Posts Tagged ‘riding’

cows in a field

Rather like when a new baby is brought home, a puppy requires adjustments to your lifestyle that can sometimes be frustrating, even though the new arrival is longed for. We’ve worked out how to do most things now but I’ve only managed to go riding once and, when I got home again, Nora didn’t seem very happy. So I haven’t ridden since and I really miss it. It’s one of the only times I get together with anyone local and it’s a wonderful way of being in the countryside.

a barn and trees  silhouetted

Even when it’s cold and rainy, riding through the woods under a canopy of beeches and oaks festooned with long strands of ivy that damply brush your face is very special. It’s so quiet when you ride along bridle paths, the ancient green roads that linked villages before wheeled transport, that the modern world recedes and it’s possible to imagine how life might have been in the past. On horseback you can also go much further than you would on foot and penetrate areas inaccessible to cars or bikes. In the relative isolation that this brings, the countryside’s smells and sounds become clear and vibrant.

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Without riding to look forward to I have sometimes felt reluctant to leave London and come to Somerset ‘just to be in a different place’, especially in winter. Of course it never is just being in a different place, as I’m always busy with things like the hedge-cutting once I arrive and happy that I came. But with the amount of effort involved in getting two cats and a dog and all our bits and pieces here, I do sometimes feel like not bothering. Yet while I’m always trying to resolve the tension between the two places, I think I also thrive on it because I both depend on familiarity and need new things to learn about.

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Anyway, to get back to the point of this waffle, tomorrow I’m going to get up extra early and let Nora have a big run outside to exercise her properly before I go riding. I’ve cooked her some mashed potato which I’ve mixed up with some softened kibble and squished into her Kong toy and frozen, so that she has this to play with and eat in her crate while I’m out. This sounds disgusting but she loves it. This is after all an animal that thinks nothing of eating cat poo.

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Today’s photos were taken at Hawkridge Reservoir, a couple of miles away, where we went for a walk today and Nora discovered duck poo. Yum.

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horse in stable

In February I took out some horse rider insurance. A policy which renews monthly for about £7 per month.

When taking out the policy initially I looked at different options available, and chose one that made financial sense for me because I don’t ride all that often. There was another type – Policy Plus – which I rejected because, although it offered greater benefits, it was meant parting with more cash than I wanted to considering the low frequency of my rides. Frequency of rides affects the risk over the year, if not of each ride.

So I was rather surprised to get an email this month (not yet six months after taking out the insurance) couched in rather confusing terms, informing me that the insurers were “taking this opportunity to tell me about changes” that they “proposed to make” on the date of the monthly renewal when I became “one of X Insurance’s Policy Plus clients”.

The assumption of their wording, therefore, was that I would let them automatically roll me onto a policy that I had not chosen and that was 22% more expensive. TWENTY-TWO PER CENT!

The email was worded in such a way that a well-educated, literate person like me still had to read it two or three times to understand that I could opt out and that premium wasn’t simply increasing, as so often happens.

The onus was on me to call or email them to say that I wanted to opt out. Which I did and, just to make sure, I asked for confirmation by return. Which I didn’t get. So I called them to make sure that they had got my choice registered. I simply don’t trust a company that can presume to make changes that rely on you opting out rather than opting in, but that incur such a hefty price rise.

I find the expectation that policyholders should opt out of the changes shocking and quite wrong. What if I hadn’t got the email because it had been filtered into my spam and I hadn’t noticed? What if I’d been away without email access for two weeks? I had to opt out within 14 days. What if I hadn’t understood the content of the email? But this is at the heart of it.

I believe the email was deliberately worded to make the reader think that the changes to the policy were inevitable. I don’t understand how it is legal to make changes that incur a large increase in cost on an opt-out basis. I may take this somewhere official rather than just blather about it here.

bridles and bits

However, to change tack … er hem … on another, similar, front, there’s been a victory. So perhaps I’m not just randomly paranoid today.

For three years now I’ve been writing to complain to the grocery delivery company I use, one that prides itself on being a bit better than the other supermarkets, if you get my drift. For a certain amount of money per year, they will deliver as often as you like, without an individual delivery charge. It’s cheaper than paying per delivery but the disadvantage is that, if you don’t need deliveries for a month, you’re still paying for them as it’s an annual payment.

