Friday, 27 March 2009

My Hero

I was not able to ride today. Some vague balance problem from a virus meant that I took the decision not to attempt it. Being physically weak and not particularly competent is a risk I will take, but not able to balance is probably, at this point one too many risks.

However I had to smell them. I went to rearrange and to have a good long sniff. As I chatted I asked where large grey beastie that brought out my vertical take off skill was, as his stall was bare.

He was in the school. So I took 10 mins to watch him in action. He is one amazing horse. Very large. There were two other horses in the arena, one being lunged whilst one of the school owners talked through the process and coached the person lunging the horse, whilst the horse itself listened to the instructions down the line. This was a beautiful dainty light bay and looked tiny in comparison but was a good size horse. This was happening at one end of the arena. Then there was another chap on his slightly bigger horse riding round the outside  of the arena just as a warm up. And then there was the Grey Beastie. 

He is very handsome and very proud. His rider was very accomplished and together they were quietly doing some interesting things and some very very difficult things. They were  deep in conversation with one another, it was interesting to watch, and listen to the noises, the breathing. I could sense the contained energy, the power held between them. And the generation of something more. It was good to watch the two individuals, know they were two and that they were making one beautiful shape, to make the whole. The rider asked and it was perceptible but subtle, the horse mostly chose to answer. 

I like the curves of a horse, the long sweeps.  He has them in abundance. He arched his head. A few times he slipped in a buck, which amused me but not the rider. OOOh He is a handful. 

I had my 10 minutes and then left the school happy I had seen, but sad I was leaving.

I  was walking across the quad when three dogs of different shapes, size and disposition came to greet me and looked me hard  in the eye. Luckily for me this slightly slowed my progress and this  meant that just as I was about to turn through the gateway out of the quad, the horse came out (still with rider) and walked across the yard. He stretched his neck, put his front foot out, and reached down and rubbed the side of his nose against his foot. It looked from my angle like a salute to one of the little dogs who was standing directly in front. He was regarding me as he did so. His eyes looked black and deep in his noble white head, the contrast and the line of his eyes and eye lashes, perfectly shaped, more curves.

I left and drove away, looking forward to my next visit. I wonder if he will still try to bite me next time.

I think I might be in love


Cat Rescue Remedy

When I run out of cat food (which I have been trained to do infrequently) they get Emergency Tuna.

The know the words. I just have to walk into the sitting room and announce Emergency Tuna! and into the kitchen we go. They like Emergency Tuna I think almost more than normal cat food and I am comforting myself that they hear the phrase Emergency Tuna and translate it as "mmm yum treat". The alternative is that they are being gracious about my lax attitude because it is convenient, but in the Cat book of Chatelaine Crimes and Punishment it is being listed and the total is increasing. I hope their lack of opposable thumb means they haven't yet flicked to the latter half...

One of them has been very poorly this week and her appetite has been a bit off. This calls for Desperate Measures Sardines (in tomato sauce), the strong smell and taste encourages her to eat. This doesn't have the ring of Emergency Tuna but something about the rhythm means that when I do say it,  the ill one (which ever one that might be at the time) knows it is for them, and the well one doesn't demand their share.  

Emergency Tuna is for all Ocelots.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

OWK help, not enough synopseeeeese - no time to catch up

So Brenda has made a mistake, Tom has reacted badly (she always does and why is she surprised at his reaction)  Matt is being investigated for Fraud,  ( has he really been a norty boy with Chalky) Pip is still subjecting people to her 5 mile radius diet and her chronic case of smugs disease looks life-lasting.

Usha has been mugged and doesnt want to talk about it. (Who and do we have any indication of why)

But I dont know the details.. Facts Facts Facts... someone who collects facts....

Still "I am not a 22 year old hair dresser" and "How about its a Wonderful life.... I am not a toddler"  did take on Shakespearean wit.

Do we know what car Matt drives? I am betting not a mercedes estate ;-)

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Harrier Goat Person

When I was a child I was thrilled at the sight and sound of a harrier jump jet. It was the vertical take off that impressed me. I wondered if I could have one, no more worrying about what was ahead of me I could just leap up and over it

A few years back on Crete we watched in amazement as the special Crete goats did this amazing cartoon style leap directly up, them sideways mid air over a fence and then back down again, followed seconds later by its companion. It was such a funny and startling sight we laughed about it for hours.

