Tag Archives: Horse Stories

Horse Story: Crystal

“Who am I riding today? Can I ride Crystal?”
“I wanna ride Crystal today. Can I?”
“What do you mean I can’t ride Crystal today. She’s totally the best!”

These are the phrases I hear at least 6 days a week.

“All right! I got Crystal!”
“I’m jumping today and I have Crystal? YES!”
“Crystal is so lovely. I want to take her home.”

These are also the phrases I hear at least 6 days a day.

Highland Crystal is our 14/1hh Highland pony. Like her name, she is a grey horse with patches of dark skin that show through. Because of these dark skin patches and in spite of her pure white coat, she is still a grey and not a rare white horse who has a double Dominant White gene (horse genetics are fun). She is 14 years old with the wisdom of someone far older. It is usual to give the title Schoolmaster to someone so young, but she is a definite contender for the title. There is not much she hasn’t done and done very well, and she will both teach and protect riders ensuring they continue to ride and develop. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but will tolerate and help those who need her the most. She may be the best thing to come out of Scotland since whiskey.

Crystal’s breed is the Highland Pony. This is one of the 3 native breeds to the Scottish highlands and islands – the others being the Shetland and the Eriskay. They are a hearty breed with a double coat of long and short hairs (such fun in the moulting season!), ranging from 13 hands to 14/2 hands high. They are strong enough in the shoulder to plough and strong enough in the hind to jump. They are known for their gentle, calm nature which makes them an ideal riding pony. There are only about 5500 pure Highlands and we are very lucky to have one living with us at Sunshine. Although there is a breeding programme and many Highlands are crossed with other breeds such as a thoroughbred to make eventing horses, Highlands are classed at Level 4 “At Risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. If you have read George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), you will know about the horses used up by the wall – they are called Garrons. Garrons actually exist and are a type of Highland pony. Crystal IS a garron – tall, strong, balanced and dedicated Highland pony. (FYI, the only dragon at Sunshine is me.)

Crystal is a perfect example of her breed. She is loyal, dependable and trustworthy. She is has an intelligence about her and she will also tell you her opinion. Now as many of you may remember, Crystal was attacked when she first came to Sunshine in 2016. She was in her own field because she had not been integrated into the herd. The individuals who did this burned her face with cigarettes, also beat and kicked her side viciously. The attack made both local and national news and vet bills were in thousands of pounds. Crystal was featured in Horse and Hound and her case was cited for stricter punishment for people who abuse animals, especially horses. Despite the loving care she constantly receives from everyone at Sunshine, Crystal has not forgotten and is very wary of people now. Because I was not able to protect her, Crystal now believes she must protect herself. She doesn’t bite, but she will nip if she doesn’t like what you are doing. Yet, she will protect her riders with every fibre of her being.

Crystal’s desire to make sure her riders are safe is what makes her the most popular horse at Sunshine. She is as ideal to teach the first time jumper as much as the Intermediate level jumper (she’s a touch small for the Advanced Class as I don’t want her jumping over 1 metre). Crystal is very aware of the speed and approach she must take to a jump with the consideration of the skill the rider possesses. Working with her is like have a team-teaching experience. This is not say that people haven’t fallen off Crystal, but it is a very rare occurrence. If a rider has lost their confidence in riding, then Crystal (providing they aren’t over 5’6” tall) is my first call. In 2019 at the Early Summer Show we introduced Working Hunter jumping to Sunshine. Our hunters, Ben and Tango, were very happy to have the natural type fences, yet Crystal, who to my knowledge has never been on a hunt, took one look at the new challenges and was all in. She took to Working Hunter like a duck to water and won the first rosette ever offered at Sunshine in that discipline. Maybe it was her hunting heritage or deep love for a new challenge, either way she repeated her victory again in the June Jump 2019 in both Working Hunter and Show Jumping.

Crystal, I am sorry to admit, does not like flat work and dressage as much as jumping. Jumping is fun for her, but flat work is just that: work. Because she is not so in love with this discipline, she will make the rider ask for every move absolutely correctly. In her opinion, if you can’t ask properly then she doesn’t have to do it. That being said, this does mean our riders will have learned all the proper technique necessary which makes them very good dressage riders. Crystal has regularly competed in our dressage competitions as well as with Interdressage where she has always won a rosette – just not red…yet.

For all of Crystal’s dislike of flat work, when she sees a disabled rider Crystal becomes their best friend. She has lots of patience and care for them. If an abled-bodied rider was shouting and kicking, Crystal would very clearly tell them off (she has one of sternest ‘Mare Faces’ I have ever seen!). Yet, for our riders who have Tourette or Spastic forms of autism, Crystal will calmly accept the situation and try to help them enjoy both their ride and their learning. She has taken her riders from a petting situation to independence in canter. Crystal wants all her riders to be winners.

Speaking of being a winner, Crystal has made is possible for nearly everyone who has ridden her in a show a chance at a Red Rosette. Crystal has a very wide competitive streak. She knows when she is in a competition – whether it be in-hand, dressage or show jumping. She has been introduced to cross country but it is only just above flat work on her list of things she doesn’t like. We will continue to work with her on this discipline and we shall see what happens. The 2018 Show season was just as impressive as her 2019 season when Crystal and her rider Caitlin won the 2018 Accumulator Cup (we didn’t have Cross Country until 2019). As expected, Crystal won In-Hand and Show Jumping, but her Dressage was a touch weak. It was an amazing day for an amazing pony. Crystal hasn’t forgotten she won – ask her and she’ll tell you all about it.

Crystal not only shows well in proper In-Hand Showing, but she is the wonder pony for Fancy Dress Showing. Crystal can be dressed, painted, coloured as anything in the universe and she is happy with it. Crystal has shown as everything from a Space Ship to a Santa’s Reindeer, from St George’s Horse to a Christmas Present. What she finds important is that that she in involved. She is also happy to ride around the neighbourhood in her costume as well.

If Gymkhana is your thing, then Crystal is your horse. She is a great games pony — I suppose it is that “I have to win” spirit she has. She is able to bend around cones as if she was made of rubber, yet she will also be the easiest pony to lead if the rider is insecure and needs some support. What is important to her is that her rider has fun and thinks they are a winner.

Crystal also loves to hack out – especially to the pub (don’t we all?). Crystal is used by our smaller adults on our Pub Rides which follow the bridle paths from here to Lilley and back. She has also participated on our Halloween Spooky Hack (a ride in the dark) and our Faux Hunts at New Year.

Hunt for Santa

She is ideal for the first-time hacker because of her “I’ll take care of you” attitude, but she will also give an experienced rider a fun, full-on canter hack if that’s what you want. Crystal does not like being the point horse (the one in front on a hack) and is happy to placed middle to back of the ride. She can keep up with the big horses, but just doesn’t like to set the pace.

Crystal isn’t interested in leading the Herd of Mares. She is happy to leave that to Magic. She would prefer to be allowed to eat in peace and trot when she wants. That being said, she does not like to be left behind if the mares want to change fields (or escape to the Golf Club car park). She was only mildly curious about June’s birth and hasn’t expressed any more interest in the year that June has been alive. Perhaps it is her Scottish nature that makes her a bit taciturn. That being said, she has no problem showing her fellow Scot, Bella, a pair hooves when necessary.

I suppose you can now see why Crystal is such a popular pony. She is the first request of all our young riders be they wanting a riding lesson or a pony for camp. Her Pony Ride patience is matchless and she pretty much does qualify as “Bomb Proof”. What does Crystal want most of all? To have someone to talk to who is happy to tell her what a pretty girl she is. And Crystal is a beauty in mind, body and soul.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Shaanon West Photography and the riders at Sunshine.  Thanks y’all!

Horse Story: Ben

It was St Patrick’s Day last week, and Ben typifies an Irish gentleman. He is charming, interested in what your are doing, and a trifle bit silly. He reminds me of my late father-in-law. He was a lovely man from Dublin who was all these things. Dad, who was “fond of the ponies” and banned by the family to bet on the Grand National (long story – ask me personally), would have loved Ben as Ben is the full deal – an Irish Sport Horse.

The breed Irish Sport Horse, or ISH for short, was created in the 1920s. There was an original Irish Hunter type that was popular from the 1860s onwards, but it was more of an agricultural horse than a competitive show horse. The purpose of breeding the ISH was to make a strong, powerful but elegant Dressage (yes, dressage) competitor which could also be used as a hunting horse. I have looked but can’t find the name of the original breeder, but an ISH was born from a cross of an Irish Draught and an Irish Thoroughbred (yes, think of a Dora type and Tango having a child). In the 1990s there was a variant with an European Warmblood added into the mix (so now we are talking Tango and Tuscany – which will end with Charlie killing Tango as Tuscany was “his” mare). The point was to make create a horse that had so much scope it could do anything and come home for cuddles.

