Sunday, 27 November 2011

Riding out back pain?

A quick post on absence of late, which has been down to frantic activity on the business front. I spent around 5 weeks literally chained to my laptop, and my crumby posture and inability to notice when I need a break has given me more than a little lower back pain.

Thursday's half hour of trotting without stirrups did nothing to shake out the discomfort.  I had rather hoped that it would shoogle the need to visit my chiropractor right out of my spine. No such luck, my appointment on Wednesday is still in the diary. I look forward to being able to touch my toes again after that.

Good news is the business deadlines have eased enough to allow for a little more riding again, so it is time to make up some of that lost ground now, before it all freezes over,

Sunday, 6 November 2011


It is a year since I took a notion to draw some horses at our stables but what a lot happens in a year and I am now enjoying the excitement of my paintings being on show at The Glasgow Art Club. You can't miss them can you, my 'donkeys' as my husband jokingly terms them. It was high time this pair got out as they have been quietly resting  in my dining room since June....I am sure they will enjoy a change of scene. 

A.Cairns, Glasgow Art Club November 2011
The exhibition is by member artists from  The Glasgow Southern Art Club and runs from from now until 26th November, with lots of lovely things to see besides mine, of course! Friday night was the formal opening, I invited some friends and family to enjoy a glass of wine and share some excitement at being 'hung' in such a grand venue.

I overheard someone remark that the one on the rights bum was too large, which I found hilarious! I put the painting up on my blog some months ago, saying 'anyone recognise this horse?' and  Red Hot Ruby immediately chipped in 'It's Snakebite, I'd recognise that big round butt anywhere.' She was right, so I took the gentleman's critique as a compliment!

I joined the Glasgow Southern Art Club about a month ago so I am enjoying finding my feet with lots of interesting people at our Monday night classes. It is lovely to be able to see their work and with around 75 members, I am hoping it will make it a little easier to remember who is who know that I know their paintings.

I am experimenting with a bit of portraiture at our Monday sessions....I have to say, it is not coming easy, I find people much harder than horses, although I have heard it said that horses are hard to paint. It is so much easier to paint something you know and love!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Box rest fall out

Three weeks or so on box rest seemed to have left Ali and I with a flaky Mr Merlyn last week. I went up for my Monday ride on a lovely sunny morning and was pleased to find him in a nice mood while we groomed, so well behaved apart from snatching one foot back early a couple of times.

Then came tacking up when he took a fit of the grumps with me. The sun vanished, it started raining and things started to look a little less idyllic than ten minutes earlier. It took me fully five minutes to do up his bridle and flash while he threatened to bite, and although he didn't follow through I was as narked as him by the time we were done.

I got on for our little walk up the lane - he hadn't been out a while so we were breaking him in gently - and by now the weather was dry again but very windy. He can get spooky in the wind so I wasn't entirely surprised when he got a bit nappy with me....we had both lost our sunny dispositions, though, there was no fooling yourself by now try as you might. I pushed him on with a feigned sack of potatoes 'I ain't worried by your carry on' seat.

What I didn't bank on was him spooking, bolting and bucking just ten minutes up the road.

We stayed put, it was over fast and I got him back together and made him go on a bit further past the things he was taking issue with - and there were a few - before turning back for home. A horse of his size bucking on a road is no laughing matter, even if they were little ones, I had no desire to see his more forceful versions, but I knew we had to go on further, he couldn't get away with it.

He had mellowed a bit by the time we got back down the road, and I was in half a mind to turn him back and take him out again....sometimes I have to check myself. I love riding and I know it involves pushing past fear at times, but as Mum I also have to weigh up the risks.

Ali took him out he next day and had just about concluded that I must have been a bit wound up when out of the blue he did exactly the same to her. Happens to the best of us, it seems!

So, we are 'on a break'  Merlyn and I, while he works through his little issue in the hands of his much braver owner. I have don't have the bottle to take him out on the roads while he is being quite so daft but  I am sure if she can get him back to his cross country and run off some energy, he will mellow again.

Anyhow, I am not letting up on my riding I have been at Hazelden and having some great fun lessons on Dennis, Monty and Rocky, any of whom I would quite happily keep in a moment...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Horse Riding in all Seasons in Scotland

It has been a bit of a month for me behind the scenes here, and life has thrown me an interesting 'opportunity' and with it everything that seemed part of my normal life has been temporarily sucked up into a vortex of application forms, legals and business admin. None of this has anything to do with horses of course, or art, which is quite my point. It's just not the sort of stuff that I think any of you tune in for, so I went uncharacteristically 'quiet'. Me, the out and out blether I am........not a peep. SShhhhh!So, this is my backfill with photos post....