I have often wondered how this was done

Whist waiting on friday I walked down a cool shadow aisle and said hello to some equines. One a pony was full of talk even before I was near him, he had held my eye and was reeling me in. I spent a happy few moments scratching his ears and forehead, whilst he explored pockets for mints. 

At the very end was an enormous creature. A grey horse, clearly male and his head was HUGE, I would say just his head alone, ignoring his neck was the size of a springer spanial. ( a whole one) He looked hard at me and pulled a face. Charming I thought. He looked again and I was encouraged to walk nearer, not too near, he looked very very cross to me, but he was so beautiful I wanted to know more about him. He felt sad and fed up. He looked at me  and I looked at him. He met my gaze and his ears went back, fast and tight. He looked at me some more and a foot stamped. Hmm I thought. 

I was well back but suddenly he stretched his neck and his head shot out and I saw at close quarters all of his teeth. In the same moment I leapt up, sideways and back out of the way. 

I didn't know I could do that. I have done it before but such a long time ago there were teachers roaming the earth that took my PE lessons .... 

Nice to know I can do it. Still dont know how

After my leap to safety the horse swung his head and farted. LONG and Loud. The talkative pony nearby gave him a look of derision. And then the Grey Horse's head came forward and he wanted a conversation. He got one, but I maintained my distance as those teeth were encased in a very large jaw.

Its a jolly good job they dont really have canines.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Episode 3 Communication, it's the listening

The building where I experience without any mitigation, my inadequacies, is itself  like something out of my fantasy land. It's a quadrangle, open at one end as an entrance for carriages, in the centre of the quadrangle a perfect circle  of grass, used as a roundabout for big long vehicles with enough horsepower to carry horses. All around the square inside are stables and stalls. When it was built long ago, attention was paid to the building. The tiles on the floor are tiny and set in herringbone fashion like a red tiled parquet for horses.  The stalls are spacious and deep and the long rows of heads looking out,  each with their own thoughts is just beautiful to my eyes. Opposite the entrance at the other side of the quad is the school, menage, the place of mirrors ( there are at points mirrors - though as I am not wearing my glasses as I ride I can't really see them). An active reflective place. This isn't a place to contemplate myself, this is a place to experience directly with no soft sell translation what I am doing right and what I am not.

The horse I rode yesterday was VERY tall I would say 18hh, a very long time since I rode one that tall. He was quite an interesting bod too. He definitely was checking out if I meant it, when I asked, and if I knew what I was asking. And if I wasn't clear enough, or polite enough he didn't oblige. 

You can't pretend you got it right on a horse. You might occasionally be in a situation where the horse ( maybe out of humour, maybe not) hears your thoughts before you actually ask, but the rest of your body isn't ready when the horse does the thing you were about to ask for, and it is obvious.  Going right back to the beginning is hard and fun. 

When it works well it is a mindmeld. That's what I am aiming for, have experienced briefly and seek again. 

The system is the two of you listening to one another. Being from a loud talkative family I do find myself talking to the horse A LOT. ( I listen more though)  And the horse is listening to my tone and my sense of self worth. Horses DO feel fear, they are prey animals, it's an essential survival instinct, others' referred fear in the herd part of an early warning system. They are also curious and quite discerning, before heading off at 30 mph they will just look to check. Give a shrewd second glance before deciding. Of course all of this happens more quickly than a human would normally be aware of, dullards that we are in our environment.. 

The Wikipedia article on the horse is a very good one and I particularly liked that whoever had written it had included Balance in the section on Senses, but that's another blog for another time.

I will have a horse in the future and I do and will take tremendous pleasure being out in the fresh air on a horse and sometimes at speeds that set your heart pounding and make your eyes stream. I love those moments, and I look forward to many of them in the future. There is an exhilaration that is hard to convey unless you experience it, of air entering your body at speeds it wouldn't normally do.

I also love as much and maybe more actually, the conversations that go on with dressage. I can't call what feeble steps I am taking presently  dressage, it is too grand a label. Flat work is a more humble and honest description but I am very certain where I am going with it ( over the next several years)  This is going to be very very hard.  Constant communication, will you, wont you, have you, did you mean that, do you feel like it, are you up to it. It looks gentle but its actually quite challenging. This isn't  something  you can enjoy if you always want to know you can do it, and are not used to  losing face whilst learning. You might be in control, you are aiming to be in control or more honestly to be able to effectively respond, but and its a huge but, its actually not about control at all.

Its all about cooperation, confidence in each other and trusting oneself and the other to be able to achieve things. That is never sustainable by force. You might get what you want once but the resistance the next time will be greater.

