The lows of winter – mud, wet rugs and dark days, which we are all no doubt currently experiencing, make it difficult to remember the highs – the clear rounds, the relaxing hacks and the accomplished feeling of cracking that dressage movement. I’ve managed to compound these miseries of winter by both owning my own horse, and working with horses, making my life 24/7 horses. Although with the current absence of daylight, I feel that might be somewhat wishful thinking.
Horses started for me, as for many others I expect, as a childhood hobby, albeit with differing levels of parental support depending on whether I was spending the weekend at the local riding stables out from underfoot, or at the local branch of Accident and Emergency. I managed to get completely bitten by the bug so now, at the age of 29 I am still waiting for the much fabled moment I “grow out of horses.”
My first job after completing my A levels was at a breaking and pre training yard in Gloucestershire. Once I had sat on a thoroughbred there really was no looking back in terms of a career. I couldn’t imagine getting out of bed at 6am for any other reason than to ride racehorses up on the gallops. Thus it always surprises people when they meet my horse Chico, the Appaloosa cob with a leg at each corner and a white sock on each of those legs.
Chico came into my life twice, the first time where he was bought for the princely sum of £1 in the car park of a vets where he was awaiting euthanasia due to his health and behavioural problems. I was tasked with getting his considerable weight down and seeing if he was in any way rideable. The first time I attempted to lunge him, he bounced from corner to corner of the arena like a possessed pinball, dragging me with him until we were both terrified and dripping in sweat. This was to repeat itself the second, third, fourth and fifth time I tried to lunge him. There was no improvement. Eventually after a month of no progress I had to make a decision, give up or get on.
I got on. As soon as I swung my leg over him a sigh of relief and comprehension blossomed from his nostrils. “Oh thank goodness, she’s stopped chasing me about and wants to be my friend”. This may be artistic license on my part but it’s very much what I felt he was thinking. From then on there was no stopping Chico, every question I asked of him was answered, every challenge risen to and he transformed into a wonderful riding horse, if still somewhat an acquired taste. He was then sold as a hack and I completely lost touch with him, although I vowed if I ever had the right circumstances and the money, I would buy him for myself to keep forever. Imagine my delight when four years later I saw him advertised. Wasting no time I arranged to see him, and, after checking that it was indeed Chico and not in fact a very vivid daydream, I bought him. I had actually never owned a horse of my own before so the last two years have been a very steep learning curve. I found myself in the slightly odd position of being at the same time a very experienced and capable rider, yet having little idea of how to care for a horse that wasn’t a racehorse in training. A lot of spontaneously bought rugs and makeshift buckets and tools later and I feel that I have managed to evolve into a semblance of a confident horse owner. I will, however, never forget the feeling of unloading him at his livery yard in our first day together, putting him in his stable and thinking “now what?”
Luckily for me the answer to that question came from the wonderful ladies with whom I shared the livery yard. Flatwork lessons, pole clinics and fun rides were planned as excitedly as children plan their first gymkhana. Eventually, after a lot of trial and error (the trials being Chico’s and the errors being mine) I have found Chico’s talent. Although he remains one of the spookiest horses I have ever ridden, once there is a jumpable obstacle in front of him, he becomes the bravest horse I’ve ever ridden. He loves jumping and there is simply nothing he won’t attempt to get over, be it natural or showjumps. I have tried to satisfy his love of jumping with my love of galloping by making our first foray into the works of team chasing.
Team chasing is split into two seasons; Spring, which runs from March to May, and Autumn which runs from September to November. We made our debut in spring 2018 at the Worcestershire team chase meeting, jumping round the novice pairs class with my work colleague and her homebred mare. I felt that this would be a good introduction so as to build his confidence before fielding a team of four, which is the usual number in a team. The autumn season was tricky due to the hot dry weather leading to a few events being cancelled because of the hard ground, however we managed to attend the Herefordshire team chase at Sapey with a full team. On both of these occasions we have completed the course clear, although outside the time!
So now I feel I’ve introduced us both properly, it’s down to the nitty gritty, looking forward to the year ahead. I’m very lucky to have Chico now stabled at the yard where I work, giving me access to the all weather gallop as well as the schooling fences the racehorses use. I want Chico to be fully fit by the end of February so we can hit the ground running (although not literally I hope). At the moment with the short days and all of the racehorses to care for, the time I have to spend on him is limited to my lunch break which often sees me get off my fifth lot at work, still in my squelching wet boots, fingers numb with cold and head over to his stable to tack him up and exercise him. All of the previously related miseries of course forgotten as soon as I get on him and head to the gallops, ears pricked and heart held high.
My blog will be about the trials and tribulations of being a horse owner as well as working with some of the most demanding horses in the world. Between team chasing, being a member of Hereford and District Riding Club and preparing the horses at work for the races, I think 2019 will be a busy year for me.
Written by Ceri Belli – Hereford Equestrian blogger
Ceri Belli was one of 2 runners-up in the Hereford Equestrian Blogger competition held in December 2018.