A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS.

Published by Horseplay.ie

(Pictured are-top: Stracomer Sunshine,4 yr old mare by Varo. Bottom:Blackhill Kilcoltrim,5 yr old mare by Contador)

I love buying horses. It’s like a drug addiction,only controlled by my lack of facilities and my husband guarding the credit card. I’m not really sure what it is that I’m so addicted to-lets be real,each new horse is more work,more money and more pressure in an already over-stretched situation but there’s something magic about spotting raw potential and moulding it into a quality performance horse. Each horse teaches me just as much as I teach them,and nothing gives me a greater thrill than a horse suddenly understanding something or really developing his skill set. It’s just as much of a thrill seeing horses you have produced and sold go on to better success with their new owners. This year,one of my former in-mates took the step up to Pony 2* with great success. Another contested his first event and came 6th,finishing on his dressage score and a very good young mare I sold qualified for the Swedish young horse championships. I was absolutely over the moon and it made every hard day in the pouring rain totally worthwhile. 

Ireland is a country of sellers,and when you find yourself in the ownership of a truly exceptional horse it can become a real dilemma. Keep or sell? I started dealing initially because I was looking for a horse to keep for myself. I only sell a couple a year and I’m a tiny operation,but I have sold eleven in the last five years. All bar one has gone on to enjoy good success-the one that didn’t was a real lesson for me. I bought her sight unseen from someone who was not as straight as I had thought. I deserved to be caught out,and I was. I won’t be as cocky again. Now I have two mares who are vastly different,but I want to keep them both. I need to build stables and I desperately need to resurface my arena if I want to continue and potentially expand my business. I have several smart young horses lined up on the conveyor belt that just need paying for. The wheel never stops turning. So keep or sell? How do you decide? I just don’t know. I think in the end, it comes down to cold hard cash. You can love a horse and decide that life is short,you will rest on your laurels and keep him regardless. Or you can love a horse,and appreciate the opportunities he gives you by being able to sell him and reinvest in your future. I suppose there is no wrong answer,only an answer that you can live with. 

I can never quite describe what it is that makes me want to buy a horse. I have a list of rules that I occasionally deviate from,but it has been a pretty successful formula so far. I tend to only buy fillies that aren’t hugely expensive. They must have good limbs but I don’t mind splints or false curbs. I don’t mind if the trot isn’t great,as long as the canter looks reasonably balanced. I like a horse with a good forearm and an obvious thought process when it jumps,these two things combined are pretty important if you want a safe jumping horse. I won’t buy horses with sarcoids,a poor jump or previous soft tissue injuries. All of this is all very well,but it’s only a guideline that I personally go on. What makes me buy,though? In truth,none of the above. What makes me buy is not being able to stop thinking about the horse. It’s that simple. Sounds ridiculous,no doubt-but any horse that has lingered on my mind and kept me awake at night that I have bought,has gone on to be brilliant. It’s not scientific,some would call it pure stupid but if I get the right feel about a horse,I’m almost never wrong……here’s to keeping her lit!!

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES,NEGOTIATION MINEFIELD AND HAPPILY EVER AFTER

  
Published by Eventing Connect

I LOVE mares. This is not how it always was,right enough-but these days I mostly only deal with mares. I used to hate them. Hormonal bags of unpredictable insanity that were nothing but trouble and far too much effort. And then Misty was born. I have mentioned him in precious blogs (Misty is a small,bad tempered but brilliant homebred horse that I evented until his legs crapped out. Misty is short for Mysterious,because he’s so strange……) Misty has tortured me for thirteen long years with his unreasonable demands,sudden dislikes to whatever-the-fuck,massive repeated public humiliation,hospital trips (mine and his),operations (his,so far), refusal to cooperate,sudden excessive enthusiasm for cooperation,excessive aggression and also generally traumatising me and anyone else within a 50 mile radius. He knocked the arrogance of youth right out of me,along with any dreams or ambitions of international brilliance I may have been harbouring……

One day,someone asked me to ride their mare. I thought ‘oh great,more torture’,but this mare was easy. Perhaps it was just her? Another mare came along. Also easy. Weird?? It took a few more repetitions for me to start slowly realising that I could now do this, and it changed my life completely. There is a secret knack to mares,no doubt. You have to know just how to ask,just when to let go,just how they like things done. Every single one is different,but they tell you everything in the first ten minutes if you’re listening right. In no time at all,it’s a harmony and it’s incredible. I have two mares at the moment and they are vastly different. Subject A is obnoxious with a huge ego,whereas Subject B is very diligent with no ego at all. Each one requires a different approach but the basis is the same-‘I love and adore you,let’s do things your way,I just love how you spooked at that hedge,OF COURSE you don’t have to go out in the rain’ etc etc. You have to start off on the right foot. There will be a few ‘conversations’ of course,but once you get the boundaries in place,you’ll have a friend like no other. 

