Tag Archives: Sunshine Riding School

Staff Chat With Maisie Fleckney

Our newest Teacher at Sunshine is Maisie Fleckney. She joined us in October of 2020 and has become an integral part of the staff. Maisie was born in Luton in October of 2000. As a teenager she attended Ickneild High School before moving on to make animals her life.

Like Beowulf, this was not a difficult decision as Maisie has been surrounded by dogs, cats and birds her whole life. The family collie, Nessie, welcomed Maisie when she came home from the hospital as an infant, and Lucy and Jessie, the family cats, soon followed. Maisie’s dad kept an aviary which was home to Coco the African Grey parrot and Frodo, a Conure parrot, as well as rehabilitating 3 tawny owls which were set free back into the wild. Currently Maisie has 3 cats: Merlin, Lucy and Otis (who may have a touch of the OCDs as he must bathe the other 2 cats every day!); 2 white Huskies Luna and Zara, and a hamster named Holly.

Riding in the USA

Maisie has ridden not only in England, but in the USA, Australia, Canada. She says she finds Western style easier because it has “that great big pommel to grab on to”. I did agree, but told her it wasn’t a handle. Maisie laughed and pointed out that it made it harder to fall off. I did have to agree with that too.

I met up with Maisie early in the week and asked her the same questions I asked Beowulf.

How old were you when you started riding?

About 7. No, maybe 8 I think. I really don’t remember. What I do remember is that I started at Sunshine, so it’s all come full circle.

Maisie & Mitzie at Sunshine Riding

Why did you start riding?

I was a horse crazed girl who wanted to be a unicorn. I do have pictures [she does]. I was always a bit different in school and I just liked doing something different. Not everyone rode horses.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Gaining confidence as I know I can but just going and doing it as well.

What has been your easiest challenge?

Jumping. I love jumping. I was doing really okay and then Covid came and now it feels like it is out the window. But I will be back. I want to do the Accumulator Cup this year so I will be jumping.

What is your favourite discipline?

Jumping. I like dressage but cross-country looks interesting. I did say I was planning on doing the Accumulator, so I need to get my jumping confident because the cross-country is going to be a real challenge.

Riding Down Under in Australia

What is your least favourite discipline?

I like them all collectively, but if I have to – it’s flatwork.

Who has been your favourite teacher and why?

Actually it you [Kimberly McGuinness]. You taught me most especially with developing the confidence. And when I fell off Paddy, you were able to help me get my confidence back. You tell me to get on with it and that is just what I need.

Paddy and his field.

Paddy is a 16 hander that Maisie worked with during the spring and summer. They were riding in a field when Paddy was spooked. He spun and bolted which threw Maisie. She ended up going to hospital, but she was fine except for a black eye and the usual bumps and bruises from a bad fall. She was very frightened when she came to ride Stan, but in a few lessons she was back to being herself and knowing she was boss of the horse, not the other way around.

Who is your Riding Hero? Why?

Ben Atkinson. He puts the effort in. He has natural horsemanship, not just a show off. He inspired me to work with horses. I’d really like to meet him someday.

Riding Paddy

What is your riding dream?

To be able to event. Until I came back here earlier in the year I hadn’t really thought about it, but now to go to a One Day Event is my goal. I’ve also not had my own personal horse, so this will be the challenge also. I gotta get Dora to do it.

Who is your favourite horse and why?

Dora. She helped me gain confidence. Dora got me back on a horse after the bad fall from Paddy. I trust her.

Reading their score sheet from dressage

Why did you go into teaching?

It is something I could. I really enjoy it and can do it. I really like working with the kids. To watch them blossom is so rewarding. Being able to watch to watch them grow and develop and do really well and I know I helped.

What is the one job you hate?

Washing the feed buckets in the cold. Oh, and the muck runs. Once or twice is fine, but 5 time on my own is a bit much. [I agree]

What is the hardest thing you’ve taught?

That is getting the kids to let go of the saddle but not grip with the knee in a trot. The more you grip with the knee and not the leg, the more you bounce. Bouncing kids is scary.

What is the easiest?

Rising trot. It’s visual so they can see what they’re doing and they can follow me shouting out, “Up! Down! Up! Down!”. By the end of the lesson they have a good idea of what it is. Just need to remember it for the next week.

What do you think you still have to learn?

A lot. I need to be able to talk to different ages of riders. I need to be able to talk to them and not overwhelm them. We have a lot of different age ranges here and to get them to do it, but not get angry or upset when they can’t. Confidence is just so important.

As Maisie and I went our separate ways, I was pleased that she was so happy to be at Sunshine Riding. Her drive to be a better teacher and a better rider will mean that her lessons will also be filled with the right challenges to create the best riders. We look forward to seeing what she will be able to teach, do and refine with Dora, who Maisie already has doing cavaletties. That ODE may not be as far away as Maisie thinks.

Staff chat with Beowulf McGuinness

Sunshine Riding School has a lot of different kinds of teachers so that we can meet the needs of different kinds of people. Just meeting Beowulf will tell you in seconds that you have just met a different kind of person. Beowulf has many different types of qualities that make him ideal to be a Sunshine Teacher.

Beowulf was born in January 1999 here in Luton. He was born nearly 6 weeks early but due to his size, he was never really considered a “premie”. His love for food, life and adventure was evident from very early on. Born into a household of cats, dogs, and an animal mad mother, it was not a big surprise that he has made horses his life. I had a chance to meet up with him earlier this week, and asked him some very pointed questions about his life, his goals, and is drive to teach.

How old were you when you started riding?

Six I think. (It was.) And my first horse was Sky, a 12 HH bay pony.

Beowulf & Sky

Why did you start riding?

Because I didn’t want to do ballet. I had coordination issues and my school [Hillborough Infant & Junior] thought that ballet would help solve them.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Learning which way left was.

Beowulf recounted to me the story of riding at Greenacres in Harpenden with James Miller. Beowulf was on Brefney, a 13 HH pony, cantering down the centre line when he was told to turn left at the bottom. Beowulf dropped his reins and held his hands up to see which one made the ‘L’ so he could turn that way. Apparently his teacher was unimpressed by this and was yelling for Beowulf to pick up his reins again. Beowulf proudly smiled and said, “I did turn left safely.” After that his mother put a red elastic band on his left hand so he would not drop his reins like that again.

Beowulf’s 1st Show, Age 8

What has been your easiest challenge?

Jumping. Jumping anything. I was biting on the bit as it were to start jumping, and I was told I had to wait “3 weeks”. Each week I would ask James if I could start jumping and he would say no. One day he just gave up and said ‘fine. Let’s do it.’. So I jumped and he said I was to keep on jumping as I really could jump.

What is your favourite discipline?

Eventing. You need to do all 3 disciplines. It’s a complete sport – not just feet on the ground or being a daredevil. It makes you and your horse a full athlete.

Wulf age 13 eventing with Charlie

Beowulf started competing in Show Jumping at 8, Dressage at 10, Cross Country at 11, and won his first one day event at 12.

Beowulf age 12 with Charlie

What is your least favourite discipline?

Dressage. It’s too mimsie. Serious though, it’s a lot of finesse and that where I struggle. It’s a subtle sport and if you don’t know what you are doing then it doesn’t develop properly. Also, most people laugh at it because it doesn’t seem as exciting as jumping.

Who is your favourite teacher?

Charlie and Hilary Carrel of Colts Unlimited, Sheridan Wyoming. They really explained the nuts and bolts of jumping and not just pointing me at a cross pole on the ¾ line. Charlie explained to me how to ride a course and what I should be doing at each point.

Charlie and Hilary Carrel have been World Champions of American Quarter Horse Association as well as Reserved Champions. They can be found on www.coltsunlimited.com.

Charlie Carrel working with Beowulf on Seamus, 2013

Who is your Riding Hero?

I don’t really know if I have one. On a push I would say Charlie Carrell or Jock Paget. William Fox-Pitt had money and connections when he started. I like those who come up on their own.

What is your dream?

I’d like to do 5* eventing or The Olympics or both. Burghley Horse Trials is the goal as it is the hardest.

Wulf and Scorch

Who is your favourite horse?