Each year, when the renewal of the subscription was due, I would receive an email with the subject line saying something non-specific like “important information about…” As I get at least an email a week from them that I usually ignore, pressing delete as soon as I see it pop into my inbox on my phone, I sometimes didn’t realise that the ‘important information’ was actually that the renewal of the service and the inevitable increase in fee was due.

One time it was automatically renewed when I didn’t need it because the children were at university. Another, it was automatically renewed when I had decided to have a six-month break and try another company. But finally, an email has arrived this morning with the very appropriate subject line “Renewing your XX delivery pass” which gives me ample opportunity to say that I no longer want it, should I wish to.

So it does help to object, even if it feels you’re being ignored at the time. If there are enough complaints about unclear and potentially misleading or deceptive communications, these companies will – eventually – change their ways. Or you could just take your custom elsewhere.

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At long last, the weather was fine and springlike this weekend, after about five weeks of grey skies and rain.

Saturday

I dropped by Nether Stowey car boot sale this morning – the first of the season – which was rather lame. A very poor turnout of sellers; about half as many as usual. I should think most people were so delighted to have some good weather for the first time in weeks, that they had other activities on their minds. I must keep going though as I’ve had such good things from there in the past: a huge fireguard, a tin bath, a great set of Hedgerow china for a song, and this Lloyd Loom linen basket/stool.

Entertainingly subtitled: ‘a Lusty product’.

I’ve finally done it up with some oil cloth from Norfolk Textiles (I’m obsessed with oilcloth) and some braid from V.V. Rouleaux and it now looks like this. I scrubbed it thoroughly but didn’t repaint it, as I wanted to keep its slightly worn appearance. But I find I neither like it particularly nor have any use for it, so I’ll probably give it away.

When I got back, I set to strimming the roadside banks, which is the perfect situation to encounter neighbours. (Round here anyone who lives within a half-mile radius is considered a neighbour as there’s no-one immediate.) I met two women passing today for the first time: one who lives in a house called Witches Barn (not sure about apostrophe) and the other, on horseback with two dogs running free (so brave, or perhaps, foolish), who is newer here than I am, which makes me feel better.

Having chatted with them, I thought, it really is a bit like The Archers, with local people being up in arms about a new anaerobic digester and various planning applications. “Where’s it all going to go?” One of them wanted to know. Where indeed? Into a big lagoon of slurry, possibly at the farm down the lane. Oh joy. It smells bad enough from time to time, as it is.

Then I lay about on the grass in the sun, listening to the birds and the tractor in the field next door, and weeded for hours and hours. Now I ache from bending and kneeling, as well as from wielding the strimmer.

Sunday

This morning I went riding: sunshine, swallows flying up high, the ground finally drying out after weeks of rain, sparrow fledglings chattering noisily in the bushes, carpets of bluebells in the woodland for as far as the eye could see, the countryside really starting to brighten as the trees thicken with leaves and rape fields come into flower. And, when we got to Cothelstone Hill, the sheer pleasure of a rare, clear, 360 degree view from the Seven Sisters. Fabulous.

It was all great until Marmalade – a rather inappropriately named black and white mare – got thoroughly fed up with me while we were trying to close a gate (easier said than done on horseback) and suddenly took off at speed straight into a tree branch that caught me on the head, back of the neck and shoulder. You’re taught to bend forward when encountering an overhanging object; if I hadn’t instinctively done that, I would have been thwacked straight in the face. Thank goodness for riding hats too, although the impact rammed mine down so hard that one my eyebrows feels bruised. Anyway, I’ll live.

I find myself thinking that this place is has marvellously healing powers for the weary mind and soul, if not the body.

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Joining in

Casting my mind back to this time last year, the UK was gripped with royal wedding fever and a heatwave. Today dawned grey, miserable and windy, with a fog so thick, early on, that I couldn’t clearly make out the other side of the lane. Today, I was marshalling at Manor Farm’s Fun Ride, which raised over £1,000 for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.

I walked over the fields to the farm gritting my teeth and clad in so many layers of clothes and waterproofs that I could barely move, to help set up things for the event in a field so muddy, that tractors had to tow the vehicles in and out. People weren’t put off by the poor weather though, as riders are hardy souls, and about 50 people and horses turned up.

