Expectation versus reality,Sucking diesel and….well….nothing…

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Number 12

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Mist after Xc at his second ever event

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12 going to dressage

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Mist after xc

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12 on his way to winning his-and my-first event.
Published by Eventing Connect 

Winning. It doesn’t mean what we think it means. In fact,it means precisely dick. I had come close to winning an event a few times,but I usually fell foul of some eleventh hour catastrophe that prevented it from being so-The most memorable of these being when the horse tripped and fell over the last fence when in the lead. My very last event with Mist made for similar reading. Honestly,eventing is the most stupid fucking sport really. Put in entry. Get financially ass-raped before you have even left the comfort of your own home.Get up at stupid o clock. Drive to the end of the earth. Wrestle your maniac horse into a shape for the dressage,only to be judged-and slated-by some bitch who hates you and can’t actually ride. Do the showjumping. That bit is ok,you’re either clear or not. Then,attempt to pilot maniac horse doing star jumps out of the box and in the assumed direction of the first cross country fence. Proceed to hurl yourself at speed at solid objects whilst both kicking and pulling and also trying not to vomit. Eventually get to end,wrestle maniac to a stop,spend hours faffing before deliberately not collecting your dressage sheet-who needs that depression-and driving back to your own time-space dimension,landing home at idiot o clock. Proceed to feed and muck out entire yard who have wrecked the place in your absence. It’s STUPID. I showjump now. Anyway,back when I pretended to be Lucinda Green in exchange for my life savings and any harvestable organs,I had this stupid idea that if I won an event,Id be noticed and Id begin to make progress. WRONG. Sigh. Well it eventually happened. And I’m not on the road to Rio,am I….

Number 12 was a tall black horse by Bonnie Prince. He came from Cork and he had a huge jump. He was a gentle soul,perhaps not the bravest but decent in his own way. I had a cracking spin around Camphire prenovice on him as a four year old,and he hunted with his owners that winter. He wasn’t really the better for it as he came back the following season with a question mark in his head where there never was one before. Anyway. I did a bit here and there with him,before entering him into Ravensdale for a 4 and 5yr old prenovice. I took little Mist along too. 12 did an ok test and he was the only one without a cricket score in the showjumping-it was indoors and some horses seemed to struggle. Not us. Sure what difference? Mist was uptight in his test but he of course showjumped clear-that’s what a Mist does-and things looked ok so far. Ravensdale is a strange,short course. It’s a wonderful place run by the nicest people you could ever encounter.but a galloping track it is not. Perhaps that was why 12 gave me a stinker of a ride. I was feeling fairly determined,so I did my best A.P McCoy impersonation and he scraped around clear. Mist lost his mind at the second fence (visivested fence judge,the horror) but once I had reoriented us off the circuitous route the horse was hell bent on we popped round clear far more easily than 12 did,but with a zillion time faults. Many pats. Mist would have placed but for the sheepdog on speed effort at fence two (this was the theme of his entire eventing career) and you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw that 12 had won.

So now I had won an event. Now I was a big cheese. Sponsors and horses would come. My genius in the saddle would be recognised. It was olympics or bust from here. Yeah. No. A very nice write up in the paper followed,and that was that. Nothing had changed. Same old same old. Huh. Well whaddyaknow.

Number 12 went on to have a successful career eventing at intermediate level in Italy. I went on to quit eventing totally and now I’m pretending to be a showjumper. Il always be grateful to him for showing me that winning is nothing. Keeping on winning,now that’s a thing. Mist went on to record back to back wins and a few placings the following season. The problem  though,with being on the crest of a wave,is that you can only fall off it.

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Bull rider,broken bones and bad boys

Not many people know this,but I’m a huge fan of Pro Bull Riding. Im not sure why,really all it is is a big angry bovine and a lunatic mad enough to try and stay on it. Seems stupid,but it’s quite some spectacle. One guy I worked for had a sticker on the cab of his lorry. It was the three Budweiser frogs but instead of bud-weis-er,the sticker said Bull-ri-der. It was almost prophetic for me.

Bodacious was a PBR bull in the early 00’s. He was forced to retire early by the powers that  be because he started laying waste to his riders. Quickly dubbed ‘The most dangerous bull in the world’,the final straw came when he caused serious facial injury to Tuff Hedeman and Scott Bredling and he was sent to stud age just seven. His story got me thinking. I have ridden a few equine Bodacious-esque horses in my time…..

