Chris & Scully's blog

Tuscany - October 2021

Wednesday 20th.

The first and probably only visit this year. Arrived at Stansted early as advised by Ryanair to get docs stamped - but nobody knew anything about stamping docs! Even at the gate they didn't ask for covid docs! Caught the 12.00 plane from Stansted, totally full due to an earlier cancelled flight.

On arrival at Pisa I was in the first few off the plane so got to passport control quickly - they stamped the passport and checked the EU locator form and covid pass - just a cursory glance over them. Picked the car up with only a short wait and got down to Il Paretaio by 5pm.

Thursday 21st.

Today I was given Percy to ride,

nice horse, similar colouring and build as Nina. Quite sensitive and listens well. Trot transition was good for me despite Natalie saying he was slow to go into trot. Stopping was easy. He is not highly dressage trained so shoulder in was difficult for him but his leg yields were ok.

Scully’s bale of hay!

Friday 22nd.

Overnight rain

this meant we were riding in the lower arena today and the schedule was delayed a couple of hours to let the last of the rain move away. So instead of Percy I got dear old Ivoire.

Saturday 23rd.

Ivoire again in the lower arena, the top one was still a bit soggy!

Sunday 24th.

Back to the upper arena today and back to Percy.

Scully scheduled in for 5.30. She was a bit fresh having not been ridden for a few days so one of the girls rode her first. Then Pietro had me walking her and asking for faster and faster walk, eventually she went nicely into trot - without spurs.

Monday 25th.

Percy at 9.40 and Scully at 12.20, today she was much less forward and in season, initially very short behind. She ignores the usual tap with a whip so Pietro had me constantly tapping her behind until we got a reaction and the trot transition.

Tuesday 26th.

Percy at 9.40 and Scully, today I went back to using the spurs and she was more forward and we did lots of trot transitions trying to get a quicker response to the first ask.

Wednesday 27th.

Percy at 10.30 doing lateral work with him - introduced to a new exercise, head to wall leg yield, it took him and me a little while to work out what we were doing but it wasn't too bad in the end. Scully gets a day off.

Thursday 28h.

Scully at 8.30 and Percy at 10.30, now getting very confident with Percy so asked Natalie if we can canter but she wanted to clear it with Pietro first. In the meantime we did some more head to wall leg yield and I think we finally got the hang of it -

Friday 29th.

Scully at 8.30 and Percy at 10.20, so today Percy & I were allowed to canter. I was immediately struck by how easily he went into canter and how easy it was to sit to. I was enjoying it very much but didn't notice what my hands were up to until I saw the video Natalie took!

Saturday 30th.

Percy at 09.00, my last session with Gianni teaching. He was pleased with the connection that Percy and I had and I managed to keep my hands much stiller in the canter.

Tuscany - October 2020

The third and probably last visit this year. Caught the 8.20 plane from Stansted, practically empty, the requirement for negative covid tests prior to arival in Italy has had a massive effect on numbers travelling.

Great view over the alps

Saturday 17th.

Lesson with Cristina on Ivoire to start and then swapped to Nina for the canter - got praised for the first step of trot from canter then told off for letting her run in trot!

Sunday 18th.

Squib was super, I had Natalie teaching and she had me trotting round on the buckle! Scully listening much better

and this afternoon Ivoire cantered for me first time of asking and without Natalie chasing him! Ivoire was just so super light and forward most unlike him but a delight to ride.

Monday 19th.

Squib first time canter Not too bad at all for first time on him - his transitions in and out are smooth but it took a couple of attempts to get into his rhythm.

Well this afternoon I got Lenny - erm oops! Super forward and super sensitive! I can see that he is a great teacher for lightness and accuracy but I am only just getting used to Squib and canter. Then Scully - she is getting better each day I ride her.

Marco's for dinner tonight - his idea of a glass of chianti

Starters, zucchini flowers stuffed with pecorino cheese and deep fried plus prosciutto ... nom!

Main course fillet steak and chips!!

Creme brulee with a glass of muscat wine for dessert

.. and of course the coffee and complimentary limoncello

Tuesday 20th.

Lonely breakfast ...

Today the horse menu was Squib al gallopo, Scully al trotto and Ivoire al gallopo.

Dinner at I Boceri in Poggibonsi - the complimentary prosecco

the anchovy & pecorino pizza

Tonight's dessert - hot vin santo cream with cantucci biscuits

Wednesday 21st.

I have company at breakfast

Squibb this morning, some good leg yields.

Lenny again this afternoon - different horse today - much calmer but stiff on his left side. Even did a few steps / transitions into trot

He needs really light aids, just a squeeze with the top of my calves had him trotting - tried the Pietro system of trotting the hind legs first and got masses of power!!!

Tea time

Back to Marco's in Barberino tonight. Had the same starter, the courgette flowers - that was so nice! Then the peppery stew is available tonight

Thursday 22nd.

An “interesting” day - Squib this morning with Cristina - not the most exciting lesson and no canter - then Scully has managed to pull two nails out on a front shoe so limited to walk...

This pm Lenny with Gianni Lenny pre ridden by Mathilde for 30 mins before I get on - we did some work on flexion on circles and leg yields then moved on to trot transitions.

All was going well until Lenny decided this slow stuff was boring and decided to trot faster into a corner so I half halted and got canter!

We cantered for about two minutes with him ignoring my aids till I used a one rein stop to slow him enough for Gianni to grab the bridle.

This evening at dinner he said the canter was good!!!

Friday 23rd.

Last session on Squib with Pietro - super, I had him trotting on the buckle with his head down - Pietro said if his nose touches the sand the lesson was free - we got so close he changed it to ears on the sand!!!

Last session on Scully - she is such a good girl once she is moving.

Tuscany - September 2020

Visit number two this year, another week to play horses.

Saturday 19th.

Caught the usual plane from Stansted to Pisa and picked up a car, did a little shopping in Poggibonsi on the way and arrived at Il Paretaio at 3pm.

Cristina had arranged a special lesson for me, first on Scully and then on Ivoire, lovely warm sunny afternoon.

Sunday 20th.

Ivoire this morning followed by a super lunch of peppery stew with side salad washed down with a glass of white wine, coffee & limoncello at Marco's

Then it started to rain quite heavily and didn't clear until the end of the day, so no riding ...

Monday 21st.

Lovely blue sky today, Ivoire was very sleepy for the early morning lesson but that was more than made up by a super session on Scully with Gianni at lunchtime - very good leg yields and even got some trot out of her. The afternoon lesson was on Nina with Natalie teaching - the usual canter at the end of the session went well, very enjoyable.

Tuesday 22nd.

Ivoire with Cristina in the morning, slow walking (not at all difficult with Ivoire who would be great for a funeral march!) and sitting trot - need to lean back far more than I think I am doing...

Great half hour on Scully with Gianni - really started to get to grips with leg yield and shoulder in on her as well as the trot transition but she is still ignoring my leg!

Afternoon back on Ivoire with Pietro, working on collecting the trot and leg yields, Ivoire is the perfect horse for this work.

Wednesday 23rd.

Ivoire with Cristina, sleepy Ivoire was hard work and only woke up at the end of the lesson for a couple of active trots. No Scully today, she gets a day off. Ivoire again in the afternoon with a new instructor, Alice, sadly she failed to establish either rider's level or relationship with their mounts and pitched the lesson at kids level with aligator infested track and radioactive horse's necks.... an oil tanker got in there somewhere as well but that went way over my head (or under Ivoire's hooves) so I just concentrated on riding Ivoire and doing our own thing!

Thursday 24th.

First I had 20 mins on Scully with Gianni and then was due to ride Ivoire but he got swapped for Dido but we had a good session. Then out to lunch at Marco's - fillet steak with porcini today.

The afternoon session was on Dido again and was going really well until he spooked when one of the spectators jumped up suddenly, big handfulls of mane needed!

Friday 25th.

Ivoire with Natalie, riding squares with quarter pirouettes in the corners - this is somthing Ivoire & I have got sorted so no issues there, then Natalie asked us to leg yield to the 3/4 line and half pass back to the track - in effect a shallow loop but somehow this got scrambled in my brain and I was doing leg yield to the 3/4 line, turn onto the opposite 3/4 line and half pass back to the track - Natalie told the others to ignore me as I was doing my own thing!

Then I had the canter challenge, could I get him to canter the whole way round the arena? We started at C and got all the way round to past K but a blue block over the track where the rainwater was draining away caused him to fall out of canter but despite me being ready for him to do it the second time he still dropped back to trot when he saw the block. Never mind, it was a huge improvement and I look forward to another try next time.

Half an hour on Scully with Gianni at lunchtime working on the trot transition - I find I need a few steps at sitting trot until the trot is established but Gianni wants rising trot immediately - this throws my balance off and Scully falls out of trot. More work needed!

Dido again in the afternoon with Natalie but the wind has now got up and when the letters started blowing off the rails and crashing to the floor Dido got VERY spooky - even Vagabund spooked as the poo scoop went over and that had Dido jumping about! Eventually I got off and let Natalie try to calm him but she got spooks too. I held Vagabund while his rider dismounted and the lesson was abandoned, of course the wind dropped after that...

Saturday 26th.

So this morning I got Squibb - freshly back into work, he was super and at the end of the lesson I was neither sweating nor out of breath! The afternoon I had a private lession on Scully with Mathilde - she had plaited Scully's mane and wanted a video of her riding. So that's what we did before I got on and tried to glean what I could from her about the way she was riding Scully, that was very helpful even if our time was interupted by the hay lorry delivering huge rolls of hay!

Finally, after the session Scully & I posed for a nice relaxed photo.

Then it was pack up my stuff and drive down to Poggibonsi for a meal at 'sandro's before going to Pisa to catch the early morning flight home.

Tuscany - July 2020

I was due to fly out in March, but the lock down prevented that happening - fortunately I got my flights etc refunded.

The journey out was strange! The plane was almost empty and getting out at Pisa airport took no time at all - no queues!

Getting the car was odd too, the car hire hall closed, I had to phone a special number and they took the details and in half an hour a lady turned up in the car park with the keys.

Scully had managed to get a swollen leg, cause unknown, and some swelling remained around her knee, so no riding!

I started off on Ivoire for Friday and Saturday morning, had lunch at Marco's then they switched me onto Dido for the afternoon lesson, I rode him last year but this time he felt really fidgety and after a couple of laps in walk I told Natalie I wasn't comfortable riding him, so they swapped him for Ivoire again. Later in the week another guest rode Dido and had real trouble with him waving his head around in the air.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning they gave me Squib, I hadn't ridden him before but he was like his sister Sacha so I got on quite well with him. I had just got the confidence on him to try canter on Wednesday afternoon when they switched me onto Nina.

First time riding her and Pietro asked me to canter - she needed no second request and set off in her own unique direction for half the school till Pietro shouted trot at me.

Thursday back on Squib with Cristina teaching - we achieved a wonderful period of full collection, Squib came really round and lifted his back for me - one of the best feelings ever. Cristina wouldn't let me canter him (I think she is scared of me falling in her lesson!)

Last lesson in the afternoon, back on Nina with Gianni teaching and there was no messing about, halfway through the lesson Dalirado was cantered by his rider and Nina and I were next. Gianni said trot to the corner and find the canter, so we went walk, trot, canter in three strides… Gianni said “OK” lol. Nina fell out of canter at one point but a quick nudge had her back. I quickly found her rhythm and Gianni was able to help me adjust rein contact and position so I felt we had made huge progress.

