In The Saddle column: Here's to some happy hacking!

What a crazy year it’s been so far!

Friday, 20th November 2020, 4:11 pm

As I write this we are still in our second lockdown. So what’s it like being in lockdown with horses and in particular with a newly backed youngster?

For a start I’m extremely lucky in that I keep my horses at home. I have no car journeys to take and no on-yard sharing of equipment so all in all it’s been pretty easy from that point of view.

I feel for those friends who have had limited access to their horses; with some yards closing down to horse owners to limit the spread of the dreaded Covid-19.

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Anita Marsh is making the most of the second lockdown with her horses.

Horses, like many animals, are a great stress reliever and I firmly believe they are a great way to relax (unless, of course, they are in the mindset of not doing what we ask!) and enjoy life at a slower pace.

When the first lockdown happened there were mixed views on riding from owners. Some felt they didn’t want to ride in case of an accident and others did ride for their mental health and horse’s fitness. We were in the camp of riding and we still are in this lockdown.

We don’t (yet) have an arena so if the fields are dry enough we can ride at home across eight acres. We also live on a dirt track off the beaten path, so taking our horses out across the countryside without touching roads is very easy should we wish.

Where we tend to struggle is in the winter. If the fields are boggy at home, then the bridle paths will be the same and we don’t want to add to that so we then have to ride on the roads. Sometimes we hire a local arena but financially it’s not feasible to do that numerous times a week for each horse.

The two mares we have are now veteran age and are highly experienced on roads alongside traffic. We don’t really see a lot of traffic since we moved from Owston Ferry, but it’s still something we encounter when out.

My youngster, as many of you may remember, has been backed this year just prior to going into the first lockdown. This means he’s now started his ridden career. It also means he’s not experienced in riding and is still learning himself. I’ve been taking him up quiet lanes to get him used to small amounts of traffic like cars, vans and the odd tractors.

He’s been walked in a village from being a foal; where I used to take him to the post office at my old place a few doors down from our previous property. Everything was done in mind to let him soak up life outside home. I let him look at the high street traffic, tucked away in a quite road so he felt safe.

I think it helped back then that we lived next to a business with lorries as he’d see them daily backing up when he was in the field. In the end he never lifted his head from grazing.

I wear the fully monty of protection gear when out. Always hacking in a body protector, decent riding hat and fluorescents. My hi-viz states ‘young horse in training’ for those few motorists that pass us. I still wear hi-viz and protection gear with my two older mares as I believe it sets and good example to my little girl who hacks her pony with me.

When I’ve been taking out my youngster he generally hacks out with one of the older mares. I’ve found our pony is the best for confidence as my thoroughbred cross likes to fake she thinks a leaf is scary. Recently it was a marrow on the side of the road that freaked her out. Believe it or not a huge lorry can pass her and she’s absolutely foot perfect, but a marrow...well that’s clearly a monster in disguise. Don’t you just love horses?!

So, how is it going with my youngster during this lockdown? So far so good. I have an excellent trainer called Harriette Rushton (who helped back him) and I highly rate her. In fact I couldn’t be without her. She knows exactly when to push me and when I’m nervous. Most of my answers to Harriette’s training suggestions tend to end in me replying I’d rather not, but, Harriette being Harriette, she gets me doing it anyway. Resistance is futile as they say in Star Trek.

I’ve always enjoyed hacking out. I must admit that I like to chat to lovely dog walkers, joggers and people out and about in their gardens (from a safe distance, of course).

It’s a whole different beast on a youngster though and I’ve always had pre-made horses, although April was five when I got her she’s had all of her training and a good start to her life experience when I bought her. It wasn’t like sitting on a newly backed horse, that’s for sure.

With my youngster I’m the one having to give him all that life experience. That’s the difference. I’ll let you into a secret for those of you that don’t know me. I’m not a brilliant horse woman nor a brave one. I’m not even experienced really, but nobody can match my love of horses and that sees me through tricky times where I feel like I’m not good enough to do this.

I’ll also tell you something else. I don’t pretend to be anything other. I am aware of my own limitations and always prepared to have help, direction and further training where and when needed.

Sully, my youngster, will never go short of that and I believe having good equestrian friends who understand and a brilliant trainer, of course, will be the making of both him and I in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, there are days I wonder what am I doing at my time of life with my first youngster; I must be mad etc. Maybe I am. Shoes and handbags are a far safer hobby and much cheaper, trust me.

Let’s face it; it would certainly be easier not to have a young horse and not to push myself in the process, but new challenges can be the making of my dreams. It can take me to places I never thought I can achieve. What’s the alternative? Never trying? It’s easier but it’s not what life is about and I’ve never been one to take the easy option.

All I need is a little self belief, friends and family that listen to my worries without judgement and a decent trainer who kicks my backside. They are the ingredients for success.

So, right now in lockdown I’m teaching Sully about roadwork in preparation for winter. Here’s to happy hacking on my young horse, despite the nerves, the fear and the worries. What’s the saying? Feel the fear and do it anyway! That, my friends, is my motto for owning a youngster.

Stay safe.