I have a list: Charlie – my first horse; Tango – my current horse; and I’m A Scorcher. Charlie taught me to jump on Scorch and I really loved that horse.

Why did you decide to teach?

To be honest – money. This sport is expensive. Also teaching hones my skills and I find it rewarding to grow and build someone from a nervous rider to a competent one. I work with ‘Spectrum Kids’ (children with autism, ADD, ADHD, and other educational, emotional or physical needs) because I’m good at it. I’m quiet and calm and I can adjust as needed to give them the experience they need. No two SEN riders are the same.

What job do you hate?

When I have to manage the yard, it is mitigating arguments. People just need to be reasonable. It’s when the fights and gripping begin that I want to quit.

What is the hardest thing you have taught?

Diagonals. People just don’t get them. I don’t get them and when I do, it’s only 30% of the time.

What is the easiest thing you have taught?

Jumping. Low jumps where you are getting the rider over their first few. It’s really rewarding and they are so happy.

What do you still have to learn?

Diagonals. No further comment. That’s why I do sitting trot in dressage.

Wulf and Tango (also known as Chestnut Colt 13)

Beowulf is young and driven. At 22 years old he still dreams big and is intent on making those dreams come true. He has plans to teach and create a once-in-a-lifetime eventer with the foal June Storm. Beowulf believes that June will be ready to seriously complete just about the time Tango is ready to retire in 8 years. It is clear that no matter where or what Beowulf does, jumping horses will be part of it.

Duty Of Care & Sunshine

Last week I had a parent become angry with me about the level of Duty Of Care that Sunshine Riding exhibits. As a parent myself I can understand the concern shown, but as a business owner I have to take into consideration a group larger than one. It is a tricky balancing act as what is appropriate for Child A is not always appropriate for Child B for various reasons which can range from the individual’s age to their involvement with Social Services. It is a challenge but one that I think we manage well at Sunshine.

With this in mind, I thought it would best for everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) to know and understand what the Duty Of Care policy, position, and actions at Sunshine Riding are.

Sunshine’s Duty Of Care Policy was written in 2017 and revised by our lawyers in 2018 to reflect the changes in Employment Law that came about with the introduction of GDPR in May of that year. Our Duty Of Care Policy is broken into two sections: Staff and Clients.

Our staff section covers what actions we, the managers, of Sunshine Riding will take to ensure the safety, security, further education, illness and injury, and working environment for those who work and volunteer at the yard. We revisit and revise as necessary that policy each December in light of what challenges we have faced and what we have learned about our staff and our horses. As I have always maintained, safety is the primary concern I have as I know that equestrian facilities of all sizes are considered by law and insurance companies as a “dangerous working environment”. Having suffered a traumatic injury, I am perhaps best placed more than most to appreciate this. I do not want others to experience what I have for the last 4 years.

Our client section covers much of the same things, but we also must consider how the horse can present further dangers as the clients are not usually as experienced as those of us who work with the animals every day. The issue of Over Horsed and Under Horsed is discussed by staff on an individual basis for each client and an agreement is reached. Sometimes I do bend to what my teachers tell me even if I don’t always agree because I believe they do know their riders better than I do. I do not undercut their decisions because that would be a passive-aggressive approach to yard management and that is a bad thing. However, if there is a present danger I, as General Manager and Senior Teacher, will act.

What is “Over Horsed”?

This is a term used when a rider is unable to control a horse either from the saddle or the ground. If the horse is too big or too strong and is able to intimidate the human to such a degree that the horse is in control of the situation, the human is Over Horsed. The horse is doing whatever he or she wants to do. The danger posed is great as horses in general have little spatial awareness, some specific danger awareness, and are always looking to better their position in the herd hierarchy (remember that humans are the top of that hierarchy). Examples of being Over Horsed include being unable to groom and tack a horse without the horse trying to kick or bite; being unable to lead the horse to and from the field without them dragging the human; being unable to make the horse stop when in the saddle; being unable to make the horse go in the required direction when in the saddle. I do accept that these situations can happen to anyone as a one-off, but if the situation continues over several sessions and/or days, then it is clear that the person is Over Horsed and in danger. I, or any of the managers or teachers, must take action to keep the individual safe.

What is “Under Horsed”?

This term is used for when the rider is too large for the horse, or is asking the horse to engage in activities that are beyond the physical capabilities of the animal. For example, Pasha can carry up to 10 stone (140 pounds/63 kg) person, but putting an adult who weighs that and is over 5’5” is a case of Under Horsed. The adult’s balance will be compromised as there is too much above the saddle and the legs will hang too long below the saddle. Another example would be this: Pasha can jump to 70cm but his body build and weight make that height a danger to his feet and legs when he lands (his ideal jump height is 60cm), no matter who is riding him, this is an injury concern. Taking him to a competition and jumping him at 70cm will make the rider the target of some very unkind remarks and a possible complaint to the various governing bodies including but not limited to the RSPCA. And back to weight – it is a common complaint about a rider being too heavy for their horse. Damage to a horse’s back is usually completely avoidable, but once the back is damaged, it is permanent. There is no excuse for anyone riding a horse that can not carry their weight comfortably. A somewhat standard rule is big people ride big horses and little people ride little horses. This is why we ask you what you weigh when you book in over the phone. It is also why sometimes your horse gets changed.

It is from the point of Over Horsed and Under Horsed that many decisions are made. Just because you can ride a horse, doesn’t always mean that is the right horse for you. Yes, we all love Magic. She is an amazing Schoolmaster who has been there and done that in most ridden disciplines. Just because she makes you feel great doesn’t mean that she will be the ideal horse for your development. As she ages, I, as her owner, will start to restrict what she does so that she can have the best quality of life possible. This means that the riders will be given or placed on new more challenging rides. Because we move carefully, this will (hopefully) eliminate the Over Horsed problem while not creating an Under Horsed situation. We all love an easy ride, but growth is not easy. A comfortable place for most riders who jump is between 70cm and 80cm – high enough to be a challenge but not so high as to terrify or cause injury. This being said, I am not allowing Magic higher than 60cm for her own good.

On the flip side, just because you can jump a horse at 85cm doesn’t mean that you can control the horse on the ground. This is where a very large area of our Duty Of Care comes in. When a person wants to join us as a volunteer or handler, the first thing they are told is that they will not be working with Charlie, Tango, Ben or Stanley. This is not because I don’t trust the human, it is because I know what these for boys can do. It takes a very deep level of confidence to work with them on the ground because they know how big they are. They know how to intimidate humans. They will bite, kick and drag because they know very few humans will stand up to them. Until a volunteer or handler has the personal wherewithal and confidence to take them on, these horses are not for them. They may look beautiful and jump like gods, but they are right little so-and-so when you don’t have a bit in their mouth. It our Duty Of Care to make sure that our clients, volunteers and handlers are not put in such a position that they are in danger. I had a handler who loved a former horse of ours, Mollie, but Mollie always bit her. I had to make the decision to stop the hander from interacting with Mollie for the handler’s own safety. I wasn’t popular. I did what had to be done. I wasn’t passive-aggressive about this. The human’s safety will always trump the human’s emotion. By the way, this is Old Mollie not our new, Barbie-pony, Molly.

Another area of Duty Of Care that we take very seriously is bullying. This is more often than not a problem with young people’s interaction, but it has also reared its ugly head with adults. Biting comments, snide remarks, cutting looks are a part of life that I don’t want at Sunshine Riding. We, the teachers and managers, work very hard to monitor any situation where this could arise. We try to talk honestly with the various individuals while keeping the actual observed incident vague so as to not appear threatening. It does work. As many of you are aware, we have children (aged 4-11), young people (aged 12-17), and adults (aged 18 and over) who are actively part of the Social Services system. It is important to us at Sunshine that we do not add to the individual’s issues and pain, but provide a place where they feel safe, secure and able to heal and grow. The general atmosphere of love and acceptance is, like safety, a primary goal at Sunshine. Bullying, racial or religious intolerance, sexual orientation and gender identity intolerance, will find the perpetrator asked to leave immediately. The most challenging thing we want our riders to face at Sunshine is a properly ridden 20 metre circle, a collected canter, a four loop serpentine, and a reveres. We want them to have the belief they can do that 75cm fence and the one that follows it. We want them to have the confidence to be the beautiful people they are.