I have mentioned Khudabad before-a chestnut Ashkalani gelding with a serious attitude problem and the ability to buck like a rodeo bull at 30mph. Another chestnut gelding-this time by Furisto-really started the brokenboneathon when I was 18. His owner was helping me and I had ridden the horse for 4 days prior to the disaster. This particular day,the owner wasn’t paying attention when holding the rope and the horse lost whatever was left of its tiny mind,leaping forward and upwards followed by immediately backwards and then upside down. Fossetts circus was never in it. His bounty included breaking my nose and jaw,leaving me pouring with blood and severely concussed. Nice. I wasnt always this ugly.

Around the same time in my life,another murderous angry chestnut arrived.He went by the name of Archie and he cost a pretty penny at the sales. By Cardinal Flower out of a mare by Pry,he was beautiful and the type of horse that could do any job. He didn’t agree. He was a total bastard. As soon as I started working him on the ground,I knew I was screwed. Someone had tried and failed to ride him,and he was pissed. He used to twist in the middle and flick himself around 180 degrees about 10 feet up in the air,and this equine Polaris Breach was designed to do damage. In the end,he was got going and sold to point to point,but he never did anything of nimageote-truly I can’t imagine anyone could have managed to stay on with a saddle the size of a teabag. You want Velcro and a seatbelt for that one,love…..

My mother started breeding horses in 1998. One of them was a massive big bay gelding,a full brother to my special little horse (Mist) but nothing like him at all. This horse was stunning,but he was so anxious. He would stand at his stable door bucking on the spot and sweating. He was so easy to break and he was super to ride. He jumped like a dream and the future looked golden. One day,he came out to work and started seriously rearing The minute I sat into the saddle. I had no idea why,and since we had bred and broken him ourselves,we knew he had suffered no ill fortune or incident. I fiddled around with bits and tack,the Physio,vet and dentist checked him but nothing pointed to the problem. I persevered with the panoramic views of Westmeath and the subsequent whiplash and vertigo,I tried everything in my ample arsenal to encourage the horse but he just got worse. Horses don’t just suddenly start walking on two legs instead of four,right? I dragged the horse hither and yon for gastroscopes and X-rays and every-goddamn-thing but still no clues. That horse in particular made me realise one thing-I was not,as I so fondly believed,able to ride any horse. I sure as fuck couldn’t ride this one. The final straw came when he bolted with me in a small arena and started launching himself vertically in a sort of rear as he went. Faster,Higher. Twice he landed on his hinds and went again. The third time,the stupid bastard missed with his hinds and he flipped over backwards at serious speed. I was BLESSED that the speed threw me clear. Two feet to the right and I was dead-that’s a certainty. We both lay side by side in the sand,neither of us got up for quite a while. Physically we were ok,but mentally not so much. I tried him again a few months later,as did two other guys but in the end he always reverted to this. He also suddenly wasn’t able to travel. He loaded fine,but the second you moved the rig he became seriously dangerous. My mother found a lad who was mad to buy him,but he was a dealer and I was petrified that the guy might get himself killed or sell the horse on. I told no one the day I had the horse taken away. When word finally got out,it caused a major rift in my family but in honesty it would have been grossly irresponsible to do anything different. I am sure there was a reason why the horse suddenly lost his shit,there always is. In this case,I never found it.

my list of fractures and injuries is impressive.It includes fractures of the skull,wrist,pelvis,fingers,toes,arm,shoulder blade,ribs,sternum and jaw,and damage to tendons in my right shoulder,glute tears and sprains of many joints. I am only 34. I’m a good rider,a skilled producer of young horses with a good eye,and a depth of knowledge many twice my age don’t possess. Was it worth it,all these bastard horses and stupid injuries? No. Of course not. But I’m here now,and I’m doing my best.

Dressage,utopia and drinking hats

In 1998, I started doing a bit of dressage. Well if I was going to become an eventing star,Id probably need to know how. I have no idea how it came to pass,but I ended up in the yard of one of Ireland’s most well known trainers. I was pretty terrified,but I worked hard and learned plenty. My trainer was a unique and extraordinary lady-pragmatic but kind,eccentric but generous-and she did far more than just teach me bumpy trot and funny canters. She gave me wonderful opportunity,letting me ride her very good dressage horse in the Silver Spurs championship and compete other horses at various shows for her. Being part of the yard forged lasting friendships,endless laughter and a feeling that I belonged somewhere.

