Tag Archives: Sunshine Riding School

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!

Horse Story: Tango

On Friday the 13th of April 2007 Chestnut Colt 13 was born. I wasn’t there. I don’t know much about the early years of this Irish Thoroughbred except he had a tough beginning. I know that he was born on a racing yard – this alone is a situation that makes early life for any horse hard. A bit like his owner (Beowulf), Chestnut Colt 13 has an American mother and an Irish father. His bloodlines are excellent (the horse that is) and Chestnut Colt 13 should have been an amazing racer. But he wasn’t.

When Chestnut Colt 13 was nearly 3 years old someone decided that a racing career was not his future and sold him on to an eventing yard. CC13 stayed there for 2 years before he was sold on due to his eyes (more on this later). He was deemed talented enough and fast enough but the eyes were considered to be a possible deterrent for a professional, high level show horse. But they were wrong.

When he was 6 he came to Sunshine. Because he is bright (and I do mean bright!) orange, he is called Tango.  When I met him, Tango was a very unhappy horse. He was being used in the school for adult Lead Rein and Beginner classes which he very clearly hated. He was known for biting and kicking. One took their chances when it came to hanging up his hay net. My first summer of working with him was the most challenging times I had ever had with a horse.

The summer of 2014 I taught Tango how to jump properly. Jumping properly is not just getting from Point A to Point B over Obstacle C. It is about rhythm and balance and confidence. Everything that Tango had lost, if he ever had it at all. All the while of doing this, Tango fought like a demon anything I tried. By August I had decided that I was going to sell him. He needed a home where people would put him first and he would not be shared around. Unfortunately Tango’s reputation preceded him and there was not a single serious offer for him.

As I sat in slight despair as to what to do with Tango in January 2015, it came to me that maybe there was a reason he was still at Sunshine. Perhaps I was the one who was to save him and give him the chance he had been denied all his life. I walked down to his stable and looked at him hard. Tango glared at me with his ears pinned back to his head, teeth at the ready. I stood a sensible distance away and asked him, “Do you really want to be a great horse?” He snorted and twitched his ears forward and back in a flash. “Are you going to continue to fight me tooth and nail?” He swished his tail and “air chomped” at me. “Well, that behaviour is just going to have to stop. We can do this or you will die.” I walked away.

I went into the office and Simon walked in – that man may have some eye issues but his hearing is unbelievable. “Are you actually going to call Courtney’s?” “No,” I replied. It was at that moment the “Love Offensive” was born. I was going love that stubborn, stupid Irishman into being a great horse. “I’m taking him out of the school and giving him to Beowulf.” Simon nodded and muttered something about how this was going to be interesting.

So it started: The Love Offensive. The key to this is to not respond to any provocation from the horse with anger or violence. Starting with an air of bored indifference when working with animal rather than trying to push love on them was important. Someone who doesn’t trust you isn’t going to accept that emotion from you. They have built high walls around themselves for protection and you are not going to get through them until they let you. This is the same for horses and it is for humans. This doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to them and treat them civilly, but that you don’t try to buy or force an emotion.

Now I will say that this was hard going. In March Tango bit Wulf so hard on his ribs that Tango’s teeth went through both the jacket and shirt. This resulted in a trip to the hospital, gauze, some sort of fake skin plaster and a jolly good tetanus jab. Wulf wasn’t so sure that he wanted this horse, but he, like his mother, isn’t one to give up quickly. So we carried on. Tango repeated this behaviour to Wulf’s girlfriend at the time 2 months later. It was like he was trying to push us away so that he wouldn’t fall in love. Tango did not want to get hurt and was going to make sure he wasn’t. He had never met the McGuinness Resolve.

We continued with our efforts. We found a muzzle for him so we could be safe when grooming him. So he took to kicking. We took to 2 man grooming where one would hold a foot up and the other would do the brushing. It took a couple of weeks, but Tango learned that we were not intimidated and he was going to lose. We knew we had won when he picked his leg up for us when we came to groom him. It took several more months before he realised that he wouldn’t have to wear the muzzle if he would let us groom him without incident. Five years on and Tango now gets the hump if we don’t groom him!

Once we could groom him well, we then started on serious education. When I say we, I mean Beowulf, Tango and myself. Wulf and I would spend half an hour with Tango 3 times a week working on a rotation of general schooling with poles, dressage, and jumping. Tango began to love these sessions because they were mentally challenging to him and he received the praise and acceptance he so desperately wanted but never seemed to get. In 2015 Tango went from jumping 50cm to jumping 80cm, from never doing a dressage test to working at upper Preliminary/lower Novice test, from fighting the hand and leg to working in an outline. He also was happy to accept praise from me in the arena. Today, Tango jumps confidently at 110cm, rides a wicked cross-country country course, and will be tackling Elementary level dressage. I do see a 130cm jump in his future (oh God! The height! Gulp!).

The year 2016 was a bit of a blot on the page due to my accident and everything in the yard went on a holding pattern. When I came back in 2017, the first lesson I taught was with Tango and Wulf. I was surprised by the level of calm Tango showed. He knew I was not right and he did not act up.

Two of Tango’s Riders at Bury Farm International: Kat and Beowulf.

For the last 3 years, we have been able to work with him, educate him, take him on long show journeys, and win, win, win. For a horse who was not supposed to be able to do anything, it must have been a surprise to be affiliated for his 12th birthday. He was again Chestnut Colt 13 with a big future.

Now in the beginning I talked about Tango’s eyes. Tango has a condition called Hanging Grapes in his left eye. This is where the Corpora Nigra collapses downwards occluding part of the lens. I was told by the vet that Tango had in 2014 a 25% occlusion and that it was going to get worse. I was told that Tango would probably lose all useful vision in that eye by the time he was 13. Well, Tango is a wonder horse and somehow he reversed part of that. Today he has about a 15% – 17% vision blockage. I will tell you now that he can certainly see the jumps – the higher the better!

I am not going to lie to you and say that Tango is reformed and utterly trustworthy. He still has his moments. He will still try it on with Wulf and he will lose. Most of his misbehaviour now is from him feeling ignored. He knows that he is the centre of Beowulf’s riding world and he wants to have every moment of it. He now accepts love and can cautiously give it. Tango has a very limited number of riders: 3 to be exact. I am not one of them. I am his trainer and as such he respects me. He knows I never gave up on him and I never will.

Charlie, What IS he doing?

Tango’s best mate is Charlie and Tango serves as Charlie’s Lieutenant in the herd. The two have shared a cross moment, and Tango has lost every time, so he has given up and accepts that he is Number 2 (if this was Star Trek he’d be Number 1). Tango serves as one of the lead horses when the Handlers do a Formation Ride because if his leadership. He has even learned from Charlie to politely eat a doughnut from me (I’ve just been told he also likes cupcakes – thanks Wulf!).

I am not sure which one of us found our pot of gold – Chestnut Colt 13 or me. He is now living the life he deserved. I now have a son who has a horse to take him places. Together they are dynamite and I could not be more proud. This 17 hand 2 Irishman proved that the Love Offensive works and creates miracles where none could possible have been seen.

This post would not be possible without the help and beautiful photos from Chris Cole Photography, the many Sunshine Handlers and an overly proud Dad.  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: 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!