” I gulped.
“Oof I wouldn’t go that far, he does some terrible farts in bed!” winked June and we all laughed, except David who blushed.
“What would you like to do now?” asked Jack.
“Well I’d like to ride!” exclaimed June as if that was a really stupid question.
“Do you think that’s wise?” asked David, tentatively. “She’s only just arrived!”
“She’s not come far though,” replied June. “What do you all think?”
“Bugger what we think!” said Alex, “You live your dream!”
“How about we go in the school and one of us ride her first to see how she goes?” I suggested, feeling cautious.
“Ooh yes good idea!” said June, enthusiastically (David breathed a sigh of relief) and off we all went to the school.
Poppy was happy eating hay in her stable so I left her to it.
Beatrix had an amazing western saddle which looked very comfortable and we were all dying to try it but June asked Jack to ride her as she felt they were ‘kindred spirits’.
“You mean we’re both mad?!” laughed Jack.
Jack was always very cautious of new horses so she asked us to walk next to her just in case Beatrix turned into a rodeo horse.
“Maybe just walk with her in-hand first like Elise taught me?” I suggested.
“Good plan!” agreed Jack and she led Beatrix round the school a few times.
To say she’d just arrived at a totally unfamiliar place with people she didn’t know, Beatrix behaved as if she’d known us all her life. She was very happy to walk with Jack and stood very calmly at the mounting block.
“Will you ride her? I’m feeling a bit of a wuss!” said Jack to Alex. Alex laughed, she didn’t need asking twice.
“Of course! I’m dying to try that saddle!” and on she got.
“Is the girth ok?” asked Sally as Alex faffed with the stirrups to get them the right length.
“Yeah it’ll be right! I’ll just be walking.” and off they went down the long side of the school.
“Ooh this saddle’s so comfy!” she shouted back to us.
Beatrix walked very nicely much to everyone’s relief – especially June and David. June looked ecstatic.
Alex and Beatrix did a couple of circuits in walk and then June wondered if she wouldn’t mind trotting so she could see how she went.
“Yes no problem!” grinned Alex who was clearly enjoying herself.
She asked Beatrix for a trot, as she went past us, and Beatrix set off very smoothly but just as she turned the corner at the top of the school a dreadful – not to mention embarrassing – thing happened.
“Oh shit!” yelled Alex as she and the saddle slipped sideways.
“Oh for God’s sake!” said Sally, shaking her head. “She should have tightened the girth.”
Beatrix continued trotting and Alex continued sliding round until she was literally hanging underneath Beatrix. How she stayed on was beyond comprehension.
Thankfully Beatrix stopped and stood stock still, her eyes wide with surprise.
“Ahh bollocks!” was the last thing Alex said before letting go and falling to the ground with a loud thud.
Beatrix looked round with a concerned look on her face and waited to be rescued by Jack who dashed over.
The rest of us were all too busy dying with laughter at such a sight to be of any help!
“Well I think it’s safe to say that Beatrix is a very good horse!” grimaced Alex as she waddled over, holding on to her bottom. “God my bum hurts! That’ll teach me to not be so slack about girths in future. I won’t be able to sit down for a week!”
“There must be a herbal remedy for that,” smirked Jack.
“Yes you’re right a bit of chamomile will help!” Jack rolled her eyes as Alex waddled off to her tack room where she kept her herbal supplies.
“What a smashing horse!” smiled June giving Beatrix a pat.
“She’s amazingly calm,” agreed Sally. “You’ve been really lucky. She could have been a nutter!”
“Any other horse would have freaked out about that happening!” I said in awe of such a fantastic horse.
“Yes.” nodded June. “She’s my dream horse and I’d like to go for a ride out on her now!”
“Is that wise?” asked David anxiously. “Shouldn’t you ride her in here first?”
“No I want to go on my first hack, Beatrix is as good as gold aren’t you lovey?” said June with absolute certainty.
To be continued…..