Once you believe that the other part of the system, the horse,  is doing the best it can, and you have a sense that the other part of the system, your partner in this activity. the horse believes the same thing about you, then you have the start of something. Something strong enough to go into the unknown, knowing that any feedback you get, even if its not positive feedback is intended to improve.

Yesterday another horse entered the school, who was "in one!" and the rider hadn't yet established any connection. This grumpy beast headed towards mine, with malintent. And I could see that intent all over his face.  My horse regarded him with the disdain a tall creature can muster easily over a smaller one. He actually relaxed one of his back legs. I should have LISTENED to that but I didn't, I reacted with my own response which was a loud WHOA. The rider broken out of her trance then started to communicate with the horse, (decided she was actually riding the horse, not as Eddie Izzard would suggest be something that the horse wears) 

My horse moved one of his ears back quizzically at me and sighed, and walked away. ( he strolled off in a  "am I Bovvered?" way)

I later found out that the other grumpy horse has a nice !?! trick when not feeling obliging. He walks besides another horse and bucks! So I would have had hoof in my face. Didn't feel quite so foolish about my crying out once I heard that. Thereafter we maintained polite but distant relations as we encountered one another in the school.

I wanted a twenty metre circle later, my horse doesn't like 20 metre circles - he likes 40 metre circles so my battle yesterday, my learning, was to find out how to get him to listen and believe and do, when I asked for 20 meter circles. Right now one of my (many) failings, is the amount of contact I have through the reins. I never am particularly tight here, even when I was good at this stuff. I want the horse to do it and I want as light a contact as possible. I don't want to be pulling at his mouth, I sure as hell wouldn't react well to someone pulling at mine. 

However if there isn't enough contact there I can't listen to what his mouth is telling me, I can't feel the tiny inflexion of head angle, or tension. So I need more contact than I have and I am gradually getting it.

Most of the information is conveyed through whats going on in his and my body. I transmit where I want to go by looking in that direction, ( it has to be very exaggerated at present) and that means looking 180 degrees round the school so he can fell through the saddle where my intent is and I have to maintain that, steadily whilst he resists and walks away. Yesterday was frustrating because I knew another way of getting him to understand that I wanted him back on a particular line, but to use it would have been counter productive( at this point). We haven't reached that bit of the conversation yet. He doesn't believe I am fluent enough in this bit, to try the other technique. Even though I would have been accurate HE wouldn't hear it because he needed to hear something else first and I hadn't demonstrated it clearly enough for him.

Being such a different shape to the previous horse his trot was very different. A different rhythm.The instructor asked me if it was more or less comfortable. Found that an odd question, it was just different, it wasn't as familiar ( at that point) because I hadn't ridden him before but once I listened it was just different and I just adapted to match him and accommodate his length of stride. And on we went.

Afterwards the instructor told me that she had noted that the horses seemed to be calm around me, even the stroppy ones. I'd like to think that's because I have the right energy for them. 

I think it might be more to do with how I feel about them.  I love horses. I mean it. It's not a word I over use. I really love them. They move me, I am in AWE of them, I would pay money to see a horse like others would to meet a film star ( pah limited bipeds).  I look at them and the whole universe falls into shape, I watch them argue and bicker with one another and I marvel at the complexity and subtlety of their conversation. I like their honesty, their moods, their cunning. And I love the fact that you have to earn it, whatever it is, they discern and they discriminate, they pay attention, they give you multiple chances, they are prepared to make it painful to get you to listen.

They may be your friend and ifthey are, as a good true friend, they will challenge you

What a reward!

Sunday, 8 March 2009


I've got back on a horse. 

Twice now :-) !!!!!!!

First time was two weeks ago. I was excited all week, and terrified. What was I going to find? Did my body know how to do any of it? Would  I be  able to stay on? Would I be able to breathe? Would I be able to stay on and breathe?  Would I be able to ask the Horse to do anything, stay on and breathe?

Well the answer for week 1 was Yes.  Getting on was interesting, horses are so high up aren't they?  I don't like heights, lightbulbs are things that other people change (if I can get away with it). However, previously being high up on a horse didn't count, like standing over a waterfall and a lake doesn't count either. The water or the horse remove the fear somehow.  Anyway, on the horse, hmm legs... what are they going to do?  This was why I was nervous I had no idea what was going to happen.

I like riding a horse for more reasons than I care to share. One important reason is their unpredictable nature. Horses have minds and moods and spirits of their own. You have to ask nicely, and they have to want to oblige and believe you know what you are asking. 