Mares are smart. Things mean something to them. Geldings tend to trip through life doing whatever and existing from minute to minute-I’m wildly generalising here,but you understand what I’m saying. Colts can make great partners,the extra bit of joie de vivre can be really cool to work with but again they tend to exist minute to minute. And you’ll have to ignore the copies of ‘playmare’ stuffed under their mattresses….mares though,they take things to the grave. They forget NOTHING. That growl under your breath about ‘cat food’? Saved on file. That time you got on in a hurry and wanted her to just ‘do it already,for the love of mike’? Yeah now it’s gonna take three hours,so you better get comfy……Mares have a pretty crap reputation,and it’s something that I find frustrating. They are truly a doddle if you know how,and the ‘how’ isn’t rocket science. You just have to LOVE them. Reward every half-attempt that they offer you. Make a huge fuss of them all the time. Be firm but very kind and respect their boundaries too. I absolutely promise you that you will have a horse that will go into the fires of hell for you if you get it right. EVERYTHING means SOMETHING to a mare. Remember that.

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH,FOR BETTER OR WORSE,DON’T LOOK AT THAT VETS BILL

   

 Published by Eventing Connect

In recent times,eventing super-coupledom has taken the sport by storm. There is no doubt that to succeed at any level in the ridiculous world of horse trials requires a strong support team-Tim and Jonelle Price,William Fox-Pitt and Alice Plunkett,Sam and Sparkles Watson,Kyle and Jen Carter are sterling examples of how successful you can be with the right partner. But what if your passion is the equestrian Rubix cube of eventing,and your partner isn’t horsey? How do you juggle your priorities? Of course,my inner bitch thinks ‘screw your priorities,I’m going horsing’ but we all know that that leads to a sad and lonely life featuring A LOT of cats and mismatched clothing.

I have managed to stay married for six years now. It hasn’t been a challenge (for me-I’m sure it’s been the life Krypton factor for him) because my husband is the most tolerant human being on earth-in direct contrast to his wife-and he also isn’t horsey. At all. He’s a farmer. He HATES horses. I mean,so do I but I hate them DIFFERENTLY. He went to maybe three events with me. I was racked with guilt about him losing his weekend to something he neither likes or understands so I started leaving him at home. I can’t force him to like what I like. I could make him pretend he likes it,but that’s a whole other bartering system not appropriate for a family page…..his observations were hilarious. ‘Your horse is a dickhead’ (heard that a lot,couldn’t disagree) ‘how much money does it take to do this (stupid) sport well? It’s INSANE’ (again,unarguable) ‘is it time to go home yet?’ (Oh god if only) and ‘will there be chips?’ Here’s hoping….. 
The biggest disadvantages to solo flying are the smallest things-having someone to do a fence in the warm up,for example. I try to get in with someone else who has help if I can,otherwise it’s begging pleasant looking passers by to put a fence down or up for you. Not having your rounds videoed is another. Overall,I’m so used to it now though and for me,the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I am the mother of a berserk toddler. Days away with horses alone are a day away from everything at home,indulging my filthy little habit in peace and quiet. For me,it works and it’s achievable. 
Pre husband,I did date a show jumper so I have seen the flip side of non-horsey partners. It was kinda cool heading off together in the lorry but it’s not always easy working with someone who has different ideas than you do. If you have two totally separate operations out of the same base and neither interferes with the other unless required then it probably works,but otherwise I think It’d be carnage….the sand arena would be like some sort of Beiruit,lobbing jump cups at each other from behind fillers whilst swearing at each other and threatening to hide each other’s bridles….no thankyou……anyway,turns out the show jumper boyfriend was a psycho and I just about escaped before the cement lorry arrived……phew!! Just as well it all worked out since I obviously wasn’t destined to make it big in eventing anyway and the husband is much happier watching rugby on the sofa than he would be being dragged around Burghley. Each to their own! 

SELF HARM,THE GERM OLYMPICS,THE HEEBEEGEEBEES AND WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? 