Maybe now Gianni realises I have a good balance at canter I will get more opportunity to work at canter.

Packed up after last lesson and headed off to my favourite restaurant in Poggibonsi - I Boceri - a very warm welcome from ‘sandro - complimentary prosecco toasted with him -

followed by just the best pizza - acciughe e pecorino -

the restaurant was quite busy but well spaced out

Then off to Pisa to drop off the car and get the very early morning plane, only about 30 passengers onboard, one passenger in each block of three seats.

The queue at stansted was usual length but fewer people as well spaced out - then a long wait for the 10 am bus as they are reduced to one every 2 hours now.

Tuscany - October 2019

The last visit for this year before winter closes in.

My plans were to work on the canter seat with Zara, getting soft and round with Sacha, riding Scully and learning how to use spurs.

I certainly did plenty of canter practice with Zara, I lost count of the number of times we circled on each rein but she was certainly sweating by time we finished!

Sunday afternoon was warm and sunny and after a very good lunch, three of us set off on a sunset ride out around the vineyards and olive groves. I was riding Vagabund, one of the Merens horses.

Monday and a new horse to ride - Dido, Scully’s best mate, it took a while to get to know him and I found his trot a bit choppy and not easy to rise to without double bouncing in the saddle. But eventually I got him round.

Lunchtime and I got the opportunity to ride Scully after the morning sessions - so nice to feel her under me again, even if we just had a gentle walk round.

The afternoon session was with my old friend Ivoire and an opportunity to work with the spurs - to be honest he didn’t seem that much more responsive but we certainly flew round the arena on extended trots even if the canter still didn’t last more than a long side at a time.

Tuesday morning we were dodging the rain showers and I was back on Sacha. Keeping her head down proved more difficult than last time I rode her but we did get some moments of collection.

The rain held off and I managed to get another ride on Scully - this time up into trot after the usual “discussion”

The final ride on Wednesday morning was with Sacha again - more success this time but still not a consistent result with her.

Tuscany - September 2019

First canter on Zara - accused by Cristina of riding like John Wayne!

More to come...

Tuscany - July 2019

Took George and Alex out for a few days - George was totally spoilt by Cristina, Gianni & the staff. He wasn't too impressed by the idea of sitting on little Jaguar but Alex had a go on Ivoire but I don't think horses are her "thing"!

Tuscany - June 2019

A few days of Scully & me time.

Tuscany - March 2019

Sunset ride on Ivoire


Tuscany - October 2018

Scully concentrating on what Emma is asking her to do…

… and occasionally objecting ….

… back to concentrating …

Ready for work ….

… those muscles are getting stronger…

Not allowed on Scully yet, but a half way horse in Sascha ….

Scully being warmed up / calmed down ….

… and finally I am allowed to take her for a walk and trot.

Tuscany - September 2018

Emma training Scully

Claire on Carlina

Claire on Carlina

Cecilia on Squibb

Tuscany - November 2017

Tuscany - September 2017

Thursday 7th September

Ferry to Dunkerque - long day - left Mika at home at 4 am looking very forlorn - now in Nancy

Friday 8th September

Accident in Selestat - negotiating a complex and poorly marked out motorway slip road system, pulled out to go left on what I was convinced was a one way slip road, we met a Datsun coming the other way…. score Rover 1, Datsun 0.

Saturday 9th September

Strip car ready to repair pulled off damaged bumper, cross brace, radiators and a couple of pipes - got onto ebay and ordered replacement bits for my son to run out to us.

Sunday 10th September

Yard locked up on Sundays so an enforced day of sightseeing…. Fabulous roof of cathedral St Georges in Selestat While in there we lit a candle for Ret.

Monday 11th September

Fix car - it took us about 2 hours to fit the replacement radiators and other parts - started up first time and drove the car out of the yard, much to the surprise of the yard staff! Gentle check that everything was working as it should and there were no leaks of oil or coolant. Apart from a bit of a dent in the bonnet, it looked perfect.

Tuesday 12th September

Set off keeping an eye on the car but all was OK - dropped some bits off with my friend in Zurich and decided to run straight on down to Italy. Arrived at Il Paretaio in the early afternoon.

Wednesday 13th September

Scully's tendon is now better - the vet says it is perfect but now she has an abscess on the front left … still, that should be better by the end of the week and I might actually get to ride her …

Thursday 14th September

Thanks Manu, good to be back on her - even if the mounting block was a bit low!!

Friday 15th September

Duvet day today - awful weather!

Saturday 16th September

Wendy & Claire arrive at Pisa - Tone at Poggibonsi

Dinner with them all at Il Paretaio

Sunday 17th September

Walk down to her field, fight her to put her boots on while she tries to kick flies, walk her up to the stables and scrape off the mud, Clodie plaits her mane and Manu tacks her up and feeds her banana. Up to manege take off her boots and ride for 15 /20 mins and then reverse the whole procedure - absolutely knackered now!!!

Monday 18th September

Visit from son Richard, Meilei & Sarah, took them over to Volterra where Sarah tired herself out chewing on a bit of Italian bread …

Tuckered out with her new toy boar….

Wednesday 20th September

What a good day - rode Scully - then

lunch at Marcos with the gang and

a lovely forward Ivoir in the afternoon

Thursday 21st September

Manu walking Scully today

Tuesday 26th September

Farrier came this morning and shod Scully on front, the left front abscess had started in the white line right at the front of the toe, he says it is not causing pain for her any more. So she gets the rest of today off and I will see if she can be ridden tomorrow.

Wednesday 27th September

Relaxing in the garden with a cold can of lemonade after riding Scully - she is a bit excitable and wanted to trot - I had Manu saying don't trot until Cristina said to trot - Scully felt a bit too much for me just at that time so Manu took over and got a bounce and a buck out of her before she trotted.
Maybe I will be able to trot her tomorrow if I don't ride Ivoir first! 😀

Friday 29th September

A Scully kiss for all our friends 😁

So here we are - with one day of holiday left and Scully comes sound - asked her for more walk and she floated into a lovely trot. We had short steady trots on both reins and she was good.

Eva pointed out some things to do which worked well for me and Scully.

Sunday 1st October

On the way home and its raining ….

Lunch break in Switzerland - 😁

Safely in Mulhouse overnight - pretty sky over the town.

For Clodie …cidre.. 😉

… with a gallette with egg… nom…😁

..and Calvados to ensure a good night's sleep 😁

Monday 2nd October

Back home and only 7 weeks to go till my next visit…😁

Tuscany - July 2017

Monday 3rd July

Time to go back and see how Scully is getting on - the latest report from Cristina says she is 100% fit and perfect - Cristina has an eagle eye for any lameness so I am really looking forward to some good riding.

Normally I would fly out alone and spend just a few days with Scully but this time I have decided to take Mollie with me - juggling her availability , the flights and rooms at Il Paretaio proved exhausting but I finally managed it and so on the morning of the 3rd July Mollie & I boarded Ryanair flight FR584 bound for Pisa.

Arriving at just after noon local time in temperatures in the mid 30s we cleared customs and walked up the road to Pisa Centrale train station to catch the train to Empoli where we changed for a train to Poggibonsi.

I took Mollie into the local Coop to buy hair shampoo etc and then Andrew came to pick us up and take us to Il Paretaio. Time enough to settle in to our rooms and take Mollie down to meet the staff and the horses. I had organised a ride that afternoon - me on Scully and Mollie on Vagabund.

It turned out to be the shortest ride ever - Scully was beautifully light and forward but when we stopped the second time she stumbled moving off and then went extremely lame to the point she was waving her front right in the air and then trying to put weight on it while it was off the ground. Cristina was aghast and and sent a quick video off to the vet with a message “Look at Scully - help!”

I cold hosed the leg which seemed to help a bit and she went off to her little paddock to await the vet.

Tuesday 4th July

So today I have Ivoir at 8am with Gianni - amazingly all three of us were actually awake and it was a very good lesson. Mollie had a lesson on Zarish with Cristina a bit later on but didn’t find him an easy horse to ride.

In the afternoon I had Toupe to ride - three years ago we didn't get on but today he was good and listened to me nicely - his trot is actually easier to sit to than Ivoir's.

For her afternoon lesson Mollie got Mousse to ride - a very cheeky pony that is only used for good riders that can cope with him - Mollie had impressed Cristina!

Vet came half way through dinner tonight and ultra scanned Scully’s legs - he says the tendon over her right knee is inflamed as a result of trauma - she is on a week's rest and see how she is - this might be a long recovery.

Wednesday 5th July

Ivoir early morning with Gianni and another male rider, Joseph, the gentlemen’s club! Ivoir was good for me again.

Mollie rode Mousse again in the morning and did very well.

I had Toupe in the afternoon but he seemed less inclined to work on the lateral stuff than Ivoir which was a bit of a nuisance!

Mollie had a lesson with Gianni riding Mousse again.

and had some nice trots & canters on him

Thursday 6th July

Same again for me - Ivoir in the morning and Toupe in the afternoon.

Mollie rode out today on Vagabund and in the school on Mousse.

Friday 7th July

Our last day and we rode together - me on Ivoir and Mollie on Mousse - with two other horses we practiced and did a choreography (quadrille) to music - hopefully we will get a video of it from one of the other guests in time.

I was very pleased - Ivoir managed to keep up with the others and even after 45 minutes or so at trot, I was not tired or out of breath.

Here is a video of Manu doing a quadrille with a youngster -

After lunch it was time to say goodbye again -

Back via Andrew to Poggibonsi and trains to Pisa - the plane was delayed by nearly an hour thanks to Rome air traffic control so we landed back at Stansted around 8.15pm - home about 9.45.

Now Scully has till the 9th September to get fit again - well at least into the walk under saddle stage and I will have three weeks with her on the next visit.

Tuscany - May & June 2017

14th May

Car all packed and ready to go - on the 2 am ferry ….

15th May

At first overnight stop already and soaking up the sun - hotel garden - at Chateau de Volkrange.

18th May

First lesson on Scully

Afternoon in the garden

21st May

Lesson 2 on Scully and I managed trot for the first time on her for two years at least. Gianni says we are too much friends and she must respect me more. Last night she broke into Marcoz's paddock and wouldn't come out - naughty girl! I think she is in season ….

23rd May

After Sunday's successful trot we now have to just walk for the next 10 days as Scully has had another injection in her knee - ah well, we can still work on getting her respecting my aids a little more.

26th May

What a good day on Scully - it started out with the usual fight over whether we go forward. then developed into a fight over whether we would leg yield and ended up with a lovely forward walk with her stepping right under and round. Just need to cut out the arguments and we will be good!

27th May

Well today we cut out much of the discussion and she was good most of the time - when she decided to pull the reins to the left I just let them go so she had nothing to pull against and that seemed to solve whatever her issue is with the bit - am going to swap out the snaffle she is in for her Myler and see if that is better for her. However I am really pleased with our progress so far..

28th May

Phew! It is a bit warm for riding but we continue to make progress - not as forward as yesterday but the Myler bit is clearly more comfortable for her, much less pulling her head to the left when leg yielding and we got a couple of half reasonable yields in her 20 minutes. Manu is so patient and lets us work things out with gentle guidance.

29th May

B hot today!

30th May

After walking Scully in hand this am we set off to see the sea …. we stopped off in Volterra on the way - not as big as Sienna and more character in my opinion.

We did get to the coast but all there was was sand and salt water …

Also stopped off in Colle val d'elsa to visit the tack shop and get madam a new lead rope as she has shredded her old one …

31st May

Early morning ballon over Sant Appiano

1st June

Today we trotted - first with a little help from Gianni and the lunge whip but afterwards just with the aids. Her trot on the left rein was perfect, on the right rein it was just a little short. But I am happy with her.