I went on and did other timage image image image imagehings,and in time a job came available back with my trainer. I jumped at the chance,and I had two of the best years of my life there. It was the first time in my life that I had had real friends,and I made the most of it. We hacked for miles,we jumped insane things,we jousted with lungewhips and pulled bridles off eachother’s horses mid flight. The sun never stopped shining and life was just such fun. Once a week,my best friend would bring two cheap bottles of vino over. We would don our straw hats (our session uniform) and pour a glass or five.These nights led to some of the funniest times imaginable-camping out under the stars (damn straight we were festival fit),pink aftershock (a lot of it) ,putting the world to rights and on one memorable occasion-when VERY drunk indeed-trying to share a bicycle to get to the shop for cigarettes. This voyage also involved a  river,a bridge and a golf course,hence why I never forgot it…..

I felt safe,secure and accepted. My trainer’s family treated me as one of them,and they were So incredibly good to me.I rode a lot of different horses,from dressage schoolmasters to dealing horses. I taught a bit,although I cringe thinking that I used to give the odd lesson to one of the now Irish olympic riders. How embarrassing….I just really,really lived. I have such special memories of this time. I learned a lot about a lot of things,not just horses. It was a utopian existence and one I will cherish forever. From here,I went to work for another very well known Showjumper in Kildare. He was a former Olympian,and he taught me a huge amount. I still evented a bit when I could scrape the funds together but ultimately I think my love of showjumping training was ignited there,and it grew until it took over.

Not a victim,horses are our teachers and the German Appaloosa

This blog-you may be relieved to hear-is in the present. A temporary respite from the tales of yesteryear,because thanks to a shrink I am now sick of looking back. imageimage

I have been very public about my struggle with postnatal depression. This is not because I require any sort of tea and sympathy,but because Pnd is killing women and decimating lives. Hiding it away helps no one. Part of my learning to balance my life and prevent these episodes involves talking to a psychologist. All very marvellous. Except it isn’t. My shrink is the most humourless fucker I have ever met,to the point that he comes off as odd. He is making me dredge my past to see if any events from way-back-when are causing my Pnd. This is the greatest waste of my time-Im just being honest here. I fail to see how things that happened to me 20 yrs ago are affecting me now. My childhood was unconventional,don’t doubt that bit-but unconventional is not the same as bad. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about most of the stuff he is digging at-I have zero emotional connection to most things that happened before lunchtime today…. How does all this dredging help me deal with my life now? I don’t need to understand why my parents divorced or why I hated boarding school-I need to understand how to manage my life NOW. TODAY. TOMORROW. The shrink keeps saying that my pragmatic up-and-at-em attitude is a coping mechanism. What then is the alternative? Fall on the floor and sob? Moan to any passing stray dog? No one else is going to listen to you,they have their own crap going on.I feel like he is trying to encourage a victim mentality in me,and that is something that I simply can’t tolerate.

I have learned the following in the last 10 days-I NEED to ride my horses. They are the part of my life that remains MINE,that isn’t cooking or cleaning or changing nappies or doing the shopping or any of that other mind numbing crap. When I don’t get to ride for a few days-blammo-instant depression,just add water. I have also learned that I need to be less invested in other people’s problems. It is possible to be sympathetic and helpful without drowning yourself mentally-I just need to work out how.

Sunshine is no ordinary horse. I bought her in October from my wonderful friends in Donegal. She was typically beautifully handled and I loved how she jumped loose. She was easy to break and she has been the most timely horse imaginable for me. She has it all. Scopey,careful,text book limbs and SO intelligent. She has the lightest mouth and is so responsive to ride. She is looking to work with you and she improves 50% every day. I have searched high and low for this horse,and I can’t wait to see how she progresses. Today we did a bit of  grid work and she was just outstanding. Balanced,careful and always  looking. The elder statesman of the yard-Mist-also had a jump. He seldom does grid work and he was caught out as he Daffy ducked his way around with no brakes and a LOT of joie de vivre. He has atrocious balance,and at 13 that can’t change so I just adapt what I do to suit him. It just seems bizarre to have such a rideable and well balanced breaker,and a downhill toboggan of an older horse. I learn from these two every single day and they give my head peace in the most special way.

I ordered Charlie a rocking horse on line. From Germany,if you don’t mind. Score. I LOVE german horses,sure it’s bound to be bay. Nope. It’s a poxy Appaloosa. I hate spotty animals,they are always trouble-Appaloosas,Dalmatians,cheetahs. Anyway,Charlie loves ‘spotty’ so I suppose il have to live with it…There was a ‘moment’ with my husband regarding Spotty-he wasn’t best impressed about yet another ‘indoors Misty’ and his disgust deepened when he learned that I had taken the batteries from the TV remote to power Spotty up. Hey-you picked me,husband….