The final, but by no means least important, is that the people who work with and teach your children, young people, vulnerable adults, are DBS checked. I do not allow random strangers on the yard. This has been a bone of contention for some people who think I am being “mean”, but it is because I care about the safety and security of the individuals here at Sunshine. All our sub-contractors are fully vetted and have the appropriate paperwork. No one is allowed to just walk around and look at things without a member of staff present. Our Duty of Care means that protection and safety goes beyond equine interaction – it does include human interaction. The staff have been trained also to look for signs of abuse, physical, mental and emotional, and how to properly and effectively report it. We care about our riders’ safety both here at Sunshine and in the wider world. If we can help, then we will.

Accident Reports

Accident Reports are not just a legal requirement. Accident reports help the staff analyse what went wrong in a ride. This is part of our Duty Of Care. I look at the reports, which fortunately is not very many, on Mondays (yeah I know it’s my day off) to see what work needs to be done with each animal. Sometimes the accident is just a fluke thing – a bird flew out of a bush and spooked the horse; sometimes it is an educational thing – the horse refused a jump because it didn’t understand it; sometimes it is a behavioural issue – the horse bolted after a jump; sometimes it is a health related issue – tack not fitting, undetected lameness, teeth, field injury, it’s a long list. When I have figured out the possible causes, I speak to Beowulf, Huw, Kat or Simon about how I would like the issue dealt with. This will make the horse safe for the next time a client works with it. It is vital that we document what happened and the possible injuries because what doesn’t hurt from a fall now, will hurt in 24 hours. It also means that the fall and any subsequent injuries appear on the rider’s file so that a teacher will know how to deal with both the physical and mental fears.

All of us at Sunshine Riding become upset when the rider or the teacher has an incident with a horse. You will never see me move (i.e. limp) so fast as the words, “We’ve had a fall”. I, personally, take responsibility for the situation that has put an individual on the ground because I want each person to enjoy a safe and happy experience that develops them. There is not an accident that should not be reported. It is hard to get young people to report an accident because they like to be “hard”, but this is a mistake. We can’t fix issues if we don’t know they are happening. Also teachers and mangers can not physically oversee each client, volunteer and handler personally the whole time they are here. We watch constantly, but we will miss things when other situations are brought to our attention. Staff, volunteers and handers have been told to report all accidents and incidents, but it is not 100% foolproof. We, Sunshine, are human and do try to do our best to achieve 100% safety, but we do also have rely on kindness of strangers to tell us things.

I do hope this clears up any thoughts you might have about how we operate with a view towards Duty Of Care. We take our responsibilities very seriously. We don’t just do this at a shallow level. We go as deep as we need to and as far as an individual will want us to, with an aim to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. If you have concerns about our Duty Of Care, please do speak to me. If you have viable suggestions that will make Sunshine Riding a safer, more pleasant place, then again please speak with me. I am open to all suggestions. They may not be immediately implemented as they may need training and planning before being put in place. They may have already been tried and we have been told that we are not allowed to do that. Sunshine Riding is constantly evolving to become the riding school you can be proud to be associated with.

The H-Team

In 2018 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security field to the Luton underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as horses of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can ride: The H-TEAM.

Deep in a glade in the middle of the woods on the east side of The Old Mare’s Field, Molly stands alone waiting for her contact. She tosses her blonde mane from side to side, nervously glancing around to see if anyone was watching her. Suddenly she hears the confident stride followed by the presence of a very handsome stallion. “Molly?” he asks in a deep, slightly accented voice.

“Hi ya,” Molly replies, unsure if this is who she is supposed to be meeting.

“I understand you have problem? What’s the deal?” he asks, still not giving his name.

“It’s serious,” she tells him. “I need to see Bennibal Lee. Are you Mr Lee?”

“No, I am Charleston Peck. My friends call me Face.” He is interrupted by a sudden rustling in the bushes. Molly shies and goes to Face for protection as a large bush moves forward. “That,” Face tells her, “is Bennibal.”

“Good afternoon, Molly.” the bush says before a the faint glow of a cigar appears. “How serious is this situation?”

“There are motor bikers in the area. They are disturbing the golf course and the bridlepath. The Mares are frightened they will come back to Sunshine’s fields. They were run off a few years ago, but they are back.” Molly tells them, worry causing her voice to rise to slight neigh.

“Why would the motorbikes come back?” Bennibal asked.

“The lock down has meant that the Police are busy with other parks and places. They don’t come up here that much now,” Molly explained.

“And this is important, why?” Bennibal pressed.

“June. She’s only a kid,” Molly pleaded. “She has so much potential and is so beautiful. They could hurt her.”

“Dang, Bennibal,” Face interjected, “we have to do something. BA will loose his nut if the girl gets hurt!”

Bennibal gives Molly a long look as he rolls his cigar around in his mouth, “Tell them we will be in touch.”

Later in the H-Team’s temporary hideout in the South Field…..

“Bennibal! Get this fool away from me!” BA Baracus demanded.

“But these little yellow flowers will compliment the golden highlights of your complexion,” Stan Murdock explains.

“Don’t you touch me!” BA warns him.

“But they will look so good in your mane,” Murdock cajoles.

“Touch me,” BA warns, “and I’ll show you what looks good in a mane, Sucker!”

Although enjoying the repartee, Bennibal knows there is work to be done. “Gentlemen, we have a job.”

“Does it pay?” asks BA suspiciously.

“In love, respect and possible treat balls, yes. ” Face tells him with a touch of a charming, Gallic smile.

“But no carrots,” BA confirms.

“Sadly, no, not this time, Buddy.” Face gives a slight shrug.

“Materialism is the root of the destruction of society,” Murdock announces to no one in particular.

“Gentlemen,” Bennibal tells the group, “I have a plan.”

“What needs done, Bennibal?” Stan Murdock asks eagerly.

“Face,” Bennibal begins, “ I need you to gather up some old jump wings, and Murdock get some baling twine”

“I love baling twine!” giggles Murdock

“And BA,” Bennibal continues as if not interrupted, “I need you to do some assembly work.”

Later that evening on the golf course, Stan Murdock stands in wait, calmly grazing on the long, lush grass. He can hear the screaming engines of the motorbikes slowly coming closer as the local wildlife begin to run for cover. As the bikes approach, Murdock steps out from cover which causes one of the bikes to sharply swerve in order to miss him. As the bike swings around him, it come close onto another bike causing that biker to slightly lose control. Murdock suddenly trots in front of another which starts to cause further mayhem.

Finding the situation to be fun, Murdock begins to trot up then feign away from each of the bikes. He notices that the bikers are becoming angry with the game he is playing with them. He runs along side a blue bike who’s rider is waving his arms wildly at the crazy horse. The biker revs the engine and Murdock responds by giving the machine a slight kick. This causes the machine to go into the bushes and crash. Murdock, filled with joy that the plan worked, neighs and trots away as he leaves a trail of fresh droppings, some of which land on the bikes of the other riders.

Enraged, the bikers begin to circle Murdock, each throwing sticks and small branches at him. Murdock tries to kick another biker but misses before he canters towards a break in the hedge. The bikers follow, and Murdock leads them down a small road before he turns into another break in the hedge. They are planning on showing Murdock who is the real boss and what respect looks like.

As Murdock leads the group into the field, the scene is one of idyllic peacefulness – three horses quietly grazing in the early evening sun. With evil intent, the bikers begin to race their engines and spin their back wheels, yet the horses still eat. The bikers begin to circle the horses, each trying to stop quickly to throw dirt in the horses’ faces. Unperturbed, the horses trot away. The bikers, desiring to maliciously up the game, start to cut in front of the horses. BA looks at Bennibal, only to be told, “Wait for the signal.”

The bikers line up in a row across the field, and starting slowly but quickly speeding up, racing towards the 4 horses who oppose them. As the bikes close in on them, Bennibal neighs the signal. The horses divide into pairs and begin to flank the bikes. As they pass the screaming machines, BA and Murdock lash out with the hooves, but unsuccessfully.