The view from Scully's paddock

2nd June

Lisa ready to go rock climbing …. or maybe to get Scully in …

A visit from Olga & Giorgio today to catch up and for Olga to take some photos for the blog she is writing about international horse owners…

Thanks for the apple aunty Olga

My girl - such a pretty face - shame about he old codger with her…

Another picture that says it all - two mates together, going the same way..

…tuscan dinner

5th June

Pouring with rain this afternoon.

6th June

Last day here with Scully - rode this morning and she was such a good girl, forward and working round - even leg yielding without lifting her head to the side.

A trot on both reins went well until I ran out of energy.

Tomorrow we set off early to drive up to Zurich to collect an engine and then on to Mulhouse for our overnight stop.

7th June

Overnight in our favourite Ibis in Mulhouse and a meal in the best restaurant in town.

Starter -

Main -

Pud -

- stuffed….

8th June (my birthday and the start of my 70th year)

Good drive up from Mulhouse to Dinant via some twisty mountain roads and a refuel in Luxembourg at 80p a litre ….

Now relaxing with a beer before going into town later for a birthday dinner

A little fishy for my dinner tonight -

10th June

Back home and already planning the next trip out to Italy.

Blimey, the grass has grown a bit while we have been away!!

Tuscany - March 2017

Beautiful spring weather - so much warmer than last time I was here

the temperature sign up at the pharmacy in Barberino showed an afternoon temperature of 25 degrees

in fact the cool shade of the streets of Barberino was quite welcome

I arrived on Sunday 26th March and, having managed to miss the bus, I called Andrew to come into Poggibonsi to pick me up and take me down to Il Paretaio.

Malin doesn’t work on Sundays but I already knew I was in the Manger room so just settled myself in and went to say Hi to Gianni in his office.

Then off down the stables to see Scully and the crew - she had managed to bash her knee on the stable wall or door and the vet had taken Xrays to check for damage - no bone injury, just soft tissue so she was on meds and OUT OF WORK! Ah well, Ivoir had the pleasure of me riding him for 4 days!

Kathleen had gone home suddenly at the beginning of March so there was just Gianni and Cristina teaching - Gianni drew the short straw and got Ivoir and me to cope with… 8-)

Monday morning and back on Ivoir for the first time since before my heart attack last September - they had done a lot of good work on him over the winter and he was much more cooperative than I remember.

I warned Gianni that if I ran out of breath during the lesson I would just pull into the centre and rest a while and sure enough about half way through after trotting for around 15 minutes I needed to stop for 5…

I managed to recover enough to continue but needed another rest before the end of the session.

Tuesday I only needed to stop once, Wednesday once and Thursday I nearly made it all the way through. Rising trot is certainly good cardio exercise!

Thanks to Dorinda who took the pics - here she is riding Tempo -

I only rode in the mornings, in the afternoons I either went into Barberino, played with Scully or visited Andrew & Alba. 6 days in January were too long, 4 days in March too short!

The evenings, as usual, were spent eating, drinking and chatting with the other guests.

On the Thursday lunchtime Andrew came back to take me down to Poggibonsi to catch the train to Pisa and the flight home.

Tuscany - January 2017

The first of several visits this year - flying out on my own.

14th Jan, Stansted as usual to catch the 09.25 flight to Pisa - over the English coast

and later - the alps

Arriving late afternoon and staying in a hotel up the road I decided it was too late to go and see Scully so went off in search for food - our little restaurant round the corner was closed so I trekked off to Barberino on foot for a meal with Marco. I had left the heating on in the hotel room but when I got back from Barberino the room was far from warm - temperature outside was around 2 degrees and it felt much the same inside!

Next day, down to see my girl and to meet the new RI Kathleen - here with Scully ready to do some work.

and working -

It was very cold and blustery - not nice riding weather! Many branches were being blown off the trees So I retreated to the dining room and a nice fire

where I was joined by Dino :-)

Cristina kindly invited me to stay to lunch - much appreciated!

Scully was also appreciative of the fact that the barn has doors both ends which were being kept shut in the cold & windy weather!

Sunday evening and I set off again to Barberino for my evening meal and also to raid the bank machine to extract the Euros to pay for Scully’s board & lodging!

The next few days passed in much the same way with Scully being trained and me just enjoying the rest - I made trips to see our friends Andrew & Alba and to eat & drink - lots of exercise for me but I didn’t ride - just too cold and windy with smatterings of snow.

Tuscany September 2016

I have been putting off writing this blog – partly because I have been busy doing other stuff and partly because it is quite a big story in the scale of life…

… somewhere earlier in my blogs you will have read about the new adventure of Scully moving out to Tuscany,

well the story continues…

I flew home at the end of the few days I spent with her on her arrival in August and was looking forward to returning 3 weeks later to see how she was getting on and also because this year we were to drive down in the MG.

Preparations included an overhaul of the MG’s front suspension and front brakes, swapping the headlights for left hand drive ones and a general check over to make sure that everything was OK for the 2000 mile round trip.

We did a couple of shakedown runs including one up to Newmarket races and all looked good.

Then I heard that Scully was lame and her front hooves were wearing down fast making walking painful – so I said I wasn’t surprised and hoped her hooves would adapt to the new ground – her trimmer thought they would, but I planned to take her hoof boots out with me to help her transition.

So bright and early on the 8th September we set off to Dover to catch the 8am ferry to Dunkerque. We arrived in good time without incidents, the sun was just coming up, the day was full of promise and we were in good spirits.

Breakfast on the ferry was as good as ever – bacon, sausage, egg, tomatoes & fried bread set us up for the day and we relaxed for the 2 hour crossing to France.

The route took us through Luxembourg where I usually refuel as the prices are about 20% cheaper there and all was going well until we set off again - about 15 minutes from our refueling stop the car lost power and spluttered to a halt - fortunately not far from a lay-by which I was able to push the car into. The fuel pump had stopped working.

So out came the luggage from the back shelf and out came the battery so I could get to the electrical end of the pump - a bit of cleaning of the points and back with the battery saw no improvement, so out with the battery and a bit more fettling resulted in intermittent running of the pump, a bit more fettling and I reckoned we could make it to the overnight stop.

The car ran for the next half hour or so but then we hit heavy traffic and it started playing up but, by flicking the ignition off and on again I was able to keep on the move - then I made a fatal mistake and decided to get off the motorway and take the side roads down into Thionville - the traffic initially was lighter so OK, but then we hit really heavy local traffic and lots of traffic lights.

The engine was getting hot and the fuel pump more intermittent until it stopped completely and would not restart - cue much shouting from the French driver behind! Plonker … We pushed the car round into a side road and let it cool and the traffic to subside - eventually we got going again and lurched into the hotel parking area several hours later than planned - thankfully there was a parking space left!

We had much discussion over what we were going to do - obviously we needed a new pump but we could sort that when we got to Tuscany - how we were going to make the next day’s journey was more pressing!

So a good meal was called for and suitably refreshed I pondered the options - obviously I could take the pump out and try to get it working again - I could hunt around the town and see if I could get a temporary generic fuel pump to fit - both were likely to waste a lot of time - or, perhaps since the pump would work if you flicked the ignition on and off, I could rig up a temporary intermittent power supply to the pump - but how? Mary was all for canceling the next night’s hotel and staying to fix the pump.

Then it dawned on me - the hazard flasher unit - it will run 4 21w bulbs, that is 7 amps and the fuel pump only needs 6 amps - worth a try!

Next morning I lash up a bit of a wiring loom “borrowed” from the clock ( who needs to know the time anyway?) and plug the hazard flasher unit into the pump wiring loom - engine starts up fine and runs for 20 minutes without faltering.

After breakfast we reload the car and set off - no pump problems, stop for coffee, still no problems, stop for fuel & lunch, still no problems, get caught in traffic on motorway, still OK, arrive at the Air Palace Hotel outside Turin and she hasn’t missed a beat. The gods were looking after us today. Mary had been sure we wouldn’t make it, but I proved her wrong.

Saturday morning and we set off for Tuscany - mostly motorways and an easy journey - eventually arriving at the planned time to get the keys to our apartment for the first week of the trip.

We were a little disappointed with the accommodation - we had hoped that it would serve as a base for longer stays but the cooking facilities were just a combined sink & two rings - no grill, no microwave, no oven, the fridge was tiny and the only prep area was the dining table…

The weather also closed in on us and instead of Tuscan sun we got this -

followed by this as one thunderstorm rolled away only to be chased in by the next one..

So we spent a week exploring the local countryside for restaurants and we found a few really good ones.

The car continued to behave itself and Scully was more comfortable in her boots but was still too lame to ride, unfortunately as the days passed the boots rubbed her heels badly and I wasn’t sure whether she would be able to stay barefoot but we had come through this before and her trimmer thought she would be OK eventually.

The following Saturday saw us move up the road to Il Paretaio. Wendy and Claire arrived and I was at last able to let the secret about Scully out of the bag, everyone but them knew I had moved her out there.

Sunday - the first lesson on Ivoire in two years (he was lame last year) and it was hard going! The afternoon session was a definite improvement on the morning - trot was a bit better and we lurched in and out of canter a couple of times - feeling a bit frustrated because I know that I can do better with him - grrrr.

Monday was fairly successful day - only rode in the morning - on Ivoire - but shoulder in was pretty good with some positive comments from Sarah both in walk and trot but still need more energy from the black beast ….

In the afternoon I drove Mary up to Pisa to catch a plane home to my son’s wedding (arranged by him after we had booked the holiday) - he wasn’t expecting her but she wanted to surprise him and she was only going for the day, returning on Wednesday morning.

On the way back from the airport my “fix” for the fuel pump gave up and I had to rig up a switch on the dash that I could flick on and off to get me the last few kilometers back to Il Paretaio.

Safely there I went in for dinner as usual and then to bed around 11pm only to wake up at about 2am with a pain in my shoulder. I looked for some painkillers but couldn’t find them and assumed Mary had them in her handbag… the pain was pretty severe so I went down and woke up Claire our pharmacist friend who had some - we were overheard by another guest who happened to be a doctor and she agreed the pain was probably muscular.

Anyway I went back to bed and slept fitfully until 6am when it got light and the girls came on duty at the stables - I went down and got them to ring Cristina to get an ambulance as the pain was still there if somewhat duller.

The ambo arrived in under 10 mins and Cristina acted as interpreter while they did a few tests before whisking me off to Florence hospital. I asked Cristina to let Sarah know I wasn’t going to be able to ride Ivoire - I think I saw a smile creep across her very concerned face.

The ride was with the lights and sirens going - all I could think of was that scene in the Italian Job where the police car goes over the weir and gets swept off as its sirens tailed away.

On arrival they took me straight into the theatre where they confirmed a heart attack. I was fascinated to watch them operate - I had the big monitor screen by my head so I could see the catheter in my heart clearing away the blockages and inserting the stents - they had gone in through my wrist and I couldn’t feel a thing!

The operation scar isn’t very impressive though!

The next three days in the ICU would have been OK if I had some food I could eat and some sleep - neither of which materialised.

Some of the “delights” were potato mash with olive oil and chicken seared on the outside but raw in the middle, at least the fruit might be OK, but no it was unripe! I kept a pear for three days and it was OK by then!

The nurses were very good and some of them spoke english so I was OK - Gianni & Cristina visited as did Claire & Wendy, Sarah & Jade did a fantastic job running Mary up to the hospital.