The event was for riders and their own horses, so none of Sue’s regulars rode but almost all joined in to help out in one way or another, like bringing cakes, bread and quiches for the cake sale, or putting up gazebos.

Unlike when you’re actually on horseback, when the best you can do is shout at each other over your shoulder, this was a chance to get to know a few riders who live locally. This kind of joining in is really important to me, as it’s hard enough to feel part of the community, when you’re not here all the time.

Once the ride had started, we were driven to our marshalling positions in the middle of nowhere, to point the riders in the right direction. Cue a further three hours standing in the cold. The fog dissipated mid-morning by converting itself into rain and then a dampness that forced itself right into my bones.

The expected ranks of horse-loving girls were padded out by all sorts today, from the very well-heeled – three generations of a family who turned up with an enormous four-horse transporter full of thoroughbreds, and people who talked about hunting, to a cheeky, young, overall-clad Irish jockey on a flirty little pony, who had broken three vertebrae at Wincanton recently and wasn’t back to racing yet. There was also an incredibly arthritic old chap, who had already ridden three miles to get to the start. He told us to just take his money – and by the way, he wouldn’t be finishing at the finish, as he would just go on home and he didn’t need a entry number, thank you.

The old chap’s gnarled hands and bony old ride put me in mind of the other-worldly horse and rider in Goethe’s poem Der Erlkönig. I think my mind must still be full of last night’s Radio Four drama, whose quite frightening ending (aided by award-winning sound design) happened just as my headlights were being bounced back at me by swirling fog as I drove over the Quantocks to the cottage. I’m locking my doors firmly tonight.

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I’ve been riding just over a year and have been making progress – apparently. I didn’t really notice but, one day, a couple of months ago, I realised that I was always put on a Saturday morning ride instead of an afternoon one. Then it dawned on me that the others in the group could ride better and faster than the ‘walkers’ I was used to riding with, and that I was now one of them. Not that I’m very good. There’s always someone saying, “no, don’t carry a whip with Joseph, it upsets him,” when I’m just trying to look the part, or “you’ve got your chaps on the wrong legs,” when I was just in a hurry to leave the house. Ahem, of course I knew that, didn’t I?

But slowly and surely, I have gone from (sorry) wetting myself every time the horse began trotting, to actually being able to stay in the saddle when cantering without “seeing daylight in between” in my riding teacher Sally’s words. They’re very frank, these horsey people, which possibly coincidentally is also the name of her horse. Frank, that is, not Horsey. I like the sound of Horsey though, it’s quite Jane Austenish.

Now, it’s been suggested that I move to riding a different type of horse altogether. A thoroughbred instead of a cob. Something that looks more like this (on the left)

than these, which are sweet natured and steady, but slooooow.

I’m excited and looking forward to this, but also a little apprehensive. Running before I can walk? Never mind what comes after cantering…

 

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Everyone’s heard of displacement activity, right? Well, this is it. What you do when you’re supposed to be doing something else that you really have to be doing. In my case, I have a deadline on Tuesday and an awful lot of stuff that needs to be done before then. So, obviously, I’m blogging about my new curtains, which are of massive importance to no-one at all.

I have mentioned these before here and here. So I thought perhaps, now that they are installed, I should complete the picture. I should add that they’ve been up for about three hours, I haven’t yet seen them in daylight and, at the moment, I rather preferred the room before. But there you go. It was an expensive way of finding that out, but it will be warmer.

No, you can be sure that this isn’t one of those pretty house blogs of which I follow a couple, where someone posts lovely pictures of their delightful ‘home’, as these are workaday snaps. But now that I see it on screen, I rather like how it’s looking.

Other momentous things to write about:

a) are that the house is overrun, or rather, overflown by winged insects: flies, huge wasps, ladybirds. You name it, we’ve got it. They must like the curtains.

b) today I saw an actual huge toadstool with a red spotted top and white stem – I thought I was in a nursery rhyme for a moment – but sadly, I didn’t think my horse would approve if I stopped it to take a picture.

c) I have learned that horses can poo while they walk but not wee.

d) I am entertained by the fact that the use of the word ‘curtain’ in this post, makes WordPress suggest that I tag it ‘Berlin Wall”.