A red bike breaks off from the pack and chases BA. As the pair do a dance across the fields, the rider is unaware of where he is being led. Before he can swing his bike out of the way, the bike and biker are thrown high in the sky by the muck heap. The red motorbike crashing to Earth, never to be ridden again.

Murdock races along side of a yellow bike covered with strange orange detailing. The biker keeps trying to drive into Murdock’s front legs, but the agile horse skips away each time only to leave the biker even more irritated. As they come close to Murdock’s trap, Murdock give the bike a quick tap with his right hind foot which causes the bike to swerve and fishtail out of control into the blockade of jumps, ultimately crashing and sliding on its side from a pile of new, fresh droppings.

Another bike, blue in colour, cuts BA off from rejoining the group of horses. BA races down the field, jumping the mud wall that divides the field into smaller part. The bike follows, going through the gap the field equipment use, but hitting a small log. The biker is tossed from his machine, which lies helplessly on its side. BA approaches the rider who runs, but is not allowed to get away as he is now trapped by an old stable. In desperation the biker turns and faces his adversary. He delivers the hardest punch he can. BA doesn’t move. BA doesn’t flinch.

BA grabs the biker by his leather jacket and throws him through the side wall of the old stable, leaving a human sized hole in the ship-lap wood.

Meanwhile, Face and Bennibal chase the remaining trespassers into the confined corner at the bottom end of the South Field. Infuriated and helpless, the bikers realise their mistake as they are pinned by a large green fence to their right and an old metal shed to their left.

They rev their engines and spin their wheels in defiance of the powerful steeds. Face slowly turns to Bennibal with a sly smile, and the Colonel nods. Spinning around with both shocking grace and speed, Charleston Face Peck unleashes a double barrel hind kick to the dilapidated building. The shed is lifted from its moorings and flies in the air before exploding. As the metal walls fall to the earth, they trap the bikers.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” declares Bennibal as he chews on his cigar.

As they turn to join their fellow H-Team members, Face sees the unmistakable grey shape of his enemy. “Bennibal, we have to go. I see Christopher Decker with the cops.” The Police had arrived in several cars, lights flashing and sirens blaring.

“You won’t get away this time,” Colonel Decker yells, his green eyes filled with malevolence, and his green MP uniform spotless. “I have brought reinforcements!” he gloats as four grooms step out from behind the yellow vested police who were arresting the various bikers. Each groom held a lead rope with determination.

“Maybe someday,” Bennibal replies, “but this is not the day!”

The H-Team circle quickly, their canter becoming a gallop. As they pound past Colonel Decker, he hisses at them in frustration. The magnificent herd easily jump the cross-country hedge fence, bolting to freedom on the Warden & Galley Hills.

I love The H-Team!
I love The H-Team!

……..

………

This post would not have been possible without the creative genius of my “Director of Photography”, Chris Cole. You deserve an award for some of these images and putting up with my crazy ideas!

Please note that this post was done with the highest respect to the late Steven J. Cannell, creator of The A-Team. I guess you could call this my attempt at fan fiction, but I did try to stay true to his vision. KM

Just Some Field Gossip

“Well ladies, have you heard the news?” Magic asked as she trotted over to the group

“ And what new would that be, lassie?” Crystal asked as barely looked up from her grazing.

“Apparently the humans will be coming out of box rest next week.” Magic said.

“Auch aye, really!” Crystal dismissed. “They are lot who seem quite content in their box rest. And to my mind, they should stay there.”

“And here I thought you liked to play with the humans,” Magic replied with twinkle in her eye.

Not being one to be left out and with the jubilance of youth, a young voice called out as she ran, “Auntie Magic! Auntie Magic! What’s going on? What’s going on!”

“June! Calm down and don’t be so bold!” scolded the little girl’s mother, Annie. “So how did you come about this information?”

“I heard it on radio. Apparently the Prime Minister is letting them out,” Magic told them.

“I wasna aware that they were in!” Crystal scoffed.

“Crystal,” Dora said as she turned around, “just because our humans weren’t in their box doesn’t mean the rest weren’t. Our humans are sensible.”

“Our humans,” Magic continued, “have been staying here. You know that there are few missing as well. So box rest has been used.”

“I wonder how they have been on box rest?” Annie asked.

“Mummy, what’s box rest?” June asked.

“That’s when you have to stay in your stable and be a good girl. Obviously the humans haven’t been good,” Annie explained.

“I’ve heard that there has been a … pandemic, and that’s why they are one box rest,” Magic said.

“Don’t be blaming me,” Dora declared.

“I said ‘demic’ not ‘Dora’, Pandora. Please stay with the conversation,” Magic admonished.

“So is this ‘demic like what? Colic?” Crystal asked.

“No, I think it is like…,” Magic looked around carefully before whispering, “laminitis.”

The mares pulled back in horror and quickly looked to check on Dottie. “How can you say such a thing when she is so close by?” squeaked Molly quietly, her broad American accent hushed with anxiety.

“But it must be true,” Annie whispered back. “They’ve been gone for so long! June, do not say a word,” Annie admonished.

“But what is…” the child asked.
“It’s the curse,” Pandora told her with wide eyes. “It kills people.”

“But Grandma Dottie is alive,” said June confused.

“Only because our humans care so much. Don’t be bringing it up because it worries her so,” Crystal told June. “Now you be a good girl and go play with Callie and Rosie.”

The mares watched as the filly trotted off happily to play with her friends who were now smaller than she was. “That child is growing like a weed, Annie. You’ve done well,” Magic said with a smile.

“She’s a handful. Simon is trying to teach her to walk like a lady and she’s having no part of it. Callie and Rosie are as bad as each other. She is such a bold girl. I’d hope that she would settle soon.” Annie slowly shook her head.

“June is young yet – not even a yearling. She will learn,” Molly told her confidently. “And they’re letting y’all keep her. Not many mommies get that!”

“But for how long?” Annie asked warily.

“If it’s Kimberly, then forever. I can tell you, she’s like that,” Magic told the nervous mother. “For that matter, as long as June is here, you will be as well. Kimberly I don’t think likes to break up a family. She still has her colts and they’re well into their years.” The mares all agreed and began a promenade around the field.

“How do you think the box rest has affect them?” Molly suddenly asked. “Will they be unfit?”

“Can’t see how that could be since they keep escaping their boxes,” Stanley said as he popped he head through the hedge. “Hi Molly!”

“Hi Stan,” Molly blushed.

“Very true, young man,” Magic replied. “And where is Mr Charlie?”

“He’s around,” Stan told the Alpha Mare. “I think they need a salt lick. That would keep them home.”

“Or a treat ball,” came a deep voice with a touch of a French accent from the hedge.

“I’d love a treat ball!” declared Pasha excitedly.

“Pash, if it’s food, you are all for it,” teased Henry.

“Grooms are my favourite food,” Tango said with a smirk.

“Tango, Grooms are not food,” Charlie told him sternly.

“I don’t think treat balls are the answer, Charlie. I think the humans need better grooms,” Magic told him. “Our grooms are very watchful and careful about us. I am glad they care for us so deeply.”

“It is a shame that humans don’t have them,” Charlie agreed. “They are walking all over our paths with not a clue or a reason. They just wander here and there and everywhere. I wish we had a way of contacting their Handlers.”

“Oh dear!” Pandora cried. “I wonder if our Handers have been on the dreaded box rest, too!”

“Our Handers are too smart to be put on Box Rest,” Ben declared.

“Aye,” Crystal said. “They must all be getting ready for their H-Levels.”

“It is spring and H-Levels happen like clock-work,” Pandora agreed.

“H-Levels?” asked a confused Molly.

“Hoof levels,” Henry explained. “Every year our Handlers go off and get examined. If they are really good, then they come back as Grooms.”

“Is that like what they do with us?” Annie asked. “Do they give them a jab too?”

“I think so,” said Stan. “They are always saying how painful it is.”

“Can’t be anything else then,” Magic declared. “Mr Charlie, I shall be taking my ladies to the other end of the field. We wish you good day.”

“Bon jour, mon cher,” Charlie bade them.

“How quickly you forget your wife!” Dora scolded in an mean-girl voice.

“Non! Je n’oublierai pas!” he angrily replied. “I will never forget my love! Come lads, let us leave these harpies!”