Horses have special knowledge, they know that sometimes a hedge is a hedge, that well known thing they pass every day on the way to the hay net. They know what birds are, they dance about and land on the cattle, they can fly. Sometimes they know its not a hedge anymore at all and there is a lion hidden in it which they have to skitter past, fast and sideways. Their equivalent of the monster under the bed. ( The lost Book Monster in all our houses!) Or that shadow isn't the crow on his way somewhere but an eagle about to swoop and the only means of escape is to RUN.

You have to pay attention when on a horse.  Eddie isnt quite right here
about me - though he is as always amusing.  

So am on the horse wondering if I will 1) remember how to do anything 2) be able to actually do it.

This was going to be as hard as when I learned to walk again. Sending some instruction to some part of my body and see if what happened was anything like I had hoped. It was near, sometimes.  

The horse was a star, a mare but not a tempermental one and I had a sense that she was looking after me. That sounds like a foolish notion, but it did feel like that.  So I get to the end of the session, having breathed more deeply then I had done in a VERY LONG time I had nicely dredged up all sorts of goo at the bottom of my lungs, and I had a ruddy complexion. Did I say ruddy? I dont think that really does justice to large population of blood vessels that had exploded on my face.  And I was hot. 

I was alsodrunk on happiness. Happier than I have been for a very long time. The sort of deep happiness that comes when you have connected with something that you know is part of you and has been lost.

So end of week 1. My core muscles worked for the first time since before surgery were in that dazed place of "Eh? What just happened here? Who ARE you? Eh?"

Next hard thing, get off the horse. I knew as every single muscle in my body was trembling from over exertion that getting off the horse was not going to be possible the normal way. I took my feet out the stirrups and had a think. How was I going to jump off? How do you do it? Well I'd remembered lots of things, but not this one. 

Fortunately there was a mounting block nearby and on a loose rein the horse walked me to it and stood patiently whilst I climbed down.  The right leg, didn't quite make it. I was off, but not elegantly.

There is a scene in the film High Society, where the character Grace Kelly plays, is very drunk at her party the night before she gets married ( who can blame her!) and she has been escorted to a room to recover. She decides to escape and climb out the window. The way she does it, bears some similarity to how I got off that horse. Put it this way, its not the easiest, best or most elegant way.  And I probably couldn't do it sober.

So for several days afterwards EVERYTHING HURT. And that was GREAT

Week 2 arrives. Get on the horse. No longer appears high up, just normal :-) 
Ask the horse to do things. Horse says yes sometimes and not others. Horse is not being nasty, just not taking care of me like it did the previous week. Horse has measure of me. Horse is teaching  me. Get to end of lesson nearly. Nearly pass out at one point through lack of oxygen, This thinking AND doing AND Breathing lark is all a bit much at times.

Go out of school and up lane for a stretch of the legs. (Not mine, am still on the horse) Gorgeous day, sharp, birds and lion hedges about. Horse skitters but comes back. Look down at horse's head. Horses ears. Forward. I can't see the horses face  but I know from her ears what sort of expression she has on. She is enjoying the pastoral scene too.

Walk back in to yard. Outside. No mounting block. Have to get off. Hmm last week was a bit of a fiasco. Last week I had the mounting block and it was an indoor school. The earth would have been ignominious, but soft. 

This time am outside, concrete is hard and cold. Still not much strength in my legs. Stamina coming back slowly, or at least I have faith it is.

Could make a big fuss and find the mounting block OR I could risk it. What's the worst thing that could happen? I could land hard on the concrete and not be able to get up... because I can't yet get up,  I still have to pull myself up.  I could land hard on the concrete and break something, then I definitely wouldn't be able to get up and it would be another while before I was back on a horse.

Got a bit bored of myself worrying about it. Took feet out of stirrups. Went for it. Jumped off horse. Properly.  Landed. Properly.

It wasn't what you'd call a great landing. If I'd been a gymnast dismounting, I'd have made that one step forward. But it was good enough... 

Thrilled. ( More thrilled by that then being able to keep one leg on, change diagonal and breathe at the same time)

Next day, slightly aware I'd exercised, nicely aware actually, but no pain.

Looking forward to round 3. 

I am not naturally sporty. Happy in water, on a horse, riding a bike, BEING rowed. Takes me a while to learn stuff, get it actually in the muscle memory. It's hard for me. I usually find when I am doing something physical like this my other learning starts to wake up too.. 

Hope still the same.