As of the beginning of 2019 I have been sponsoring a young rider, named Hannah Penney, based in Hampshire.
On this page there will be regular pieces written by Hannah on her riding life.
Read on for the latest installment........
A New Kid On The Block and The Pressures of a New Horse…
Welcome back to my newest blog edition! Those of you who read my pervious instalment, “The Highs and Lows of Horses – The Road to Where We are Now…’ will know we left off in the midst of an agonising hunt for a new horse. As I explained before, I’d laid out strict but simple criteria for our search…
- Absolutely, categorically NO MARES (admittedly – Mum’s rule not mine – apparently I’m enough female hormones!!)
- Nothing younger than 6 (there was no way I was going to be good enough for the world’s wobbliest 4/5yr olds)
- Ideally something bigger boned (I’d found these tended to be less accident prone)
I’ll also remind you that although we weren’t completely certain on what we were looking for ability wise, the plan was a project of some sort to produce for six months ish at about grassroots level, then to sell on ready for A-Levels and Uni. Therefore, ideally something that would be towards the lower end of my budget.
Well, as the title suggests – two weeks from where we left off last time – there was a new kid on the block at Abbots Croft Farm…
Meet Faiima Louvo – don’t worry, if you have no idea how to pronounce that, you’re most certainly not alone. Arriving with no stable name, I spent a good couple of days deliberating before going with Bella. There was something about it that just seemed to fit. As you’ll have realised by now, yes, I’d brought home a mare. In fact, not only that – I’d actually bought myself a very fine, gangly, chestnut, Selle Francias mare who’d just turned 4 the month before. In case that wasn’t enough – I can tell you now – 3 months on that she happens to be just about the most accident-prone horse I’ve ever met, let alone owned... Near enough everything I’d adamantly stated would never be for me – so much for having a simple, easy to stick to check list! Consider that my first takeaway from all this – always have an open mind when it comes to viewing horses, sometimes one might just surprise you.
There was nothing particularly eye catching about Bella on the ground, she lacked a lot of muscle and condition and her mane was in desperate need of a pull. However, one thing that always shocked me was just how chilled and laid back she was for her age. She had the kindest, cuddliest temperament – something she has only grown into further since.
Contrary to popular belief, ‘clicking’ with a horse is not some magical, movie phenomenon that happens instantly. At least that’s never truly been the case for me. It can take months, even years. I don’t think there’s been a single horse I’ve tried where I’ve instantly known I’m going to buy it without a single doubt, hesitation or questioning thought – it just hasn’t happened. As for having a strong relationship with a horse, in my experience, that takes time and discipline to develop. Saying that, the feeling Bella gave me under saddle was one I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was relaxed. I was smiling. I was enjoying myself, free of pressure and it surprised me. I came away conflicted and begun to question everything. Did I really have the patience and resilience to cope with a four-year-old? Would a horse with that much potential be wasted with me? What was the point, the plan? Several months on and I still don’t really have an answer to the latter.
But where does one go from here? We decided to box Bella up to Kim’s for a lesson and some advice. The outcome of this - well… For one, we learnt Bella was terrified of travelling. Second, I found myself quickly questioning how the hell a horse this weak had managed to jump round a full course (let alone win) when I could barely turn the widest of corners without losing the shoulder entirely. Finally, I discovered I had some pretty impressive stick ability when I managed to survive nose diving into the bottom of an 80cm fence without falling off. The list of excuses not to go ahead seemed never ending. Yet, they were just that – excuses.
Following Kim’s advice, I tried two more young horses after Bella. It seemed a sensible idea. After all, I was conflicted with no clue what I wanted to do. Out of everything, it was this that taught me the most. I soon realised that no matter how nice these two horses I’d just ridden were – it didn’t matter. I might not have noticed at the time, but somewhere along the way I’d closed my mind to the possibility of any other horse – they’ve could’ve been the nicest horse in the world – but they weren’t Bella. It was in that moment that I knew I’d made my decision.
I might have made up my mind, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there – we still had to pass the dreaded vetting. If you read last month’s blog, you’ll know we’d already had one horse fail their vetting. In fact, if you’ve followed me for long enough, you’ll know that before we bought Ruby back in 2016, we racked up over £4000 in credit card debts from 5 failed vettings. Safe to say I was feeling apprehensive! I shouldn’t have worried. Within half an hour of finishing her vetting Dad and I had bought her.
I was the happiest I’d been in a long time, filled with a sense of new responsibility – different to anything I’d had with any horse before. It was just the two of us this time. I was Bella’s whole world now and she was the most important part of mine.
So, there I was... Sat on the damp metal gate of our field, smiling to myself with excitement as I gazed at the beautiful new beginning lying before me, dreaming of the endless possibilities.