As the men galloped off following their leader, Magic looked disappointingly at Dora. “You should not have said that. He will never forget her, nor will he ever stop loving her. That was very rude and you know it.”

“I suppose I should apologise next time I see him,” said Dora realising her gross misstep and remembering her manners. “I think you are right. We need our Handlers and Grooms back. We all need some love.”

“Our humans have been trying,” Molly said.

“And they have been doing a good job,” Dora declared.

“I do think that it will be good for them to come out of box rest,” Magic decided. “Those that haven’t been escaping will be a touch unfit. We will need to be careful with them.”

“I do so hate when they fall off,” Bella added.

“Gracious!” Annie said as she stepped sideways, “How long have you been there?”

“Long enough to watch you oogle Charlie, and Molly to flirt with Stan. I watch everything.”

“But you like to buck them off,” Annie told her.

“I just like my clothes to fit,” Bella told her.

“Amen sister!” Molly agreed as she trotted past the small Shetland.

“Back to the point at hoof,” Magic redirected, “are we agreed to careful with the humans this week and next?” The mares agreed and Magic continued, “Their box rest has been hard on them. Some will not be happy as they may have had someone go over the Rainbow Bridge. If this is case, be extra gentle with them. Some of them will be tired as their yearlings will have been as bad as June – and we all know how tired Annie is. So be kind to the humans – no kicking, no biting, no pushing them against the wall.”

“But what if they want to overly love us?” asked Crystal warily.

“Be glad they are here to do that. Some horses are not so lucky as to have their humans come back.”

As the mares walked back towards the gate, Magic came along side Annie, “Sweetie, do you think there is any chance you could get June to stop rolling in the dirt?”

“Not a chance,” Annie told her with a sly smile. “But it does mean that we could get a bath too….”


Horse Story: Christopher Marlow

Okay, so he’s not a horse.

Christopher Marlow was born in late February 1564. He was a poet, play write, translator, and spy. He was one of the most influential and dangerous Elizabethan men. He died in questionable circumstances after visiting a pub in Deptford, London in 1593. Christopher Marlow McGuinness was born in early July 2003 in Streatley. He is a beautiful cream and grey tabby cat of unusual size.

He is also a cat of unusual tastes.

Christopher, who is also known as Kit, was my vicar’s cat’s son. She is also alive and living at the local pub. He was one of 6 kittens.

Shockingly, when we collected him and brought him home, Kit fit in a 2 slice toaster box – and there was tons of room. Our cat at the time was named Mushy and she was both unimpressed and slightly irritated by this new intrusion in her life. It had been bad enough that I had created these 2 small humans, but the presentation of a kitten was just too much. Mushy ignored Kit and sulked for about 2 weeks.

When it was clear that Kit (all Huw could say at that point was “Kit”), Mushy relented and decided in a most grudging manner to mother this forlorn kitten. She taught him to hunt – extremely well. In fact, he, as an old man, still hunts. She taught him how to claim territory. She taught him how to beg, which he has mastered above all else.

Now you may wonder why Christopher is being included in the Horse Story.

Mushy (rear) and Kit at 6 months old

It is because Christopher is a very important part of Sunshine and we dread the day that he will no longer be with us. I often joke that it is Christopher who manages the Riding School. When clients arrive for their lessons, he is usually sitting on the desk (usually on the important paperwork I need). He will look at each rider as if to say, “If you want to ride, then you must pass my test of acceptance.” Fortunately, he has never turned anyone away!

Kit and Kimberly when he was 10 months old. His interest in computers started early.

Christopher’s paw prints decorate a variety of paperwork including last year’s License Application. Fortunately the Licensing Officer has known him for 5 years now and is accepting that any paperwork work from me has a 50/50 chance of being “signed” by Christopher. You may think that’s not terribly professional, and

16 years later and it it hasn’t really changed

I suppose it might be viewed that way, but it is very hard to control Kit and do paperwork at the same time. Sometimes you just loose to him.

If you or or child have ever done a Stable Day or been a Handler at Sunshine, then you may have been given the “Christopher Talk” when it comes to bringing your lunch in. Although it is a standing joke, it is also very true: Kit Eats Everything. Let us go back to how Mushy taught him to beg. Mushy’s idea was that if there was food about, then it was hers. It didn’t matter if it was for a human, a cat, a dog or a fish – food belongs to Mushy. She was not subtle about this. Because Mushy wasn’t subtle (she once tried to eat our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie and got her teeth caught in the aluminium tin plate, so she put her paws in the pie to free herself and burned her feet in the process), she was easy to catch when she was being “hungry”. Kit quickly learned that to achieve the State Of All Food Is Mine, he needed to be sly.

Izzy & Kit at Camp 2018. Yes that is Spaghetti Bolognese

Christopher mastered nonchalance. If you are eating, he will walk up to you and sit. He will look at you. He will show no interest in your food. You will look away, perhaps conversing with another human, but when you look back he is suddenly closer. He will look away as if uninterested in what you have. You will continue your conversation, not paying attention to what Kit is up to. You then find out that you are missing your food. Kit has it and is eating it about 10 feet away.

Christopher can (or could when he was younger) perform a movement we called “Dive Bombing”. It would start with his nonchalance. He would even be laying down so that you would not have a concern about him at all. Suddenly there would be a flash of grey and nothing from your table would be gone – except probably some bacon.

Caught in the act

He did this to us one Sunday morning when we had a family breakfast after Church. We were stunned. We thought this was a one off. We were wrong. No only has Kit dived in and taken bacon, but he has taken burgers, chicken and steak. An al-fresco meal means that we have to watch him like a hawk because he is one. This behaviour continues to this day as he tried it last Sunday. It was only because he has slowed down a bit with age that we were able to catch him in the nick of time or the Sunday roast would have been gone!

So we tell our clients to make sure that any food brought to the yard is in a “Cat Proof Container”. I warn them that just because it is in a cardboard box in the bottom of a rucksack does not mean it is safe. Christopher will open the rucksack, remove the contents, get the sandwich box and then open it. He likes a good challenge. He will then take a bit from both sides of a sandwich (just to see which one he prefers) before eating one and then the other. It doesn’t matter if it is Mum’s Home-made Special Spicy Something, he will eat it (he has dive bombed and eaten curry off my plate!). I have had numerous people who did not believe me come to complain that Kit has eaten their lunch. Last summer he, in spite of all warnings, ate at least 4 lunches I know of. If he had an opposable thumb, he would rule the world!

Christopher is still a curious cat. When we have our annual summer camps I have to remind the campers on a daily basis to make sure their tents are secure (they are also told to not bring food, please see above). Kit has been found in numerous tents enjoying the soft bedding and warmth (and the secret food stashes). Some of our campers love that he does this, however, there are some that don’t due to allergies. His ability to get into places where he doesn’t belong has meant that he has spent a few nights locked in various buildings.

In The Office desk drawer

He has been locked in the Office at least 6 times, and twice in the tack room. He broke a window getting out of the Handler’s Den when we used to lock that. He has also surprised Simon a few times by sleeping on top of the hay in the hay barn. All this being said, he is not a fool and will only talk to the horses from outside their stables. I have not found him in one. Oddly, he knows where the feed room is too.

Besides my desk in the Office, Christopher has several places he likes to hang out. Obviously when the Handlers are here, he can be found in the Den. He also likes to lay on our horse figure, Sunshine, outside the office. Currently he is laying on the table outside the Tuck Shop but I suspect he will move to the table in the gallery when we have lunch (for obvious reasons). In bad weather (i.e. winter), Christopher lays on the couch in the Staff House. He has been known to test everyone’s trust by laying in the middle of the car park as well. And before you ask, yes when he was younger he would lay on the roofs. This all means that a “Christopher Check” has to be done at the end of everyday so that he doesn’t end up where he shouldn’t be.

It was a bit of shock to him, much like it was to Mushy, that when he was 12 years old, two small kittens entered is life. He had seen his friend Drusilla die, and her sister Cassie was very depressed by it. He had been busy comforting Cassie (he actually cuddled her and gave her a bath! He still does that occasionally), when suddenly he had a pride to care for. Cassie did not take to the kittens – perhaps because she was grieving for Drusilla, so Kit took over.

Helping make hunt tokens.