.....hello Merlyn! My last ride on Merlyn was weeks ago, he has had a cut leg ever since, but we will see each other again tomorrow. Such a sweet face when he is in a nice mood. I only ever take a photo after we ride, he is much less grumpy then....

....and it was, your absolutely typical Scottish miserable driech day.....tell me how are you supposed to find a horse in a field that you can't even see to the other side of?

......we could hardly see 20 feet infront of ourselves, frankly a little bit daft as we had no high vis gear on at all. I have mentioned before he is so black it is like a cloak of invisibilty.....big wet black ears and a mane blowing in the wild wind. And to think Ali called me a fair weather rider.... is the view from Merlyn's stable. Yes, I know, he is a lucky horse to live in bonny Scotland with a view like that. You are thinking "It even looks beautiful in the rain"....look out at it every day and your perception will start to change....

...aaah, now this is more like it, may you all have weather like this when you visit Scotland. Fantastic day.....a three hour hack at Craigengellan in glorious September sunshine the whole way....


....three hours is a long time....we go over the hills and far away

....gate locked......ah, which way now?

....if we could just bottle up the this even on the same planet as my earlier photo?

.....idyllic..... looking out over the water....

....on the road back home, all happy and tired....


.....last photo opportunities ...

......and home, big stretch Trio!

What a hack, but guess what, you guys are going to freak.......I never took a photo of the Minature Shetland mare and foal! Ooops. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Interior Design Diversion

A very left of field post here, rather than drawing any horses, yesterday I switched into Interior Designer mode and sketched ideas for a friends living room instead.

Yes, there really are no bounds to my creativity (!) or the rather there is no end to the things that I will do to avoid the mundane chores or much more important things on the 'to do' list. The world can fall apart around me (believe me this week it has been) but as long as the one in my head looks nice, we can all be fine....agreed?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Evolution of a Horse Painting: Part 2

Merlyn ( in progress painting) a.m.cairns 2011
I am at the easel this morning working working on my Merlyn painting, in light of some very high, gusty winds having made their way across the pond to our shores. It is a mostly puffed out version of one of the hurricanes that have been wreaking havoc in North America, but so far the only impact for me is no riding Merlyn today, as I am far too much of a fearty to get on board in wild and wet weather. We will probably have a few trees down later in the day, I would think.

So I am back at the house, listening to music and the howling wind and making good progress. It is coming together quicker than my previous paintings, so either I am getting more confident or is it just much easier when you know the horse well. You can kind of see his expression and very inch that you have groomed and groomed almost without of it without looking too hard at the frees me up a bit, very relaxing too.

I went along to the Braeface jumping yesterday, but Alison had opted out of taking part on Merlyn. She had around a million other things to do and knew too well that the round of jumping plus the prep and waiting around wipe out most of the day and leave her much too exhausted to tackle pressing non horsey matters.

All the same she and I popped along for a look to watch the some jumping. Super cute ponies (and kids) and extremely confident little riders, some as young as six getting ditched at a jump and bravely getting back on (with a bit of parental coercion, it must be said!). The event was vary laid back and fun rather than the seriously competitive with an audience of just the riders and families mostly. I was surprised to see that 'grown up' jumping started at just forty centimetres or sixteen inches to my American friends. You know that's not very high, I have started to think I would like to give it a go sometime.

I have never jumped a course or take part in any horsey events and I had some serious doubt about my ability to remember a jump course, but Ali assured me its not so hard,  that the jumps are set up so that he next jump is usually the easiest to get to. We walked the kids course so that I could see how it worked - you know I have a lousy memory for names, sequences and the like but my sense of direction and visual memory is not so bad and I think I could cope with eight jumps, maybe a few more.  The next event is in a couple of months so if I can get a in few jumping lessons on him, I might just be up for giving it a go.

Ali says the best thing about jumping Merlyn is he is dead honest.....I think I might call my painting that.

You can see it in his face, I hope.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Evolution of Horse Painting: Merlyn

I am working on a painting of Merlyn, who anyone who follows me will know is a horse I have been lucky enough to be getting to know over the last few months.  Here he is, in acrylic on a big-ish canvass

Working back the way, starting at this evening, this is how he looks.... 