   
 
Published by Eventing Connect

I have been MIA recently,for which I do apologise. The whole summer was chucked upside down by the stock theft and then a series of unfortunate and expensive events followed on from that. I won’t bore you with it,but the brief summary goes like this-first up,the big lorry cattle trailer needs replacing. Terrifying expense ahoy. Then the four year old (horse,just to be clear….) I had just advertised for sale to raise some dollars decided that it never wants to leave,that it loves me and the only solution to the situation was to attempt to saw her hind leg off. It was deliberate. No doubt. All of you ‘horses are not capable of rational thought’ people,YOURE WRONG…… Anyway,she opened an artery and she had a go at bleeding to death. She was stapled up and bandaged three days in a row but kept on bleeding in what became a very scary situation. She colicked from the sedation and couldn’t do much more than lie down looking defeated. ‘Let the crows have me’……she said. Then as an afterthought,she developed cellulitis AND a weird abscess just below her hock. Laughing in the face of antibiotics. Of course,she’s the only horse in twenty years that I can’t manage to inject or syringe (because she is some sort of Ted Bundy in matters of medicine administration) so she then ran up a MAHOOSIVE vets bill with daily call outs (because the vet is about eleven feet tall and a crack shot with an iv even if the horse is doing the fandango). All I can say is, horse-you BETTER fucking jump next season…… 
In the middle of this abortion,weird things were happening. Items kept flying off the shelves in my tack room. Things would go missing,only to turn up days later in improbable places. Machinery would randomly break down at vital moments.And then there was the squirrel. We don’t have squirrels on the farm,they haven’t been seen here in forty years (apparently). I went out to work a horse,came back to the tack room afterwards and there was a dead red squirrel on the floor of the tack room. The room is sealed,there was no way in.Red squirrels are super-rare. Again,We don’t have any squirrels…… You are now entering the twilight zone. When I had finished freaking out and wondering if some sort of cult religion might be a good idea after all,I decided that there was only one thing to do. I took my beautiful squirrel to the taxidermist. ‘When life gives you lemons,drink tequila’ right? Except in my case,it’s ‘when life gives you (dead) squirrels…..’ Colour me completely freaked out…..
To add to the poxy horse and it’s stupid poxy infected limb,my little boy got a terrible chest infection. He is recovering after a boatload of antibiotics. Life throws up an all-new perspective once you have children. Although this year has been a real ‘Annus Horribles’ for us, Charlie fixes EVERYTHING. Once he is ok,the rest of it is just white noise. He has recently taken a keen interest in mucking out (hurrah!!!) so he now has his very own wheelbarrow. Start as you mean to go on….. 

 
My farrier was here yesterday,and in the course of conversation he said ‘wouldn’t you wonder what goes through horses’ heads?’ I have the answer! Jibberish,mostly. Plain and simple. They have no idea what they are doing. They are large,hopeless and badly designed expensive downhill toboggans,with minds like a labyrinth and no decorum. To be fair,they are just as varied and diverse as humans in my experience-some are supremely intelligent and some are stupid. Some are incredible talents and some are hopeless cases. Some are genuine,willing partners and some don’t care actually,what it is you want. Some are tough and durable,others are great big nancies made of glass and polystyrene. Some are programmed in Taiwanese,and some in your native language. Some come with a manual,some without. So why is it,then, that I always seem to end up with vastly intelligent and talented types that don’t care what I want,are made of glass and programmed in Taiwanese but with no manual????? Sigh.

 

I’M NOT LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME,I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING AND I CANNOT FIND THE EXIT.

Published by Eventing Connect 

Most of us started out on our horsey journey as fresh faced,clueless pony mad kids. We couldn’t get enough of anything horse related,from mucking out a zillion stables in return for a heaven sent lesson on the worst yak in the riding school,to saving our copies of Pony Magazine and putting the centre spread poster of Mary King (On a horse,obviously-not in strange latex clad pose,although you do what you have to to pay for horses…..) up on your bedroom wall. You adore cleaning tack and reading your pony club manual. You have NO IDEA what you are letting yourself in for. You are CLUELESS. STUPID,even. If I could give my pony mad self one piece of advice,it would be ‘turn on your heel and run like a mother fucker. Do not look back. You’ll thank me later’. But of course,there was no quantum delivery of sensible advice,and now look. Too late.  