After 3 days in ICU they moved me up to a general ward of three beds where I was able to get up and move around - even had our own balcony to take in a few rays!

Early morning sunshine -

On the Monday (6 days after admission) they discharged me - it only took a couple of hours to get the paperwork and meds sorted out and I was on my way downstairs as Mary arrived.

I decided that I didn’t want to leave the car in Italy and fly home - I couldn’t fly for at least ten days anyway, so we planned to stay in Italy for another 4 weeks until I could get passed fit to drive home.

They had moved Mary out of the tower room and into the bungalow - fortunately for us they had had a cancellation so we could stay at Il Paretaio for another week - my eldest son, Mark, had driven down from the UK and stayed with us for the week to act as chauffeur and my youngest son, David, was on holiday with his girlfriend, Helen, in Rome.

I had arranged for a replacement fuel pump for the car and David came over one day to fit it for me while Helen (who has her own horse) had a ride on one of the school horses.

I spent most of the days soaking up the sun, getting some gentle exercise as prescribed by the surgeon and watching the horses - Scully’s feet were getting no better and I reluctantly decided that she would have to be shod on the front - Cristina was mightily relieved that I had made that decision and the farrier came to see her and some of the other horses during the week.

At the end of that week we couldn’t stay any longer as they were full for the rest of the month, but Cristina sorted out some options for us and we decided to go and stay over the main road at a B&B - Torre Di Ponzano.

The couple that run the B&B, Andrew and Alba are really nice, they gave us a choice of rooms and made us feel really welcome, he came from a place about 25 miles from where we live in the UK and she had been a nurse at Florence hospital - I couldn’t have been in better hands - they organised all sorts of things for us, having a native Italian speaker is very handy for dealing with the hospital and for booking tables at restaurants!

I spent much of each day just taking it easy, sitting in the garden enjoying the views and being occasionally plied with coffee and homemade cake by Alba. Being somewhat higher than Il Paretaio, the views from the Torre were even more spectacular - on a clear day you could see San Gimignano sparkling in the distance.

and the sunsets were just amazing

Most days I went over to see Scully and watch her being ridden, Manu seemed to have taken a shine to her even though she towered over him..

She was getting better now her feet are shod and Cristina was finally happy she was fit to go back into proper work.

On the 11th October, just three weeks after my MI I felt strong enough to get back on a horse so I had a gentle plod round on Scully, not the best of weather that day but certainly the best of views …

I was a bit nervous and she picked up on that and kept looking round at me to check I was OK - Sarah walked round with us, just in case but we were fine. This is now one of my favourite photos of us together

Over the next couple of weeks I rode most days, sometimes during a lesson with other horses, sometimes after the lessons with Sarah - I did the walk work and Sarah did the trot and canter.

She got better each time - by the 20th I was feeling really good about us - the ride after the lessons had finished was special, she was forward and behaved herself nicely, well until I tried to turn her off the track when she ploughed on …😀

Sarah rode her in trot and canter - again she was more forward and a good girl, Sarah finished off by taking her out the front gate and round the track to the stable, I forgot to warn Sarah about her rushing through small gaps and she got a good brushing from the branches over the ditch leading up to the stables…. oops! I put Scully to bed and had a nice chat with Sarah before heading back to the B&B. Couldn't believe I had been out there for 6 weeks and we were going home on Monday - I was going to miss it!

The last day and Pietro was back from the UK and he rode her first, she did well and Pietro even jumped her over a pole & cross poles - first time round she stopped at the pole, but second time round she leapt the pole and bounced over the cross poles, she does like to leave loads of air between her and the fence!

I got to walk her off afterwards and I must say I was tempted to have a bit of a trot but decided to call it a day on a positive note rather than have any problems with the trot. I think Sarah was surprised!

So, on the 24th it was finally time to pack the car and say our goodbyes to Andrew & Alba and everyone at Il Paretaio and Scully of course.

We set off for the first stage of our journey home - first stop Lake Como -it all went very well, I wasn’t tired by the 3 ½ hour drive, we found the hotel after a bit of aggro since they had built a bypass over the road and the satnav didn’t know about it! We decided to eat in the hotel rather than go out - BIG mistake - the food was awful! It was one of the worst meals and worst hotels - won’t be going back there again!

The next day we had a straightforward 3.5 hour run through Switzerland - autumn leaves are so pretty - shame it was tipping it down!
Arrived safely in Mulhouse in France and settled into a nice little hotel where the staff can't do enough for you -secure parking and in the centre of town so lots of restaurants to choose from.

On recommendation from the hotel receptionist we ended up in a lovely restaurant - not the easiest to find but where the meal more than made up for the previous night’s disaster.

I had fillet steak with foie gras

followed by profiteroles and yes, that is a jug of extra choccy sauce!

Suitably refreshed and rested we set off next day for another gentle drive up to Dinant - via Luxembourg for the cheap fuel - the Ibis in Dinant is one of our favourite hotels and the first thing I always do when arriving there is to have a sit down with a glass of the local beer…


Another excellent meal in town that evening - Mary had a huge plate of mussels and I had the sole - a lovely change to have fish!

Next day saw us make it up to Dunkerque in good time - but the hotel was another poor one and everywhere in town to eat was either shut or not appetising - Tripadviser recommendations turned out to be a football stadium catering van that wasn’t there and a Pizza place that turned out to be a takeaway! With hindsight we should have booked a ferry for that evening rather than wait till the next day.

Last day and we got to the ferry in good time and soon realised that it was the end of half term - definitely should have booked a late ferry the previous day!!

Being well used to ferry travel, we made a quick move for the restaurant up front on the ship - got good seats and tucked in to a very good portion of chicken curry for lunch - funny how food and horses seem to be a theme in my life.

The last stretch up from Dover was the worst traffic we had seen in 7 weeks - the M25 was jammed solid to the tunnel for 6 miles and there was an accident that had closed the A13 so we went up to the A127 and that was pretty busy too.

Flopped down at home and didn’t really know what to do with ourselves!

Me on the same rather large horse - doesn’t she look good?

Manu on a rather large horse …

Out incognito today - we will see if she stays cooler with the rug and whether it deters the horseflies - it certainly confused Oscura in the next paddock!

Scully’s new adventure

Well, after 7 years at the yard it is time to move on - we can’t face another winter of limited turnout, mud and being kept in, so Scully is off to the winter sun & sand.

Monday 15th August and she goes out into her jungle for the last time and says Hi to Chester next door.

Little does she know that a VERY large lorry is setting out to take her away!

Due to arrive late afternoon and then delayed to 8pm she has to go back into her stable and while away the time with some creative doodling on the stable wall.

8pm and the lorry is stuck in traffic in Winchester! So a bit of a snooze till it turns up at 10.30 pm … one horse already on the lorry whinnys in greeting and the whole yard of 11 horses answer it - that got the YO out to see what was up!

Cool lorry drops its ramp and the whole rear lowers to make a very gentle slope - she is the last of ten horses to be collected and takes a couple of abortive attempts before stomping up and into her compartment - tied in she scowls and grabs the proffered polo mints before scowling at me again - “have a good trip - see you Thursday” I tell her.

I follow the lorry up the moonlit lane -

and watch it negotiate the sharp bend successfully -

looking for all the world like an alien spaceship with all its lights blazing away!

Tuesday 16th August and I muck out for the last time and load the final bits into the back of the van - at last I can give it a good clean out and shake the dust, straw & hay out of it!

A 10 am report from the driver tells me that she is fine, they were setting off from Dover and would be overnighting in Holland before going on to Germany on Wednesday - she is on the Grand Tour, lucky lass.

Wednesday 17th August

Sparrow fart and I am on my way to Stansted to fly out to Pisa

I arrived at noon and walked up to the train station to catch a train to Empoli, changing there for a train to Poggibonsi - then I had some time to kill before catching the afternoon bus up to San Filippo - had to go and eat some ice cream and do some people watching in the square 8-)

Checked in and settled in my room for the next 3 days I went off to find Lisa and the others to update them on progress so far.

At the evening apperativo other guests asked if I was joining them to have lessons or ride - no, I am waiting for my own horse to arrive!

Meanwhile she made it into Germany to be stabled overnight in Munich.

Thursday 18th August

After a nice quiet day watching the others ride I get a call from the driver estimating arrival between 18.30 and 19.00 and about 18.50 I spot the lorry on the main road across the fields - a quick dash up the lane and it is squeezing between the road signs & parked cars to turn round and unload

paperwork done and her suitcase unloaded it was time to get her out …

chilled out but a bit sweaty from the last bit of the journey along twisty roads - Gianni took her suitcase in the truck and I led her down the lane - she had a good look at everything so it took a while but she coped with the stony track very well

she stood quietly while I opened the electric yard gates

when we got to the menage there was a lesson going on which she had to stop and watch - one of the horses in the lesson, Toupe, neighed a welcome to her and I took her down to her new stable

she has the first box on the left, opposite Furor the stallion and next to Nobility who showed much interest in the new arrival …

as you see it has a back window as well - so she can be really nosey! It took her no time to find the manger which was empty so she snorted at it followed by discovery of the automatic waterer which she emptied in a fraction of a second, only to spook as new water rushed in - she spent a good minute with her nose in there.

I got her saddle & bridle out of her suitcase and put them in the tack room

Cristina said she now understands why I said Il Paretaio needs a horse like her - good for taller riders! Gianni seemed impressed with her rounded neck, Sarah is itching to get on and ride her, says she is in fat club now… and Lisa was even more impressed with her size when I got her out for a hose down to get the sweat out of her coat.

Friday 19th August

After breakfast, I took her out for a bit of a stretch of her legs - first down the track to the lunge ring to let her warm up a bit in a confined area

and then on down to the bottom arena for a good workout

after which she towed me up the steep stony track - I could hardly keep up with her!

She was still fretting in the stable but that is probably due to her being used to being out in the fields during the day - that will happen once they are happy she hasn’t picked up anything in the transport with other horses.

Saturday 20th August

I have to fly home, so left her being lunged by Lisa in the top arena - Scully wasn’t paying a lot of attention - bit distracted by the new surroundings and probably needing to learn to lunge to Lisa’s commands ( or Lisa learning my ones!)

More to come - I am going back in September for a couple of weeks, hopefully they will have made some progress on her training, she will have settled more and I might actually get to ride her…. watch this space.

Sunday 21st August

It felt really odd not having to go and see to her at the yard!

Sarah riding her this afternoon thanks to Lisa for the photo

Lots of people have asked why I have done this - all I can say is watch the following promotional video of Il Paretaio - the reality is even more magical than the film - Scully & I are very lucky to be a small part of it

and this one from way back in 2006 - less polished but gives a really good sense of how they work especially with children.

Scully’s new fly rug - now we have two zebras in the field….

Il Paretaio 2015

It was touch and go as to whether we took the van or the MG down to Italy this year – in the end I did manage to get the MG road legal in time, but with a half painted door, a suspected water leak and the fact I had an engine to pick up in Zurich dictated that the trusty van was loaded up and we headed south.

Our first stop was in Thionville on the France / Luxembourg borders, a nice hotel overlooking the River Moselle and an excellent meal in a typical French Bistro.I can highly recommend Les Sommeliers, 23 Place de la République.

The town is built round a number of squares, it has a really nice vibrant feel to it and a surfeit of hairdressers! Outside one of them was this interesting steed ….