Merlyn, In Progress, copyright a.m.cairns

Here he is this morning, when I realised I had overloaded the black and just about vanished his features...

Merlyn, In Progress on the Mantlepiece, copyright a.m.cairns
And here he is on Wednesday Morning, when he was feeling a little blue....

Merlyn, In Progress on the Mantelpiece, copyright a.m.cairns

You saw him in the wet back on Tuesday, which I'll have vanished! I tend to stick up posts of work in progress and then balk at them a few days later when the it is starting to come together, but I really must stop photographing wet work in bad late night light.

He is jumping tomorrow a local competition, so I am going to try to get along and cheer him on....he is normally a Cross Country eventer so it will be interesting to see how he gets on in a tighter space!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Wipe that stupid grin off your face...

I can't.

You see, we went out on a two hour hack at Craigengellan Estate yesterday.

I think the wind must have changed in the middle of one of the dozen or so canters that we had across fields and through woodland tracks, and that excitement and exhilaration got smacked onto my face so firmly that it it's here for at least the whole week.

The smile will not budge. My friends and I had such stupid grins on our faces on the drive back home, we probably looked like we were a more than a little drunk.

Tearing across fields on the back of a horse is surely up there as one of the most incredible things that you can experience in a lifetime. The fact that you can book in to do it all again whenever you like - or can afford to - is just odd, kind of like buying happiness of sorts. They say money can't do that, but I suspect any horse owner knows that this is not an entirely truthful fact.

I feel incredibly lucky to be comfortably off enough to afford this pleasure, if not a horse....although I will keep on buying the lottery tickets in hope.

Thursday, 18 August 2011


Honest, it really isn't but a while back I asked if anyone would mind me using their horse photos for paintings. By a complete fluke that I have painted another from Red Hot Ruby.

Chestnut Mare. Copyright A Cairns

This painting looks nothing at all like I thought it would when I started. Realism is not really my natural style, but the watercolours and I had an argument into the early hours of the morning (watercolours don't really like to be overworked!) and by the time I looked at it again in the morning it was either this route or get the charcoal  or acrylics out and start to really muck about.

So the former route got me something finished, I think, although I am in half a mind as to work in a background, but has also left me a more than a little confused.

If it was hanging on a wall in my house, I'm not sure I would recognise it as my own....very odd.

All part of the journey though. I expect it might well push my next painting further in the opposite direction.

Monday, 15 August 2011

10,000 Hours of Practise

I have just devoured Malcolm Caldwell's 'Outliers: The Story of Success' over a few days this week, a brilliant and insightful read into some of the hidden factors that shape success. I seem to have all but given up on fiction for the moment, but this is the sort of book I pick up and just can't put down .

It seems, based on the research outlined in this book that if you want to be really good at anything - sport, playing the piano, art, riding horses - then over and above some kind of natural ability you need to put in somewhere in the region of 10,000 hours of practise.

That's 20 hours a week for 10 years or so. I started thinking about my equine art, and I think just about squeeze that in - at times I do less, at others maybe I do more, but I am not yet 'consistent'. On that note, this book has given me a good old shunt in the right direction and you should expect a lot more Horse Art to appear on this blog as I work towards more consistent practise, starting with last night and this mornings work.

In Progress Watercolour Painting (copyright A Cairns)
If I keep this up, then you can expect to be the first to see some masterpieces (?!) appearing on this blog in around 9 years and 2 months time - good things come to those who wait!

Now what does this mean for our collective quests to be better riders? Well for me, it is not good, some of you who are a little younger or have your own horse may fair better.

Let us assume I have a few hundred hours in the bank, between my childhood riding, young adulthood and  my return to riding a few years ago, say 500 hours all in. So if I keep going at my current rate of 1 lesson a week and a ride on Merlyn, plus maybe a 2 hour hack a month, then it comes to around 150 hours a year. This leads me to conclude that I should be quite good then at riding if I keep it up for another 63 years or so....I'll be a hundred then! Hilarious....start young, that's what I say.

Ah well, time does fly when you are having fun!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Carmargue Horse Painting: Ink and Watercolour

Carmargue Horses (watercolour and ink)
copyright  retained A Cairns
Still no canvasses.....watercolour will be the medium of the week, I think.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Carmargue Horses

Carmargue Horses
copyright retained
Warming up for some art this week absence of canvasses we have pen and ink sketch with digital zest.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Brotherly love: Carmargue Horses

Brotherly Love: Horses near Montpelier
Last in a series of horsey photos with a European flavour..... and this is a holiday snap of my own, taken on holiday in France a just a few days ago (hence all the European horse photos that I have been using to fill in while away on holiday!)