Mad notions,Kim the wonder mare and no more wonderly wagon on tour

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Kim
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Vector and friend grazing on the banks of Lake Como.

I was born on the 7th November. It turns out,so was Lucinda Green and also Bettina Hoy. Sharing a birthday with these two legends was CLEARLY a sign that I was destined to follow. It’s in the bag,as they say. I remember watching Badminton on the tv with my mother as a small child-BruceDavidson and Jj Babu,Lucinda and all the greats. You can’t help but feel that the sport was somehow more authentic back in those days. Anyway.

As an event rider,I doubt you could find a better role model than Lucinda Green. Not only is Lucinda the most outstanding rider-still capable of outriding most top riders in the sport and twice as stylish as any of them-she is also a phenominal human being. She is a unique blend of many extraordinary qualities and as a trainer,she is able to motivate and improve everyone from beginner to 4*. I decided one day that I wanted to have a lesson with her,and just like that Blackhill Eventing training clinics was born. Lucinda came over. Blyth and Clayton and Jock came over. I made some great friends and clients through the clinics and  all sorts came from it-education,buying and selling horses and some really very nice sandwiches too. Two lessons with Lucinda has given me a whole new way of teaching a horse to be responsible for itself whilst listening to you. Combining this with my good knowledge of producing young horses to showjump has led to me producing and selling a number of horses that have all gone on to enjoy successful eventing careers-this in turn has made many new friends and contacts for me. I have much to thank Lucinda for.

(For anyone interested,she will be here on 24 May-enquiries to me on FB)

The buying and selling started totally by accident. I had a wonderful Dutch horse who I wanted to go on and go showjumping. At the time,I was gung ho on a career eventing and so myself and his owner-breeder sold him to a jumping yard in Dublin. Of course then I decided I wanted to showjump and regretted horribly selling him,but he is in a wonderful yard in Italy on the banks of Lake Como. I’m so pleased for him and for his fabulous owner,who so kindly keeps me updated frequently.

I loaded the horse up to deliver him to his new owner,into my absolute wreck of a rice horsebox-it was so heavy that going over 40mph was out of the question and whilst it did the job and I appreciated it,I always felt like the poor country cousin arriving at shows and events.

The guy who bought my horse looked at me long and hard. He pointed to an absolute mammoth of a hairy bay yak in the field and said ‘I tell you what. If you can catch that,you can have it. It’s no use to me and its clogging the place up.’ Challenge accepted….It was pouring with rain and howling a gale,and the horse frankly didn’t give a fuck what I wanted-it was starting to look like we might need a safari park ranger with a tranq gun to resolve this situation. One by one,this game of equine ‘Challenge Anneka’ attracted more players-in the horse world,’refusal to be caught’ ignites a determination in the catcher like no other-if it took six weeks,this equine blunderbuss catchee was being caught,the end. And catch it we did. It was shoehorned into the craphole trailer and off we went. Closer inspection revealed that this monster was a mare by the name of Kim,6 yrs old and by a little known stallion in Donegal Called NC Amiro, who is now in real demand as a sire for event breeders.

Well Kim wasn’t going to event,anyway. She was huge and solid. She was also an absolute angel. I had never much liked mares-so opinionated and such divas. Awkward old cunts,in my opinion. Kim sorted that out for me and she turned inside out in a month. She was kind and genuine,brave and so keen to work with you. She was such a revelation that now I only ever buy mares,and I love them. Kim was here for about 8 weeks. I advertised her,sold her,made a huge twist on her and went straight to Westwood to purchase a brand new horsebox. And just like that,Blackhill Eventing horse sales was born…..

It’s something unpredictable but in the end is right,I hope you had the time of your life

Please don’t die. Please. You can’t. You’re all I have.

I found JJ in a crumpled heap in his stable at half past 5 in the morning. He couldn’t stand,he could scarcely lift his head. I got him to his feet and I summoned the vet,we put every drug in the car into the horse and I headed for the hospital. Loose flexures of intestine. Brick red membranes. Heart rate through the roof. A mess,a crisis,this is serious.

Surgery followed. Not his first time on the table,but surely the most dangerous. He was circling the plug hole at a dizzy rate and he really really might not make it this time.

