Winter weather pleasures and hazards
I write at a time when we are experiencing some heavy late frosts, just when we thought spring had really arrived, making many equestrian activities hazardous if not impossible. Combined with brilliant sunshine, the frosts are helping to create some magical scenes, one contrived by a pair of driving enthusiasts who were making the most of some thick ice on what I was informed was a very 'shallow' lake created by earlier flooding. What looked like enormous sledges had been adapted and the two enthusiasts were having a great time driving a couple of Dales ponies on the ice. The ponies seemed to be very sure footed on a surface that must have been extremely slippery. When I enquired how they managed to avoid sliding I was told there were two reasons. Firstly the Dales breed had been dealing with the results of hard winters for generations and evolved accordingly. Secondly, the drivers concerned had applied something to the animals' feet which had been 'made to a secret formula'. I remember being advised to use lard or vaseline to the horses' hooves when riding out in frosty weather but I imagine the 'secret formula' must have been considerably more sophisticated and it patently worked! Whatever, it was very scenic bringing some of the old Christmas card illustrations to life, although I don't think the Thames has iced over as yet!
Although a welcome contribution to the scenery, the ice and snow in some parts is making driving on some roads far from pleasant and the need for extra care means journeys take that much longer. Edging my way down a narrow lane where the sun hadn't penetrated so that ice completely covered the surface, I was amazed to round a bend to be confronted by a child riding a pony. The conditions were totally unsuitable to the point of being highly dangerous and, far from picking their way along the side of the lane, child and pony were located in the very centre. I thanked my lucky stars that I had been driving very cautiously and was able to stop without an enormous skid into pony and rider.
I spoke to the child, a fairly small girl of about eleven and was appalled to find that she was on her way to the yard where I was to undertake several saddle fittings in the indoor school. She explained that her parents had booked a saddle fitting check and didn't want to have to cancel the appointment. I dislike late cancellations but, in these particular circumstances, I think discretion would have produced a more sensible option. Fortunately, the remainder of the day's appointments related to horses and ponies liveried in the yard. The child's parents arrived to watch the saddle fitting check, admitted they had nor appreciated the conditions were quite so extreme and arranged to leave the pony in the yard overnight or until the conditions improved.
"I thanked my lucky stars i had been driving cautiously"
I had been asked to fit a saddle for a new horse owner. She had acquired a very nice older gelding that had seen and done most things and now, aged, needed a caring home where he could take things quite a lot easier. The horse was perfect for the lady concerned and I congratulated her instructor on finding him. Apparently the instructor had known the horse for a long time and would have liked to continue to give the new owner lessons but she was moving to a different part of the country. The horse had good conformation and was easy to fit. After trying several suitable saddles a well-made English GP saddle was the final choice. We completed the transaction and I left.
About four weeks later I received a telephone call from the new horse owner, 'I am very worried' she said or words to that effect, 'My new instructor says that the saddle is not right and she wants me to have a dressage saddle. She's lent me a saddle until you can come and sort it all out'
I was mystified on the one hand and irritated on the other. I had understood the new owner wanted to do a 'bit of everything' with the horse and the particular GP saddle she had bought not only fitted the horse well but was ideal for her physique. I arrived to discover the saddle that had been lent by the AI was far too narrow for the horse and too small in the seat for the rider who said that she had mentioned finding it very uncomfortable but been told it was because her seat 'wasn't sufficiently established'! I can't think of anything less conducive to the establishment of greater balance and thus a deeper seat than a saddle that is too small for the rider! It also transpired that the rider wanted to use the horse for both show jumping and some small cross country courses. It really turned out that she needed me to explain a few things about saddles and saddle fitting to her new instructor. I accomplished this without displaying too much irritation on my part and, in fairness, the AI showed a reasonable degree of humility. The horse needed to be off work for a few days to allow the tenderness in his back to disappear and the client said it was worth my call-out charge to end up with a happy situation. Subsequently I saw the AI giving another rider a lesson and I thought she was rather good but should restrict her activities to teaching riding.
Adapted from articles recently published in The Essex Rider magazine