The breed is amazing. For 22 out of the last 24 years,

Oliver Townend & Ballaghmore Class, Burghley Horse trials 2018

if you were looking for a top stud, then you would have an ISH. When it comes to winning, they are what you want. Jonelle Price’s Classic Moet and Oliver Townend’s Ballaghmor Class

Jonelle Price & Classic Moet at Badminton Horse Trials, 2018

are two examples of the very best eventers in the world both having won at least 1 of the coveted 5* Eventing crowns. Cruising and Clover Hill were amazing showjumpers

Trevor Coyle & Cruising at Horse of The Year, 1999

with many, many cups and trophies and a World Championship or two. They are now the top sires for the breed. The Olympics are filled with ISHs as are the world’s hunting courses.

Clover Hill in 1996 — the father of winners

Although the Stud Book is held in Dublin, the breed now is found all over the world.

 

So Ben has a lot to live up to. And he does. Ben is our current Sunshine Accumulator Cup holder. The Accumulator is a One Day Event where the horses compete in all the major disciplines: In-Hand, Dressage, Show Jumping, and Cross Country.

Ben, 2019 winner of The Accumulator Cup with the 2018 winner.

The purpose is to show the full scope of what a horse can do. Each section is judged according to that discipline’s rules, horses and riders are ranked, and the combination with the most overall points wins. Last July Ben cruised through the various events – well almost. Like anyone, Ben had lots to learn. One area he was not too confident about was Cross Country. Ben, being the gentleman that he is, didn’t think it was right to jump fences from field to field as we had previously told him not to. It took a lot of determination to get him to jump Fence 12 which he eventually did, but he came in 5th in the Cross Country. It was a good thing that he won the Dressage and Showing and came in 2nd in Showjumping!

Ben has come a long way from when he was brought to us by Ade for training. Ade loves his boy (and he should as Ben is loveable), but Ben really didn’t have the kind of training that made him a viable riding horse. I would go as far as to say that Ben’s early training was sketchy at best. Ben is a very right sided horse and it took a lot of patience and, quite frankly, courage to get him to work on his left. If you tried, and Ade did, but weren’t an excellent rider like Fiona, then you were placed “without prejudice” on the floor. So Fiona, Beowulf and myself had some work cut out for us.

Fiona used Ben’s natural love for hacking as her starting point. She rode him out regularly until he began to trust her and listen to what she was trying to tell him. Beowulf and I worked Ben in the ring with lots, and lots, and lots more, flatwork. There was no point in teaching Ben to jump until Ben knew which foot went where. It didn’t take long – about 10 weeks, and Ben was much more balanced and able to use both sides of his body (his left is still the weak and sticky side). He also learned that throwing people off because the work was hard wasn’t going to cut it. Ade came, had a ride and was thrilled. He could safely ride his boy without fear. But Ade wanted more and Ben has been here since. Ade saw Ben’s potential. This 17/2 hh chestnut could take county, if not the country, by storm.

So we started teaching Ben proper jumping. As I have said on other Horse Stories, horses will jump naturally, but there is nothing natural about show jumping or cross country. In each case the horse has to learn what the fence is, how to approach and jump the fence, and how not to run off like a looney after the fence. The horse has to learn to trust the rider, have confidence that he/she knows what they are doing, and that this can be fun. Fun is the important part because if they aren’t having fun, then you will have a dirt encrusted experience when they say no.

Ben likes jumping (thank God). Ben is also bright but silly. He has learned the different fence types with ease and is happy to go over them. Ben’s problem is listening. It has been 3 years of working with him and he still doesn’t always listen. This is why we tend to use him only in the upper level lessons. Remember his breed is inherently strong, so the rider has to have the confidence and the seat to deal with this. Once you have him listening he is amazing. Until then, technique is your best friend.

So who is riding Ben now? We have Samantha, who won the Accumulator Cup with him, and she is both a riding instructor and a fireman (yeah, our own Fireman Sam), Beowulf,

Ben out with Lauren on our Annual Faux Hunt, December 2019

Fiona occasionally, and our Intermediate riders Caitlin, Lauren, Freya, Keira and Carl (Ade took the winter off). Ben’s riders have no illusions about him and his strength and speed, but they also know that this horse will make them into not just riders, but horsemen and women.

So what is Ben’s future now? We want to start taking him out to competitions. He has been to Bury Farm and did very well coming home with a rosette for a Clear Round.

Ben needing his hourly love from one of riders.

We would like to take him hunting and maybe a few other One Day Events (ODE) in the area. We would like to really bring him on as an Eventer because that will show the full scope of Ben’s big talent. Ade is in favour of this providing he doesn’t have to do the riding. It is great to have an owner so positive and involved in the training. Samantha has the competition partner she’s dreamed of and can’t wait to get out there. However, the first thing we need to teach him in to travel politely – he does like to kick the trailer something fierce. That is not good for either hoof or trailer side wall. Ah, with Ben there is always something more to learn.

Ben is Number 3 in the herd of The Big Boys. He is happy there and doesn’t challenge for a higher place. He tends to play with the other big ginger, Tango, and occasionally his stable brother Stan. It is a bit frightening to see these Big Boys start haring around as the rumbling sound from the ground is physical! You can count that if they start to rear up, Charlie will appear to calm things down. He likes a well behaved herd and Ben respects Charlie’s judgement (Tango can be a bit iffy on that front but knows where the line is).

 

We all believe that Ben has a big future and he is still a young horse. I personally like working with him because he is smart and willing. We still have that cross country to sort out. Guess I know what I’m doing this weekend. Come on, Ben. It’s show jumping only different!

 

This post is made possible with the help from Chris Cole Photography, Miss C Lake, Miss U Afridi, and Miss E Silk. Thanks y’all.

Horse Story: Pandora

We all probably know the story of Pandora. She was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus to punish mankind for stealing fire from the gods. She was endowed by the gods with beauty, grace, talent, knowledge…and a box. We know that Pandora was told to never open the box. Temptation proved too much for her and she did open it, and out of the box came all the evils which plague man. At the bottom, almost unseen, unnoticed, was Hope. And it was with Pandora that hope was released into the world.

So how does this Greek myth tie into our Pandora?

Pandora is a soft eyed, 16 hand, grey freckled cob. She is beautiful, graceful, talented, gentle and innocent. Pandora, also known simply as Dora, is 14 years old. Dora brought with her, not in box but in her heart, a gift of hope.

When Dora arrived at Sunshine I was looking for another strong but gentle jumper. I had seen pictures and video of her jumping and I thought she looked like a good fit. We had just retired Tink to a new home in a field of very deep grass. I knew that Tink was happy so I had space to bring a new girl in. Dora came from up north near Doncaster. I had been told that her previous owner had been injured (not a riding accident) and was also pregnant, so riding was out for a long time. The owner was hoping that Dora would have a chance to develop as she was still a young horse. As with everything, Dora arrived with her own ideas.

Once Dora had settled, we began working with her. As to be expected, she was a complete mess upon arrival. It was clear that she had just come out of a very muddy field! It took several days and as many baths to get her grey again. It was a bit of a surprise to find out that Dora was not keen on being tied up. How were we supposed to groom her when each time we secured her to a tie-up point she would back up and start shying? Being sensible about the situation meant that one Handler would hold Dora and another would groom her. Dora was fine about this and has come to love her grooming time. She now can be properly tie-up, but we must never leave her alone that way on the yard.

Dora’s jumping became something I began suspect wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Dora can jump (unlike Rosie), but she didn’t enjoy it. When it comes to jumping, it is a discipline that both the horse and the rider have to love to do. A horse who doesn’t want to jump will frustrate the Rider with the result being an over use of the whip. A Rider who isn’t confident with their jumping will find themselves in a possibly dangerous situation as their horse will take control. Something a potentially dangerous should not be left to a creature who has a brain the size of a clementine. Dora was fine jumping if she had a very confident Rider who know what to do and could lead her safely over the fences. If there was any sign of trouble, Dora would always run out to her right (I learned that rather shockingly as I was on the wrong side of a jump once. Only Once.) This tendency was not the best for a riding school. As she was 12 years old that that time, I wasn’t sure I could bring her on fully to enjoy jumping as I had riders to train at the same time. Major dilemma.

It wasn’t long before Tuscany was retired for the riding school and went to live is a big green field nearby. When Tuscany left, I knew I had an opening for a dressage mare. I had noted that Dora was naturally very flexible through her shoulders and forelimbs. Dora was (an still is) as happy moving sideways as she was going forwards. Dora also seemed to understand how to bend properly through a 20 meter circle with very little training. Her upwards and downwards transitions between the paces was easy. Most importantly her ears perked up and went forward when she was brought into a jump free arena for a flatwork lesson.

This is where Dora becomes Pandora and brings hope. I began to seriously introduce and train Dora in flatwork and dressage in Summer 2018. In the beginning both she and her riders were a touch green. You can practice and practice your Test, know it inside and out, but it in the heat of competition that your depth of knowledge and experience is honed. If I, or any other rider, got on Tuscany and felt a bit nervous, Tuscany would say, “Don’t worry. I got this.” It was comforting to know that she would do that …. right up to the moment she would slip from one Test into a completely different one. That kind of equine confidence comes with lots of work and experience. Dora has been learning that. What were once unprepared moves in the heat of the moment have become smooth changes of gears. What was once a frightening mass of humanity have become her adoring fans. What were once 5th and 6th place rosettes have become 1st and 2nd.

