Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bearback Riding or Saddless

My instructor Vincent Dempsey from Blackberry Stables, introduced me to a new technique - Bearback Riding or riding without a saddle. This was to teach me both balance and stickability.

Stickabilty - meaning that I am more stuck to my saddle and therefore less likely to fall off. 

The prospect of riding without a saddle was both exciting and scary. You have a bridle and reins and a mane to cling onto but that's it!!

So Vincent popped me up onto Trigger the troublesome little 12.2 hands high pony. Firstly we walked in order for me to gain my balance as it is very much a different sensation riding without a saddle. Walking was fine after a minute however given its slower and gentler nature added to its easibility. Then Vincent asked me to trot Trigger and to just treat it as if I was doing sitting trot (with a saddle). I thought for the first few strides I was going to pop off as Vincent is shouting "Relax into the movement, Relax". Later filling me in that yet again the bodies natural reaction goes against you when trying to ride. If you tense up which tends to happen when one gets nervous and riding without a saddle and stirrups will induce a sense of fear or apprehension. When tense your body goes ridged and therefore bounces around on the horses back instead of flowing with their movement. In other words you and the horse must move fluidly as one and then you wont bounce or bob, you will just gracefully flow in time together.

Well I can tell you I was as graceful as a rag-doll with a two year old as my puppeteer!!! The more I tried to grab with my legs to hold on, the more I would bob and flail however I did manage to stay on board. Trigger was very good to put up with be smacking, bashing, flapping and flopping about while I learned to stay on and get my balance.

Ah the bliss when you would get your balance and relax, you feel in time with your horse and your both fluidly floating along together. Until of course moments later and you lose you balance tense up and grip with your legs and the cycle of bobbing, bounding and bouncing continues until you relax and regain your balance again.

Plenty of practice in trot later and Vincent decides "OK Clodagh I want you to canter". Gripping on the only thing I can, that being my resolve and my nerve, I indicate to Trigger I want to canter. To my surprise as he took off it was MUCH easier to canter bareback than it was to trot. I elated as Trigger and I canter around the arena in harmony. Vincent disturbs my bliss with "Now Clodagh I want you to REALLY RELAX and come back to trot". Me now thinking no problem!!!

The minute Trigger broke into trot I was bobbed that high up that I thought he wouldn't still be under me when I came back down!!! I clung to Triggers mane and gripped with my legs, of course doing everything that you're not suppose to however my body's survival instincts I have learned are very strong and my body doesn't like to override these safety mechanisms. I then realised that one of the hardest moves riding bareback was to come back from canter to trot. In dancing terms the tempo and the steps change very quickly and if you miss your beat you'll flounder. It would be like going from waltz (i.e. canter) to fox trot (by its name gives it away as trot).
Bareback riding on Trigger
Bareback on Trigger
So off I go to practice my bareback riding on Triggs and hope that he puts up with me!!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Painful Paddy's Day

This is a moment I wasn't sure whether to record in my blog however upon reflection its a very important moment in time and in my life. 

St Patrick's Days morning, I had sorted out how my day was going to pan out and all the different delightful things I was going to get up to. First thing on the list was go horse riding so I went down to the field to catch in Shadow {a young horse needing to be brought on so i didn't want to break with her training as horses love routine and thrive on it}. So head collar in toe I headed off to catch Shadow. Jack (the dog at Blackberry Stables yard) came with me. Both of us trundled down the lane happy with the sun on our faces and blessed with a beautiful day ahead. This blissful moment of day dreaming was broken by a distressed puppy's bark. Lola who was the new puppy of the house owner who lives at the entrance to the field where the horses live. As I heard her bark I was alerted to some danger as:

  1. I had never heard her bark before (she wasn't a yappy type of dog)
  2. The tone of her bark was one of trouble upset. 

When I came up to Lola's house I was asking her "What's wrong Lola?". Once I saw her I could see she was barking at something in the field behind her house. It was at this point, when I could see what Lola wanted to alert me to that all my blissful day of plans were shattered by the sight of one of the horses down in the field right by the gate. 