He loved and swatted them as necessary. He taught Xander and Lexie how to hunt (and they are very good! Very few mice and rats at Sunshine), how to beg (they aren’t as good as him but Xander is trying), and how to hold their territory. At 17 he is now caring for Cassie who has gone blind and keeping Ralf The Dog, who self-identifies as a cat, Xander and Lexie in line. He has a strange pride, but it is his pride. He is their King.

So when you come to Sunshine, don’t be surprised to be given a good look over by Christopher. If he likes you, then you will be expected to pet him. If he really likes you and you have sat down anywhere, then you will be expected to surrender your lap to him for however long he desires (our friend Margot was trapped over over an hour!), and if you have food… good luck?

Christopher is a very important part of who and what we are at Sunshine. This is why he has his own Horse Story. Someday he will cross the Rainbow Bridge and we will all be the poorer for it. He is an amazing individual who has made this riding school into his Kingdom.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Andrew McGuinness who is a touch cat-mad with his photography and everyone who loves our Christopher!

Horse Story: Miss Dottie

Some people, adults actually, wonder why I call Dottie “Miss Dottie”. I suppose the reason why is because she reminds me of a lady I met when I was very young, Miz Ellie. Now that is “Miz” not Miss or Mrs, but Miz.

The summer of 1970 was a Golden Summer for me. I know that is trite, a trope, but it is true. We all have one Golden Summer of our childhood that we all remember.

Easter Egg Hunt 2018

That Summer of 70 (unlike the song) was filled with sunshine, hot days, warm nights, swimming lessons, trips to my grandparents lake house and a trip to my other grandparents lake house. It was 3 months of bliss. The best thing that happened was I made a friend.

My parents decided that they were going to extend our house. My father hired a man from Louisiana named Mr Beaubarre to oversee this building project. This was quite unusual for where I lived because Mr Beaubarre was black. When I was introduced to Mr Beaubarre I could not say his name properly because I was both not Creole and six. I called him Mr Blueberry. Oddly he liked that and said I was to always call him that.

Mr Blueberry had a son who he called Junior who came to work with him. I never knew what Junior’s real name was but he was simply called Blueberry, which he also laughed and liked. He was also six. We spent that summer exploring the woods together, playing in the building sand, climbing trees, riding bikes and having a great time. Blueberry and I had a lot of fun and caused more mischief than my mother really deserved.

As with all building projects, it came to an end. Mr Blueberry said that the winter was too cold for them. They returned to Louisiana and I never saw them again. It has been 48 years and I still wonder what happened to my friend Blueberry. I do hope he had a happy youth and is still laughing and loving like he did in 1970.

Now Blueberry had a grandmother, Miz Ellie. She wasn’t a particularly large lady, about the size of my mother (which I now realise as an adult means she was actually very small, probably 5’2”, which is kinda big when you are 6). Miz Ellie came everyday with Mr Blueberry and Blueberry’s lunch. She would arrive at 12 noon in a shining dark blue car (don’t ask makes and models – remember I was 6!). Miz Ellie was immaculately dressed including hat and gloves. We had a table on our patio and Miz Ellie would set out lunch and they would eat – knives and forks and everything (my Mom gave me a bologna sandwich on a paper plate!)

I learned very fast that Miz Ellie was not a lady to meddle with. If I was being silly or cheeky, her face was would become hard and she would raise her thin eyebrows. A shiver would go down my spine and I would adjust my behaviour immediately. The one time I was rude, Miz Ellie looked at me and said, “I am surprised that such a fine young lady would have such an ugly mouth.” I was devastated. She also mentioned it to my mother. I was grounded for two days. I never did it again. Blueberry told me I was lucky that I wasn’t her grandchild because she was wicked with a switch.

Miz Ellie taught me many things that summer and I still (when I remember) abide by them today. She taught me that being a lady doesn’t mean that you have to have a pedigree from the finest houses, but to behave in a way that brings honour to people and God. She was a wonderful person and I know that Blueberry loved her deeply.

So why does Dottie remind me of Miz Ellie? Because they are cut from the same cloth as it were. Dottie is the oldest horse at Sunshine. This year she will be celebrating her 28th birthday. She loves children and tries to teach them things that are more than just riding. She likes to be groomed and loves to be made to look good. She is polite, but does know her own mind. She will tell you off if you are doing something wrong.

From the passport records, Dottie came to Sunshine 20 years ago. She was originally called Dusky, but that was changed at some point. Almost everyone who knew Dottie years back, know her a Dottie.

Dottie is a Welsh A pony from Wales. Like Miz Ellie, her linage is not great or famous. It is a pretty good bet that she came from Pit Pony stock. Wales had over 70,000 pit ponies in service before World War I and they finally stopped using ponies in 1979 when the last two came up. Pit ponies did not have a life, to be honest. They were often bred, born and died in the mines.

Halloween Fancy Dress 2018

They were expected to carry up to 3 tons of ore up to the surface or to the surface elevators each week. They had little to no veterinary care. Most of them did not see their 9th birthday. They were tools and treated as such.

When pit ponies came to the surface they had another problem. Most of them were blinded by the light. They had only known darkness and their eyes could not adjust to the brightness of day. Due to this, many were put down because who wanted a blind pony. The rescue societies started after World War I. They put pressure on the government to stop the use of pit ponies, but they were only mildly successful. What really changed was the development and implementation of machinery. Machinery didn’t need fed. Machinery didn’t need sleep. Machinery didn’t have “do-gooders” causing problems. The rescue societies did save thousands of ponies and did see that proper care regulations were put in place.

It was the 20th Century which created the Riding School. The small ponies which previously used for work became used for leisure. The children’s riding pony became very popular with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Riding became an activity that the middle class could take part in. A very big social change for Britain.

So what has Dottie done since she came to Sunshine? Dottie has taught over a thousand children to ride. Dottie has worked with disabled children. Dottie has competed in both show jumping and dressage. Dottie loves to hack and still takes part in them. Dottie has told us in no uncertain terms that she is not about to retire.

We have tried to retire Dottie because she is an elderly horse. If she was a human she would be 87 years old. Okay, not as old as Queen Elizabeth who still rode at 89 years old, but still a good age to stop! Except she won’t. Dottie also has a disease called Cushings Syndrome. This affects her legs and feet and can cause laminitis (which will kill her), her ability to control her weight, her ability to shed her coat. This last one means that she regularly gets a full clip – we call it her spa day. She is patient and appreciates it.

The laminitis is my biggest concern. A horse is only as good as its feet. Now you know how much care has been expended with Magic’s feet, and we are always on the watch regarding Dottie’s. Dottie had a bout of laminitis in 2018 and it nearly killed her. I had not “officially” had her diagnosed for Cushings because it was just obvious she had it. The previous manager, Becca, had done a fantastic job keeping Dottie sound and I simply followed what she had been doing. Becca had warned me that under no circumstances should Dottie have any sugar. She was very clear that sugar meant a one-way trip to the Rainbow Bridge. I listened and did as I was told. Some how, in some way, some one gave Dottie sugar. The Nightmare Began.

We caught the laminitis very quickly.

With Huw, 2015

I saw she was standing oddly and then could barely walk. We immediately began icing down her feet and legs with cold water. I called the Vet and Dr Laura was out within the hour. We created a deep soft bed for her and began praying. Dr Laura provided the various medications needed and did take a blood sample for the Cushings Test. There was not much more we could do but keep cooling her feet every hour and make her comfortable. This went on for 7 days. Dr. Laura returned and although there had been no improvement, there was no further deterioration. It was decided that we would give it another week, and if there was no improvement, then I would make the dreaded call.

Carnival 2015

I called a meeting of the Staff and Handlers. I told them what had happened and what was going to happen if Dottie did not improve. It was not a pleasant morning as shock and tears filled the yard. The potential loss of Dottie because of a polo mint taught them an important lesson. Never feed a horse anything without permission. I still do not know who fed her the sugar, and I don’t want to know because I believe whoever did it has punished themselves more than I could have ever devised.

June Showing 2019

Dottie turned the corner on day 12. She began to perk up and I cried with relief. Dottie was seen by Dr Laura on Day 14 and she confirmed that Dottie was improving. Dottie spent the next 4 months on box rest. She was loved and cared for and observed constantly.