The area we stayed in is full of the lovely Carmargue horses, an ancient breed found in South of France and I caught these cow-boys sharing a moment in the field beside our campsite in between their bull running. One came back with a bloodied nose, but after watching them relieve their itches on the barbed wire fences I am not sure he even felt it.

The Carmargue horses: Friendly faces near our campsite
Other than with each other, they had lovely natures and to be honest I think half the argument was over who was getting the most attention or treats from the families passing by on the way in and out of the campsite each day!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Tilework in Spain

Image: R Croal (with permission)
Part of a series of horsey photos with a  European flavour,
courstesy of a very good friend.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Popping out to the shops in Spain

Image: R Croal (with permission)
Part of a series of horsey photos with a  European flavour,
courstesy of a very good friend.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Horses in Northern France

Image: R Croal (with permission)
Part of a series of horsey photos with a  European flavour,
courstesy of a very good friend.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Horses in the Carmargue

Image: R Croal (with permission)
Part of a series of horsey photos with a  European flavour,
courstesy of a very good friend.Horse

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Anything for me in that pocket?

Image: R Croal (with permission)
Part of a series of horsey photos with a  European flavour,
courstesy of a very good friend.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Pop-up Horse Art on Elie Beach

Galloping Horse Art on Elie Beach - Grab the mane and go
I am a beach lover, have been from an early age. I spent a couple of years living by one as a child, which co-incided with my introduction to horses, and have always held a very special place for both since. Whenever I catch my pony I would like to think it will live beside the sea, beside the imaginary ones of my childhood.

Lovely Elie - if you have your wetsuits...brrr!
In the last few years I have become an Elie beach regular. Its a 2 hour drive from Glasgow to the east coast and the East Neuk of Fife, near St Andrews. Provided you can handle the fact that the sea is pretty much Baltic all year round and the weather is hit and miss - as anywhere in Scotland - then  you can have some lovely holidays in this area.

Elie - even when the weather is not so good, still looks amazing
The beaches are a treat and it does rain a little less than the West Coast. The whole place is full of colour in summer, rich flaxen fields with wild red poppies and a sky that is somehow bigger than the one I know at home. across the sea and rolling fields and all of a sudden you feel you can see the curve of the earth.  It is like viewing the world through a fish eye lens.

I went out on a a hack yesterday at nearby Kilconquhar, but it had been raining lately and the fields and trails very boggy. We only managed a short and very pedestrian canter, so I took to the sand this morning  to let out a little of what I felt I was missing out on

Little arty helpers gathering seaweed
My kids and nephew who searched the best rock pools for seaweed that looked like squid ink spaghetti and my galloping mare was off.

Galloping Mare on Elie Beach
Our finished (if a little temporary) artwork

There for my enjoyment and that of any passers by before the tide washed her away in the afternoon.

Some people don't like beaches unless they are sunny and warm....I think they have forgotten how to enjoy a beach.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A right good blether while you jump....

Does jumping make you nervous? Last night I had a jumping lesson, which I haven't had in a while. It started with a plea of 'I'm a little bit nervous' and ended with a whoop of 'That was brilliant, I can't believe I did that!' 

So I now know the answer....the cure all for eradicating jumping nerves. It's a very Scottish cure, a specialist riding technique which we call blethering.

It may be a uniquely Hazelden technique, as expertly practised by owner / instructor Rob, who can (and I am sure he wouldn't mind that I say so) blether for Scotland. It starts before he gives you a leg up, and doesn't stop for the full hour.

Our collective group waffle last night covered all sorts of inane chatter .....holidays, T in the Park, how much it costs to park your car at T in the Park, what might happen if you didn't pay the parking fee, the horrors of accidentally shutting your kids fingers in car doors, the horrors of accidentally shutting the boot on your dad's head, forthcoming weddings, drinking too much, hangovers, pakora, mushroom pakora, loathing of fish pakora, and so on.....

Jumps are punctuation, the focus is the utterly mindless chit chat.

Blethering in order to be effective in this way must absolutely not be about riding, although you can pepper your blethering with a generous sprinkling of ' heels down' or 'just hold him a bit there' or even 'three, two, one' on the approach to the jump. You can even follow up after jumping with post jump corrections, as long as you don't let it interrupt the very arbitrary flow of the conversation. I doubt the BHS gives any certification in this particular skill, but in terms of the confidence that distraction can bestow on the rider, I think they should.