I have to confess, that lasted a maximum of ten minutes before I couldn’t help but grasp for my phone to snap and share the perfect picture of my exciting news – a habit I’m sure many of us can relate to. I proceeded to be bombarded with the usual lovely comments and list of questions longer than one’s arm. How old? How big? Age? Experience? How much? Goals? Plans? What will you do with her when you go to Uni? Before you know it, you’re drowning in this sea of questions, being pushed further and further under by this growing pressure to justify your latest purchase with a purpose.
In truth, I didn’t know the answer to the majority of those questions – in many ways I still don’t. Suddenly I felt obligated to produce a list of goals and organised steps to achieving them – how had I not thought of this already? I found myself consumed with the need to meticulously plan everything.
Next, I came to discover everyone had an opinion, a piece (or in many cases several paragraphs!) of advice they’re all too eager to share. Really should’ve seen that one coming! There were those who were adamant I should be cracking on with ages classes straight away, that anything else would be wasting Bella’s huge potential and talent. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, I had those determined that at four years old, she’d clearly break being ridden and must be turned away for at least a year, if not more to mature. Of course, there was then was every piece of advice in between too. I remember sitting at my desk, head buried in my laptop. Every article, every piece of research I read contradicted each other. It didn’t take too long to see this was something I was going to have to decide for myself.
It was time to take a breath. Horses are horses. You can’t possibly expect to plan their lives out for them and have everything go accordingly – it just doesn’t work like that! Equally, asking someone now what they want from the future, is a pretty ambiguous question. These things change all the time!
There’s nothing wrong with having a dream, one big overarching goal. For some it might be riding round Badminton or maybe the Olympics. Me - I’m a little too much of a realist for that. However, that’s not to say I didn’t have my own longer-term goals of my first international and a BE Intermediate that I hoped to be achievable in time. As for anything more specific or short term, I felt I couldn’t decide that yet. What I did decide was I wanted to take things slow. I knew from the get-go, this was not going to be something I could do alone and I was lucky to be able lean heavily on Lucy and my instructors for advice as I still do.
Bella was physically very weak so my first ‘goal’ if you like was to work on that. Okay, it might not have been the most objective of goals but it would be an essential foundation for anything that followed. The first month of owning Bella I actually didn’t ride her. I couldn’t. It wasn’t intentional but we were stuck waiting for a saddler. I remember being so frustrated but in hindsight, that month was a gift. It gave me the opportunity to bond with Bella on the ground, to establish a relationship built on trust and respect. The chance to get to know her personality and help her come out of her shell. I was amazed by just how much she grew into herself in that period. I’d never really had the same time to devote to groundwork with any of my horses previously and it’s something that – looking back – I wish I had.
Eventually, we were able to start ridden work. I had already made the decision that I wouldn’t be jumping Bella at all over summer, let alone aiming for any age classes this year. I had chosen to take things slow and I was determined to stick to that. My summer holidays involved a gradual build up in Bella’s workload. In the beginning we went out walking 4-5 times a week. To start with, we could barely manage a straight line. We used to dance and spook at every car that passed us. I found myself seriously questioning my sanity at what the hell I had gotten myself into. But, time passed, we stuck at it and what do you know – we improved. Slowly, I increased the work load, hacking out six times a week with infrequent trotting intervals that were progressively extended, until by the end of summer each hack was about 1.5-2 hours long and involved as many hills, trots and canters as I could find. These were accompanied by the occasional schooling session once every couple of weeks but that was it. Taking the time to focus solely on basic fitness was the best decision I could have made for us. It’s something we still have a long way to go with and will continue to work hard at but I’m so proud of the progress we have made and the difference I now feel in her flatwork and jump.
There is so much pressure and judgement out there. It’s easy to feel the need to rush into things and wonder a few weeks or months later why it’s all crumbling apart. Your horse is your horse. Your goals, your plans – they’re for you and up to you alone. There’s nothing concrete about them either.
I bought Bella because I loved the way I felt when I rode her. I don’t have to have fixed goals and a meticulous plan in place in order to justify buying her. I’m enjoying every moment we have together and seeing where life takes us. If we manage some age classes next year, great. If we’re not ready, we won’t – equally great – we’ll spend more time working on our foundations if that’s the case.
I’m learning there is no right or wrong way to produce a horse. I’m choosing to have faith in myself and the advice I take on board, to trust that in the end things will turn out the way they’re meant to be. Our mistakes are inevitable, it’s what we learn from them that matters. So, to quote Dave Willis, ‘be an encourager, the world has enough critics already’.
Until next time!
Facebook: Hannah P Equestrian