 
Once you have committed yourself to a life with horses,you can expect to be flat broke,hungry (lack of food variety,not excess of ambition variety) and a bit Labrador-esque in your desperation to learn. Oh you’ll learn alright. No other animal will break your heart faster,let you down more often or cause you financial ruin so fast. Assuming you survive the initial hardship of exposure to the horse industry (seriously,you are actually blind and not with ambition either) you might decide it’s time to go it alone. DO NOT go it alone. You think you know what you are doing. You don’t. It’s so much easier when the bills are someone else’s problem. Anyway,off you go like a deer into the proverbial headlights of life. And it might just work out for you. You might get lucky and catch a break. You might. Now the real fun begins. 
Trying to attract owners,horses and sponsors is a bleak time in any young rider’s life. If you survive this bit-the wilderness years,if you like-then you will be on the way to making a go of it. You will become familiar with your top horse being made of glass and insanity,of the vets using phrases like ‘I have never seen anything like this before’ (seriously,if I had a euro for every time I’d heard that…) of having to ride some truly hideous specimens and of slowly realising that this life is INSANE. You will repeatedly ask your horses questions like ‘what the fuck are you even doing?’ And ‘is there an actual need?’ .You might find yourself forging ahead and making a huge success from your hard work and dedication. I salute you. You are the minority,but you deserve that success. You might-like me-find that your route to the top was never going to happen,and so settle for using your vast experience to produce the young horses that make the dream possible for the good riders. Or you might quit horses completely. I think about this almost daily,but I can’t do it. It’s mostly because I have no idea how to do anything else. I have a vast array of other interests but no time to pursue the required education to forge a career elsewhere. It’s partly because recently I stumbled upon the most sensational horse I have ever seen,a horse that no one else wanted but who is slowly igniting the dying embers of my passion for the horsey life. And it’s because I love them. The greatest thrill in the world for me is feeling my young horses work it out and try to do what you need. I think that’s the hook-no other mammal in the world is as keen to please you-for no reason whatsoever. There’s nothing in it for the horse.
So to those of you starting out-good luck. Take it from this old timer (at the grand age of 34), you’ll need it. And money. Millions of money. Get an education first,horses are always here but education is not. Don’t be afraid to quit. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be kind to yourself. Semper Fi.

CERTAIN DEATH,HOW DID YOU EVEN GET A SADDLE ON IT? AND AN UNLIKELY STAR.

Published by Eventing Connect 

‘You want me to what?’ I looked at the scrawny bay with wild eyes and I listened as his new owner explained that they wanted me to train their horse.Train it? It looked like it had only seen its first human half an hour ago. The owner had seen the horse jump the top of the wings at a sale-apparently with a human on board-and had bought the horse. For me. To train. Maybe even event. Lucky,lucky me…… ‘Rocky’ had arrived. 
I tacked up the feral thing whilst the owner looked on proudly. I pulled the girth,Rocky exploded. I fetched a lunge line. Luckily,at the time I was a work rider for a nearby trainer so I was quite used to horses of a psychotic nature. After a lengthy lunge,I could no longer avoid it. I had to board the beast. I somehow managed to scramble on and stay on for quite a while,but with little in the way of brakes and steering my luck ran out and he put me into orbit. I learned pretty quickly that if Rocky set about depositing you,you were coming off and that was it. I persevered,and one day I had the genius idea of tying up his reins and letting him loose for a run around before I got on. It mostly worked quite well until the day before his first event. Rocky had bottomless stamina and could gallop for six weeks without breaking a sweat.He was also wild enough and talented enough to jump anything at all. On this particular day,I let Rocky loose for his usual jog about. Forty minutes later,he was still going-lobbing along very easily and economically,but really not stopping. I tried and tried to catch him,with absolutely no success. Eventually he turned his head and fixed me with a glare,before sauntering down to the arena gate-which was about five and a half feet high-and sailing out over it. What the fuck?? Was this horse made by SkyNet???

Eventually-and thankfully narrowly avoiding the need for a tranquilliser dart gun-I managed to catch him. I thought perhaps he would at least be quiet the next day at his first event. Yeah. NO. I got on to go down to dressage. I made it approximately five feet forwards with the horse,before travelling a good fifteen feet upwards without the horse. I could still see the saddle and in a feat befitting of any astronaut,I managed to land back in it. Rocky then flipped out completely,walloped me in the face with his poll,exploded again and I was toast. Marvellous. Of course then the bastard found himself loose on the Galway Serengeti and proceeded to cruise the lorry park and dressage arenas,with a couple of Top Gun fly-bys of the showjumping arenas for good measure. I didn’t even bother trying to catch it. The previous day’s stupidity suggested that there was no point. At that moment,I didn’t care if I never saw the fucker again. Sadly,someone did catch it and I had to get back on. I eventually made it to the dressage arena,decorated with blood and grass stains. Rocky did a ridiculous test using approximately ten metres of the arena which he only just stayed in. No one died,and some days that’s the best you can hope for. We went showjumping for one down but he was sort of alright. I got down to the start of the cross country in a pretty pissed off frame of mind. 3,2,1 GO! GOOD LUCK! Thanks,I’ll need it….. Rocky hung like a gate and did his best to nap over the first few. I was sore,fed up of this unruly prick and I wanted to go home. Suddenly I had had enough. Now horse,you are GOING TO DO IT. In a ride that AP McCoy would have been proud of,I picked the horse up by the scruff of the neck and gave it one of the best rides I have ever given any horse. There was no intro level in those days,so he was starting off at prenovice-but this was a particularly beefy track with corners,arrowheads,a big bullfinch and other similar terrors. He flew. I knew straight away that this bastard of a horse was a different class altogether if we could only get him broken and riding. He finished 7th that day despite his atrocious dressage. Most horses didn’t make it home clear,but he did. 