While blethering you can easily jump up to 40 times almost without noticing you have. In no time at all I was jumping 70cm jumps 3 in a row, and noticed that not only was my mouth no longer dry, but I was loving it and on a complete high!

The footage was of Ice, who I rode last night...not my video, not me riding, although looks about the same height and I am pretty positive that Sarah has benefited from this little known technique. I'll leave you with some more of Ice head is still right there, another of Sarah's clips helps me hang onto the moment a while longer!

I will miss my Hazelden lessons for the next few weeks, but when I come back, it will be for a blether and a jump, that is for sure.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Merlyn trains with Markus Bauer

I had the privilege of watching Markus Bauer doing some work with Merlyn yesterday at a visiting clinic at Carolyn's school, Hazelbank House. A while back Ali's friend had mentioned they had a top class dressage coach coming to give lessons and would I like to book in for a lesson...'Umm, eh, I'm not really in that league' I said 'More of a novice to be honest....'

So along we went yesterday, not to ride Merlyn, but to watch his owner Ali ride for Markus. My friend Jane and I sat and watched three consecutive lessons, the last of which was Merlyn's.

It was really worthwhile and do you know what, I think I could have gone right in there with my 'novice' had firmly on my head and he would have been just as helpful and personable as he was with more experienced riders.

He re-enforced the basics with all his riders, from eradicating piano hands to keeping elbows at the waist, and little things like putting your leg on without raising you knee.....and WHY these things matter, explaining what happens when you dont get it right with your seat bones, for instance.

What was really interesting to see was the investment of time in getting the communication right, before pushing on with your training. Lots and lots of transition work, halts, sitting trot to steady pace, asking for bend, straightness and over tracking. Only once everything was right, and staying that way did they move on.

Whenever the horse stopped listening or got above the bit, it was back to halt and start again....he said riding on once the horse is in that place is like riding with the 'handbrake on', much better to take it back and start again from the right place. The horses were moving so well, it was a delight to watch, especially the pointers on Merlyn.

My video footage was terribly poor and did it no justice whatsoever, so I won't post, but if you ever get the chance to watch him or ride with him do...even if you are a novice!!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Let's see what you've got Mr Merlyn

This was a first for me. What not having a horse of my own, merely having the privilege of being in Merlyn's world lately, I earned the job of 'horse sitting' during a vet's visit this week.

He has a gash on his leg which looked like healing and then had become infected again, so I was his 'familiar face' while the vet attended to treat. I think I have ridden him about 6 or 7 times, so he should recognise me, yes, but we are still very new, so it was a bit of a test.

Now, the fact that I turned of with my two kids on tow might have set us off on the wrong foot, unfamiliar noisy little excitable things that they were.

'Wow, he is the biggest, blackest horse we have ever seen!' They gasped. I have to agree, he is astonishingly black, not even a hint of anything else. We agreed he would make an excellent (if a little stereotypical ) evil knights horse in a movie...'Ha right until the good nights shadow popped out and said 'Boo' to him' I laughed.

I took them round the back to meet Ali's dog thinking best kept out the way, but when I returned to the stable I inadvertently sneaked up on Merlyn and spooked him  right out of his skin....'I rest my case' I think and apologise to him. Great start before the vet arrives, yes? 

By the time I opened the stable door he was a little on edge, to say the least, and was definitely in full audition for the role. 'I'm a big scary horse (actually I'm a big fearty)' he acts out, pawing and looking down his nose at me, doing he best to look a menacing and live up to his on screen potential.

I have to say Merlyn still seems huge to me, somehow bigger than Monty who is also 16'3, but I guess like humans its all in the way you carry yourself. I don't know if the Actimel advert is just a UK thing, but I often feel  when I stand beside him like the little girl  in the advert who says 'Lets see what you've got, Mr Muffin!'

Anyhow I led him out, doing me best not to be trampled along  the way - new steel toe boots doing a grand job - and played vets assistant with some extra pointers on how vet to steady him. Mr Muffin (Merlyn) kept his on edge demeanor for rest of the visit and needed an extra bit of hold with the rope across the nose band and extra grip the neck to steady him for all that prodding, washing, clipping and bandaging.

At the end I say 'You were a brave boy'...'Indeed he wasn't!' comments the Vet. I sense that having previously undergone a lot of vet treatment for a broken foot, he may be as fond as I am of the densist after a root canal treatment.