Another wonderful thing for her is that she rarely sees or experiences a whip. Because she is willing to do the work, there is no need for force the issue. She is now happy to do Lead Rein and Beginner lessons as much as her private Dressage Coaching. She has learned how to help people who are just starting out gain confidence and love riding. Her gentle nature means there little to fear from her when learning how to steer and balance for a trot. Dora has learned how to hack out and enjoy it. She hasn’t to date made it to the pub, but it is on her schedule for this summer. Again, because it will be fun, she will not fear it and in turn, neither will her rider. However the rider does need to be aware that she will try to take a grass snack for two on the ride.

All this praise does not mean she doesn’t have her cheeky side. She is one of the few horses that comes with a perfect internal clock. If the rider asks in Dora’s presence how long their lesson is and we teachers answer, “half hour” or “30 minutes”, you can count that Dora will be heading down the centre line to a finish halt at that point exactly. If we say, “oh, you have 45 minutes today” or “this is for an hour”, again Dora will finish exactly at that point. Don’t try to sneak another move in. She won’t have it. What she will do is start to canter the arena in a fit of pique. Not a lot of fun if the rider isn’t that accomplished. And as I said, Dora can go sideways as easy as forward, so one can quickly learn how to sit a half pass if Dora is in a mood. Dora also still refuses to go over poles even if they are lying on the ground. This is not a fear issue, but now very much a “mare issue”. Dora will be learning her groundwork poles- end of sentence. So there are times when the horse that looks like an angel can be a right little devil!

As for moods, our Dora is quiet one. She can be shy and doesn’t actually like a lot of people around her (unless she is doing a show and then she likes to be a Queen). If she is feeling unsure or crowded, Dora will hid to the back of her box with a very worried expression on her face. Dora is very sensitive to loud noises, so during firework season (now September through January!) it is important that one of her favourite people are up here and with her. A comforting hand on her face or neck does wonders and she relaxes. Dora also is a mothering auntie to June. She was profoundly affected by June’s birth as she was next door when it happened. Dora has tried and occasionally been successful with caring for June. As June gets older and bigger, I am sure they will have a good relationship.

There are many mean jokes about grey horses. Sunshine’s Pandora defies them all. She is clean, kind, gentle and loving. She wants children and adults to have a good time when they are with her. Her expressive and caring face says it all. Pandora gives hope and love to all in her orbit and in exchange we hope that she knows how much we love and value her. She is a gift to us.

This post would not have been possible without the beautiful photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thanks Chris!

Horse Story: Stan The Man

“Hi! My name is Stan! I’m Adam’s friend! I’m a 10 year old Painted Cob!”
Thank you Stan.
“I like to run really fast!”
Thank you Stan.
“And I like to play with my friend Henry!”
Stan….
“And I…”
STANLEY!

Yes, life with a lively young horse is both challenging and fun. As Stan has told you, he is a 10 year old Painted Cob with a personality as big as he is. Stan is the smallest of our Big Boys, coming in at 17 hands. What is a “Painted Cob” you say? It’s a white or cream body covered in red or brown splotches. Stan is a very handsome red. He looks a lot more Jackson Pollock than Vincent Van Gough however.

Stan came to us to join his “brother”, Ben, who is also one of the Big Boys. Stan had visited Sunshine in 2018 when he competed at our annual one day event, The Accumulator. He was one of our top finalists having competed in all areas: In-Hand, Dressage, Show Jumping. Stan has a big future in front of him, but he will need a lot more training to achieve it.

Stan, like all young horses, has more energy than he knows what to do with. This is great when you have a big course of jumps or a long, intricate dressage test, but for day to day living this energy can get him in trouble (He thinks of walking through closed doors as an optional way of entering and exiting his stable). If you think of Stan like any other teenager, then you know what hi-jinks he can get up to. Stan’s energy has made him an ideal field companion to Henry, who is also a young horse with more energy than sense. The two of them like to play together in a somewhat rough and tumble way which can include rearing and bucking. Now Charlie, who is the father figure of the herd, often finds himself having to separate and discipline these youngsters. And don’t think he won’t do it!

Because at Sunshine we don’t like to train horses using whips, it means that a good education can take a bit longer. We believe is using positive reinforcement rather than negative. So when Stan is introduced to something new, we expect him to panic and refuse. We don’t tell him off, but we keep the exercise simple until he relaxes and feels confident, then we make it a touch harder. It has taken some time, but Stan has learned to trust us and knows that we have his best interest at heart. When Stan has learned a jump type or a dressage pattern we give him lots of praise and love. Because he likes how that feels, he wants to do more.

So this summer our goal with Stan is to have him compete calmly and competently at the upper levels of Novice in dressage and to be happy jumping 75cm. So what do we mean by calmly and competently? Obviously I mean that Stan should not be frightened by the movements and changes in pace during dressage. That he knows what he is doing and is enjoying showing off how beautiful he is. When Stan is relaxed, he is a stunner with his paces! His balance and head carriage is exactly what the pictures in my dressage books show a horse should be. The natural suppleness that comes with youth (of all creatures and species including humans) shows both his power and his ability to bend with ease in all paces. And Stan does like to show off how good he is!

When Stan is learning to jump – yes horses have to learn how just as much as their riders, it is important that he learn to use his head as much as his powerful back legs and topline (trans: his back). He needs to learn to not rush at a jump – which he does in his excitement — but learn to come in balanced and collected, then jump with a strong rounded head and shoulders which will help him land without injury. This takes time. It is also important that he learns all the different types of jumps there are: cross poles, uprights, oxers, spreads, liverpools, doubles, triples and fillers. This is just for show jumping! And then there is cross country which has logs and fences and ditches and trakehners and steps and tyres and water. Oh my! So much to learn! Did I mention also all the flowers, plants and colour? All of this can confuse, worry and spook a young horse like Stan.

So Beowulf and Ana are busy working with Stan and me on all of these things. Stan is learning and he is learning that it can all be super fun. We, as humans, have to be careful that we don’t over work him. It is important that he does get his play time. Part of Stan’s play time is to go out with Ben on hacks on our local bridleways. Again, he gets super excited and has been known to canter sideways. This is great if you will be riding upper, professional level dressage, but not the best on a day when you want to just a hop-and-a-trot over the hills. I am glad that he has all this energy, but he does need to learn to channel it sensibly!

Why do I keep going on about being sensible? Remember that Stan is a cob, and a big one at that. I mentioned in Callie’s Story briefly about cobs. There is a specific Welsh Cob breed, but the beloved, all-around wonder horse known as a cob is a bit of mixed history. Apparently, it is more about body type and temperament than actual breeding. A cob is known for being even mannered and patient. They are also known for having a strong shoulder with a bit of a chunky body with heavily muscled legs. Well, this sums Stan up to a tee! Cobs have been used for everything from personal riding horses, to pulling carriages to pulling a plough. All this pulling because of their shoulder strength means that when they are a riding horse, the rider must have the confidence to use all the aids as necessary, especially the leg! So this is why Stan’s strength is both a blessing but, if not trained properly, a curse.

Stan’s cobby temperament means that he is lover of kisses. He loves affections and is quick to give it to like-minded gentle souls. He also is a clown. He pulls some of the funniest faces I have ever seen. Anyone can see what is on Stan’s mind because it is all over his face – from love me now, turn me out Now, feed me NOW! Stan has been know to grab my hood (it is winter currently) and pull me back to him so that he can tell me something. Sometimes this is fine (and a touch cute) and other times it is annoying because it is driven by his youthful impatience (and an unending desire for hay).

We feel very lucky to have Stan living with us. He is a delightful young man who will become a very lovely gentleman over the next few years. Stan’s story is only beginning. Keep watching to see where he is going and what he will achieve. All with a twinkle in his eye!

This post would not be possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography and Mr A Yori.  Thanks Chris and Adam!

Horse Story: Callie

There was time in 2018 at Sunshine when we had 4 New Forest horses on the yard – Jester (25), Donny (17), Mollie (18) and Callie (10). The yard was busy with these fiery, friendly and clever equines. Jester and Donny were the ultimate escape artists while Mollie proved what it meant to be a talented jumper and a ginger mare. The princess was Callie. Of this quartet of mayhem, only Callie remains because she was the youngest when the rest went to retire.

Callie’s registered name with the New Forest Horse Society is Hazelhill Candyfloss. She was born in the New Forest and came out in the sales when she was 4. Prior to coming to Sunshine, Callie had 2 previous owners (so says a passport that was not kept as updated as it should have been. I really believe she was passed parcel to post.). There was much debate as to what we at Sunshine were going to call her as she would answer to a variety of names. I wanted to call her Candy because it was close to her passport name, but my son Huw was insistent that she was a Callie. After much debate and remonstrations, he won and this pretty ginger pony is our Callie.

Callie is 12/2 and as I said ginger – chestnut if you are being particular, with matching mane and tail. She is not as fine boned as Rosie, which is probably why she is far happier with riders who not only do flat work but jump as well. From a distance in summer they can be hard to tell a part. Because of their size and temperament, they have their own field called the Nursery.