Better get back to work. Oh, and by the way, the countryside is looking beautiful, if a bit damp. A bit like this:

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My partial transformation from urbanite to country dweller is viewed with incredulity by some of my friends. I’ve been asked: “But what do you do down there?, as though I had gone to Mars, and newspapers, shops, pubs and people were not readily available within a shortish driving distance. Also, the internet, which is a total lifeline, does stretch to these parts, fortunately. No, I can’t walk to a shop and there’s barely any public transport, but I can amble to the pub. And… there are other things to do.

two horses

Yesterday, for example. In the morning I went for an nine-mile ride with a ten-strong group of riders from the local stables. We rode up to the top of Cothelstone Hill, which is so high that you can see for many, many miles in all directions, right over the Severn estuary to Wales on a clear day. It happened to be a wonderful morning. Good for the soul. Check. There were so few people around, courtesy of the rugby world cup, that we were able to do loads of cantering. Good for development of new skill. Check. I usually ride Joseph, here on the left, and we get on very well. Good for…mmm… feeling good. Check.

Then, after a quick lunch and change out of my jodhpurs, I went over to Manor Farm to help with their ragwort ‘pull’. Ragwort is poisonous to horses, which means they’re reluctant to let the horses graze in some of the hillier fields. This, being the Quantocks, is extremely hilly, too steep for any mechanised equipment, meaning that clearance has to be done by hand. In this day and age.

So the call went out for a team of helpers, who were promised a cream tea, to pull the plants up one by one. In the event, only a few of us turned up, which was daunting once I realised how large the field was.

Still,  in a couple of hours, the field had been cleared of these innocuous looking plants, and we’d all done the equivalent of an extreme workout on our bottoms and thighs. Good for the body. Check.

On my walk home, up over that same wretched hill, I stopped to pick some sloes to make more sloe gin. Some of these, being several weeks riper than the last lot I picked, were almost the size of grapes. It’s been a particularly good year for berries of all kinds, due to the cold winter and wet summer. I’m not planning to drink all this gin myself, by the way, I was thinking Christmas presents. Good for the budget. Check.

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I’m not watching the men’s Wimbledon final, as I have no TV here at the cottage. My days of being interested in tennis are sadly also behind me. Sadly – because I was a great fan as a teenager, even subscribing to a tennis magazine monthly for a while. My father had brought me up on tennis, having once played in a minor ‘plate’ event at Wimbledon in the 1930s. I was rubbish at it and still am but both my children had lessons as I was determined that they would be better than me. They are. At most things, especially maths. Meanwhile, I somehow lost interest in tennis, which I always preferred in black and white anyway. It was easier to see the ball.

Anyway, all this is by way of saying that I have been doing other things this weekend. Riding in the morning yesterday, where I encountered the smallest pony I’ve ever seen – it’s Sue’s three-year-old grandson’s  – at the farm. Rather like a very large dog. The ride was gorgeous – I thought it would be incredibly hot and had slapped on some precautionary sunscreen but we actually spent a lot of time riding through cool and shady woods to the sound of birds calling high up in the tree canopy.

very small pony

Then I went to the Bishop’s Lydeard school fete. There was no ferret racing this year, or guessing the weight of the cake. No, the fete had moved totally into the 21st century, with a cordoned off area where a local driving school (presumably with dual control vehicles) was giving letting kids drive around in their cars. What I would have given to to do that as a child!

Touring the stalls, I swiftly bought a rhurbarb plant for the garden and a delicious raspberry, almond and vanilla loaf cake. Mmm. I took some pictures of it, but my camera ran out of battery and I found that I’d got the wrong charger with me, so uploading them will have to wait. Suffice to say, I’m going to have to try and track down the recipe, it’s that good.

Then in the early evening, I put up a bit of trellis which I’m going to try and train one of the honeysuckles up. I think this is probably a naturally occurring one  – you see that a lot here, all mixed in with hedge, miles from anywhere, so unlikely to have been intentionally planted. The trellis was bought for a song at a car boot sale.

garage and trellis

I’m going to have to be careful, as one thing leads to another when I start working in the garden and, before long, I’m weary and cross, and have run out of time before I have to leave for another working week. So now I’m calling it a day and going inside for a cup of well-deserved tea and a slice of cake. All the other things will have to wait patiently on my ‘to do’ list until next time.