The next two years were muddled. His owners promised me the ride on the horse but they sent him hunting in the worst of Irish country before giving him to an Irish international rider in the UK. That was their choice of course,but I didn’t ride for them for too much longer. I felt pretty cheated,having worked so hard on a horse no one else would ride.Rocky went to Blair for the 1* where he was eliminated when his rider fell off in the showjumping. He came home briefly before being sold to a leading event horse producer. He went to Portugal and he cruised up to 2* easily. He contested two young rider European championships for Italy and he is now eventing successfully with a young rider in the UK. He is incredible.

It is so important with horses to be open minded. Not all of us want to struggle with wild mustangs but sometimes,bits of coal really do polish into diamonds. If you think the horse is worth it,persevere a while. And for the love of God,take out personal insurance……  

 

KEEPING IT REAL,WHAT?? AND HOW MUCH?????

Published by Eventing Connect 

Eventing is a glorious thing in all its forms. No other horse sport requires so much from horse and rider in so many opposing directions,and it is no surprise that it continues to grow and thrive. The camaraderie and close knit community nature of eventing makes it a lovely sport to be involved in in any capacity,from grass roots to 4*. Of course,it has it’s well publicised dark side which has so sadly contributed to pushing horseback riding to the number one spot in the world’s most dangerous sports-currently ahead of Bullriding and cheerleading. Overall though, many people find it a very worthwhile and enjoyable sport to be involved in. But how do you get started? There are so many forums and websites with advice on just this-some factual and helpful,others terrifying and written by Walt Disney. Never fear! Thanks to my chequered time eventing,I am here to bring you the realist’s version. Brace yourself.
Step 1. I’m assuming you can rise to the trot,own some sort of horse and know the ears from the tail. Right. Anyone from novice to professional can aspire to go eventing but you must first prepare. Go to the bank,withdraw a large sum of money-around $5k-take it outside and set it free in the breeze. Be completely fine about it. Go home. You are now ready for step two.
Step 2. Once you can manage some strange shaped polyhedrons in a ridiculously small rectangle in walk,trot and canter occasionally on command AND you can even halt sometimes (show off),you can do a dressage test. I advise you refrain from extensive displays of gratitude toward the horse for staying within said rectangle and not running the judge down until you get back to your trailer. 

 
  Step 3. If you can steer your way around an 80cms,stay on,remember the course,count from 1-9 and stay in the arena,you have the showjumping basics covered. Don’t worry if the poles fall down,but refrain from swearing at your horse and threatening it with the barbecue until you get back to your trailer.
Step 4. If you are religious,now can be a good time to pray to your deity. The cross country tends to instil a feeling of wanting to vomit/pass out/run away in most riders from intro to 4*. Apparently this is a GOOD THING. It means you are ‘ready to perform’. Perform what,I have no idea-but anyway. You will need to have shown-and perhaps even jumped-the horse a variety of fences from ditches to water to hedges and so on during your eventing preparation. Assuming you can manage this with some sort of functioning braking system,a vague sense of direction and again,that all important ability to count past 5-well then you’re ready to give it a go.  
Step 5. Retrospection in the more charitable type of human being can often lead to easily forgetting the horrors of your day eventing,and vivid memories of the brilliant bits. The only other area of life where this also rings true is childbirth. Much like parents of one child,you will probably think that doing this again is a GREAT IDEA. All I can say is,good luck……
My key points-

Beware the event horse. The marvellous,flashy expensive ones with olympic capability are often on the psychotic side and full of unreasonable demands. The rather less exotic horse with less alarmist tendencies and a good heart are the best types to start you on your eventing journey.

Read the rules. Don’t land yourself with fines for remounting (*looks sheepish*),penalties for using the wrong equipment,crossing your tracks etc etc.

Turn yourself and your horse out as well as you can. Clip hairy heels,read the rules for correct dress and practice plaiting.

Always say thankyou to everyone and smile like crazy,even if you really want to cry/quit/sell your horse to the gypsies

Try to enjoy yourself!!! And don’t sweat the small stuff, like poles down or now having no money and even less sanity. ENJOY!!!!