In the beginning, Callie and Rosie didn’t get along (you wouldn’t believe that now!). There were some serious fights between them. Both girls are what are called Native Breeds – horses who originated or were specifically bred in the British Isles. There are 15 Native Breeds: Exmoor, Dartmoor (Pasha), Fell and Dales (½ Magic), Shire (other ½ Magic), Cleveland Bay, English Thoroughbred (Benji), Hackney, Welsh Mountain (Dottie [Class A], Rosie [Class B] Harley [Class A]), Welsh Cob, Connemara, Suffolk Punch (wish I had one of these!), Clydesdale (hold my beer while I dream), Eriskay, Highland (Crystal) and Shetland (Bella). Charlie, Tango, Henry, Molly and Ben are ‘foreign breeds’, while Annie, Dora and Stan are Cobs – the most difficult of all breeds to pinpoint. Don’t even start asking about June! A cob could be a Welsh Cob base with a mix of all sorts. It is more of a body and temperament type than an exact breed. There are no studbooks for Cobs unlike the rest of those listed. Annie and June (possibly) are supposedly Irish Cobs which actually means they come from the Gypsy Vanner stock which is a cross between any coloured type horse and a Shire or a Clydesdale. The Gypsy Vanner now has a Studbook but I doubt you will be able to find any listing for Annie or June’s sire.

So back to Callie. Callie’s New Forest linage is very proud. New Forests are not the largest of equines with most being ponies between 12 and 14 hands. At one point before the rise of the English Thoroughbred, these were the racers because they are so fast and nimble. If you every rode or have watched any of our New Forests, then you know they can canter on a whim at a speed that can cause your eyes to water. Callie can keep up with some of our fastest horses who are 3-5 Hands (12 to 20 inches) bigger than she is. This being said, Callie is a lady and will only really take off if you ask her to. It is this natural desire to behave which makes her so perfect not only for a riding school in general, but allows her to be able to participate in lessons from Lead Rein to Intermediate.

It is time that I deal with ‘The Elephant In The Room’ , or more particularly, The Hope Of Sunshine. As many of you know, I have a real soft spot for things that are broken – be it human or equine. We have special programmes for humans who have had a rough go of it or have a disability that limits their life experience. To me and the Sunshine Staff, riding is for everyone and we do our best to give that wonderful gift to all who come here. This is the same for horses.

It breaks my heart that there are people out in the world who think of animals as a disposable entity. I grew up and been around animals all my life – from cows and chickens to cats, dogs and horses. My father and mother taught me to respect animals going to the abattoir as much as those who sleep on my bed. Life, long or short, is precious and a gift. As an adult I still carry that with me. So when I purchase an animal, be it feline, canine or equine, I know my responsibility to them and will, to the best of my ability, meet those requirements.

Yes, Sunshine has many horses who have had a bad start in life. True, they are less expensive to adopt, but they require a lot of love and patience. Callie had a bad start. I know that her previous owner did love her to bits, but I also know that she could not deal with issues that Callie presented. When Callie arrived at Sunshine she was desperately shy and head shy. These are two separate things. Her personality shyness is still with us. She has bonded to a few special people who she really trusts and can relax around. These people can do anything with her and she enjoys the games that she is part of. It’s when she is calm and happy that her true personality comes out and we see what a funny pony she is!

Being Head Shy is a different cup of tea. Somewhere along the line of her story, Callie was beaten about her head and face. This is not talk but confirmed by our Vet, Dr Laura. There is a lump on her nose that is a healed break. How it happened I could not tell you. What I can tell you is that for the first 3 months of Callie’s life here, we fought tooth and nail to get a bridle on her. She would back up and rear. Her eyes would show the whites and roll back in her head. It was so bad that she actually fell over backwards once. She hid at the back of her stable and even reared when her dinner was presented. We are talking about a seriously terrified and traumatised pony. As I said, I don’t know who was mean to her, but they better hope I never find out!

So what did we do? We put Callie on our ‘Love Offensive’ (I really need to trademark this phrase!). We have loved this pony to good mental health. How did we do this? Firstly by going slowly. Working with a traumatised horse is like working with a traumatised child. You are going to have to introduce things at a speed they can accept. Using force because it is convenient for you will only end in disaster. You also have to accept that there will be good days and bad days – just like us. There are days when you can groom, saddle up and go with minimum of fuss. Then there are the bad days. Still.

The plan for Callie’s recovery started with a soft, loose head collar that could be buckled behind her ears and not slid over her ears. Moving slowly and giving lots of love and encouragement as you did it made it possible for us to get it on and for her to go to the fields. The second step was using something called T-Touch (I was told that this was also used on a Canadian TV show about horses!). T-Touch is the gentle massaging of the horse’s face beginning half way between the left ear and the left eye, slowly using a circular motion work down the side of the face and around to the nose. Aaron must have spent the better part of an hour every day doing this with her. I did it with her when Aaron was busy. Rachel I think still does it. After 2 months of this, Callie relaxed and let people touch her face and put a bridle on.

Simon also starting putting Callie’s bridle on by loosing the cheek piece. This made it possible to get it over her ears without her being afraid that we would grab her ear and twist(another fear she has). Once the bridle was on, we would tighten all the parts up and she was ready to go. When Callie is having a bad day, we still do this. She appreciates that we listen to her and do what she needs so that all of us win, and Callie’s Bad Day becomes a Callie Good Day.

Because Callie knows she is respected at Sunshine, she has been able to blossom as an individual. She participates doing In-Hand Classes and is part of Anita Nancollas’s Horse Angels. She is busy teaching young riders how to safely ride, hack out and jump. She can do Dressage and will do Cross Country (as long as it is low). She likes to compete in Fancy Dress Showing Shows and well as Showing In-Hand properly. Because we (especially Rachel) love Callie so deeply, Callie has overcome most of her fear and trauma.

Callie is our ultimate success story of how every person is valuable; how every person can become more than what was originally deemed their potential. Callie is what Sunshine is really all about: Love & Possibilities.

This post was made possible by the photos from Chris Cole Photography, Miss R King, and Miss I Afridi.  Thank you Ladies!

Horse Story: Rosie

I have a pony named Treflan Pert. We don’t call her Treffie or Pertie or any another combination of her passport name. To us she is Rosie. Rosie is a very pretty girl who came to us 2 years ago. Rosie is registered with the Welsh Pony and Cob Society as she is a Welsh Section B pony. She is 12/2 in height, a leathered bay in colour, and has some of the finest legs I have every seen – and when I say finest, I mean skinny. Rosie’s story is one of understanding and love over fear and pain.

I adopted Rosie from a reputable horse dealer. I was told that she was a “plug and play pony”. I was guaranteed she would fit for the school as soon as she was out of quarantine. I don’t think he ever discussed this plan of action with this 12 year old pony! When Rosie arrived she was very underweight and bony. The thing that caught my heart was the gentleness of her eyes. She asked me quietly to please be kind to her and give her a chance. I could tell immediately that this pony was not going to be ready for the school in 14 days – or even 14 weeks.

I will admit that I did contact the dealer and let him know that what he sold me was not what he had promised. I was furious about that. He told me that because she was a “dirt cheap pony” he was not about to give me a refund no matter what the law said. I sat back and thought, ‘what am I going to do now?’

At this point, Rosie was a pretty face with a body covered in sarcoids. She had huge one on the side of her mouth, another between her front legs, one on her chest, and her back legs were more sarcoids that fur. She refused the bridle and bit. She refused the saddle. My only option was to try to make some lemonade from this lemon. I started by having the vet remove the sarcoid on her mouth and the one between her legs. We started feeding her properly and she slowly calmed and accepted our presence and touch. It took 6 weeks for the treated sarcoids to fall off. It was a long month and a half.

For those of you who don’t know what a sarcoid is, it is a tumour like growth. Like all tumours the base condition is hard to determine. Some sarcoids are cancerous and cause the horse a shorted life-span. Some sarcoids are from the papilomavirus which cause warts in both animals and humans. In any case, these warts are very sensitive to the touch and bleed easily. What and how horses develop sarcoids and their various treatments are the source of endless web articles and feeds from both veterinarians and horse owners the world over. Beyond having the sarcoids mentioned removed using the rubber band technique and doing lots of reading about sarcoids, I can honestly say I really did nothing. The information presented was often contradictory and there were numerous claims that all/most the treatments had no real definitive results. So I did Nothing but love this pony.

We noticed after about 7 months of caring for Rosie that her sarcoids began to fall off. Rosie was now calmer than when she arrived. She was very handleable and stopped rearing up in fear. She loved a good groom and was very pleasant round children. So we tried to ride her again. I asked for volunteers and 2 of my most experienced Senior Handlers stepped up. It went to well on the first ride. Rosie was nervous but she eventually calmed so that we could walk several laps of our natural arena on both reins. Yeah! We did it again a few days later and Rosie wasn’t as accepting as she was the first time. I figured this was because she knew what was going on and she was being a ‘moody mare’. The third time we worked her, Rosie put the Handler on the ground with a God-Almighty buck. No one was impressed. So we backed up in our training to working her on the lunge and in-hand.