The next day we headed south and east into Germany – the wide French motorway suddenly became a German country road – very odd! I am not a fan of German motorways and the trip this time made me even less so – frequent roadworks with an 80kph limit followed by stretches of unrestricted road with BMWs & Porsches doing well over the ton are not good for the nerves!

I was pleased to get into Austria where the speed limit is quite modest but the traffic flows easily – we stayed in the Aldranser Hof overlooking Innsbruck

and were joined for dinner that evening by Birgit and Kathrin (with us last year at Il Paretaio) and we had a nice chat and a few laughs over typical Austrian food & wine.

Saturday morning saw us heading south again

as we crossed the Italian border and got on the south side of the mountains the sky cleared and it got quite warm. Apart from the overcrowded and rather uninspiring Italian motorway services the trip to Il Paretaio went smoothly and it really felt like home as we bumped down the lane to the gates – several guesses at the code were required before we parked up and went in search of friendly faces.

We found that Wendy & Claire had arrived and had ordered a late lunch so we joined them – it was great to be back again. The usual first night aperitif with Gianni & Cristina introduced us to the other guests and welcomed us back into that special family of people that return time and time again.

Tone & Susanne were due in later and they finally arrived part way through dinner that evening having driven up from Rome.

After the usual volume of good food and Chianti we climbed up to the tower room ( our favourite ) for a good night's sleep in preparation for the next day's main event – the horses!

Poor Ivoire was “hors de combat” having gone off with his mate Espoire for a bit of an adventure out of the paddock – returning somewhat lame, Cristina seemed worried about him as she has never seen a lame Merens horse before - fingers crossed he will get better but we were not to resume our love / hate relationship this year!

Instead I got Toupe for my first session, another Merens but smaller and much choppier to ride than Ivoire – sadly I just didn't feel secure on him and when he threw himself into canter I needed to grab loads of mane and go light seat to just stay on board. Later on Claire also rode him and said she was with me about him.

So …. Fiona for next session (well I had made it pretty clear to Cristina the previous evening that I liked riding Fiona), Natalie looked after us but still ensured that I found that those adductor muscles in my legs were in need of a bit of strengthening – I had said I thought my canter seat needed work but Natalie said my seat was OK – it was those pesky muscles that needed work….

Fiona is not a young horse and isn't overworked, so instead of Toupe I got Usignol (Uzi) another Merens – he was much nicer to ride but is quite a nervous horse and when nervous he poos a lot – three times in the first session with him! Later on in the week he didn't poo in the school at all so clearly I had stopped scaring the shit out of him 8-)

My best work was definitely with Fiona and later in the week Pietro had us working without stirrups, doing exercises aimed at building up the impulsion, doing quickfire gait changes and a fair bit of cantering. I was also able to get her working round in a nice outline without her getting too heavy in my hands.

Both Natalie & Pietro left us to warm up the horses in our own way and then asked afterwards what our strategy had been – I liked that approach, fortunately I DID have a plan for each of the horses and got a nod of approval 8-)

By Friday I really felt much more confident and able – even to the point of starting to be able to help Fiona balance herself in canter turns – I was no longer a passenger hanging on in there for dear life – we even tried doing half passes, boy they are difficult, the whole concept seems to be the reverse of what I expected and would naturally do to keep the horse parallel to the fence while travelling sideways (in the opposite direction to leg yielding but with the same bend) – as soon as I did what Natalie asked, Fiona turned onto a circle – the only way I could keep her straight was to hold her shoulders over by moving the reins over to the “wrong” side! I suspect my outside leg needs to be stronger to move her quarters over at the same rate as her shoulders move but that needs a bit of practice – next year perhaps.

A last cuddle with Fiona ( courtesy of Wendy who snapped this without me noticing! )

On the social side we had many chats over dinner in the evening and on the benches by the school, all very friendly and sometimes quite hilarious – much conjecture took place over what Gianni meant by “oooo laaa” - could it be a shortened “oo la la” or “noola” - Susanne spent much time going “oooo laaa” at most things until eventually she asked Gianni what he meant by it – the answer was “good”.

The days flew by even though I had an extra session and all too soon it was time to say goodbye to the people and to the horses. On Saturday morning Fiona was too busy with her nose in the hay to come for a picture, Uzi was out in the paddocks somewhere but good old Ivoire stuck his nose out of the stable window for a cuddle.

Then it was back northwards via Switzerland

we stayed in Zug, just south of Zurich on the Saturday night and on Sunday morning we made the short trip into Zurich where we picked up the engine to come back for repair. This of course meant unloading all the luggage and cases of wine so I could get the engine up at the front of the load area before reloading it all again.

Then on up to Charleville Mezieres where we stayed at an old favourite hotel with a good restaurant – sadly closed on a Sunday! So a trip into the local town for dinner in a nice Creperie.

Finally, lunch in Arras and a visit to the Canadian Vimy ridge memorial in the afternoon

and the last haul up to the tunnel and home by 10 pm

Sunset at Il Paretaio, the end of another perfect day 😀

Scully & I in the menage at home - some rare warm sunshine.

Scully always likes the grass on the other side of the fence...

How come she always finds mud to roll in even when there is lots of grass?

OK Dad, have we finished??

lol - I wish she wouldn't do this while I am aboard!

How horses keep warm.

With acknowledgement to Paard Natuurlijk

It takes more than a shaggy coat to keep your horse warm in winter. A thick, blocky body retains heat for long periods, a massive digestive tract processes a mostly fibrous diet to generate large amounts of heat, lightly muscled legs require less blood circulation and thus lose less heat, long nasal passages warm cold outside air before it reaches the lungs.

During a ferocious winter a few years ago, three friends were stranded on a farm in the mountains. For two long weeks, snow fell and drifted nearly 10 feet high, while wind rammed against the doors of the farmhouse and hissed under the window frames.

Fearing frostbite or worse, the friends spent most of each day huddled around the fireplace, subsisting on Spam, cocoa and Monopoly. When they did venture out, icy air seared their lungs and left their fingers, toes, ears and noses throbbing. The cold sank in so quickly that they barely had time to check on the horses in the run-in shed before their teeth began to chatter.

One day, their frigid foray up the hill found the shed empty. Shrinking a little deeper into their coats, the friends slogged off into the hills to find the horses. They crested a rise above a remote, windwhipped pasture and stood amazed at what they saw: Far from the shelter of their shed, the horses were trotting along paths in the snow, bucking and playing as if it were the first day of spring. Even the ancient Shetland mare appeared absolutely blissful, snug in a winter coat that puffed out like a dandelion going to seed. The horses were not simply tolerating the cold - they were reveling in it.

You'd think that, in a test of horse and human against the winter elements, our species - armed with its dazzling array of high-tech fabrics and insulators - must easily prevail. Not so. Any horse owner who's ever pulled on some of that space-age winterwear and trudged out to the pasture on a January day knows who's ahead in the fight to stay warm outdoors. We humans may pride ourselves on being able to survive under all sorts of conditions anywhere on the globe, but we have invented nothing to match the efficient ingenious cold-beating mechanisms of Equus caballus. How does the horse do it? It all boils down to the three A's: adaptation, acclimation and acclimatization. Here's how they work.

Adaptation: crafted for cold.

All warm-blooded creatures can tolerate a broad range of temperatures, but each species has a natural comfort zone that reflects the climate in which it evolved. Biologists call this the ‘energy-neutral range', meaning that within those limits - assuming dry, windless weather conditions - the animal need expend no extra energy to maintain normal body temperature.

Because our ancestors arose in central Africa, where natural selection favored those best suited to warm temperatures, our energy-neutral range is about 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Horses, on the other hand, evolved in elevated, northerly climes, where extreme cold presented an entirely different set of survival challenges. Their energy-neutral range is about 15 to 60 degrees. No wonder your horse relishes weather that seems frigid to you. The human body is built to dissipate heat, while the horse is constructed to produce and maintain it. It's all a matter of physical adaptation.

Several bodily adaptations allow the horse to 'run hot' in cold environments. First, there's his massive digestive tract, which prodesses a mostly fibrous diet and generates a huge amount of heat (far more than the human digestive process produces). In addition, the horse - like moose, elk and other large, cold-adapted ungulates - has a comparatively thick, blocky body that retains heat for a long period. (Think of the hot baked potatoes mothers once slipped into their children's coat pockets to keep them warm. The human frame is slender, more like a quick-cooling french fry than a whole potato).

Even the extremities of the horse are marvelously adapted for cold. Because his legs have proportionally less muscle than ours, the cells in his legs require less blood circulation for maintenance and consequently lose less heat. This lower metabolic need also means that a horse's legs have no problem with the reduced cellular activity brought on by cold. While our toes are among the first appendages to succomb to frostbite, adult horses almost never get frozen feet.

Consider also the blunt equine muzzle, so richly supplied with blood that it can whitstand bitter cold without freezing. (By contrast, the angular human nose is all too vulnerable to frostbite). And then there are the horse's long nasal passages, where equally blood-rich bone spiral called turbinates warm the frigid air before it can reach the lungs and potentially cool the body core. Our own noses are designed more to filter air than to warm it.

Acclimation: on the spot cure for chill

Obviously, your horse is much better equipped to deal with cold than you are. But that doesn't mean he's completely impervious to winter weather. Several heat-robbing factors can act against him when the mercury drops.

Any of these factors can rob your horse of body heat, leaving him in danger of hypothermia (subnormal temperature of the body). Of course, he's got his own solutions for cold: using his rump as a wind block, huddling with other horses to conserve heat, seeking shelter or running to boost his metabolism.

But if these behavioural responses fail, he is also equipped with emergency heat-generating mechanisms, called acclimation responses, to cope with the threat.

Acclimation responses work at two levels: at the surface of the body and at the core. Imagine, for example, that an icy wind begins to blow across the pasture. Your horse hunkers down with his back to the blast, but before long he is losing heat faster than his body can generate it. That's when the acclimation responses kick in.

Blood vessels in the skin constrict, and hair shafts stand on end (piloerection). After a while, the wind grows stronger, and he begins to shiver. All of these mechanisms serve to raise your horse's body temperature. The extent of the response is dependent on the intensity, duration and location of the chilly stimulus. A brief blast of wind may result in only a quick surface heating response, but if the cold persists, acclimation mechanisms in the core of his body swing into action, boosting your horse's metabolic rate and thus his body temperature.

Both levels of acclimation response operate through a complex, interactive system of feedback loops that connect the brain, the central nervous system and the adrenal glands. When body temperature falls, cold-sensing nerve cells throughout the horse's body fire warnings to one or more central heat-regulating hubs in the spinal cord and brain. (Colder than normal passing blood flow may also trigger nerve-cell 'thermostats' within the thermoregulatory centers themselves).

The chief command center for thermoregulation is thought to be the hypothalamus, a small but life-critical structure deep in the base of the brain, although the spinal cord or another region of the brain geared to react to falling temperatures may also be involved.