I ran around to see Moss, Vincent's retired hunter (owner of Blackberry Stables). A beautiful chestnut gelding lying down at the entrance to the field. I ran to him to see was he breathing and he was but he was very weak. I knew he was conscious so I ran back to get his owner Vincent Dempsey and to alert him of what had happened. 

We gathered different tools and things that Vincent thought he may need trying to preempt the cause of the situation. Scissors in case he caught his leg in his rug, a head collar to help him up and so on. When we arrived back I was hoping Moss would be up and walking but no he was where I had left him.

We tried to get Moss up but he was too weak and Vincent knew that the vet needed to be called. I made Moss more comfortable by putting hay under his head while we sat to wait for the vet. That time with Moss is the closest I have ever come to see death and the moment is something I still find it difficult to put words to.

When the vet came he told Vincent that his heart was too weak and he said he would be kinder to put him to sleep. Vincent didn't want Moss to suffer so he said to go through with it. I asked if i could say as I had grown very found of Moss. Every time I went to catch a horse I would always bring him a little something and he'd smile at me (well he'd pull his lips back and it looked like a big toothy grin). Vincent said I could stay and that Moss would like that. 

That is as much as I can write because it was very difficult to experience however on the other hand I am glad that I was there to witness his passing and be there for him. 

RIP Moss Dempsey

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Morning Catch Hazardous Happenings

I caught more than the horses this day!!
Easy Peasy! the two I need to catch right beside each other - Think again!!
One beautifully sunny morning I went down early to catch in two steads, Tubs and Oscar both needed for lessons that day. Tubs proved difficult to catch. She as much as said "Oh no, you must be mistaken I'm not working today, now go away till I work on my tan". You'll see from the photos below that a horse will always tell you when they are just not that enamored with you catching them, the tell tale signs are:
  1. They look at you see the head collar and put their ears flat back on their head.
    (horsey translation - stay away from me)
  2. They will turn their hind quarters or their bottom towards you. This is a threatening motion as they are letting you know if you don't leave them alone they may kick you. 
  3. General look of unease and not wanting to be caught by you.
Tubs spots me and puts her ears back - (warning not to come any closer)
Tubs: Ears back and walking away from me
Tubs finally turns her bottom towards me as her final warning to stay away
Tubs spys the treat of a carrot I've brought for her and her ear go forward to let me know that shes considering my offer

After Tubs gave me the run around for 10 minutes Oscar being the gent that he is proved to uphold his dapper nature and was easily caught. A welcome contrast to Tubs moody morning displays!!

Oscar the dapper gentleman in the front and Scooby behind
So with both capaills caught I was walking back up the field and unfortunately tubs smelt the spare carrot treat I had in my pocket. I WAS going to treat them both to an 'On the Go' snack. However before I had time to administer my tantalizing treat. Tubs leaned her head into my pocket, her nose confirming that it was indeed a carrot hidden in there. In her excitement she stood too close to me. The next thing I felt was the pain shooting up my leg emanating  from my foot. Yep the lady had full on stood on my foot. I shook it off thinking it'll be OK 'I mean how bad can it be'. For the rest of the day my foot felt very tender and quite sore. I decided to wait until that night to inspect it further as I thought if i take this boot off will i get it back on again?????
Ta Da both caught and heading yard bound

My instincts were right when I took my boot and sock off this is what I found. 
Later to be found (two weeks later in fact) that I had indeed sustained a broken little toe out of my early morning dalliance with the lady Tubs. 
The other thing I found out was that supposedly there is zero one or even the medical profession will do for a broken toe they say just leave it to heal!!

Friday, February 28, 2014


Something I have been dreading since I first started riding -
My First Fall
I think its a fear everyone has, its a fear of; the unknown, the breakable nature of your body, the realisation of your frailty and fragility. The horror stories of horrific falls and terrible injuries added both weight and gravity to my instilled fears. As my Instructor Vincent Dempsey from Blackberry Stables Maynooth has told me on many an occasion my survival instincts are VERY STRONG!! These comments were amongst many attempts at him trying to get me to fall off. Him all the while knowing and saying that, once the first one is over its fine after that. While I thought VERY differently - Yea you can say that your not the one falling off - this fear (which is perfectly natural may I add) is what keeps me and my precious posterior firmly glued to the saddle.