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Those who follow me on Twitter may have got the gist of the fact that I have been hedge cutting this weekend. This is a job I should have long since found someone else to do, but for reasons to do with the length of time it takes to cut it, and needing to coordinate with whoever would do it, after two years, I am still doing it myself. This year, it’s been worse than usual because I hadn’t cut it for several months, when usually I try to keep on top of it a bit more than that, and I had about a foot of new growth to trim off.country lane bounded by tall hedgerows

Here is a picture of the lane with the cottage on the left. Where the big pointy tree on the left is, is the end of the hedge. Where I am taking the photograph from is where it starts. It has two sides and a top, which takes about three days to cut completely, if I pace myself, although I have done it in two. I have a rather posh battery powered hedge trimmer, which runs out of power quite quickly but isn’t very heavy, and a pair of telescopic shears. I went for these quite lightweight options because I have carpal tunnel syndrome and am recovering from tennis elbow, and didn’t want to aggravate either with a heavy electric trimmer. So I end up doing it for days instead. Hmm.

a ladder, a hedge, a country lane

In case there’s any foreshortening in the first picture and it’s not completely clear how long this hedge is, here is a picture of the upper part. The neat bit by the ladder is the bit that I had done the top and road-side of when I took the picture. On either side of the ladder, I had only done the road side, so you can see how much there was to do. Am I labouring this point a little?

Anyhow, suffice to say that I’ve been doing it for two days now, and I’ve still about a third of it to do… I’m saving this post until tomorrow when I’ve finished so that I can add a picture of the completed thing. Assuming that it gets finished, of course.

Postscript: well, the heavens finally opened on Bank Holiday Monday, so not only could I not finish cutting the hedge but I also didn’t feel up to riding in the persistent, but extremely welcome, drizzle, which had been the plan. I think the rain was actually a blessing in disguise because I really wasn’t feeling great at all. I think, had it been fine, I would probably have started in on the hedge, gone riding, and then been totally the worse for wear and incapable. This way, I just feel fed up that I didn’t finish the job and that I baled out of the ride (and barbecue at the farm) which I’d been looking forward to, but at least my hands still vaguely work, although my forearms are sore despite extensive stretching. Really, who needs a gym?

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I got into a terrible mood today. Low in blood sugar probably and exhausted with all I was trying to achieve as I’m not going to be able to be here for a while and I only got down here yesterday morning, courtesy of a 24-hour gastro bug, the final straw was when the strimmer suddenly starting smoking and ground to a halt halfway through my work on the roadside banks.

I waited for it to cool, trying to weigh up the options: test fuse; rush into Bridgwater and buy a new strimmer as the productive part of the day waned; leave banks looking foolish; have a cup of tea and a hot bath. I went for the latter option but only just. Nearly pipped at the post by a very strong desire not to leave my banks looking foolish.

primroses in long grass with dewdropsThis probably sounds silly, but it’s really obvious where I’ve strimmed and where I haven’t. The grass has been left deliberately very long to protect the primroses in the last few weeks, consequently we’re also overwhelmed with dandelions. Why does this matter? Do the locals go past shaking their heads, saying: “That woman; hasn’t a clue how to strim a bank,” or “Place has gone roight down’ill in the laast couple of years, will you look at all those daandeloyons!”? I suspect not. Anyway, in case anyone should think the latter, I went round and pulled the heads off all the remaining ones before I had my meltdown bath. And, of course, also to stop them proliferating. (While I did so, I was also happy to note that some of my euphobias have headed out of the garden into the road – a kind of proliferation of which I approve.) I do love this place but sometimes I wish there wasn’t quite so much gardening.