As The Dragon, St George’s Day Show 2019

We received word from Dr Laura 3 months after the attack of laminitis regarding the Cushings Test. Dottie had scored 908. She should not have had above 60. The question was, “How is she alive?” Dottie is tough. So we started her on new medicine which in 6 months lowered her protein count to 274 and a year later she was at 149. I haven’t had her tested this year because of the lockdown, but when we are free and open, we will give her another test. She is now looking as good as she did in 2017 when she was younger, stronger and healthier.

So Dottie has had a life of ups and downs – rather like Miz Ellie. I don’t think I would have wanted to a black woman in America in the mid-twentieth century. I am pleased that Miz Ellie got to see the Civil Rights Movement and the improvement of situation for black people in America. Miz Ellie was tough but she was kind and loving as well. Dottie is tough, kind and loving. Both of these ladies has been a honour to have in my life and I am sure they would have been good friends.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Shaanon West Photography, and all the riders of Sunshine who have over the years loved this beautiful lady.  Thank you very much.

Horse Story: Pure Magie

In so many ways, she is the face of Sunshine Riding. She is both a Schoolmaster and a source of unending frustration. She is protective and liberating. She is both kind and challenging. She is Pure Magic.

For any adult or teenage rider, Magic is their first choice. She is a 16 year old, 15/2hh black Shires x Dales lady. Obviously trained for dressage as a young horse, Magic has also taught so many riders how to jump and jump well. The real challenge is when you leave the saddle of Magic and then jump on the likes of Stan, you quickly find out how much she took care of you.

I first saw Magic in a picture many years ago on a google listing. I felt a bit sorry for her because she was standing in a field un-groomed and covered in dirt. She looked like she hadn’t been worked in a while. It was not a complementary photo. She was a young horse and it looked like there was a big personality. Upon meeting her in person, Magic proved to be more than that.

One thing you might notice about Magic now and Magic 7 years ago is her mane. When I arrived at Sunshine, Magic’s mane was “hogged”. This means it was cut or clipped close to the top of her neck. The original purpose of this is so that the horse’s mane doesn’t interfere with their tack, especially if they are wearing a pulling collar. Magic doesn’t pull. The reason that was given to me for hogging the mane was that it would be easier to groom her because she has a thick a mane. I was not impressed.

24 December 2013

So Magic’s incredible mane became one of the items on the list of “Things I Am Changing” when I fully took over. I can understand the rush of the grooming when a riding school is busy and that hogging a thick mane can make life easier. However, Sunshine was not so busy that her mane could not be attended to properly. Over the last 7 years, Magic has had a trim as needed and her mane has been thinned a few times, but it has been allowed to grow to its full glory – and what a glory it is! She is a walking, trotting, hair-flicking shampoo ad.

Another thing that came to light with consistent deep groomings is that Magic is actually a black-on-black dapple. This is not a common feature. It is technically known as The Leopard Complex where dark or darker spots appear on the horse’s coat. It is a genetic trait and you are probably most familiar with it when I say Appaloosa. Magic is a True Black horse, which is uncommon but not rare, and that means she does not bleach out in the sun to a chocolate brown (like Henry and Dottie). Her spots show most in the summer when her coat is at its thinnest, and they form a blanket across her hind quarters. It is beautiful to see and marks out her paces stunningly.

Magic does have gorgeous feathers as well. I don’t really know why when a horse’s lower leg is covered in long fur it is said to have feathers, but they do call it that. Feathers are common in Northern European equines and is more than likely an environmental mutation to keep the animal’s legs warm in deep snow or mud. It is commonly found on draught type horses. Magic has them as does Annie (Irish Cob) and Pasha (Dartmoor), while Charlie (Ardennes) has them on his back legs but not his front. All of these are “hearty breeds” which can stand being outside in the cold of winter without a rug (I rug anyway because I truly hate the mud they find!).

As beautiful as feathers are, horses with them are prone to an insect infestation called Feather Mites. Magic gets them. It is very hard to get rid of the mites, which bite and cause itching and possible infections. Imagine having a mosquito bite and your only way of relief is pounding your feet so that your fur will relieve the itch. There are several ways to deal with mites. One way (which I consider rather drastic) is to cut all the feathers off – no feathers, no feather mites (we are considering this with Annie as her feathers are a complete mess anyway). Another way is to wash the feathers in a specially made, store bought mite killing shampoo. If the mites are very bad, then the Vet can prescribe a medical shampoo, but it costs a bomb. The last way, and the way we deal with mites at Sunshine, is to have an injection which affects the horse’s skin and causes the mites to die. This treatment method was originally created for cattle, and I remember when it was first made available to horses about a decade ago. As it is a cattle treatment, you do have to sign a consent form, but I have never had trouble with the Mite Jab on any of my horses. Yes, Magic is due one this year and from the amount of hoof stomping in both her stable and under saddle (not a nice feeling!), it will be done sooner rather than later.

As you can see I am a lover of grooming Magic. She is a beautiful horse who loves her beauty treatments. The sad thing that happened in Magic’s life is the contraction of canker. Canker is a permanent infectious process that causes a chronic hypertrophy (i.e., enlargement or increase) of the horn-producing tissues of the equine hoof. The disease generally originates in the frog, but if left untreated, it can spread to the adjacent sole, bars, and hoof wall. It is seen commonly in draft breeds, but it can occur in any breed of horse. One or multiple feet can be affected at the same time, but it tends to affect the hind limbs more frequently. Canker appears like Thrush, another common bacterial hoof ailment, but its treatment is very different and must be overseen by a Vet in conjunction with a farrier. Thrush is often the result of wet conditions and poor hoof care (something I am a real unpleasant person about if I spot it), but Canker can appear even if the horse has perfect hoof care. There is a study out currently regarding the presence of the bovine papillomavirus and the development of Canker. Let us hope this leads to a cure.

Magic had spent the summer and autumn of 2013 (I was a livery then at Sunshine) being treated by the usual Thrush remedies and her previous owner refused to bring the Vet in when nothing worked. I was told in May of 2014 to consider putting Magic down because this disease was not curable, would be expensive and require a lot of care. I refused to do it because I will not end someone’s life because they require a bit more management than someone else. Therefore we are very quick to act on any sign of Canker flare-up, Magic has been able to work properly and compete for the last 7 years with barely any interruption. So this disease is manageable. It is true that this past autumn Magic had a serious flare-up in both of her hind limbs. It has taken 5 months to sort, but she is now good and healthy. The only real problem is the mental scars from the pain and discomfort. Because her frogs were nearly destroyed (they have since regrown), when one goes to pick out her feet, Magic lashes out fast with the hoof. I will tell you that Magic’s kicks hurt. A LOT.

So how does one deal with equine psychological issues? The same way you would if it was your child. You show patience, care and most importantly time and love. Will Magic get over it? In time and as long as we keep a constant eye on her feet. She is now healthy, so our next real step is to get her back in shape again.

Box rest, like bed rest, is no friend to an athlete. Magic gained weight. A lot of weight to the point she was obese – which didn’t help her feet. Magic topped out at nearly 680 kilograms (she normally weighs in at 560 kg). When we came to put her saddle on, it sat on top like an ornament. She was Therewell Pony (google it for some laughs). So we started walking her because this was the best and safest exercise we could give her. Yes, we did manage her feeds, but she is a hearty horse and does not really loose weight in the winter. When we had our Annual Inspection, we did explain it all to the Vet who was very understanding of what had happened and what we were doing. He agreed she needed to loose a lot of weight but in a sensible manner. Magic learned to walk miles and soon the saddle did fit. Next was a lot of groundwork to rebuild her Top Line – these are all the muscles of her back so that she can support herself and a rider. I won’t say it is 100% there yet, but she is getting a lot closer. She is still a bit round, but she is also now strong enough for lessons and hacks. Jumping will be very limited due to both her fitness and her feet.