After comparing incoming temperature information to the body's energy-neutral range, the command centers issue order, by either electrical or chemical means, to begin emergency heating efforts:
- Shivering.
When the body perceives a serious drop in temperature, the central nervous system commands motor neurons in each major muscle group to set off a single, vigorous contraction. But almost instantaneously, tension-sensing proprioceptive nerves perceive the muscle as too tense and fire a command to halt the contraction. As the muscle relaxes, the proprioceptive nerves stop firing, allowing the muscle to contract again.
This rapid-fire tensing and relaxing of heavy muscle groups - the phenomenon we call shivering - quickly sends metabolism soaring. The cycle occurs incredibly fast; a shivering muscle may contract 10 to 20 times per second.
With their enormous blocks of muscle, horses are superb shiverers; they appear to shiver more comfortably and readily than do humans. And since nearly all the muscle action is converted to heat, shivering is a highly effective heating device (in man, it is believe to increase metabolic rate eightfold). But the warming comes at a huge cost to energy stores, so it is only a short-term remedy.
- Countercurrent heat exchange.
The uppermost layers of a horse's skin are suffused with veins that normally circulate the blood close to the outer air before returning it to the lungs. In hot weather, the resulting heat radiation is desirable, but under frigid conditions, the heat loss could be dangerous. To minimize surface radiation in the cold, the horse's venous blood takes a detour. Orders from the thermoregulatory centers blood block flow into veins close to the cool skin surface and reroute it into vessels called venae comitantes, which run deep under the skin, right next to arteries. The result: blood returning to the heart and lungs is warmed by the outgoing (countercurrent) arteries, preventing cold blood from penetrating the body core.
- Piloerection.
Triggered by contraction of the smooth muscle attached to the lowest point of each hair follicle, the haircoat straightens up so it 'stands on end'. This creates a larger insulating pocket of air between the skin surface and the cold cruel world.
- Circulation shunts.
Protection of extremities is another strategy by which the horse fends off cold temperatures. For example, although the horse's body lacks a mechanism for increasing blood flow to the feet, it has developed a system to prevent them from freezing.
What little warming blood flow reaches the foot is normally diffused (and thereby cooled) in the capillaries that serve the foot cell's limited metabolic needs. When the body's thermoregulators get a message that the feet are too cold, direct shunts open up in the feet so that blood flows from the smallest arteries directly into larger veins, called venules, without passing through the capillaries. After the feet have warmed sufficiently, the shunts close again to restore nutritive capillary flow. Shunts are also used in the tail and ears. Another means of warming critical exposed areas, such as the muzzle, is to open more subsurface blood vessels to compensate for surface losses.
Stallions have an additional vulnerable 'extremity', the scrotum. Normally exposed so it can maintain a slightly lower operating temperature for optimum fertility, this nearly hairless organ is protected against winter weather by a muscle called the dartos, which 'puckers' the scrotum up against the body under cold conditions.
- Heightened metabolism.
As cold continues to stress the body, the thermoregulatory centers turn their attention to generating more internal heat, sending out messages to the adrenal glands to boost core metabolism.
Nerve impulses signal the adrenal medulla to release epinephrine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that raise blood pressure and heart rate and increase metabolism by stimulating the release of free fatty acids and the breakdown of glycogen. At the same time, the hypothalamus spurs its adjudant, the pituitary gland, into action, ordering the release of large amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream.
Arriving in the adrenal cortex, ACTH triggers the production of cortisol, a steroid that increases the body's heatgenerating metabolism of fat, carbohydrates and protein. The result: a warmer, happier horse.

Acclimatization: gearing up for winter
Short-term measures can warm a horse through a cold snap, but because many acclimation responses - especially the rapid increases in metabolism - tend to drain energy stores, they can't be sustained for a whole season. To avoid exhausting himself in an effort to keep warm, the horse needs an energy-efficient means of generating and retaining heat over long periods of time. At the same time, whatever process prepares him to whitstand colds has to be reversible when the warm weather returns. Fortunately, there is such a mechanism of seasonal adjustment to temperature change: it's called acclimatization.

The horse's acclimatization for cold actually begins long before winter. Just after the summer solstice (around June 22), receptor's in the horse's eyes - and possibly elsewhere in the body - detect the incremental shortening of daylight and relay the information to the pineal body, a primordial organ in the brain. (Even blind horses experience acclimatization changes, suggesting that other receptor points may be modulated through the pineal body).
These subtle hints of coming winter trigger the release of hormones that shift the haircoat from its resting phase into a growing phase. Inside the follicles that house the horse's thin, short summer hairs, thick, long winter hairs begin to grow, pushing the summer hairs ahead of them. If you look closely at your horse, you can see them peeking out in late August. By late September or early October, the winter hairs begin to evict the copious summer hairs from the follicles. The result is shedding.
During the autumn, ambient (surrounding air) temperature determines how long and thick the horse's winter haircoat grows. If he is exposed only to warm air - as occurs in southern climes, or when he is blanketed or kept continuously in a warm barn - his winter coat will grow in only slightly heavier than his summer coat. On the other hand, if he's exposed to extreme cold during this time, his coat will be correspondingly thick and long.

Ambient temperature continues to influence the weight of the coat until the winter solstice (around December 22), after which date the lengthening daylight hours trigger the first summer hairs to begin growing in the follicle, and the winter pelt can no longer adjust to climate changes.
Your horse's winter coat puts your best winterwear to shame. Its longe, dense, fine 'pile' is interspersed with longer, bristle-like 'guard' hairs that prop up his fur, creating loft within a thick layer of body-warmed, still air next to his skin and greatly reducing cooling from radiation, convection and conduction. The downward tilt of his hairs deflects falling raindrops and snowflakes before they reach the skin - where they would otherwise conduct huge amounts of heat from the body - and directs them to the hair tips, from which they fall harmlessly to the ground. That's why your horse's skin often remains dry even in moderate rain or heavy snowfall.
And, finally, the thick haircoat makes an excellent windbreaker.

As the temperature drops, the horse's appetite (and hence his caloric consumption) increases, boosting heat-generating digestion and metabolism.
Mother Nature helps the progress along by ensuring that the grazing horse puts on a few pounds in the autumn. Among feral horses, this weight gain comes primarily from increased consumption of dry matter as grass dries out, but it may be boosted by the serendipitous discovery of such fattening goodies as wild rye and wild oats, which go to seed as winter approaches. The extra fat layer requires little energy to sustain, has few heat-radiating cappilaries within it and insulates well.
On the cellular level, heat-generating metabolism is also nudged up for the winter, though in a far less dramatic and taxing manner than occurs with the short-term metabolic changes of acclimation. As cold sets in for the long term, the hypothalamus signals the pituitary to release thyrotropin or thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Reaching the thyroid gland in the neck, TSH triggers the release of thyroid hormones that slowly boost metabolism for the long haul.
The impact of all these changes is a marvel of thermoregulation. Efficiently generating more heat while increasing his layers of insulation, the acclimatized horse has greatly improved his ability to tolerate cold. It will take a really severe cold spell to force him to resort to fuelburning, emergency warming responses like shivering. The acclimatized horse is so ideally suited to the frozen tundra that - given food, unfrozen water and minimal shelter - he can thrive in temperatures as low as minus 40.

Brave the outdoors on a frigid day, and, as you flap your arms and stomp your feet in a silly-looking effort to keep warm, you may question your decision to leave your horse in the elements. You needn't worry. Your horse is a cold-weather marvel, whose aptitude for staying cozy in breath-stopping temperatures far outstrips your own. Thanks to a collection of heatgenerating and insulating mechanisms, he'll be just fine.
You, on the other hand, should probably get back inside.


After going downhill rapidly over the last month, Bono was put to sleep at 1pm today, Friday 9th January 2015.

He was 12 and had a massive growth round his spleen and would have likely not lasted another day or two at the most.

Forever in our hearts, run free sweet boy.

Il Paretaio 2014

Diary of my third visit to glorious Tuscany over the last two years - just love the place!

Thursday 18th

The heavily laden van sets off on it's way south once again carrying 2 engines for Switzerland, our luggage and my riding gear. First stop is in Villiers-Semeuse at a rather nice little Ibis hotel where we had a good regional meal.

Friday 19th

Off to Zurich where we unloaded the engines at my customer's house before he took us out for a very nice fondu meal up in the mountains above the city - it looks very pretty at night with the lights reflected in the lake.

Saturday 20th

Down through Switzerland and into Italy arriving at Il Paretaio late afternoon to be greeted by Georgia. We had booked the tower room again this year and were soon settled in and feeling at home.

Sunday 21st

First lesson on Marcoz this morning, mostly in rising trot - my legs ache now, still, I did finally get him to canter - it took the whole week last time!

This afternoon I had Ivoire - he is shorter in both directions than Marcoz - he also has a habit of running your outside leg into the rail - so after just half the 50 minute lesson we do canter, whip on outside hand on his shoulder to steer him off the rail and motor biking round the corners like an out of control tank! My legs have recovered from this morning and still OK now.

Monday 22nd

Erm… Ivoire again! At 8 am ( that's 7 UK time) He was sound asleep and only made it into a decent trot when I asked him for canter - Pietro insisted I use spurs, I can't say I was very pleased at the idea!…. Totally wiped out now … so going into Barbarino this morning to order some olive oil to bring home.

Lesson number 4 and it's Ivoire again but now we start to understand each other and I get some good work out of him - maybe the spurs are a good idea as he seems more responsive, the trot is faster and the leg yield is more controllable - he even stops trying to wipe my outside leg on the rail!

Tuesday 23rd

Lesson 5 and guess what - Ivoire again … I asked to work on walk trot and the trot canter transitions with him so we did lots of them and once he had warmed up he was OK on the right rein but wouldn't canter on the left, so Pietro (RI) climbed on him and had to work hard to get Ivoire to canter on that rein too! Afterwards I got him cantering OK and the last canter I was told to trot after the corner but said NO I am enjoying the canter too much! OK oops

Lesson 6 - no Ivoire, I get Marcoz instead, bit sad really because I felt we were getting somewhere with him but Marcoz is good and had a reasonable lesson on him. Mostly slow / fast walk and leg yielding in walk and trot.

Wednesday 24th

Now half way through our holiday 8-(

This morning for lesson 7 I got Fiona, a mare at last!

She was delightful, forward going and light to ride, after about ten minutes she softened and worked round, so different from the boys!

The lady I was riding with didn't want to canter so I got lots of time to practice with Fiona and got it down to a pretty instant strike off - one happy chappy here.

Following on from this morning's success, I asked for Ivoire this afternoon and refused the spurs, Pietro says “I give you ONE chance” - I was determined that he would go for me so I did my usual warm up exercises of walk halt at the letters then riding squares to get him listening instead of their normal walk round the school. This paid off and he was more forward and we had some really nice trots and leg yields before asking for canter - got it first time too!!!

Thursday 25th

Thursday morning already and lesson 9 - 08.20 on my own with Fiona and Pietro - more freedom to work with the horse and do my favourite warm up exercises then lots of steady trotting on 20 metre circles followed by some more work on refining the canter transitions, they are getting lighter and more consistent, still some way to go, but good progress.

Then off to Barberino to collect our olive oil and some wine, followed by a trip to a local market for some Parmesan, then to Certaldo to sit in the square and eat ice cream - bliss!!!

OMG - just learnt that my next lesson is at 6pm on Fiona again (good) with Gianni ( the owner) - not sure if this is good or not, I will so have to do everything perfectly for him! It actually went very well, Fiona did what I asked, when I asked - Gianni said I had a good connection with the horse, so I was pretty pleased with that.

Friday 26th

Lesson 11 - Fiona & I were pretty well foot perfect, no cantering today but I felt that I have managed to improve lots of little things and my riding is lighter, more accurate and consistent - still lots of work to do, especially on my canter seat, but that will come.

Last year I took part in the Friday afternoon ride to music - but this year I opted to have a last lesson with Pietro and Ivoire to learn how to do the walk to canter transitions I had watched others doing during the week. After a few abortive attempts I got it to claps & cheers from the audience! Ivoire was full of energy, so much so that after each transition and a canter on the short side of the school, getting him back to trot and then to walk in time for the next canter in the corner was proving difficult - he just wanted to keep cantering!