Now that I am a veteran of the Vet visit I do hope he has forgotten it all before our next encounter!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Riderless horse sketch

Its just a sketch, have a notion to do a piece on dressage, and I keep coming back to a sketch on a lunch break I doodled a month or two ago, which in turn prompted me to start on this. I was in half a mind just to add a rider, but didn't as the horses head would then be too far tucked in. Its a starting place for now, so I'll just see where this starts to go over the coming weeks....time for a bit of research, I think.

watercolour sketch of riderless horse
copyright  retained
As ever if any of you have photos of you and your horses doing dressage that you would allow me to paint from, send a link.  I got a lovely great photo to work from Red Hot Ruby's blog a few months back, always on the hunt for something that sparks off an idea....

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Love that horse....

I rode Rocky tonight and we had some great fun. Jumping the teeniest little jumps, we still managed to knock down about one out of every four but we had such good fun I really didn't care! I was so delighted as last time I rode him we could barely get a canter going, but tonight I had new tough soled Mountain Horse boots on my side (or rather they were on his sides) and I am pretty sure they helped.

Riding Rocky and loving it
copyright ACairns
I did this drawing of him back in December, kind of when I started on my equine art thing, and it is still a favourite of mine, really caught his likeness. It was a coloured pencil work, which I haven't done in a while, so I am tempted to go back to do a few more now. Here is the photo that I worked from, which was a bit of a duffer, but did the job.

Do you know, I really love that wee horse, he is comfortable, has a lovely nature and just feels really safe, just about the right height you feel that if you did come off it might just not hurt too bad. The thing is he feels really balanced, so falling off him just doesn't cross your mind too often at all, which I find really does add a lot to the pleasure of riding.

The first time I rode him I wanted to buy him, and I kind of felt a little bit of that again tonight.....can I just keep him....can I , can I??

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Overbending on Monty

From a fast paced hack to an hour of schooling completely focused on 'bending' .... both ends of the riding spectrum in a week for me. We worked in walk an trot in circles, Monty and I, round and round until one leg ached so much you had to change rein. Lesson script is around about as circular as our route, round and round we went for the hour.....

Kerry: "hand opened out, further, much further, right off the neck"
Me:"further than this?"
Kerry: "yes further than that"

Kerry: "that's about right"
Kerry: "OK whats happening now?"
Me: "he's cutting in"
Kerry: "so what do you do then?"
Me: "more inside leg"
Kerry: "that's right"
Kerry: "OK, I can see your leg on but he's not listening"
Me: "yes.  I know"
Kerry: "you have to make him"
Me: "YES. I know"
Kerry: "he's still not listening"
Me: "YES. I KNOW!"

This is the difference between knowing what you are to do and actually being able to do it, and sometimes the gap fo me feels unbridgable. Whenever I get that feeling it makes me just a little more inclined to go for the 'lets grab a horse and take it for a run in the fields' school of riding....."abandon lessons" goes the voice in my head.

Now, Monty isn't the most bendy horse to be fair, but he can do it and we had moments of bending, but they were brief, hard gained, and so so easily lost in a moment of confused co-ordination from me.

Fleeting, but maybe still, that moment of feeling something that you might remember. His head tucked in a bit and he was frothy at the bit at the end, which  am told is good, but must admit I dont have the feintist idea why....someone enlighten me?

Knowing that we got there a even just a little bit makes it and easier discussion for the two of us to have next time. Although I must say I am not sure I relish the thought of another hour of this too soon...I suspect it will be on the cards, our instructor thought our perfomance was a little wooden!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Here today gone tomorrow

Friday night sketches...sometimes I keep them around on the blog, other times they just vanish...what will they do? Who knows, depends how I feel about them in a few days....

 Friday night sketch of Trio

Friday night sketch: Movement

Happy hacking

Travelled down Ayrshire way again last weekend for some hacking fun with my friend Jane. Two hours in the Craigengellan Estate, me on Freddy Jane on Norman.....Norman, what were they thinking when they named a horse Norman?

the handsome old boy Freddy
Our lead horse was a mare Lucy, who had been out of work for about six years foaling, and since her return is a little bit wired. She has quite a pace on her and Ros's Mum said she would only take her out with more experienced riders (!?!) as she can be a little unpredictable.