So, to try to stay positive as I sit here on a beautiful day bathed in sunshine feeling a bit defeated. I have achieved the following Good Things this weekend:

  • I planted a little privet bush to fill in where some of the hedge died in the autumn. I’m going to cut back the old bush as the new one grows and hope not to have too much of a hole in the process. I’m not too sure if this will work.
  • I painted the hinges and bolts on the garage with Hammerite – very satisfying and looks very smart now.
  • nest in bush with birds' eggs in I found a robin’s nest at the end of the garden low in the branches of the holly bush where the compost goes. Couldn’t really photograph it well because of the lack of light and I didn’t want to frighten the sitter bird too much by staying there too long.
  • I did lots of weeding – two wheelbarrows full, fact, although you’d hardly notice it.
  • I had a riding lesson: I am less crap than I was but not by much. I can now go into a canter voluntarily sometimes without Sally having to use her whip. I’m going to need so much practice at this.
  • I did all the paperwork that I brought with me. Slightly scary now that the four day week started in February is beginning to make itself felt in the bank balance.

So all in all, it’s only in my stupid head that I have anything to feel fed up about. So I’m going to stop. Now.

Oh, and Postscript: I got a good bee picture:

bumble bee and flower

or two.

bumble bee face on in flower

I should also like to add that the German word ‘zwitschern’ sounds so much more like the noise I’m hearing the birds making outside, than ‘tweeting’.

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Actually, these are not yesterday’s pictures because I forgot to take my camera with me but, honestly, in the melée that happens before a ride sets off, it wouldn’t have been much use to me, as there’s so much going on. So with another wonderful day at hand, I walked over the fields to Manor Farm to take some pictures of this morning’s rides setting off.

man pushing wheelbarrow

riding boots in the tack room

broom

two horses

I rode Joseph, here on the left, yesterday. On the right is Harry, who has one blue eye and one brown.

horses at stables

riders in country lane

This last picture is mostly the view that I had of the other riders yesterday, as I was riding last in the line.

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The weather is fantastic – fabulous after several weeks of such drear greyness; bright blue sky, a hard frost early on but clear views all the way up to the coast. In the stable yard, the horses are whickering and neighing in anticipation of our departure. They know it’s going to be a different kind of day. The chickens run amongst the horses feet in their stalls, clucking busily. The riders chat to each other while we wait for the horses to be got ready. Most of us don’t know how to saddle or tack up a horse efficiently enough, so Sally, Sue and Sophie are running about getting everything ready.

Soundscape

I get to ride Joseph, smallish and slightly slow but responsive enough. He has to go last because otherwise he kicks the horse behind. This means that when the woman in front of me is not yattering on over her shoulder (she has verbal diahorrea but I miss every other word she says) I can fall back far enough to ride in peace. This means I get to hear the creaking, leather on leather noises that the saddle makes as the horse moves beneath me. There are boggy patches, where his hooves squelch as they suck at the red earth under his feet.

Up on the tops

On Quantock Common, birds skim low over the heather and land in the distance, chirping. Joseph chomps at the vegetation if I let him get close enough, his teeth making a satisfying crunching sound on brambles, grass, twigs; anything that he can grab with his big, yellow, horsey teeth.

Lunchbreak

When we stop for lunch at Ramscombe, the barbeque spots and picnic tables are full of families with yapping chihuahuas, small screaming children and men standing around smoking, looking uneasy in the countryside. In the shade of the woods, it is still only about six degrees, although it’s sweaty out in the sun, beneath several layers and a fluorescent vest.

We attempt to eat our packed lunches standing up, holding the horses’ reins in one hand and food in the other. We all walk in small circles as the horses nudge us trying to get a bite over our shoulders. They eat a few carrots and get a long cool drink in a stream. The horses are not keen to get their feet wet and, of course, I’m reminded by Joseph that you can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink. So we stand there for a while, waiting, until we give up.

Every now and again our crocodile of horses, if there can be such a thing, grinds to a halt as one or other horse decides it needs a wee. For some reason, most of the riders find this hilarious and the efficient, high pressure hose noise of them weeing is accompanied by schoolgirl giggling.

Hometime

The ride lasts six hours all told, then the horses’ hooves echo around the stable yard again on our return, and we slide off their backs, crooked and bent like old people, until our knees loosen up again. Even my neck feels in a total crick. We go inside to hear the kettle efficiently click off after whooshing up boiling water to give us all a relaxing cup of tea.

Tomorrow, if I can get my gadgets to behave, there may be pictures…

photographer's shadow

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red sky in the morning, shepherds' warningA fine red sky this morning, so, of course, the early morning’s clear weather has deteriorated into a fine, drizzly mist, so thick now, that you need fog lights to drive up here in the Quantocks.