Well IT happened!!
I had gotten brave with my riding Star when a few of the others at Blackberry Stables yard asked would you like to try your skills at some cross country. [for those of you readers who may be unaware of what cross country is - it is where you jump around a course of fences like showjumping. However all the jumps are across countryside and are either 'natural' or man-made. Thus meaning they are solid, unbreakable and immovable. Hence if you hit them they will not move, however you or your horse will!! Cross Country is unlike the forgiving showjumping fence where the poles will fall if you hit them]. The encouragement offered by the others was "You don't have to jump everything, you can walk around the ones you don't want to jump" So being quietly courageous I said sure lets do it, myself and Star are up for it.

So five of us headed off. Properly petrified I precariously came up against my first ditch [a ditch where I come from is very different, its a hedge. So I feel honour bound to explain what a ditch is - it is a drain used for drainage of a field or paddock. Or basically a BIG whole in the ground]. On our approach to the ditch Star picked up on my trepidation thus resulting in him stopping dead just before it. My adrenaline fueled jelly legs kicked us on and with shouting encouragement from my Blackberry Stables compadres we got over it. Only problem being we'd to go back over it.

So no Fall yet I hear you say, oh no wait for it. Star and I jumped the ditch and a few other fences and with every fence my confidence grew and thus Stars in me too!!. So the next challenge was to jump up two big steps and down a bank and over a small ditch, NOTHING like the size I had jumped earlier. Executed perfectly until we came to the ditch at the end I forgot to do one of the most IMPORTANT things you need to do in order to jump any fence - 'Give with my hands' [meaning put my arms forward and thus the reins as well, as they are in my hand. In order to give the horse enough room to plunge their neck forward to get over the jump]. I forgot due to the amount of stuff going on in my brain, keep your knee on the saddle, balance, sit forward for the steps but sit back for the bank, keep your heel down, get your bum out of the saddle and so on ............. So forgetting to give with my hands ment Star pulled me clean off. I came off right into a BIG puddle, DRENCHED down one side I jumped up smiling and delighted shouting "WEHOO!!! my first fall and i'm ok, i'm ok WEHOO!!!!" It was a real relief to get it over and done with. IT was also lovely to realise that all my bones where still in tact and that I still had all my faculties.

The Point of No Return

Upon reflection of my fall I realised that there was a sequence to falling and all of which happen within a split second:

  1. The realisation that oh oh I might be coming off, mmm maybe I can right myself 
  2. This is quickly followed by the Point of NO Return, this is the point where you know I'm Coming Off
  3. Ok I'm coming off so how can I best fall? Tuck and roll Clodagh tuck and roll out of it
  4. Then run like hell out of the way in case someones coming behind you
  5. You hit the ground and roll 
  6. Get up ASAP and run out of the jumping line
And I have to say that when I fell Star stop turned around to see if I was ok and then once he saw I was up and walking he bolted off in canter.

The After-Shot

Abstract to say the least!!! So if you are confused as to what this picture is; let me help you figure it out. The white ball in the middle of the photo is my pearl earring that is still in my ear!!!

The full photo of the close up above
This is a full photo of the damage but what I love about it is that I am still smiling :) 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cantering over a Jump

My first Canter over a jump 
This was something I had feared once I started jumping. I was afraid to jump in canter as I was only jumping in trot (which was nerve wrecking enough, thank you!). I would say to myself "there's no way I'm ever going to canter over a jump, that's way to scary". Therefore I kept to practicing what I knew.
However,I was told, the first time you jump in canter that it would just happen organically, and it did!!!

I was out practicing one day and I was jumping around a course of fences with all in intentions to do it in trot and the next thing three jumps in and three to go and it happened. Star and I jumped in canter over the third and the fourth jump then I pulled him back to trot over the last two poles in order for my brain processing to catch up with what had just happened.

