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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