It’s been a packed old fortnight at TUE towers – I was thrilled to get a new paperback edition of Clover Stroud’s beautiful memoir The Wild Other, which I couldn’t recommend more highly. It will sit next to the lovely hardback edition I bought last year, as well as my BHS Stage 2 handbook which is all I’m likely to read for the next three months! But I’ve also done some lovely things out of London, so here’s what’s been happening.
1) Lungeing smol ponies
I’m not gonna lie, lungeing was the part of my BHS Stage 2 course that I was most worried about. I just could not work out how I’d hold a lungeing whip, a lunge line, and keep a horse moving through my voice alone (however clearly audible said choir-trained voice is: second Altos represent, thanks very much) and was quietly hoping that if I just ignored it, it would all go away.
Well more fool me because I loved it! Our Heavenly Instructor gave us a demo on one of the liveries first, a gorgeous dun dressage diva who proceeded to go for a hooley on the end of the lunge line leaving us all standing against the school wall looking a bit green. Heavenly Instructor was completely unfazed, and talked us through what she was doing, and why the diva was going so delightfully OTT, and – crucially – that it looked fairly simple to get him moving back the way she wanted.
Still, I was beside myself with delight when we were allocated some of Trent Park’s smallest smalls for our own practise, not least because watching Shetlands canter is one of my all-time favourite things. You can barely see their legs move! I watched the rest of my group lungeing for a good while, as I couldn’t quite work out how it all worked, but once I gingerly had a turn of my own I was hooked. How absolutely lovely to have an excuse to croon to a pony without feeling like a prize spanner. Now, I just need to work on keeping my lunge line straight, and figure out exactly where my lungeing whip goes…
2) Heavy horses in Camberwell
Last time, I wrote about visiting Operation Centaur in Richmond Park and mentioned that they would be working in my old neighbourhood of Camberwell for a couple of weeks in February. I was resigned to missing out on a treat because of work, but then had the joyous treat of being in the neighbourhood after all.
I had such a wonderful time watching the horses working – Nobby, the dapple grey, was a youngling being taught the ropes by Heath, all overseen by Operation Centaur’s Tom Nixon, who has worked with these horses for three years, but with horses all his life. As he said drily, “It’s not the sort of thing you can just pick up!”
The horses were readying the ground for various sorts of wheat to be planted, which would then in turn be sent to the nearby Brixton Windmill to be ground into flour. It nearly made me shriek with sheer joy at how it was all working together, and even more so when I bumped into Coral, an Operation Centaur rider and volunteer from the Richmond Park HQ whom I’d met the previous week. What a thrill to see this all happening in my backyard. Next stop, Streatham? Yes please.
3) The Nike ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ advert
All my social media timelines were going nuts over the new Nike advert showing Londoners doing all kinds of sport around the city – including loads from south London, which made this born and bred souther do a little gig for glee. But especially on seeing a very familiar looking tower block at 2m 43s – yes, it was a rider from Brixton’s Ebony Horse Club doing a very stylish rear on a very stylish grey horse!
Three riders from Ebony auditioned, and spent a day training with stunt rider Sam Dent – there are some lovely pictures from the day on their Facebook page, which I’ve shared on mine too. Search The Urban Equestrian, and Ebony Horse Club to find us online.
4) Meeting an Urban Equestrian from overseas!
At the beginning of the year I was overjoyed to receive some correspondence from a TUE reader from America, saying that she was coming over on holiday and could I possibly advise her on where and how and indeed if she could go hunting if based in London. We had a lovely chat, I laughed a lot and wished I was better over email, and recommended a few places she could go.
So imagine my thrill when The Solicitor and I rocked up to a mid-week jaunt with the Hursley Hambledon, and Laura from Plantation Hirelings had The American Visitor in her lorry!
I then immediately had to apologise for being unable to speak for the first 15 minutes that we were on horseback, which is less to do with being in awe of The American Visitor, and more because a) I am always horrified with nerves when I first climb on board for hunting and b) the ground was icy as all hell, and I was rather concerned that Vegas was going to cheerfully slide her way down the hill towards the meet.
Once we’d arrived at the meet and taken delivery of a large sherry and some sausage rolls, we had a lovely chat and began to look forward to a jolly day in the woodland. There were plenty of varied hipflasks on offer – I, being a total suck-up, had some raspberry gin from a brand run by the son of an HHH subscriber; The Solicitor had whisky mac, and there were lots of beautiful fruit liqueurs including some truly magical smoky damson gin – and the field took great delight in explaining to TAV the concept of using a dishwasher to make sweets flavoured vodka.
The ground was fairly tough going due to a hard frost the previous night, but when the sun crept in it was almost springlike, and we had some lovely canters. In fact, we went through every season bar summer, so it felt very Narnian!
5) A long-awaited reunion
Last season, when hunting was something I thought only extremely posh, wealthy people could do, and people in my childhood pony books, my friend Blonde emailed me to suggest we give it a go on the Countryside Alliance’s Newcomers Week. I am indebted to her for doing so: I’ve met the loveliest people, explored beautiful country, and tackled some of my biggest fears in the process.
Blonde made a triumphant return to the field last week after having given birth to a future subscriber in the summer, and I merrily made my way up the Victoria line to Kings Cross ready to train up to Northamptonshire for our reunion meet with the Fitzwilliam.
Where the day with the Hursley Hambledon had been relatively quiet and beautiful, the day with the Fitz was full on in block caps and a 48-point font size. It was INCREDIBLE. I quickly managed to establish that my stirrups, which I am constantly fretting about, were far too long when I managed to lose first one then the other at a fast canter, and bellowed to the field in front not to go shooting off just yet or I’d probably end up bouncing off the headland.
It was a remarkable day – I was reunited with a beautiful Appaloose-cross mare who I’d ridden at New Year, and she was a total joy. Ears pricked, rider’s heart somewhere between her gritted teeth and the rest of the mouth, we bounced off down hills, zooming round fields, and clattering along roads. Every now and then I’d look round at Blonde to see how she was getting on, only to see her beaming with all the force of a lighthouse whose batteries have just been replaced. It was a wonderful day, and we stayed out till the last, before heading back to the station to post me back to London.