My processing and analysis came up with:
It was as if Star had himself decided "Come on your ready to jump in canter now lets go" and he took off and it was AMAZING. As I don't remember asking for canter, Star just knew I was ready. It may sound a bit Karate Kid or like something Mr Miyagi would say, "when the pupil is ready the teacher will appear". In this case, that was so true and my teacher was Star. I was ready to jump in canter and he just did it and taught me that I could do it and that fear was the only thing holding me back. Though I do believe that an acceptable amount of fear is healthy when showjumping as it will keep you alert and safe.

"Horses give us the wings we lack"

Unfortunately because of its spontaneous arrival I don't have a video of me jumping in canter for the first time. However it is a memory that will stay with me a lifetime. The feeling was like as if I was really flying but with out a plane or jet pack, it was just me and Star flying through the air, as one. Thankfully though my instructor Vincent Dempsey and my Mum were there to witness it with me. Which was great to be able to get feedback from people on the ground about what had happened. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Straight Pole

I trotted over my first straight pole with much cajoling from my instructor Vincent Dempsey from Blackberry Stables Riding School, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. In hindsight I do not know what all my stressing was about as he kept the pole low and Star being the trusty steady stead that he is, was WELL able to jump it. It was just my fear that was holding me back! The straight pole just looked so much more scary than the cross pole did.

So once I recovered that I was alive and well after having jumped a straight pole, I wanted another go. I had my hit of adrenaline and I was looking for another one. The exhilaration of jumping with a horse was just amazing (even though this was all at a trotting pace). Vincent told me it was only going to get better! and how right he was. However he did tell me that in order to put the jumping poles up higher I would have to be coming into the jumps in canter. DON DON DON!!!!!!! Next scary point, there seems to be an unending array of things to be fearful of in horse riding or maybe its the fact that I came to it so late and that I know that broken bones take time to heal and its longer when your older!!!!

I hear you say why is it that you need to canter over higher poles?
This is in order to give the horse/pony better impulsion to be able to clear the jump easier. Basically it would be like us trying to do the high jump or pole vault from walk.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Riding without stirrups
Yep you heard me right!! riding without stirrups!! Why in GODS name would you attempt that?? Well that's exactly what was going through my mind the first time my instructor, Vincent Dempsey from Blackberry Stables Riding School decided that this was to be my next challenge. Supposedly Vincent swears by riding without stirrups in order to teach you balance and feel.

Well, as you can imagine taking away your stirrups gives you PLENTY of opportunities to practice your balance. Even just in walk the sensation of riding without the security of your stirrups is disconcerting enough without then kicking on to attempt trotting without stirrups!! 

For my pioneering plunge into riding without stirrups I was on Star and praying not to hit the deck as he has a really bumpy trot. I kicked Star on into trot and I had to hold him back from trotting too fast because if he started his 'lets trot at the speed of canter trick', I was a goner. However trying to get the balance between holding him back enough to keep a nice slow trot going and not pulling him back to walk, was a challenge. Not to mention the whole factor of also trying to balance to stay on-board in the first place due to having no stirrups!!!

Vincent shouts instructions from the side lines, all the while I'm trying to balance and look relaxed when that's the furthest thing from my mind and bodily reactions! Which are both obvious to Vincent my instructor, so he tells me to:
                - Stop gripping with your knees
                - Relax and breathe
                - Sit into the saddle 
                - Relax your legs down the side of the horse
                - Point your toes to the floor
                - Let the energy dissipate out through your tummy
                  (his did not make sense till after I got how to do it)

As with many other things with riding, this lesson was no different and was to take many many many attempts and practice before I could say I was in harmony and in timing with my horse. Star did not help matters by having a very bumpy stride and his fondness of taking off in trot, threw my balance off many a time (and still does - that's the mischievous Star for you) 

When riding without stirrups it is to be expected that your derriƩre will be in tatters.
The constant impact (as your more than likely doing it wrong) gives your rear a fare bashing.
So much so I genuinely think that I bruised my sitting bones
(however bruises do not actually show on your derriƩre - I've checked due to the pain caused)

Horse riding without stirrups should come with a warning.
My suggested warning would be:

Expect extended periods of standing post practice
We recommend the following product should you wish to continue your practice

This technique of riding without stirrups is one that I am told takes years to master to be fully in-tune and in harmony with your horse without gripping for dear life with your knees and hands (and anything that will help you to stay on!!)

