Oh, hello world! I know this is the traditional opening to all of my most recent blog posts (and I’m using ‘recent’ as a relative term here), but I really am the world’s worst blogger.
Three months. Wow…
I originally intended my next post to be a wedding post. We got married in July, at a train station, with a steam train! There was Battenberg cake, the dog was there, our photographer was a close friend and the whole day went swimmingly. It was amazing. I will post about it, when we finally get round to finishing going through the photos. Honestly.
Instead, today I will post about one of the other things which has been occupying my time recently, and for once it’s not work!
If you’re reading this there’s a pretty strong chance you already know me (although Hi, random twitter referrals!), and if you know me, particularly if you happen to be friends with me through facebook, you’ll know I like horses.
I first started riding when I was 6, after I told my parents I wanted to give up ballet (I was never a very coordinated or graceful child). Very sensibly, they said I could, so long as I took up something else. I told them I wanted to start bull riding. Thankfully, my mother was more sensible than I, and suggested that I try horse riding instead, as she had a friend whose brother ran a riding school. I thought this was a reasonable compromise, so I did. And the rest is history – within a year, my entire family were riding, and not long after that we bought our first pony, Rambo – a young, inexperienced Welsh Section C.
He had no idea what he was doing, and neither did we, but he fit in as one of the family, and now, at the ripe old age of 29 he’s still part of it, and has recently been teaching my two year old nephew to ride. We were never in the ribbons (unless it was fancy dress), but we were never in it for that.
He did, however, have a bad habit of bucking whenever you asked for canter, which I never learned to sit out. As a result, I fell off a lot, sometimes spectacularly, and sometimes painfully. Combine this with later experiences of being tanked off with by my mothers cob, and I turned into a reasonably nervous rider (though always too proud to admit it). My nerves never put me off, but with hindsight, they did spoil the enjoyment somewhat.
As a teenager I all but stopped riding. Mum’s cob was too strong, and Rambo too small, and I didn’t really pick it up again until I returned home from university, took up lessons again, and began to ride my Mum’s new highland pony, Zorro. However, it hasn’t really been until this last year that I’ve properly started to get back into it.
This is down to several factors
- No more PhD! I have free time and can do fun stuff without feeling guilty any more!
- Joey & Bubbles – Since getting the minis I’ve rediscovered my love of being around horses, and the more time I spent with them the more I wished I had something to ride as well as muck about with on the ground
And, perhaps most importantly 3) Icelandic Horses.
Concidentally, I first heard of Icelandic Horses when I read an article somewhere about an Icelandic Trekking Centre in Shetland, before I had any thought of ever coming here. I remember hearing about their smaller size (typically around 13-14hh) and their power and robustness and thinking, they sound like my kind of horse. Years later when I first started coming to Shetland, I looked to see if that centre was still running. It isn’t, but Frances still has loads of gorgeous Icelandic Horses (including one very sweet little foal born this year!) and takes amazing photos of them on a regular basis. I’ve already mentioned her blog www.myshetland.co.uk as one of my favourite shetland blogs – go check it out!
My first encounter with Icelandics didn’t come until two years ago, when I got my little baldy mini Joey however. Joey came to me through the local SSPCA inspector, who told me that her Mum had just bought some Icelandic horses, with the view to starting an Icelandic riding school (Houlls Horses & Hounds), and asked me if I wanted a go. I said yes.
It was brilliant.
As I’ve already mentioned – I have been a nervous rider. As soon as I got on and realised that he was little sharper than I’m used to, my instinct was to collect him up, hold him and cling on for dear life. Big mistake. As I learned, in Icelandic terms, that means ‘go faster’. We span in circles, squirted off and generally got in a bit of a mess. It was quite scary. Then I realised that if I took a deep breath, he slowed down, and slowly, I learned to make myself relax. Bit by bit, these horses unearthed all the horrible and lazy riding habits I’d ever picked up, and demonstrated them to me, by doing exactly what my riding was asking them, or by getting cross, because my riding wasn’t asking them anything. It was very illuminating.
Two years on, I’m still riding at Houlls, but something has changed. If they nap, or shoot off, or get confused and throw a tantrum (which they sometimes do – my riding still needs work, I still send mixed messages, and these horses have brains and like to see what they can get away with sometimes!), I no longer freeze or panic. I laugh. I am no longer a nervous rider (although I’m nowhere near as ‘yeeha!’ as some!).
It’s hard to explain to someone who has never ridden an Icelandic what the appeal of these horses is. As well as the usual walk, trot, canter & gallop, Icelandics have two extra gaits. Tolt – a four beat travelling gate, which can be fast or slow, and is the most comfortable thing to ride ever, and Pace – a two beat lateral gate, just about as close to flying as you’ll get on a horse (I’ve not tried this yet, and as I’m not a speed merchant, I doubt I ever will!) The extra gaits make them great fun to ride, but there is something else too. Icelandics (or at least all the ones I’ve met) are generally very forward, willing horses, with a great deal of ‘go’, and yet they are not silly, flightly or precious. They are little solid tanks, and they have very sensible heads on their shoulders. Even when messing about, they somehow feel safe. Once you’ve ridden an Icelandic, it’s quite hard to imagine never doing it again. It’s a bit addictive.
This year I’m over -wintering Hordur, one of the Houlls horses. Hordur is 8 years old, and is worth his weight in gold A truer gentleman you will never meet. If I could clone him I would. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with him, and carrying out whatever homework our instructor Bjorn gives us to work on. I’m hooked. It’s only a matter of time before I get one of my own now (I hope that time is short). They’ll have some big shoes to fill after these guys, but I’m confident that there’s an icey out there with my name on it.
If you fancy trying out an Icelandic for yourself, Houlls Horses and Hounds offer lessons and hacks. The school is based on the beautiful island of Burra, and they probably have some of the best views from a riding arena in the world. I’d highly recommend it. For more info about Icelandics check out the Icelandic Horse Society of Great Britain too..