In The Saddle column: Summer time - and the living is (sort of) easy!
Summer is finally here and for equestrians all over the UK we rejoice in leisurely riding and warm balmy evenings with our horses. It’s so much nicer than riding in rain, wind and mud.
This year we’ve been focussing on our five year old Appaloosa ‘Sully’ and bringing him on in his training.
He’s been backed a year, which means his ‘ridden career’ has started and we’ve been taking our time showing him new things under saddle with the aim of building up his experience in the world.
It’s hard to imagine I bought April, my thoroughbred cross Irish sports horse (TBxISH) just age five and a half. She was pretty inexperienced too and had been produced slowly.
April had never been on busy village roads before so everything with her was done slowly with the help of more experienced horses around her until she was around six years old.
Sully, by comparison, has had a much slower start due to the pandemic in 2020-the year he was backed. For a lot of that year he was ridden only at home in the fields or out on small hacks. It doesn’t hurt to take our time. I’m in no rush for anything with him.
This year he’s been to his first ridden show. He behaved very well for a baby, and as many of you may recall, he even got placed in both his classes thanks to the lovely riding of my trainer Harriette.
This summer I wanted to take advantage of the superb bridle paths we have outside our home but to do this there is a small wooden bridge to cross if we want to go on longer rides.
I’d class myself as a novice rider and Sully is my first, and last foal, due to my age (let’s say I’m not far off 50). If he lives until his mid twenties I’ll be an OAP about twice over.
Given my age, I’m smart enough to know that undertaking a foal and bringing him on to be a well adjusted riding horse takes time, patience and experience. I’ve been lucky I’ve found the right person to give me the help and direction we need at the right time.
Recently I wanted to hack him further but I didn’t know how the bridge would look to him. He’s never seen one or been over one before.
My older, more experienced horse, April, was terrified of it when we first moved here but now goes over it fine. My daughter’s pony is super, plodding across it with no cares in the world - which is just the sort of ‘nanny’ help Sully needs for his first time.
The plan was to hack out when my friend popped up from the Cotswolds. She is very experienced with starting and training young horses and has a vast experience in this area as well as all her British Horse Society qualifications in teaching.
I thought it was best she took him over with my daughter riding her pony and me riding April, hoping that April wouldn’t show her tricky side to young Sully. We had been popping over the bridge regularly in the week up to Ellen coming over.
The day itself was very warm, with no high winds or rain. It was the perfect weather conditions for something new. As we approached the bridge April and Mara happily went over but Sully hesitated as soon as he heard the sound.
Ellen gave him a pat and encouragement by talking to him. For a split second you could see him weigh things up in his brain. His tribe was at the other side yet he thought it sounded funny.
The thing to remember with young horses is patience. Training young horses is not for the faint hearted. There are days you wonder whether you can ride at all and there are days of huge achievements when you can literally burst with pride.
Sully, at this point, was weighing things up. It sounded different. It felt different. It was completely unlike anything he had seen so far in his short life. The thing is about the Appaloosa is they are a bold breed and my horse is no exception.
He only took a moment, which felt like forever watching him, but then he was straight over it and marching onwards and upwards to us all. I literally could have cried. What a clever boy.
We all had a beautiful hack out in the countryside watching pheasants, seeing running foals out with their mothers and listening to the birds. It was perfect. This is why I love horses. For that moment you’re at one with your equine and there is no better feeling in the world.
The next day I put on my brave pants. With Ellen gone I decided to ride Sully the same route with my 12 year old daughter leading us over the bridge.
This time he knew what to expect and went straight over it. The photo shows my huge grin (thanks to my daughter for taking it) and I’m delighted he is such a good horse.
In the next few weeks we hope to compete at the British Appaloosa Society breed show. I absolutely love the society, the council and the members are so welcoming. It’s like being part of a big family.
Sully has been competing there in hand from a teeny yearling. It hasn’t been easy. He’s never run up perfectly and I often think it would be easier to take a snake round the ring. Apparently he will get more mature and be better as he gets older, I’m not convinced, he’s male and you know how immature they are in general!
I’m not sure if I’m riding him this year. I’ve had a few falls and I don’t fancy doing this in public. I’m going to see how I feel on the day itself. If he’s all hyped up I’d rather not.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s great for a super rider, but I’m learning to ride a youngster and he’s learning too. Sometimes we part company. Although to be fair the last fall I had was in January but brains don’t think like that do they?
Horses don’t care what level they compete. They only care for grass and being looked after. They don’t share our fears or goals. They completely live in the present.
So - here goes nothing. I’ll let you know how we get on. Hopefully I won’t fall in the ring running this year. It would be nice to look like a professional for once in my life.
If you’re going to the Northern British Appaloosa Society breed show on the 4th July (at Bishop Burton) please say hello to Sully and I. We love meeting new people. You can always go ahead and film us for ‘You’ve Been Framed’ and we can split the difference. Until then, stay safe everyone and thanks for following our trials and tribulations.
You can follow Anita and her all her horses on Facebook ‘In The Saddle - Anita Marsh’ HERE