In between trying to back Rosie, we kept using Rosie for In-Hand work. She was a natural. She was happy to walk, trot and even a few times canter in-hand. So when she threw a different experienced Handler on the ground during another backing session, I understood and accepted what Rosie was saying. She was telling me that she would be happy to do anything I ask as long as it didn’t require someone on her back. I also found one last sarcoid buried deep in her coat on the girth line. Every time we tightened the girth, it would inflame and hurt. I also now believe that the psychological damage from that pain is too ingrained for her to overcome it. So in-hand it is.

Sunshine is a bit different from most riding schools as we believe that we are training people, young and old, to be able to handle and work with all types of horses in all types of disciplines. Some folks love jumping while others adore dressage. Some people love to do hacking and others want to do in-hand. Some riders like to do all of it. In-hand work is often seen as ‘the red-headed step-child’ of the riding world. It is looked down on and those involved are quietly pitied. Those who compete will tell you that it is hard work and not just making the horse walk prettily. So at Sunshine we teach In-Hand Riding (a bit of an oxymoron there!)

Being able to control a horse confidently on the ground, having it move through the paces and the figures means that you as the Handler is both knowledgeable and fit. Leading the horse properly with a long lead from under the chin takes practice. Being confident to walk next to the shoulder (and stay there!) requires building trust and understanding between you and the horse. Asking the horse to transition confidently up and down through the paces while your steps match theirs is the real challenge. I remember trying to get my steps to match Charlie’s. I was doing a rather bounding, bouncing run while he trotted. Let’s not go into the disaster of what happened with his canter! Needless to say, this is all very physical training and you as the Handler must also know all the figures and how to do them properly. You must be physically fit and, if you are a lady, be able to run in a skirt. Rosie, unlike anyone else on the yard, is a natural at In-Hand and makes her Handler look great!

Rosie loves a good groom. She will happily stand for hours while people brush and pamper her. She likes to watch and occasionally comment on how one is doing. She loves little people and gives them the gentlest of eyes as the child comes for the first time to not only meet her but any pony ever. Because she gives off calm vibes, the child (or adult for that matter) relaxes and enjoys the experience as much as she does. Rosie is very much a girly-girl and her colour would be Pink! if she spoke English. Her reddish-brown fur is thick now and very soft to the touch, so our little riders think she is a big soft toy. She may be happiest when she is being groomed for a show and her mane and tail are being plaited.

Rosie loves to compete. She likes to show off how pretty she is. Unfortunately her sarcoids have left her scarred so we won’t take her out to other local shows because they won’t understand and will mark her down for them. Rosie is judged for her partnership with her Handler, her smooth paces, her compliance and her conformation. It is shame that surface scars will stop her from bigger areas of Showing, but our Rosie actually makes her biggest mark in helping people heal, develop and learn.

Rosie works with our Special Clients. Sunshine has and hosts sessions for individuals who have or suffer from emotional and/or educational issues. We don’t do expressed horse therapy as we are not qualified and licensed for that, but we do work with these adults and children who find relaxation and calmness that comes with being around horses. All equines have the innate ability to cause humans to release dopamine, the feel good hormone. Dopamine is what gives humans the sensation of pleasure, happiness and well being. There is much talk in the mainstream media about young people’s dependence on social media acclaim because each ‘like’ does give a release of dopamine. With equines one not only gets to give the love, but receives it back in a very real and physical way. With our Special Clients, they don’t always want to ride. Some have fear factors which need to be overcome slowly and confidence to be built in themselves. Some have physical barriers which makes it so they can’t ride. Some have educational language barriers which prevent them from riding. In all cases, they benefit from working with Rosie.

Rosie’s love and in-hand work have helped numerous people of all ages enjoy working with and developing both a skill and a relationship with equines. The number of times I felt frustrated by the fact I didn’t see Rosie “earning her keep” now embarrasses me. Rosie is at the heart of a new programme that Sunshine has with the local group Horse Angels. This programme, lead by Anita Nancollas, will be working with our local schools to provide equine outreach to the more deprived areas of Luton. This is a real chance for our town’s young people to develop, become more confident, forward looking and personally balanced in their life. What Rosie and 2 of her friends will give the children of Luton is great: the possibility of a better future because these kids can.

So when you go to say the County Show and you see people doing In-Hand Showing, don’t think that they are not full blooded equestrians. I would bet that most of these people, I mean horses, are unsung heroes with amazing partners, I mean the humans, who do an awful lot on the quiet for their community. Rosie is a vital and beloved part of the Sunshine Team, and how she “earns her keep” could teach several of our jumpers a thing our two!

This post would not be possible without the wonderful photos from Chris Cole Photography and from Miss R King.

Horse Story: Henry

The first weekend of September is very important to the teachers at Sunshine. It is “Burghley Weekend”. From the Wednesday before to the Sunday, Stamford England and Marquis of Exeter host the Burghley Horse Trials. It is a 5-star international event that features the top eventers from all over the world. It is an amazing experience that I thoroughly recommend to anyone who is an equine lover. You will see some of the very best dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Henry is a “Burghley Horse”… just not the type you might be thinking of right now.

I, Kimberly, have a small addiction which I really don’t know if I will ever be able to kick. It starts in August of every year with me saying that there is simply no way I will buy a horse before I go to Burghley. The Sunshine Staff vacillates between, “That is right. You will not be getting one as we do not have space for another horse.” and “Yeah, right. You really believe that you will not be buying a horse this year? I’ll believe it when I see it.” Currently, six years on, there are far more staff members in the second camp than in the first. In fact, they are now placing orders for the type of horse I am to buy. I don’t go looking. The horse finds me.

Drumcoe Henry is one of these very special “Burghley Horses”. Henry is the second of our Burghley Bros. Donny, who now belongs to one of our former teachers, was the first. Five years ago, 4 days before the horse trials, I received a call from Fiona, now our Senior Teacher but then was working for a horse dealer. She told me that she had just had the most lovely 13 hand, 5 year old pony arrive and that he would make a lovely replacement for Smartie who I was retiring that year. I went down and looked him over. He was exactly what Fiona had said. He was a lovely, young and a bit unsure but a very willing boy. We agreed a price and time for me to collect. It was the morning of Burghley when I adopted him and he came to Sunshine.

And the fun began.

Burghley was great fun and Henry, who was in quarantine, caused the yard no problems. When I got home he was ready to come out of quarantine. He was lovely on the lunge and eager to go. I did note that he had a ‘dishy leg’. This means that one of Henry’s legs goes out more sideways that front-to-back. I spoke with the Farrier and asked what could be done, and in his professional opinion it was too late to do much as Henry was 5, soon to be 6 years old. Proper training was our only recourse so that the dish didn’t become worse and that his transition from walk to trot would be smoother and more manageable. We were also told that his transitions were awful because he used to be a trotter – in other words, a gypsy cart horse.

I took Henry to an autumn pony ride at a local school. There we/I met a man who declared himself to be an Irish Jockey. He looked Henry over with a very keen eye. He asked me what I though (note “what I thought” not “what is”) Henry’s breed was. I said that he was a Cob. The man shook his head sadly (I now recognise that as well) and said that “this boy is a Trekhanner”. This jockey went on to tell me that Henry was 3 years old and would, due to the size of his shoulder blades and the length of his cannon bone, grow to 15/1. Now you must realise that I was not about to take this man seriously. I mean, really now, how many Irish Jockeys does one meet at a local school pony ride? I have spent years ruing the fact I did not ask him more.

I felt from that point onwards that Henry believed that he had the support of a fellow Irishman, a jockey I never saw again, and began to grow. Yes, Henry is Irish with an Irish Horse Society passport. (Maybe I do have thing Irish horses? We do have several….) It was right before Christmas when Shannon came into the office and announced that ‘Baby Baby Henry’s’ rug no longer fit. I went out to his stable with her and was greeted with a very smug face from Henry. Shannon was right. Suddenly the rug was too short on the bum and tight across the shoulders. Obviously we got him another rug and I went into denial. After all, what did a random Irishman know?

This pattern started and went on for over a year. Henry kept growing. Shannon was in 40 shades of love with Henry, so every movement, every trip, every slight change was documented. She spent a lot of time with him and I am grateful for that.

In January of 2016 we had our Vet Inspection. If you have read Pasha’s Story, then this will sound familiar. Our Inspection Vet, Mr McFairlaine, came and was inspecting our horses. He came to Henry and asked me how old this horse was and what was his duties. I said that Henry was 6 and was a general school horse. “Come again? You say he is six?” said the sceptical Scotsman.
“Yes.” I swallowed, “But I was told by an alleged Irish jockey that he was rather younger.”
“You should have listened. This horse is just turned 4. Come here and let me show you his teeth.” Needless to say I complied in a rather embarrassed fashion. I knew he was under 7 because the hook that forms at that age hadn’t appeared. What I didn’t know was the size of the black spots on the bottom front teeth also can help tell you how old a horse is. What had his previous owners done?