Monday, February 3, 2014

My First Jump

Cantering on Star:
Star has this funny trait, when you ask him to canter from trot, he just gets faster in trot. My theory behind this is, that its a test! If you don't put your leg in the right place or apply the right pressure at the right time or maybe if you ask him to canter and he reads you to be a novice! I think Star says to himself "lets have a bit of fun with this one" and he starts to trot really fast (as if to try and unseat his rider so he doesn't have to canter at all). So there has been some interesting times learning and practicing my canter on Star, the little trickster.
Now that I have practiced my canter on the ever so bumpy Star!!!
Vincent suggests I try my first jump over a cross pole!!!!!
I'm not sure there is just one word to describe how I felt about this comment:
- due to the amount of adrenaline pumping around my veins

One very nervous Clodagh picked up her reins and kicked Star on for her first jump.....
Does she stay on.........
Will she have a fall........
Watch to find out

Well I stayed on!!!! WEHOO!!!! I laugh when I see this video because if you look, Star jumps and after the jump if you look closely at me you can see that I stay glued to his mane in my jumping position, as if to say I AM NOT COMING OFF, NO WAY NO HOW!!!! 
First jump down next achievement is to jump a straight pole. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Clodaghs Capaills

Here I'd like to introduce you to the motley crew at Blackberry Stables. 
For anyone who is wondering 
'Clodagh's Capaills' is a term in Irish, meaning 'Clodagh's Horses'.

Tubs - The Grandmother
Tubs is a grand lady standing 14 hands 2 who is the overseer of everything that goes on in Blackberry Stables. She is the mother hen with a reserved temperament and a careful nature. She'll also make sure you don't fall and rider safety is her utmost concern. Tubs susses out her rider in seconds and knows the level she needs to put out for the rider on board, she's steady and true. However she is a mare and has her moody days too like any woman I suppose!! But she loves nothing more after a hard days work than to potter down the field and have a good olde roll.

Star - Speedy Gonzales
Star measuring 13 hands 2 never let it be said that he won't give the bigger chaps a run for their money. I've seen him win showjumping competitions while up against fully grown horses!! Star likes to do everything fast that's trot fast, canter fast and jump fast, he whips around the arena. One of the harder ponies to practice sitting trot on as he can trot at near canter speed. However he's a steady stable speed merchant. 

Arthur - Sir King Arthur
Named for his noble and regal appearance however in the royal court I feel he'd be more of a jester! His demeanor is more like a teenager that just smoked a doobie, doesn't fuss or stress always relaxed. However he will put the foot down if he wants a feeding, he'll start to kick his door to get your attention. This is when he turns into a bit of a Seymour from 'The little shop of horrors' FEED ME, FEED ME, FEED ME NOW!!!!! 
No pony here, Arthur stands 15 hands 2 but he has a baby face and teddy bear eyes and is only the tender age of 4, ahhhhhhhhhh.

Roman - Roman the Centurion
Just as his name suggests he is always on his guard. He's a real worrier, sometimes I look at him and its as if he is having a 'Wizard in Oz' moment, the part where its "Lions, and Tigers and Bears OH MY, Lions and Tigers and Bears OH MY!!!'. Though standing an impressive 16 hands 2 he seems unaware of his height and stature and is a real gentle giant. In the arena he'll make you work for your supper and definitely strengthen your lower leg. He loves his cross country but he'll hide behind you leading him up the field in case any of those Lions, Tigers or Bears decide to attack!!!