Luckily, though, the dry weather held out until we got back from riding. I was riding a much smaller horse called Joseph today, which was nice because I actually felt like I could get my legs down far enough to gee him up properly. Trigger is just so broad but Joseph was a dream, but perhaps I’m actually just getting better at riding.

We rode up to Fyne Court, a direction in which I’d never ridden before, and then back again. Did loads of trotting which I can now manage absolutely fine and, apart from sometimes feeling a bit fretful about what I’m doing with the reins, I felt quite in control. Cantering was harder and I need more practice at that. It was great to go riding with a group that didn’t include a total novice, so that we could actually do more difficult stuff than just walking. So many cars, though, on the roads and a tractor and rattly trailer came along, which really spooked Trigger and Harry, who were in front of me and went dashing off up a bank and into the woods. I wore my lovely new half chaps that the children gave me for my birthday. Thanks!

Sad news though of John H., who has just had to be taken into a care facility because he has suddenly got very confused; he’s probably disturbed by the new kitchen they are having put in at the farm, so hopefully it will settle down again, when the work’s finished. It’s only two weeks ago that I saw him driving past the cottage on his quad bike. Let’s hope he can come home again soon. He’s such a character.

It is starting to feel a bit more springlike. Quite a lot of bushes have got buds on and there are putative narcissi everywhere. In my garden, there is one single dwarf narcissus blooming and I saw a single daffodil on a verge as we were going along. I have a bush that’s covered in blossom but have no idea what it is. I will photograph tomorrow. Apparently, it’s going to get much colder again next week, with temperatures back down to almost freezing, so this mild spell has been a bit of a false hope. It’s still February, after all, but it feels like a very long winter.

After making some spicy vegetable soup for a late lunch, I went in to Bishop’s Lydeard to buy some supplies, which included a visit to the fabulous butcher’s. Everyone in there is always chatting away, so there were many apologies for keeping me waiting but it gave me time to look at what I wanted to buy. So instead of the single chop for tonight’s supper, I also came away with a free range chicken and some Exmoor blue cheese, which I haven’t tried before. I love the slower pace of things down here. Even in the Co-op, the staff are slower. In London, they are in such a rush to get to the next person in the queue that I end up feeling so slow and clumsy, fiddling around with my purse and my Onya bag, while the assistant taps her nails impatiently, as though I were about 105. There’s just no sense of actually ‘serving’ the customer there; it’s just all about taking their money and moving on the the next, so it feels like such an indulgence to shop here.

A hen chicken (Gallus gallus)

This is rather a long ramble and not a very interesting one, so I hope you’ll forgive me. So I’ll end with something that has been exercising me a bit today, given that I’m in the adoption mood. Through Twitter I came upon a farmer who has had to give up his business because the supermarkets are paying so little for his eggs; he needs to sell off all his laying hens before the end of March. His daughter has made a great video about them in the hope that they can be sold rather than sent for slaughter. Shame I really can’t have chickens… (There’s also some nice music.)

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close up of window on sunny dayIf yesterday was chalk, then today is definitely cheese. The weather couldn’t be more different from yesterday’s bleakness: blue sky and bright, bright sunshine with a crisp frost on the ground.

This is the new cowshed at the farm down the road. Not yet finished, it juts unwelcomely into the view. When the field behind it is full of crop, it will look more obvious than it does now. But it could be worse.

The Boy and I went riding, he on my pal Trigger, and me on Harry. Through the woods and combes, we rode across hard frozen mud and icy puddles, the sun slipping through the tall trees above. I wonder who owns the woodland – it’s private around here mostly, I think, although there’s much Forestry Commission land about these parts too. Land that the government wants to sell off with the mistaken aim of raising money for their bankrupt coffers. Money that they’ll then need to spend on subsidies to private landowners, so that they can afford to maintain the woodland. I hope they will see the error of their ways.

On our return, we had  a long talk with John Honeyball, much family history and tales of local neighbourly disputes were divulged and I heard that Lady-Vendor visited recently. I wonder whether she paid a visit to Spring Cottage. If she did, I hope she didn’t find my upkeep wanting.

cat on the grass

cat sitting in the sunshine

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