A while ago I was tagged in a photo game that was going round Facebook – it’s been so long since I was tagged that I can’t remember the exact wording, but I think it was along the lines of “share ten photos from your life with horses that have had an impact on you”.
I didn’t take part at the time because I share an excessive amount of photos on Facebook anyway, but I liked the concept and thought it might make a good blog post one day. According to the game rules I’m not supposed to leave any explanation, but I genuinely don’t see the point in that so I’m going to blah blah as usual.
In no particular order:
Halloween at Sacrewell Farm, 2011
This picture was taken by my mum and she did the effects entirely in-camera – no photoshopping!
Hands down the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I used to work with Shire horses, some of whom were kept at a heritage farm site, where the Halloween attractions involved an after-dark tractor and trailer tour of the farm and its various spooky inhabitants. Dressed as highwaymen, we were the second to last visitations: we’d trot out of the darkness and keep pace with the trailer, demanding their money or their lives, and then wheel and canter away just in time for a madman with a chainsaw to appear. I liked to channel my inner Gaahl by staring silently at our ‘victims’ before suddenly lunging over in the saddle with a snarl and then galloping away into the blackness. I was riding the best horse in the world and I never felt a moment’s fear.
Säumertreffen, Austria 2017
Photo by Friederike Hucke
The second International Pack Animal Meeting, held in the Austrian Tyrol – and where I caught the packing bug! It was where I realised that hiking with a pack animal was a viable alternative to riding, and that it was awesome. Given that it’s been two years you’d think I’d have written a damn blog post about this trip by now, but no. I haven’t got round to putting together the vlog I filmed for it either, but you can view a short compilation video here.
Maultiertreffen, Germany 2018
Photo by Rainer Niebes
This is one that I did write about. I put myself drastically outside my comfort zone for the sake of meeting more mules and learning about them, and it really paid off. I had such a brilliant time.
Pepsi – 1984-2014
This is my favourite photo of us, but the impact was the pony rather than any specific event. Her previous owner was going to shoot her for being dangerous, when in fact the poor pony had been kept locked in a shed and half-starved. I owned her for 17 years and she taught me a lot.
The National Shire Horse Show, 2004(?)
Photo found on the BBC website so I don’t know who the photographer was!
A negative impact this time, unfortunately – it was this class where Smokey, the horse I was riding, slipped and fell at canter. He did a complete somersault and I was (luckily!) thrown through the air like Superman, as a friend of mine described it. It was this fall that made me nervous of cantering and which then mutated into a fear of being bolted with when an employer’s horse ran away with me some years later. Given that this was over a decade ago, I do feel rather pathetic saying that this is the root of my problems with Xato.
Joe Wolter clinic, 2017
Photo by Ben
After spending the first two days of the clinic on the ground, on the third day I finally plucked up the courage to get on board. This clinic was excellent in many ways and I learnt a lot (I did three write-ups, starting here), but the biggest impact on me was the absolute kindness of Joe and the other riders. Joe is one of the best horsemen in the world but he never once made me feel bad, or belittled. He even offered to lead me if I needed it, and he said it as casually as he might have said that he’d hold a gate open for me.
Also, yes – Xato used to be very pale in winter!
Marty in training with Anna Bonnage, 2016
Photo by me
Marty with Anna, who is leading him down to the arena. I used all my savings on getting him here, as at that point Anna was quite literally our only hope. Of course, you know how the story went after that; but this month also opened my eyes to a lot of things I’d been missing, and was another tiny step towards being vaguely competent.
I wrote a series of posts about this, starting here.
Riding with Ross Jacobs, Australia 2013
Photo by Ben
Here’s a photo of me disappointing Ross Jacobs. I laugh at it now (I mean it’s hilarious; I don’t think Ross was saying anything bad here, but his body language speaks for itself), but at the time it was a baptism of fire. Ross pretty much told me that everything I thought I knew was wrong, and up until that point I’d fancied myself to be a pretty good rider who could handle horses through brawn and sheer bloody-mindedness. Turns out I knew absolutely nothing! I could kick myself when I look back, as if I had that opportunity now I would work my arse off and be thankful for every second of it. But, then again, if I hadn’t gone out when I did … would I have ever received the shock to the system I so desperately needed? Would I have changed my worldview?
Harry Whitney clinic, 2015
I can’t remember who took this photo – sorry!
Harry is another incredible horseman who you must learn with if you ever get the chance. I learnt an incredible amount and beautiful Bubba – who we renamed Beau, and who I would have taken home with me if I could – turned out to be a perfect foreshadowing for Xato, who was to come into my life a year later.
Photo by me
If not for this man, I wouldn’t have had many of the experiences that I mention above – and I certainly wouldn’t have mules. When he met my pony and she fell asleep in front of him, I knew he was a good’un.