Oscar - The Dapper Gentleman 
Oscar is the gent of the yard always patient, kind, soft and mellow. Standing 16 hands 1 he has to be this height to be able to accommodate his Big Heart. Oscar has two different colored eyes however I feel this just adds to his gentlemanly persona, I picture him as one of those gentlemen of yee old times who wears a monocle and is ever so pleasant, always uses please and thank you. Oscar is always the utmost gentleman, for instance when your leading him through a gate its as if he says 'oh after you ma lady' with a gentle bow of his head as if mimicking a waving hand gesture to go with the sentiment. If your feeding him he will stand back in his stable as if waiting to be served and doesn't crowd or trample his waiter. In the arena he still holds his mannerly demeanor and once asked to do something he carries out the task with the greatest of ease and fluidity.

Scooby - The Gemini loner
Scooby has two personality's one in the arena and one outside. He's a horse that loves his own company and is happy staying out on his own away from the main herd. He easily gets bored and falls asleep in the arena but will awaken for a round of jumps and ping each one with the grace of an Arabian Stallion. Nicknamed 'Weight Watcher' by one of the ladies that rides him due to the amount of effort the rider must exert in order to get and keep him going!! At times he reminds me of a wonkie supermarket trolley that has a mind of its own and that you must be on your mint guard to keep it between the aisle and they're always that bit harder to push! However cross country? this is where Scooby shows his other side (being a Gemini) he's sparky and fresh and full of fun and will jump and canter to your hearts content.

Shadow - The Quick One
Just like her name shes like a shadow, here and then gone in a flash. This 14 hands pony is a typical woman a real thinker and over analyzer. You can see her wheels and cogs turning all the time. She is nearly 5 years old and is VERY inquisitive and down right nosy at times. Shadow is a very intelligent pony, one of the bi-products of her relentless thinking. Be it her youth or naivety she is as brave as a lion and will jump nearly twice her own height. She is very fast and can turn not only swiftly but sharply, as they say, she could turn on a penny. Her youthfulness makes her fun and she has a drive in her that is sparky, spunky and sometimes spontaneous.

Trigger - Del Boy 
Standing only 12 hands 2 don't let this ponies height deceive you into thinking he's cute and cuddly. He is a cheeky little pony but very funny and definitely has the pony version of 'wee man syndrome'. He is a real Houdini and a true escape artist with his side kick Bart always close to hand!!  Trigger is very clever and is a real opportunist (where escaping or food are concerned) and new age forager. While every other horse and pony are getting slimmer in the winter months little Trigs still manages to put on weight!! I have my own nick name for him as 'The Ridgeback Rebel' of Blackberry Stables, because of his renegade mohawk like mane.

Bart - Del Boy's brother in arms Rodney
Bart is very like the Simpsons character in his 'I didn't do it' attitude, even though he definitely has!! Another cheeky pony who stands 12 hands high. He has a strong opinion of himself and likes to do his own thing when the notion takes him, for example going the completely opposite way to the rest of the ride in a lesson. He can jump his own height and flies in canter. I always think this comes from his gangster lifestyle that he has had to run away from the police after committing some misdemeanor like the little juvenile delinquent that he and his partner in crime Trigger are!!

Equine Lingerie

I have recently found out a a monumental discovery which I wish someone had passed on to me. Instead I had to find out the hard way! Therefore I want to make my discovery public in order to save someone else the discomfort I have experienced.

In a rush one day as it was a beautiful day and someone asked if i wanted to go for a ride out. I changed from my 'normal' clothes quickly into my jods and riding gear. Leaving my 'normal' thong underwear on.
Big Mistake!!
How big a mistake I was not to find out until it was too late!! I rode for an hour and found my seat to be a little sore during different transitions on board. It was not until I was well finished in the yard before I realized that I had received friction burn in the most sensitive of areas................................................VERY SORE
I've had many an injury however I never expected to have the above affliction from horse riding or ever for that matter. It was only after the fact that I started telling other ladies in the yard of my predicament. They clearly had similar experiences and advised full brief underwear, boyfriend style briefs or shorts. However I would of enjoyed avoiding this particular injury hence why I'm imparting this important information on to you.

Do's Dont's
Wear Bridget Jones Style Underwear Absolutely NO Thongs
Wear Boyfriend Style Briefs Non Cotton gusseted underwear
Comfortable Seam-free Underwear Lacey Material def NO NO