Please don’t die. There is only you. I’m so proud of all you are. Please don’t die.

He survived the surgery. The drugs worked. Peristalsis resumed. His rates stabilised. I visited him every day and eventually he came home. Two weeks later,he went down again with a peritoneal hemorrhage. He was rushed back to the hospital.

Please don’t die.

In time,he made a full recovery. In the end the thing that killed him five years later was far more sinister than any colic,but that’s for another day.

Those moments that threaten to take the lives of those you love the most,lives that you can’t survive without-they leave scars on our souls.

In the end,we do survive. Time does not heal all,but it does bring distance. Distance brings its own clarity-we learn,we move on.

Another turning point,a fork stuck in the road

Time grabs you by the wrist,directs you where to go

So make the best of this test,and don’t ask why

It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time

Its something unpredictable but in the end is right

I hope you had the time of your life

What were you thinking?-oh wait,you weren’t,a sharp learning curve and salvation

My twenty year old self was a moron. So blinded by ambition and desperate for horses and success,I put blinkers on and set sail on the most preposterously stupid path imaginable. No surprise now in hindsight that I ended up in the bunker.

I was working for a Showjumper in Dublin when I was 24. I had Jj with me and things started out great. The yard,horses and show schedule continued to expand,the number of staff did not. 19 hour days,7 days a week.Myself riding and grooming,and one lovely polish man doing some of the mucking out and yard jobs. The national shows were good fun and we qualified three for Dublin that summer. Two in the international classes at Balmoral plus the RDS qualifiers lit the way for Dublin with three,Millstreet with nine and then an eight hour turnaround for the boat to France for a fortnight with three. National shows in between meant the pace was frenetic and by the time the RDS came round,I was really burning out. We watched the Olympic final from Athens in France,and by the time we got home Cian was under investigation for a positive test,having clinched the individual gold medal. We worked very closely with his yard so it was a tricky time. My rider was then called up for Nations Cup duties in Athens,and I was expected to go. I declined. I handed in my notice and left as soon as the truck was back from Greece. One final sour note was being made to totally unpack and clean out the truck that night by myself,leaving me hours late for my leaving party. I should have told the boss to fuck off. I wouldn’t think twice nowadays.

I arrived home and I had no idea what I was going to do now. We looked at putting in arenas but it wasn’t viable so for entirely nonsensical reasons I decided to set up by myself. I was-if I do say so myself-a super groom with high standards and ocd which continue to this day. I had a good knowledge of educating young horses and had much to offer but still,I was nothing and no one in the equestrian world. YET AND STILL I was sure that the phone would ring off the hook as soon as word got out that I was in business. Oh,the arrogance of youth.

The first go at this insane venture was in Kilkenny. A tiny arena,7 stables and a psychotic landlady. Couldn’t possibly fail….I had no jeep,no horse box,no fences and amazingly,NO SADDLE. We were full steam ahead to the idiot farm.Bit by bit,we added things to the project and eventually I was able to steer real horses over real fences with a real life saddle. I worked mornings for a racehorse trainer and my days consisted of mucking out about 20 stables,riding 14-16 horses and surviving on chips from the van on main street,Castlecomer. The only place still open at 11pm.

My next go at it-a few years on-was the hardest. I had learned much from my Kilkenny wonder year and I took up the rent of a super place in Kildare. 15 stables,beautiful arena,acres of hacking,turn out and a cross country course. It started out well. Existing clients came along too and a few more joined me. I was working hard and I was flat broke. I was also an hour from Niall,which was really hard. A local racing yard was using me as an overflow so I was pretty full up. One day,without warning,they turned up in the lorry and loaded up every single horse they had with me. I had done nothing wrong but their owners weren’t happy with horses all over the parish,and so our agreement ended. Now I was in the shit. For months,all I could afford to eat was Tesco value biscuits. I managed to get down to see Niall a few evenings a week and his mother used to feed me. I could do there and back on about €10 worth of diesel and most times I fell asleep on their sofa,wishing I never had to leave this safe place. In the end,I couldn’t afford to go on so a brief stint in a client’s own yard followed whilst we got set up at Niall’s home house. His parents took me in,sheds were modified for pony purposes and in time we built the sand arena. Myself and Niall got engaged. Solely and only because of that wonderful man and his generous and accommodating parents,I was out of the bunker at last. Life got differently hard but infinitely improved. My chances for competitive success had sailed away without me,but the good ship happylife was here Instead. Blessed.com.