Then it was my turn to relax and watch the others learning and doing their ride to music - the frivolity soon turned into deadly concentration as they realised that it was more difficult than they had anticipated but they made a jolly good job of it, even if they couldn't count to five….

Saturday 27th

Packed up and on our way north via Pisa to see the tower and on to Turin where we stayed in a 4* hotel we knew from previous visits

Sunday 28th

Back into France and a stay in a lovely little medieval village called Beze just north of Dijon - nice meal but the hotel itself was cramped and expensive!

Monday 29th

Last leg up to Coquelles and the tunnel - stopped for lunch at a place we know in Laon, the first Pizza of the holiday! Home at 10.30pm - 2150 miles after setting out the previous week

The Essex NR meet 15th Dec 2007

6 of us met up for a hack on farmland and a pub meal after.

My steed was a cob called Bob - supposedly a slowcoach according to the RI at the school.

On mounting, I found one stirrup really short, the other long and the girth loose - the tack had seen better days, but I had fewer problems than some of the other riders who had girths far too long and even tack incorrectly fitted!

We had 30 mins of faffing around sorting out girths etc. in the manege which was a foot deep in soggy sand/mud (we were supposed to be assessed for riding ability) during which time I only managed to get Bob to go sideways or turn on his forehand - no way was he going to walk onto the track except to get out the gate.

Eventually I was asked to take Bob up to the gate onto the road (my “assessment” seemed to be that I hadn't fallen off a stationary horse!!) and the escort ( who was “leading” from the back) told me to turn left out of the gate - hey, I was leading the ride down a strange road, on a strange horse! From the back I caught the words “hole” “hedge” “right” & “dry track”, so I turned right through the next hole in the hedge and onto a track pretending to be anything but dry!!

We walked along these muddy, puddled tracks for a while until we came to a nice flat, wide, firm grassy track, so I nudged Bob into trot - he was far from slow and was trotting along nicely with the others following until that faint voice at the back said “walk” just as I was thinking canter! The escort then decided to come up front where she explained that she couldn't risk a trot just here in the open as she hadn't had this many horses on a ride before and some of them had not been used on hacks so she didn't know how they would behave!

We finally turned onto a narrow field edge with overhanging trees and she said we could trot - in my view not as suitable as the first track but we went for it - all was fine except one of the horses only went walk to canter! At the end of this track as we slowed to walk, one horse kicked the one behind and the ride was ended to take the injured horse back. At this point another horse didn't want to go back and started spinning and bucking, eventually the rider dismounted to be safe. Another horse proved to be lame on a front leg when asked to trot. The escort's horse also played up - so out of seven horses only 3 behaved themselves.

Bob was one of the good ones - he did what I asked, when I asked and we snuck in a few little trots which he just loved!

When we got back to the manege we were told we could have a canter in there - Bob was having none of that and immediately went back to playing statues! I guess he has had a bad experience in the manege at some time and the RI telling me that she didn't mind how hard I whipped him to get him to move tends to suggest that he suffers in there!

After some considerable discussion with the yard owner we demanded and got our money back.

Brenfield 2009

Brenfield – Argyll riding holiday 2009

Last year I arranged for my cousin & I to ride at Cumbrian Heavy Horses, this year it was Jenny's turn to organise and she choose Brenfield.

see their website at

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Tuesday 26th May

We set of on foot from the B&B just up the coast from Brenfield in the morning, as the coast road is dangerous for pedestrians we decided to make our way along the forest tracks above the B&B – this started with a climb up the 39 steps of John Buchan fame and liberal use of the sat nav on my phone to keep us pointed in the right direction, though my cousin wasn't convinced of its reliability to start with! We passed some very impressive highland cattle on the way

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Having found the stables and introduced ourselves we made of back to the B&B with the intention of grabbing some lunch before riding in the afternoon – on the way back the heavens opened and we were glad of our waterproofs – the poor family that passed us dressed in T shirts must have got soaked through!

After a light snack taken by the Loch side we drove back to the stables where we met our horses and our ride guide, Ronnie. She was working at Brenfield for just a while on a sort of vacation from the US. I rode Hamish, a 16.2 / 16.3 hand 15 yr old gelding warmblood/ID cross – he turned out to be very like my own horse, Scully, and I felt instantly at home! Gelded late in life, he came to Brenfield with problems as he still thought he was a stallion, he is now a very nice, well behaved and responsive horse. I was able to ride with my legs off his sides and just the lightest nudge sent him forward. Such a pleasure compared with Scully! Ronnie rode Ask (one of the owner's horses)

We set off for what was to be just a gentle 2 hour walk & trot introduction to the horses and the scenery which actually lasted over 2 & half hours.

Wednesday 27th

The picnic ride, I rode Hamish, Jenny rode Bragi & Ronnie was on Ask again.

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Above – Bragi, below Ronnie on Ask leads Jenny on Bragi, while Hamish & I toodle along behind!

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We opted to ride longer before lunch rather than after and had a lovely time exploring the forest tracks with their glimpses of the loch in the distance and plenty of opportunities for a nice trot and later we did just a little canter up a slope, very naughty! Ronnie warned us that we would be coming down these tracks a lot faster on the Thursday! We explored the reservoir as a likely picnic spot but decided on a patch of grass we had passed earlier – it was a bit boggy but the horses were tied to the trees and we had lunch, remounting afterwards was by courtesy of some raised manhole covers. Hamish was fine, each junction on the track he would look up the different paths, as if to say “can we go this way please?” He wasn't so keen on crossing bridges with water running underneath if it was noisy – he trotted over very smartly!

Thursday 28th

The day of the beach gallop!

I was still a bit unsure about galloping after last year's unscheduled dismount from Ollie the Clydesdale at full gallop!

The ride was led by Tove (the owner of Brenfield) riding Bragi with Ronnie acting as tail guard. Jenny got Sean, an Eskdale pony – Tove said “If your small enough to ride a pony, take advantage of it”. I was on Hamish.

We were joined by 3 others – a lady reporter and a gastro pub chef and his partner, so seven horses & riders set off along our now fairly well known tracks above the Loch

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Well, as predicted by Ronnie, we certainly moved a lot faster, every straight (ish) section of track was taken at canter and we were soon back at the place we had picnicked at the day before where we dismounted to give the horses a rest - I used the raised manhole covers to remount and walked on to let the next person use them - got told to stand still by Tove ‘cos our reporter lady was bouncing about trying to mount from the soggy ground!

A few canters later we were having a “wee” stop - Tove has trained the horses to wee by whistling to them - I was at the back with the Ronnie and she said she wondered what other people in the area thought was going on! I said that if they were birdwatchers they could add another to their list - the “Lesser Spotted Tove” – we both laughed.

Eventually we were above the town of Lochgilphead and crossing the canal – Bragi wouldn't go over the wooden canal bridge, played up horrendously and Tove had to ride backwards over the bridge fighting every inch of the way!

All present and correct and briefed by Tove on pain of death to stay to her left on the sands we set off across the road and into the stream running into the Loch

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along the stream until we got to the sand

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and as soon as Bragi hit the sand we were off!

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Well not much to Tove's left, more in her hoof tracks!

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Eventually we ran out of sand and cantered into the sea

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and after a short walk to let the horses recover a bit, we were off again at trot through the water

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then back to walk as the water deepened – at this point our reporter lady's horse decided to have a roll! She was dumped in the sea up to her neck – and she was the only one not to have brought a change of clothes as suggested!

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Jenny's pony just about had long enough legs to keep her feet out of the water

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the horses (and our reporter) waded to shore and climbed out onto the road and set of for the pub at a smart trot – notice the horses' legs and feathers are wonderfully clean & bright compared with the picture of when we set off!

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in the pub car park, fed and watered while we were likewise inside!

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The return journey to Brenfield was almost as exciting as we went round the back of the pub and worked our way up some fairly steep roads until we found ourselves at the bottom of a fairly long flight of steps up the hillside – the first time I have ridden a horse up steps! More flat out canters along the muddy tracks returned the horses' legs to their previous state and us to the stables.

Another memorable horsey holiday over all too soon

Cumbrian Heavy Horses - May 2008

An account of my rides with them on 21-23 May 2008.

I met up with my cousin Jenny who lives in Edinburgh - the only other person in the family who currently rides in the UK - I organized this 3 day event as something different and memorable to do. While Jenny & I were riding, our other halves amused themselves walking and taking in the scenery!

Before the event I arrived in Cumbria a day earlier than Jenny and took the opportunity to visit the stables and meet the staff and horses.

Including meeting up with the two newest members of the herd - Skye - just 2 weeks old

and Orion - only 6 days old

Day one - the pub ride.The day started off by meeting our horses - I was to ride Alfie and Jenny was on Hamish

our ride leader for the three days was Robin who was riding Tom.

The day started off by checking our hats complied with safety standards and getting us some Hi Viz - then mounting the horses using the tallest mounting block I have seen, our first task was to take them to the water trough for a drink. Our first stretch out of the yard was along the main road, so we had an “escort” in the shape of one of the staff driving a Volvo estate along behind us as we walked and trotted a mile or so in single file until we were able to turn off on to quieter back roads.

Once free of traffic we we able to ride abreast - conversation was only possible close to as the sound of 12 dinner plate sized horseshoes hitting the tarmac was quite deafening. The roads gave way to fields as we threaded our way across the fells, Robin hopping on and off to open and shut gates as we passed. Then came the first lesson in riding up & down hills - to keep our balance and help the horses we had to stand forward in the stirrups as we climbed and sit back and brace the stirrups forward as the horses worked their way down. This soon became a test of endurance!

On one of the downhill stretches I had the first adventure of the day - Robin's horse found a boggy area and a couple of legs sank in but he recovered well but Alfie managed to get all four legs in the mire and as he sank, I stepped off! He took a little while to sort his legs out and regain firm ground but, apart from puffing an bit, he was fine - I was impressed, he didn't panic or stress. Finding a convenient rock, I hopped back on and we continued our way to the pub for lunch.

Adventure number two was not long coming - we were on a narrow track on the side of a hill with a field of sheep below us. A blue water pipe lay across the track which Robin's horse simply walked over - Alfie had other ideas! he spun 180 degrees and ended up facing Jenny & Hamish behind - they passed us and crossed the pipe without drama, so I spun Alfie round and squeezed him on. Well, he went from “OMG what is that” to canter in a blink and charged past the other two horses waiting on the other side, bouncing off their sides!Lunch was uneventful and a much welcomed respite for our seat bones and leg muscles - the ploughman's lunch was more than adequate and the horses got a rest, tied up in the pub car park

Back in the saddle, courtesy of another rock in the car park,

we set off again along quiet roads and fields, up and down hills until adventure three arrived! As we went through a small gate onto a narrow track we had to climb up a bank to avoid a tree and then down again and then work our way round a second tree with a low branch - the other two in front made it fine, but Alfie saw no reason to go round the tree, so I ended up with his head and shoulders under the branch which was now across the saddle - firm aids and “Back up” saw him move a little and Robin placed his horse to block Alfie from going forward - another really firm “Back up” had him out from under the branch but he spun 180 degrees to face the way we had come (seems to be his tactic in these situations) so I turned him back and persuaded him to go the more rider friendly route round the tree.