One last thing about Magic is that she is one of our 3 Disabled Rider horses – Crystal and Pasha are the other 2. Magic knows instantly when she has a rider who needs extra support mentally, physically or emotionally. Magic will protect them but yet let them develop as riders in their own right. One of Magic’s greatest days happened in the Summer of 2018 when she gave a rider of 30 years her first canter – something this rider was told she would never be able to do. The Rider cried, the Instructor cried, I cried – all for joy, while Magic looked like a proud Mama. She had taught her rider well. This is a gift very few can every give another.

Pure Magic is just that – amazing, cheeky, funny, frustrating, joyful, talented, a bit of an exhibitionist, a competitor, a woman of love.

Mirror Image with Annie

She is the Alpha Mare and acts as Auntie and Godmother of June (it’s so funny to see June get confused as to who her mother is sometimes!).

Winner Christmas Show 19 as 12 Days of Christmas

She runs her herd with a calm but definite demeanour. She loves her competitions and is a regular winner at whatever she decides she doing. In Magic’s mind, “If it is worth doing, then do it right”. I love riding her and she has brought even me back from the despair of never riding again.

Knowing the love of Magic makes you a very special person. Magic, like Charlie and June, will spend all her days with me at Sunshine. This is her forever home and she is one of my Forever Ponies.

Thank You to “Auntie” Chris Cole who loves Magic almost as much as she does photography. Yes she is our baby.

Horse Story: Molly

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can trot round trees
Come jumping, riding friend, let us do it again,
Hit the course, fool around, let’s go party
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”

Come on, Barbie, let’s go party!

I’m a Barbie horse in the Barbie world
Leap over cross stick, it’s fantastic!
You can brush my hair, and groom me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation

(From Barbie Girl, 1997, Original composers Soren Rasted,
Claus Norreen, Rene Dif, Lene Nystrom)

Yes, Molly is our Barbie Pony – a beautiful 14 hand American Golden Palomino with a flowing blonde mane and tail. She is what every little girl dreams a pony should be. That being said, our Molly is a handful.

This is Sunshine’s third Molly. The first Molly was here in the late 1980s (along with Dolly and Polly – “The Ollies”). The second one was a Burghley Horse I adopted in 2016. That Mollie was chestnut New Forest with a big jump. This Molly is also a Burghley Horse I adopted in September 2019. She also has a big jump.

It must be something about the name as we have had some issues with this Molly, similar but different to the previous one. This Molly is lovely to handle on the ground and to groom. Molly likes being in a lead rein class but looses her mind in an upper level group lesson. It came to a head in December of 2019 when she took one of our best riders all over the field in an insane panic that included bucking, rearing and bolting. This had gone beyond bad behaviour and was fast becoming a dangerous situation.

I am not one to just pass my problems on to someone else. For a horse to behave that way there must be a reason. She was not like that when she first came to Sunshine so what was causing the change.

On our Hunt For Santa, 2019

Yes, I like a good mystery. I started by looking at her body. Was there a physical issue such as bad feet or previously undetected muscle injury?1 I found none so I moved on to her teeth. A previous mare, Tuscany, had behaved very similarly when I first started working with her and her problem turned out to be a Wolf’s Tooth. So I asked Simon to stick a thumb in her mouth and rub along the gap. He pulled his finger out quick and declared, “There’s something bloody sharp in there!”.

So having my answer, my next step was to call the Vet, Dr Laura, and have the tooth extracted. We all believed this was going to be a simple process that would take less than an hour and could be done on the same day that Annie was sedated for the farrier (yes, Annie has to be sleepy or dopey [any of the dwarves will do except Grumpy!] so that her feet can be attended to). I arranged for our Apprentices to be here to watch, learn and assist. I remember that Tuscany’s extraction took 45 minutes followed by 6 weeks of healing. It was good plan. The only problem was I didn’t discuss it with Molly first.

So Dr Laura arrived and sedated the mares. She began working and it wasn’t going to plan. The tooth wouldn’t budge. Molly woke up. Annie’s feet get done while Molly was re-sedated. Tooth refusing any movement. Molly wakes up again. Molly re-sedated again. After 3 hours, Dr Laura, now exhausted and frustrated, finally was able to get that tooth out. The Apprentices had already gone home and those who remained, including Molly, looked like they had been through the battle of their life. And to top it all off, the tooth, although sharp, wasn’t very big.

I don’t think I’m putting mildly when I say that Molly was a bit peeved with us. Her jaw hurt and now she wasn’t eating very well. If you came near her, the ears went back and she would plant herself at the back of the stable. It was probably a good thing that the Handlers weren’t there the day of the extraction because Molly refused to have anything to do with anyone who had been present. It was the Handlers who loved her into accepting the yard staff again.

Because the whole Wolf’s Tooth incident was so traumatic, I was reticent to put a metal bit back into her mouth. When it was tried, Molly became very agitated and I do believe it was because she was frightened by phantom pain. The level of memory is as varied as the horse, but one thing all horses remember is pain and who or what caused it. To make riding pleasurable again for Molly, I decided to start her on a Doctor Carter Bitless Bridle. This bridle works by having crossed leather thongs under the horses chin which will draw the head to the left or right as they are attached to the reins. We purchased this bridle originally for Rosie, but since Rosie isn’t ridden the bridle was only gathering dust. At first Molly didn’t know what to make of it, but soon she was happy with it. Her saddle became the next issue.

Horses like humans change shape every season. It is all based on diet and exercise, and for horses, their stress levels. Horses loose weight when they are stressed (I wish this was true for humans – I’d be a size 0!). I think we can all agree that the tooth caused a lot of stress for Molly. Her saddle wasn’t fitting and was slipping every-which-way-come-Sunday. A saddle which seemed to fit her through the back and shoulders had been found, but it required a special 5-point harness. It was also a touch long. Molly was now very fussy and knew that if she said something I would sort it.

So what did Molly say? Molly said, “I hate my saddle, so change it!” by bolting off with Amy, who has been riding fizzy, crazy horses since I first met her 5 years ago. Amy thought Flo was amazing good fun and only giggled when Starsky tried to buck her off. Amy controlled Molly and brought her back to me and we had a good look at the saddle (I didn’t fit this one). I could see was sitting on the croup and poking her lower back. This meant it was too long – she needed at 16 inch saddle not a 17 inch saddle. If the saddle was pulled forward to not interfere with her back, it was too close on her shoulder which meant she could not move her front legs freely. It was also rather heavy.

We took Molly back to the yard and began the Hunt For A New Saddle. Now I remembered I had fit her with a brown saddle in the autumn and the current, non-fitting one was black. I told Simon I wanted a 16 inch brown saddle and he gave me a look that was a mix of sarcasm and despair. It was 6 or 7 saddles later that we found it. The next day, Amy rode Molly in our menage with the new saddle. It was clear that Molly was much happier and was transitioning up and down with what could be called horsey glee. Yeah! Problem solved. Or was it?

So this week (yes this coronavirus lockdown week) Lauren was trotting our Barbie Pony and she told us that she did not like her 5-point harness. It was the done in the usual method, but Lauren is an amazing rider (I’m very fortunate to have so many in my life) and she was able to sort her out. Looking at how the harness was fitting, it was rubbing on her shoulder and Molly is particular. So we found a gel-pad to add some grip and took the harness off. We also discovered that Molly was very built up and strong on her left side but not so much on her right. This had been hidden from view by the harness. So we are now working her on her right rein to get some muscular balance.

Today Huw rode Molly in the grass school. She looked the happiest I had seen her since Burghley. Her saddle and bridle fit and don’t hurt or rub. She is working on exercises that challenge her but not wear her out. She now has the confidence to know that we care a lot about her and will give her what she needs to be both comfortable and to develop into the jumper she wants to be. Now that Molly has the tack and the health to jump, she is content to take on the challenge and have fun doing it. It takes time for a new horse to both settle into a new home and routine, and to settle into the tack it will need to do what it wants to do.

I am glad that Molly is here. She is a lovely lady with a positive attitude. There is much to worry about with our lockdown, but it has given us the time to work with our horses, check and change what needs to be, and make sure they are still happy with the work we ask them to do. Molly will be a real asset for us this year and for years to come because we have taken the time to listen to her. She may be a Barbie-girl, but she is an honest one.

This post would not be possible without the many wonderful riders who are taking the time to train Molly and skill of Chris Cole Photography who manages to catch just about everything.  Thanks y’all!

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!