Now I was also beside myself because I have no problems jumping and teaching jumping to a horse who is 5 years old. His back is developed and his muscles are strong. His legs are more permanently developed and any growth would be minimal. He is more mentally composed. As I said previously, Henry began a growth spurt that seemed to have to no end, which means his training was going to have to change immediately. A lot more lunge and flatwork with a lot less jumping.

I did speak with the Farrier again regarding what could be done for Henry’s dishy-ness as he was not the age I thought he was. The Farrier assured me that nothing could be done as it would have had to been done in the first 18 months. It would waste my money to have any type of remedial shoe as it would accomplish nothing. So we kept working on the flatwork.

Henry has been star. In the summer of 2015 he competed in his first dressage show. He was willing and sharp. He wanted to win. He did our inaugural June Jump in the 50cm Class and came 3rd. What I noticed at that show, which unlike lessons where I have more control over what the rider does, was that Henry ran at the jumps rather than set himself up to jump calmly. This was an age thing but also something I knew I had to help him with.

So we starting working with Henry on lots of ground poles. It was a cross between desensitising him to them and building his balance. Unfortunately 2016 wasn’t a good year due to a serious injury on my part, so Henry’s training along with everyone else’s was set back until I returned in 2017. I am grateful that my lovely staff were able to keep things ticking over, but they were young and not so sure about what they should be doing.

I was able to watch Henry in the spring of 2017 and saw that he had grown more. He was now 14/3 and much more powerful. His transitions were still erratic – it wasn’t so much popping into trot as being thrown into it. His transition to canter was him zooming up to almost galloping. It was clear that he had to learn the different paces and know he could use them to balance himself and have confidence in what he was doing. It is important that your horse knows his skills as much as you know yours. An unconfident horse is actually a dangerous one because you don’t know if he trusts you or what he is about to do. Henry’s run-outs were the cause of a lot of accident reports, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt.

I starting using Henry’s schoolwork as a way to train him. He was and is used in our Lead Rein and Beginner Classes where we teach new riders how to ride in walk and trot. Because he is on a lead rein held by a Handler, he is not able to rush his work and has become more confident at working in a slower pace. He is relaxed in walk and (almost) has a smooth transition to trot. He is also used in our Upper Novice, Intermediate Classes and Advanced Private Lessons. Here is where we teach both Henry and his rider about proper jumping technique, collection and extension in the paces, softer hands with stronger legs. Henry has been loving this work. It is also where we teach the rider to have real awareness of their horse.

Henry is a sensitive soul. He worries a lot. He wants to do well and when he kicks a pole it hurts him more mentally than physically. He thinks that dropping a pole will mean that we are angry with him and won’t love him. Now you may say, how can you tell this? The answer lies in his carriage – his eyes enlarge, his head goes up, his back hollows out and he runs in fear. It takes a lot of confidence as a rider to halt him and “talk him down”. Give him the love that let’s him know that a dropped pole isn’t the end of the world. It is just something that happens. Henry’s fear is simply an age thing, but we don’t need it to become an ingrained response. Because we want the best from him, we do have to use the best, most confident riders we have when he is not on a lead rein. By using this method with him, throughout 2019 Henry blossomed into the second most requested horse on the yard.

Henry is now 15/1 (that Irish jockey was so right on so many things!) and he is OFFICIALLY 8 years old. He still performs in dressage through the Novice Tests, but will always be marked down for his dishing. He now confidently jumps to 85cm and will be working towards 95cm this summer. He will be going out this year to local competitions as his training now has him confident in what he is doing, and positive in outlook and action. Henry is a brilliant hacking horse and loves his pub rides. He is a beautiful horse that is lovely is body and temperament. Baby Baby Henry is now a Big Boy Henry, but he still loves to play with his friends (which does get him into trouble with me on occasion!). If you ask, then he is willing.

I’m so glad that I go to The Burghley Horse Trials if it means I get a Henry in my life.

This post would not be possible without the photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thank you Chris!

Horse Story: Annie

Hello! My name is Annie. It could be Betty. Actually, it could have been Siobhan for all I know. But here at Sunshine I am Annie. Annie Of The Floating Trot. Mother Annie. The Mirror of Magic.

I was offered for sale when I was living in Ireland. Fiona saw my advertisement on the internet and she sent it on to Kimberly. I was hiding a little surprise when that photo was taken. Yes, I am young at 6 years old, but I do have a big heart that was looking for a forever home where I would be loved and cared for as I always dreamed I would be.

After much fussing about, I arrived at Sunshine on December 2. It was a horrible night. I had spent the day locked in the blasted horse box with a few other horses. I didn’t have rug and I didn’t have much hay. I had been travelled from hither and yon and across the sea. It was dark and wet and I was exhausted. My arrival had caught Kimberly and the staff on the hop. She had expected me three days later on the 5th. She also didn’t expect me at 9 at night.

I must say that Kimberly didn’t sound too thrilled about me at first. She was quite cross that my passport said my name was Betty not Annie. The Irishman who brought me said that he expected being paid and that if she didn’t take me, then he was tying me to a fence and leaving me. I was so scared that she was going to be mean and just abandon me. But she said she wanted to see me and if I looked like Annie, then she would take me. The man had to unload two other horses, both bone tired, before he could get me. I came off as meek and mild as I could so she would take me and give me and my surprise a home.

Kimberly said she would have to walk me into the light as the road I was unloaded on was black as pitch. As she brought me on to the yard, I could hear him reloading the other horses. Now Kimberly has a man named Andrew. I could tell he knew naught about horses but he was on my side. He held my lead rope and kept telling his wife that I was good horse and keep me. I prayed while Kimberly checked me over as best she could in the scant light she had. She then turned to Driver Man and said she would accept me. I had never been so relieved in my life. She hadn’t seen my surprise.

Now I do suspect that seeing my surprise would have been a bit difficult. I was bedraggled as could be. I had been taken straight from field and loaded on that lorry. My feathers were loaded with mud and my mane hadn’t seen a brush in Lord knows how long. Yet, here she was taking my photo and telling the world that I had arrived. Now while I am being photographed like a fashion model, Kimberly’s boys, Beowulf (isn’t that a lovely name) and Huw (I wonder if that is short for Cúchulainn?), set about tearing a stable for me – emptying out jump wings, and tools, and wood. Kimberly was shouting at them to hurry as weather was going to give me a bath before morning if they didn’t hurry. It look less than a turn in the field and I had a warm, clean bed to call me own. I had a lovely pile of hay and peace and quiet.

The next morning I was greeted by the Yard Man, Simon. Kimberly had been speaking to him last night and I didn’t know what to think. She was sure he was going to be angry. I was worrying again. As it turned out, he is really a rather lovely chappie. He talked to me quietly and gave me some of best food I had had for a while. After breakfast I saw all the residents as they went out to the field. I really wanted to join them, but Simon said I had to stay in until Kimberly and the vet looked me over. I knew now that my surprise was going to be out.

Kimberly came down about an hour later. She spoke to me nicely, but I was so worried that I gave her my “mare face”. I didn’t want her to see my surprise, but she had noticed. She called the vet, Dr Laura, and told her a bit of my sad story. Dr. Laura was out about an hour later.

I was very unsettled when I saw Dr. Laura. I just couldn’t stand still and there was simply no way she was going to get near to nether regions. If I could keep her from looking there, then I knew that Kimberly would not turn me away because of my condition. Dr Laura, I must say, is a very persistent woman however. She did look me over everywhere and there was little I could do so I did throw a foot or two, but she was not to be deterred. Kimberly then asked the thing I dreaded, “Laura, is it possible that Annie is pregnant?”

I stood in shocked fear. She knew.

Dr Laura ran a hand down my side and my belly. She listened to my belly. She poked and prodded. Dr Laura then decided (God Bless Her!) that I had had a foal recently and only just stopped nursing. Now that was true. I had and my body told that story clear as glass. What she didn’t know was there had been lad afterwards. Kimberly accepted Dr Laura’s words and they decided that I was as big as I was because I was out of shape from being both pregnant and out of work. They decided I was to be exercised and some muscle built after I came out of quarantine.

Now I know that some humans like to lie in their bed all day. I know of some fine equines who can stand to be in their stall all day and night, only to come out to race or jump. I, personally, find that type of life to be wasted. I like my freedom – fresh air and green grass. I told Kimberly and Simon the only way I could. I broke out regularly. Now to be honest it was early in the morning when I did it. I did like to say hello to Andrew and he would say hello back. He would then tell Kimberly. Other days I would greet Simon as he came in. Simon would sigh and ask me what I thought I was doing. I thought it was obvious, but then I am Irish.

It was a week short of a month when I was allowed out to the field. It was heaven. I ran and trotted and loved the sun on my back. Then I put my head down and devoured that lovely sweet green grass. The thing that shocked me was when I came back in from the field, I was suddenly in a stable half the size I had previously. I was not impressed and I told them. Next morning I greeted Simon at the gate. He looked a wee bit peeved.