Our route continued along quiet roads until we had to turn right onto the main road just before some traffic lights controlling traffic round some narrow bends. I was impressed how Robin handled this potentially fraught situation - he waited until all the traffic had gone through the lights and the road was clear and the lights had just changed to red so he knew there was nothing coming the other way. Then we walked across the road and stopped line abreast at the lights - no way was anything getting past 3 Clydesdales! When the lights changed we trotted smartly in line astern round the bends with the traffic behind us until the road widened and they were able to go past.

Some of the fields - especially the freshly cut silage fields near the yard provided several opportunities to have a canter and these horses went from stand or walk straight into canter and a lovely smooth one it was. The grin factor was enormous.At the end of the day we had been in the saddle for around 6 ½ hours and my seat bones certainly knew all about it. The horses got a wash down and the biggest bucket of feed, Alfie has to have his bucket tied to the wall or he gets his foot in it and walks around wondering why the bucket moves every time he does… well he is only 5!

Day two - Black Combe

We were joined this day by Tiffany - an american girl who has only ridden for 8 months and only cantered in the last couple of weeks!I got Ollie today, Jenny was on Sparky, Tiffany rode Gypsy and Robin rode Major (Annie says he is THE fastest Clydesdale she has EVER ridden both for acceleration and top end! he won the Marymass Open Clydesdale Race at Irvine - the significance of this will become clear later)

First we gave the horses the mandatory drink in the trough and Ollie blew bubbles and had a fine time! then we set off into one of the fields near the yard to warm us & the horses up - we had to ride down to a tree, turn and ride back at trot or canter. I went first and couldn't keep Ollie in a straight line and then he wouldn't canter for me - the others did fine. I had another go and Ollie cantered for me OK but the steering was still all over the place - Robin explained that Ollie was only 4 and tended to lean on the bit so using pressure & release was the way to go.

Again there were opportunities for us to canter in the stubble fields before we set off up the mountain and another water stop, more bubble blowing! - here we are giving the horses a rest on the way up, turning them so they could stand level. Tiffany on Gypsy closest to the camera, then Jenny on Sparky and Robin on Major.

Shortly after this stop, Major threw his near hind shoe and Robin had to walk back for it - at £90 a set they are not abandoned lightly! The next water stop was in a stream and Ollie decided to stamp and splash about this time. Spectacular views as we climbed included some pretty scary ones too - the path passed quite close to sheer drops, good job the horse didn't suffer from vertigo! Lunch was taken at the summit, we huddled down behind the cairn but the horses had to stand while we held them. Fortunately Ollie wasn't interested in cheese & pickle sandwiches.

The first call after lunch was to a shallow lake to let the horses drink - Ollie just had to charge about and stir up the mud!Shortly after this Ollie started twitching and swishing his tail, ears flat back. Robin could see nothing wrong but the last thing I wanted was for him to bolt off downhill! After a short while he settled down and Robin thought it might have been a trapped nerve in his back which cleared itself.Ollie and I were on a mission, Ollie strode out and we were soon some distance ahead of the others so I circled him a few times to allow them to catch up - Robin said I made Ollie look good -that boosted my ego no end!Eventually we reached White Combe and a short canter took us up to the precipice!

The path down led us across a shallow ravine - Ollie found his own way over - totally ignoring the path! Then along a narrow path with a sheer rock face on our right and a sheer drop on the left - I was REALLY glad I had sorted out Ollie's steering by this stage - they will walk on the very edge if you let them!

Eventually back on the level and into a stubble field for one last canter of the day, Robin set off some 15 yards or so ahead of Ollie & I, I nudged Ollie and we took off at a fast canter and then he accelerated strongly into full gallop - it must have been over 30 mph. Robin said he couldn't understand why Major was accelerating, and then he saw Ollie coming up on the inside! Well Major was starting to squeeze Ollie towards the fence and I was just thinking about a couple of half halts to slow him down when Ollie spotted the gate and swerved left. Unfortunately I didn't and rolled neatly into the long grass by the fence, still holding the reins. No damage done, I climbed back on, courtesy of the fence, and rode Ollie back to the yard via a stream to wash their feet off - you can guess what Ollie did in the water!

Once off the horse the stiffness in my knees and muscles kicked in - not from the fall but from the 7 or so hours riding up and down steep slopes.Day three - the beach.An early start - the first two horses had already been boxed to the beach when we arrived at 08.30 and we traveled down with the next two.I was riding Hamish today, Jenny was on Max, Tiffany had Lugs, we were joined by another American, Debbie on Branson and Robin rode Dingle, the Ardennes.

Jenny & Max take instruction from Robin on Dingle.

Robin was concerned that we kept the horses calm - Hamish wanted to tank off but a few circles calmed him down, then we tucked in behind Robin to go for a paddle in the sea.Walking gently along the beach we spotted our other halves who had come down to see us - so we went over to say hello.

Photo shoot over, we walked on up the beach and the others took turns at short canters - I decided to keep things slow today after yesterday's excitement. It was Tiffany's turn to have a lairy moment on Lugs as he swerved at the end of a run - two major wobbles but she managed to stay on.Robin took us into the sand dunes where some had open faces the height of a house but we contented ourselves with a slide down a 10 foot one! Debbie was intrigued by the wind turbines and wanted to know what they did - her part of the US is obviously not very “green”!

We returned along the beach as the tide came in and the sand disappeared. Hamish decided that he fancied being ride leader on the journey back along the valley and was forever trying to overtake Dingle - a good thing it turned out as Dingle needed a leader for the scary stuff like the railway crossing. Robin had one or two “interesting” moments as Dingle coped (or failed to cope) with the new experiences ( it was his first time on the beach), Hamish & I just waited patiently for the excitement to die down without getting involved.All too soon we were back at the yard - only 4 hours in the saddle today!As a finale, we entered by the back gate and rode 5 in line abreast across the paddock towards the audience gathered by the gate.

Apples for the horses, thanks to Annie & Robin for making it such a memorable time and goodbyes to our riding partners - will we be back? I don't know, I didn't actually want to leave!

It is Jenny's turn next year to organise our ride out together - but I may come back to ride Clydesdales on the 6 day trail ride or even the coast to coast if they do it!


Fear has in itself no meaning at all - it is a hard wired response to things we perceive as threatening - if we do not perceive something that way then we are not afraid - this can come through ignorance of the danger or education about the threat.

In the same way we can be mis-educated to perceive something as a threat even when it is not, the fear felt is exactly the same.

So the choice is to remain ignorant or get educated - both can increase or decrease the fear felt but at least with correct education the fear will be more appropriate to the situation!

A Soldier's Kiss by Henry Chappell

Only a dying horse! Pull off the gear,
and slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,
drag it aside there, leaving the roadway clear,
the battery thunders on with scarce a pause.

Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies
with quivering limbs, as fast the life-tide fails,
dark films are closing o'er the faithful eyes
that mutely plead for aid where none avails.

Onward the battery rolls, but one speeds
heedless of comrade's voice or bursting shell,
back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds
beside the stony highway where he fell.

Only a dying horse! He swiftly kneels,
lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh;
kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals
sweet pity's tear, “Goodbye old man, goodbye.”

No honours wait him, medal, badge or star
though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold,
he bears within his breast, more precious far
beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.


I find it totally sad that anyone has to use derogatory terms about any other human being, regardless of race, geography, religion or sex. Jokes are pretty lame amusement, jokes at the expense of others just reflects on the teller. Swearing is also just demonstrating the lack of command of a beautiful language. At the end of the day people who engage in these activities are just playing psychological games to make themselves feel superior to others - go find something constructive to do with your time, even if it is just sweeping the street.

Opinions on horses & riders

I only give an opinion if asked for it – otherwise I keep my counsel to myself – I know my horse better than anyone else and vice versa, if I need an opinion I will ask for it and consider what is said with an open mind but ultimately the choice is mine. Over the years I have found people I trust, like Becky Chapman, whose opinions I value and some I am very wary of, especially the evangelists, because they tend in my experience to be narrow minded and dogmatic. At the end of the day if I can keep my horse between me and the ground then she & I are happy, she has no hesitation in telling me if I am doing something she doesn't like and I listen to her!

yeah, yeah, I have heard all the “when's the foal due” jokes - look I just like grass, OK?

Bono having a lazy afternoon

Scully's new headcollar - nicely padded.

Scully giving Archie a spot of attention till she looks under his tummy and shakes her head - “Boys, no self control!”

Top - Bridge of Sighs - Cambridge, UK

Middle - Bridge of Sighs - Venice, Italy

Bottom - Bridge of Sighs - Oxford, UK

which one looks most romantic to you?

Scully having a canter round her new field

Who needs eyelash extensions with peepers like this?

Love this advert

Scully has tea and a quick floss afterwards

Scully is a bit keen to come in tonite!

Scully has first bath of the year!

The lorry comes home to undergo a full restoration - the floor needs rebuilding, the wood needs replacing and the bodywork needs repair. Over the next year or so I will be posting progress …. I think it is going to be a long project! >

Birthday treat, strawberries and champagne 8-)

Horse sculptures in driftwood - how cool is that!

Horse training methods questioned

University researchers have cast doubt on the humanity invovled in the Monty Roberts method of horse training

Aspects of a horse training method made famous by Monty Roberts, author of the ‘The Man Who Listens to Horses', have been called into question by research at the University of Sydney.

The training technique was popularised worldwide by Roberts as the Join-Up method and was used by him to train Queen Elizabeth's horses at her personal request.

But Cath Henshall, a Master of Animal Science candidate in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University isn't convinced it is as horse friendly as popularly believed.

“Two main features of the method, also known as round pen horse training, are that it depends on the human trainer being able to communicate, with the horse using 'horse' body language, and that it is a humane form of training. Our study casts doubt on both those claims,” Ms Henshall said.

“We believe that our research highlights the unpleasant underpinnings of round pen horse training and for that reason we caution against its widespread use because it uses fear to gain control of horses.”

As currently practised the technique relies on the trainer using movement and noise to drive the horse around the perimeter of the pen. The trainer gradually reduces their aggressive movements, after which the horse will eventually slow down and approach them.

The researchers used remote control cars to mimic the technique and to eliminate the assumed essential role of the humans speaking the language of the horse.

“We 'rewarded' the horses for stopping and turning towards the car with a period of 'safety', when the car didn't chase them as long as they kept facing it. We trained some horses to actually walk up to and touch the car,” said Henshall.

“Given that we could train horses to produce similar, though not identical responses to those seen in round pen training, but in reaction to non-human stimuli undermines the claim that the human's ability to mimic horse behaviour is an essential component of the technique.”

The researchers believe that the training outcomes were achieved as a result of 'pressure-release' and not the ability of the trainer, or a remote control car, to mimic horse behaviour.

“Put simply, pressure-release works because the horse finds the pressure applied unpleasant and therefore the removal of the pressure rewarding.

The response the horse makes immediately before the pressure is removed is what the horse thinks made the pressure go away. When put in the same situation in the future, it is likely to perform that same behaviour to obtain the outcome that it values - safety.

"Although neither Monty Roberts' method nor ours uses pressure applied directly to the horse's body, both apply a form of emotional pressure by scaring and then chasing the horse.”

Proponents of Join-Up and similar methods claim not only that they are humane because no equipment is used on the horse's body but also that the horse can choose whether to approach the trainer.

“Our results indicate that because these methods rely on fear and safety, the horse is forced to choose between being repeatedly frightened or remaining with the trainer. We question whether it is humane to rely on fear and its termination to train horses.

"Although it is appealing to think that horses in the round pen choose to follow their trainers because they are responding to us as though we are a horse, we believe that the use of fear has no place in genuinely humane and ethical horse training."

Having a good roll - very elegant & ladylike!!