'Wow, us experienced' I was nice not to be referred to as a novice rider for a change, gave us both a much needed confidence boost. It is all in the mind this horse riding mullarkey, I am more and more convinced of that all the time.

Lucy set a crazy pace even at a walk, and Norman was hot on her heels and Freddy shaking off his twenty two years and keeping up with the speedy duo on all but the most stretched out canter. Actually I am pretty sure Norman was galloping briefly and so would Freddy had I let him. You are only as young as you feel, you know, once an eventer, always an eventer!

We came back exhausted and on a massive high....this, my friends, is what it is all about.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Mother and I: Mare and Foal

I have been working on a watercolour for which I am just putting a few more touches to later today. It is of a lovely a Shire mare L.A. and her foal Maverick for CedarHills.

Mother and I: Watercolour Painting of Mare and Foal
copyright a.cairns

  Painting it makes me rather wish the pair were mine!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Like watching masking fluid dry

I am indulging in a short post, pictures and minimal accopmanying wordage, while I wait for the masking fluid to dry on my painting....

I have don't have an abundance of patience for such things, so find it best to send myself away, far away, while its dries, in case I start work again while it is still tacky. I am working towards finishing a mare and foal painting this week and this one is going to be the finished piece. I paint now a little bit more slowly, a little bit more carefully than usual.

So the masking fluid drying time post is Merlyn, form our Monday catch up.

After riding, Merlyn kidding on he is tired, when the truth is my fitness failed before his.
I booked the riding school for an hour on Monday and found out exactly how unfit I am right now , I managed just short of the hour, but was reaching the point of severe deterioration in riding technique.

Riding Merlyn, finally brave enough to take the phone out of my pocket!
I literally panted my whole way back up the lane at the end of hour...

Handsome horse with hay in his hair....

On the way home I downed two cans of our national diet Irn Bru to recover and decided I am going to have to take up running to get fitter for riding.

Masking fluid is definitely dry.

Back to the art now.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Handling herd dynamics

It was my Monday hack with Merlyn today and I am glad to report he was an angel, shying just twice in the hour, neither badly, and stopping just once for a peek over a hedge. I used everything that ached from my lesson last week as guidance as to how much harder I should work on my seat, my legs, my position and even popped in some forward seat work on the uphill trots to work on my balance and position.

All good exercise and learning for us both, but my test of nerve for today was not the riding, but how to interact with a small herd of these animals. It never fails to amaze me the things that no amount of riding or horse care tuition can give you in the 'safe' confines of the riding school, when compared with a few hours, one on one, with a bunch of horses.

Pre ride, I strode into the field head collar in hand, and mooched around, clocking Merlyn, Shima and Pebbles at the far side. Heading their way I had quite forgotten Emma's note of caution on the sometimes cheeky young Pebbles, that she can get a bit nosey or have a wee 'nip' at you whenever you come into the field to catch any of them.

As soon as I saw Pebbles her head was up and she came straight towards me, bold as brass, in what I hoped initially was a friendly gesture......maybe not. It was one of those, 'this is our herd, what are you doing here?' approaches and the 3 year old stopped dead in front of me with a right naughty look on her face. Merlyn nonchalantly munches on the grass about twenty foot beyond her. 'Great' I think.

'Okay I'll give you a pat then go around you' I say, but she doesn't seem all that keen on a friendly pat, and the minute I go to walk around her she blocks me.  She is now standing right across my path. I start around her nose and she steps forward again, path blocked. 'Get over' I saw to see if she'll take a telling with a nudge. Nope. She won't. Hand up doesn't seem to mean back off, she is young, backed but not yet broken.

I try again to go around and she blocks me and this time swings around to show me her haunches. 'Oh crikey' thinks  I (worse actually, but you know). I wonder 'What now?' as I stand right in the middle of the field with her in our little horsey herd stand off. Clearly she is the youngest of this little herd, but I am a complete newcomer, does that put me at the bottom of the pecking order? My attempt to nudge her out the way didn't fool her any more than it did me.

I am suddenley glad I put my hat on before coming into the field, but am now wondering whether having a stick (or bribes) would have been an idea? 'What on earth am I doing here?' I wonder.

Do you know I can't even tell you what way I got around her in the end, it was a bit of a trial and error, but even when when I did she was still following. Merlyn stood as waiting calmly, thankfully, head collar on, no chase needed, but she is still not happy and trotting around us, tail high, blocking us again and having a nip at Merlyn neck.

