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!

Eventful Part 1: A little bit braver

I have had an eventful couple of days on the horse front.

Friday was my day off and I had arranged to take Merlyn out for our first solo hack, which for some reason I was feeling relatively relaxed about. You know sometimes when you just need a while to adapt to an idea and your anxiety about it diminishes enough over time to allow you to move on.

Well, that is where we got to

I arrived at Ali's to find him out in the field, so got to do the whole caboodle, catch, groom, pick feet, tack, skoosh with fly spray, the works. I know you must get quicker at this over time, but it was over twenty Celsius even at ten in the morning and the sweat was pouring off me. I have started to realise that I might like to get picking feet out the way early so I can enjoy the rest of the grooming time, hard-heavy-legged-muddy-clogged-feet lifting-bit over and done with.

About an hour and a quarter later I was ready to go, and we set off on our route around the quiet country roads. I was just out the driveway when we found our first challenge, the next door house had a van and some painters up a ladder, so he startled and whirled around, stood a moment and we moved on.....okay, now breathe.

Down the lane we go, with a couple of random jolts at nothing my human eyes and ears can discern. We are okay, but clearly a little on edge today.

Next obstacle is the riding school gate which today we must pass by, but often will be the destination. 'What do you mean keep going' he says....'No, we are going in there are we not?' he says. 'No Merlyn, we are not' I say pushing him on.  'I don't want to go that way' he answers my leg, he is moving backwards and sideways, any way but on. I wonder if Carolyn, the riding instructor can see me through her windows. What would she think? 'Get on' I push, backing up with the crop and after a few more moments resisting he does. I breathe again....

I notice my mouth is a little dry and feign a relaxed seat but thinking all the while, gluing my thighs to the saddle and consciously heels down, legs pushed forward, the words of Kerry, my other riding instructor ringing in my ears 'your leg position will be your undo-ing, push them forward'.

We make it around the next corner, but he is on edge and I am now expecting anything. I am right. Out of the blue he lurches to the left in a good old nearly-but-not-quite-unseated-you manoeuvre. I am still there but I am conscious how sore a landing on a road would be. One foot is firm in the stirrup iron, but the other leg has to root around to find its proper place again and my mouth is as dry as a desert.

we should be going straight on but we swerved into the left...that road would be sore
googlemaps link
I have a moment, collect myself. I think 'can we do this, will we be okay, do we want to hack 30 minutes away from home, what would we do, would anyone find me before Ali came looking, what if Merlyn was loose, what if we got hurt? So many questions, so many what if's, all of that in a second or two. And the big question of course 'Should we turn back?'

Then I override it all. 'You either want to do this or you don't....are you giving up?' That is the last word and we push on. It wasn't plain sailing for at least another fifteen minutes. We had a tractor to meet and get past without entering someones garden along the way -he had a good old try - another car coming behind us while we walked down hill 'sorry you can't hurry us, you will have to wait, please be good Merlyn' and then some general spookiness while we trotted along on the flat just short of the half way mark.

Form then...wonderful. Good as gold, did not flinch at anything for the rest of the way. We relaxed, we enjoyed, we made it the whole way, and you know what....we were just fine.

I was parched when I got back and guzzled down nearly as much water as a now sweaty Merlyn,

Finally I turned him and watched him roll around on his glossy groomed black coat which I had sweated over just hours before and cake his feet in mud once more. And with that we are all right back where we started, but officially a little braver than before.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Biggest Smile

My son had his first proper canter this week....I have never seen a smile so wide, it reminded me of my childhood joy at riding. Magic, may we all hang on to that feeling each time, and not lose it berating ourselves for our poor riding technique!

Hooray for horses!