Later that morning I had a real surprise. Kimberly fit me with a saddle and a bridle. I hadn’t worn tack for the better part of 2 years. Oddly, it felt quite lovely. I was taken into the menage where Simon gentle patted me and then slowly mounted. I was calm about this because he had not raged at me for breaking my door that morning. We had a nice walk around the arena and I enjoyed it. I did wonder, however, how long this was going to last as my surprise would be growing every day.

Kimberly, Simon, Beowulf, Huw and lots of the other staff, Miss Fiona included, rode me and exercised me. I could tell I was getting stronger. My back felt good and my legs felt powerful. It had been about 2 months since I last saw Dr Laura when she came back to see me. She was here to give me my second injection for flu. I was pleased to have it because I knew my surprise would benefit from it. Then Kimberly had to ask again. “Laura, we keep working her and she looks like she’s getting fit, but she still getting fat. Are you sure she’s not pregnant?” Again, Dr Laura looked me over and said it was just the process of getting fit from having a foal. Don’t worry and keep working for a top line. I’d been second time lucky.

So I spent the spring getting strong – even had a canter or two, which was actually difficult as my surprise was definitely making things hard. Simon was being lovely but he was bloody insistent about picking my feet. I’d let him do the fronts but there was no way I was letting anyone near the rear. I had too much to protect. The farrier came and I properly scared him off. He said he was not going near me until I had been taught some proper manners.

It was June 9. I knew it was coming. I was very unsettled and walking my box trying to find a way to deal with the pain. I would stop every time someone came close, but Emily caught me a couple of times. I wondered if she’d say anything to Kimberly, but she didn’t. I was led out to my lesson and I really wanted to do it, but half way through I knew I couldn’t. I gently laid down with plenty of time for the rider (such a lovely lad he is too!) could pop off. I rolled over to ease the discomfort and saw Kimberly’s eyes the size of saucers. Apparently I had squired her with milk. Her first words were to call Simon.

They got me up and took my tack off. Kimberly assured the parents watching that I wasn’t pregnant and that she would call the vet. I could tell she wasn’t feeling like she was telling the truth. After the lesson Kimberly came and looked me over. She asked me if I was hiding something, but I couldn’t tell her I had been lying the last 6 months. Kimberly wanted to call the vet out but Simon appealed to her financial reasoning. Kimberly said she would have Dr Laura out first thing in the morning. I’ve never heard her sound so worried and concerned.

It was long hard night. I kept walking and I couldn’t really settle. Kimberly did come down around 9 to have a look at me, but I stood quiet for her. She did promise me a Dr Laura visit in the morning. I did try to wait but at dawn it was just too much. I laid down and gave my secret life. I must confess that I gave birth to biggest baby every.

I will never forget Simon’s face when he came to give me breakfast. He stood there looking for a good minute before he got out his phone. I knew he was calling Kimberly. I was a praying that she would happy for me. Simon slipped in and cleared up my mess and talked nicely to me. Kimberly arrived about 5 minutes later. I tried to hide my girl but I knew I had to show her my secret. Kimberly was shocked at first and then she fell in love. Once I knew she didn’t hate me or blame me for being a bad girl, I let the little one suckle. Kimberly looked so happy and relieved. She then started making some phone calls and taking pictures.

It was like was six month earlier. Beowulf and Huw arrived and were clearing the big stable. Jump wings and poles were used to make a chute to the new stable. The baby began to shiver and Simon put a rug over her. Miss Fiona arrived and so did Dr. Laura, so they decided it was time to move my baby and me to the Big Stable. I was so worried about what they were doing with my child that I could barely walk a line. I had to keep turning to make sure they were doing it right and the child was safe. Would you then believe that they were expecting me to walk into the Big Stable with my baby still behind? Simon gave me a God-Almighty-Pull while telling me to get out of the way for the foal. I walked through the door and my child followed. We were safe in the Big Stable.

Dr Laura looked my child over and said she was fine lass. I was asked by Kimberly if it was agreeable that we name her June Storm. I thought it was grand name since it was June and rain seems to be present at every big change in my life. As the day progressed, lots of members of staff came and told me what a clever girl I was and how beautiful my child was. I felt a bit silly for worrying so much that they would reject me because of my baby.

It has now been 7 months, soon on to 8. June will be is a big as her Pa. She is a lively girl and I do have to say that I am now very happy that she is weaned and living in her own stable next to me. As our doors are next to each other, I can stick my head over and see her when she needs me. We do cuddle when we can in the field and it does make me proud to see her trotting and cantering like a champion. I have heard Beowulf say that he is going to train her to be a champion eventer to which Kimberly says that no weight will be on her until she 4. They care about her as much as I do.

I am just back to work now. Kimberly talks to me and makes sure that I know how much Kimberly values me as a person. I know that I am in my forever home and it makes me happy. June is my last baby ever. I have a future in front of me that many of equine friends would envy. My days and nights, no matter what the weather, are longer stormy, but very safe and secure.

Horse Story: Bella

A refrain from a very well known musical goes,

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

That pretty much sums up our Bella. A 11/2 piebald Shetland pony who should have been named Maria. Actually, her real name is Amethyst due to the amazing colour of her eyes. She is both loving and a handful at the same time.

Bella came to us as gift from one of our former riders. There was a change of circumstances and a loss of interest in this young rider’s life and her Mum felt that Bella would be happier in a place where there were people who would be happy to care for her constantly. We collected Bella out of her well kept field. And that is what Bella’s story is about – coming from a field into a riding school.

There are many things that a riding school has to take into consideration when they get a new pony. One of these is what the pony has done and what its potential for the future is. Anther consideration is how the pony lived and was treated. In no way was Bella treated badly – in fact, she may have been overly spoiled, which has its own set of problems. The last consideration we have to make is what the breed of the pony is as that comes with a genetic temperament and coat depth.

Bella is Shetland. Shetlands are amazing small ponies from the north of Scotland. If you know anything about Scottish weather, then you know that cold, wet and windy pretty much sums it up. I lived in Caithness for a while and I will tell you that you can add DARK when it is December and January. These study little ponies are made to live outside in this type of weather. This means that their coat is what we call a double coat – a mixture of both long and short thick hairs. This will keep the pony dry and warm. Shetlands also have a thick layer of body fat for the same reason.  Bella lived in a field for several years happy and warm without a rug. Riding schools use rugs to keep ponies dry and clean so they are always ready for their next ride. Rugs were new to Bella.

Shetlands come is various heights from very small at just 28 inches to rather tall like Bella. The one thing they all have in common is their speed. They are Usain Bolt of the equine world. To keep warm they like to run. And they are very, very good at it. Bella has this ability and a very cheeky nature, so trying to bring her in from a bit of muddy field is task no member of Sunshine eagerly signs up for. She can canter from the top of the Working Field to the bottom of Old Mares Field in 10 seconds. Poor Huw runs from field to field in about a minute. She is having fun and he is not. Once she has run this track a half dozen times, then she is happy to come in. Getting the energy out of a Shetland is vital in order to either school the pony or use the pony in classes. Because of this, Team Sunshine now lunges her daily and she is much happier and easier to work with.

Another aspect of Shetlands is their curiosity. Bella was not a stable dweller until she came to Sunshine. She lived in a field and could see everything. Bella must know what is going on. We have had to lower the top of her door because she took to standing on her hind legs with her front legs on the bottom brace of her door so she could see over. She even once tried to jump her door. This was rather scary! She will also explore every area of the field when she is out before she will settle to graze. She is our “gossip girl”. Once she knows everything, then she will be calm and relaxed. Until the moment Huw has to bring her in.

Shetlands are physically strong. Their purpose was to help carry things for farmers such as bales of wool or baskets of coal. I’ve seen them on beaches to help draw in fishing nets. They are perfect for pulling small carts or carriages that carry several adults. This strength can make a Shetland a real asset, but for a riding school it can also cause problems. A horse that is strong enough to pull a cart with the same number of people as in the Lead Rein Class, can be hard for a Handler to control. The Handler could be dragged or pulled into areas where they don’t want to be. The Shetland’s strength could frighten small children who are just beginning their equine experience. So it is important that a Shetland Lead Rein pony is well trained and understands its job. A Shetland can work in a riding school for up to 20 years, but the first few are the most challenging. Bella has worked with children but she is now learning what it means to work in a group, and this is very new to her. At Sunshine we aren’t just training riders, but we are training horses as well.

So understanding the breed is very important when choosing or accepting a new pony. We knew with Bella that she had worked with children prior to coming to Sunshine. I suppose I should mention that Bella is only 7 years old, so she is still rather young and will probably live to 30. Because Bella is very small, she will only have the youngest of riders so she will not be expected to jump. It would be nice if she could do some dressage, but having a 7 year-old child doing dressage is a bit of an ask!

Bella is adorable. As previously stated, her almost purple eyes gave her the name Amethyst. This, coupled with her signature slow blink, creates a mesmerising effect.

Her Red Ribbon reminds us that she does not like people close behind her

Bella loves attention and will give kisses over her door if she recognises you. When she loves you, her affection knows no end. I don’t know about you, but I often get June and Bella confused, possibly because of their black and white colourings and heights (however June is growing fast). But more on that later. With this said, Bella is utterly adorable….until moulting season.