Some kind of horse herd sense kicked in at this stage, and I circled Merlyn, me in the middle, turning him around me a couple of times as an obstacle to Pebbles.When she moved off a little, made for the gate, wishing the ground underfoot was a little more even, with my heart thudding right out of my chest.

I wonder, does everyone get the fear like this, does it just subside once you amass more horse handling skill  and confidence that you know what might happen next?  I remember a ski instructor who said 'the hours spent on the slope equip you with the sense to make decisions and respond in an instant....thats the only thing between you and a beginner.'

On that note, I think horse time is the key....and maybe a book or two!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Brain (re)training

Here is Merlyn in his field after we rode today, him enjoying the sun, me (out of shot) all sweaty from a forty minute lesson with Carolyn which involved some serious brain re-training. The more I learn the less I know, I am finding and also the more I want to try to understand.

There is a rather impolite expression which would articulate what today's lesson did to my head, which I will spare you, but in co-ordination terms it felt as unnatural as patting your head and rubbing your tummy does the first time you ever attempt it.

Here was the source of my confusion. I was taught to apply the leg aids in completely the opposite way from I have understood pretty much my whole, albeit intermittent, riding life.

While circling and turning Merlyn I was asked to apply outside leg on the girth, inside leg behind the girth. Every time we went up the centre line to hear 'circle left' or 'circle right' I had to fight every learned riding instinct in my body to make the switch. I would just about get it straight in my head, when she would flip it around and shout 'circle right' and I would have to mentally have a whole conversation  with myself saying 'okay, I am going right, inside leg to outside rein,  put your left (outside) on the girth and now move that right (inside) leg back a bit.....'

Now I have to be completely honest and say I lack any of the horsemanship to understand why one method is right and the other wrong, but I can tell you it really did mess with my head. I suspect this was a tailored piece of advice to correct something in most likely me (or perhaps horse) rather than a general piece of advice, but I have to quiz her further on this.

Now and then when I feel a little demoralised at my lack of flair or my complete confusion at right-from-left-hands-higher-hands-lower-bring-your-knees-in-get-off-your-knees-bottom-back-bottom-forward-inside-leg-on-the-girth-behind-girth type of advice, I have to check myself and think "what would I tell my child" and answer "you can get better at anything with practise". And then to remember to make sure I am setting the bar at a level that I have a chance of some success.

Carolyn says "I don't expect you to ride at my level, but I do want you to ride at your level well" That would be a start, I think.

Love that shiny bottom ....I think we are bonding, he and I.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Eventful Part 2: Field Trip

Following Friday's first solo hack I took part in the Gala Day on Saturday in the nearby town of Dunlop in Ayrshire. This was my first such event and little prepared me for arriving in a slightly boggy field in the early morning on a windy day and trying to turn it into a shop front for the day.

I had put in plenty of preparation work and spent much of the previous week running around like a headless chicken trying to remember at which riding stables I had left my paintings, driving across the countryside rounding them up and prop shopping to pull together my pitch. I think it paid off and by 9.30am I was set.

My pitch at Dunlop Gala Day 2011

There was a great buzz about the day and the action seemed pretty non stop form what I could see, with dog shows, parades, sidesaddle riding and pipe bands to name a few. The day flew in from then until 4.30pm chatting to lots of lovely folk about mostly about their horses, dogs and my art.  The horses were a magnet to little girls in running around in jodphurs and I started to realise I a great big pile of prints of palomino ponies at pocket money prices could have been a great hit.

Dunlop Gala Day 2011, Sidesaddle show

Dunlop Gala Day 2011, Pipe Band
The weather was mostly as grey as it looks with a few bursts of sunshine in the afternoon, and winds strong enough to cause a little concern that my canvasses might just take off like kites, but thankfully the easels stood up well.  I sketched to keep my hands an head busy and distract myself from the cold temperatures - which had dipped 10 degrees in one day - and doodled the action of the Gala Day in my sketchbook, in between chatting with passers by and fellow stall holders. I might add some colour to it this week and send it on to the organisers of the event.
My view from my pitch Dunlop Gala Day 2011.
I met lots of lovely people with lots of great ideas about how and where to show my work, as well as a few other fellow artists with common interests, local equine artist Nina Russell  and a horse sculptress Karon (her blog who co-incidentally also rides Merlyn.....I am starting to think that the handsome black horse is a great big tart, just like my borrowed cat Harvey.

And so, on the back of the Gala Day I have now found the beginnings of a little local community as well as my global one, which is nice!