Moulting season is an interesting time for all the horses on our yard. It happens typically around late spring but can be as early as March. While any horse moulting can be annoying for the staff, Bella takes it to a new level, as she transforms her stable to the inside of a vacuum cleaner. The loss of her double coat means there is fur and hair everywhere including the ceiling. Because Bella lived outside in the field, she was never clipped and naturally lost her coat. Because she did not learn about clipping as a young horse, she refuses to allow us to clip her now.  The one most affected by this is our poor farrier who ends up wearing as much fur as Bella when he is trimming her hooves (Bella doesn’t wear shoes). Bella loves having her nails done!

Bella is actually a big mare in disguise. She loves to hang around with Magic and Annie. This of course makes things a touch more visually complicated as Magic and Annie look alike and so does Bella and June. Who’s the Mummy and who’s the baby?! Bella tries to be the Dominant Beta Mare, so she can be Magic’s right-hand lady. This irritates Dora who thinks that is her position. Little do they know that Magic couldn’t care in the slightest. Because Bella is very smart, she out-thinks many of the smaller mares and likes to herd them around the field. Yes, she is a bit of a bossy-boots.

Having come from the field into the riding school, Bella has progressed well. She does have her moments and is very clear about not liking Pasha. This is okay since we know about it and will try to keep the two of them apart. We all have people we don’t like to work with. We have also had to introduce a new saddle to Bella as some of the riders are too big for the child saddle she came with. Bella, again, is not too pleased with this new clothing (such a fashionista!) and we are hoping to find her the perfect saddle soon. In the meantime, we are back to small riders using the child’s saddle. So far we have not really worked to teach Bella to canter as Shetlands can be that touch fast, as I mentioned.

In conclusion, Bella can be both cuddly and dominate, loving and scary, fast and cheeky all at the same time. Bella is a high school mean-girl in the body of an 11/2 pony. But we love her that way.

This post has been made possible with the help of Chris Cole Photography.  Thank you Chris!

Horse Story: Pasha

Many of you know Pasha. He’s our 13 hand high, bay, Dartmoor pony. He is full of character and usually full of hay too. He is gentle and just a touch wide at 325kg. Pasha is young and loves to hang around with all our mares. I’m not sure if he is looking for a mummy or a girl friend, but he is a bit of a ladies man – more like Hercules Poirot than James Bond.

I remember when I went to see Pasha for the first time. He was a cute little boy who was as tall as he was wide. I had taken my son Huw with me and the two of them became partners-in-crime instantly. Pasha wasn’t too sure what was going on, but he wasn’t terribly bothered. I liked that about him immediately. I was told that Pasha was 6 years old and was Riding For The Disabled (RDA) trained. He was so calm that I had no reason to doubt it. The only thing I was told that was a downside to this young man was that he didn’t like to box and he didn’t like to travel. I was sure I could sort this out, so I agreed to adopt him.

I came back a week later (had to get his box sorted) and picked our boy up. I brought Dottie with us as I figured that Pasha would be happier going on the box if he didn’t think he would be doing it alone. It was a risk, but one I thought negligible, because I didn’t know the yard he was coming from. I have to admit that I wasn’t overly impressed by that yard as it wasn’t terribly clean and there were lots of broken places in the hard standing. But I digress…. To my utter surprise, Pasha walked straight up the ramp and into the trailer. His ears were forward and he looked excited as we tied him up and gave him hay. Dottie looked over and gave the pony equivalent of a shrug.

The ride home to Sunshine was calm. When we arrived, Pasha was easy to get off the trailer. Again, he looked excited about his new home. We had a quick trot up on the yard to make sure he was fine. Pasha was far more interested at looking at all the new faces than what we were asking him to do. Our little fat pony was also out of puff by that trot up. Simon put Pasha in his new stable and we gave him some hay which was devoured in short order. Simon and I looked at each other and agreed that we had an “eater”.

After a week in quarantine so we could do a full health check and a worming, it was time to start introducing Pasha to work. Huw was the obvious choice as they had already developed a bond. We had a major problem trying to find tack to fit this monster. He was so wide that his back was flat. He was taking the same size grith as I would put on a horse 5 hands bigger than Pasha. One of teachers, Shannon, had a “miracle saddle” that was treeless, which made it possible for Pasha to be ridden and worked. When he lost some weight, he would be put into a more proper saddle. To this day I am so thankful that Shan had that saddle!

Huw mounted Pasha and we walked him into our field known as The Working. Shannon and I watched as Huw walked and trotted Pasha around. Pasha was a bit unsure yet happy to do what was asked of him. Now we have a ring in The Working which has a deep track (we currently use it as a ditch when we teach cross-country), and Huw and Pasha rode straight towards it. Pasha, who was so heavy that he couldn’t canter, heaved himself across it. At that moment Shannon squeeked, “I love that pony! He has so much! I am going to make him a jumper!”

So Shannon and Huw began to work Pasha. He had arrived weighing 380kg, which for a Dartmoor pony is morbidly fat. I was very impressed with the work they did as when we had out Annual Vet Inspection two months later in January, Pasha was down to 355kg. Not great, but better. Our Inspecting Vet, Mr McFairlane, checked Pasha and asked me what he had been doing in the school. I said, “Not much. Why?”

“Your pony just turned 4, I’d say about 6 weeks ago by his teeth. You know that you can’t have anything under 4 working in the school.”

Oh dear. This is the second time I had been told by a seller that my horse was actually older than it was. Fortunately for us we had just started putting Pasha into the lead rein classes, so we hadn’t broken any laws. But for training it makes a big difference. Mr McFarland also said that Pasha needed to loose 50kg by next inspection. Weight Watchers or Slimming World for Horses, anyone? We did get him down to 305kg, but our vet, Dr Laura, said he was too thin. So 325kg it is.

As Pasha was, and still is, an “eater” it was vital that we control his diet. He went on sugar free foods and no treats. We got him a trickle feeding haynet. It lasted 1 night before Pasha tore a hole the size of his head in it. Pasha was either ridden or lunged everyday. We tried him on a shavings bed because Pasha liked (and still likes) to eat his bedding. This change ended up with Pasha developing Colic. He ate his bed – which the manufacturers claimed wouldn’t happen because this bedding is ‘unpalatable to horses’. They had never met Pasha. We had our vet, Dr Laura, out and she gave him an injection to help him calm down and poop. We must have walked him more that day than any day previous. Eventually Pasha began pooping (remember that horses only have a one way system so what goes in the front must come out the back!) and boy did he produce. It was decided that Pasha would have a small straw bed put in at day’s end and it would not be more than 8 pounds of straw. This way if he ate it, the effects would be minimal. He still has this type of bed.

Pasha has become one of Sunshine’s most popular ponies. Thanks to the efforts of Shannon and then later Lauren and Izzy, Pasha has become an amazing jumper. He is not Schoolmaster, so he is not the best to start to teach jumping with, but if a rider has some jumping knowledge and is still small, Pasha is your boy. Pasha usually jumps to a height of 60cm, but he has his personal best with Izzy at 85cm. (It was a question of who could jump higher – Pasha or Katrina. Pasha won.) It is important to realise that a 13hh, boxy Dartmoor pony isn’t going to do the big sticks like a svelte New Forest. Each horse should jump to the height that is comfortable for them without posing damage to their legs.

Pasha is also an amazing dressage pony. Because he is young and responsive, he has some lovely, albeit small in stride, paces. Pasha has competed in our home shows and done very well. Huw has competed him in Interdressage, an online international competition, several times and the pair have always placed in the top 6. Yes, Pasha can be stubborn and there was the time that he jumped the mounting block out of the arena to avoid the next move, but he does have a lovely nature.

Pasha is also our “Pony Ride Pony”. Because of his good nature, we take him and Crystal (who he really doesn’t like) when we do pony rides at the local school fetes. He is patient and forgiving. He doesn’t kick or bite the riders. He seems to love to the attention, but he will tell you when he has had enough and wants a break. Many very young children who are too small to ride start their equine education by giving Pasha a pet-pet. Did you know he has the cutest little moustache too?

When Pasha isn’t showing off his jumping, dressage or pony riding, he is a stalwart in our school. Now all this praise of Pasha doesn’t mean he doesn’t have faults. Pasha is an EATER. He will happily thrown his head down and try to eat the grass in any of our schools. This is a challenge to both rider and Handler. He is strong and our young riders just don’t have the muscle or heft to stop him from doing this. Also, because he is strong, it is important that riders who have just come off the lead rein or those learning to canter have the confidence to pull the reins when he decides that he wants to be in another part of the school. Because he looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth doesn’t mean he isn’t a very cheeky pony.

Pasha is now, really and truly, six years old. We do love him to bits and he is a big part of what Sunshine is all about. He is kind and helpful to our disabled riders and doesn’t put a hoof out of place for them. He will challenge riders who need a good challenge. He loves to hack and can be seen out on all our special rides or just with Huw. If you are young enough or small enough, Pasha is fun ride no matter what you are asking him to do.

This post would not be possible without the wonderful photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thank you Chris for all you do for us!