Monday, 2 September 2013

Wiltshire Wonderings

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” BrenĂ© Brown, Daring Greatly.
A room with a spectacular view

I write this blog whilst looking out across the beautiful rolling Wiltshire countryside. The sun is shining and I’m relishing the peace and tranquillity that Suddene Park Farm provides. This is my first visit and I have to thank my client and colleague Lucille for introducing me to this place. I am here to learn about coaching with horses and undergo a counselling/coaching session myself with Pam Billinge, owner and founder of Equest Limited. I have to confess I am feeling apprehensive about my first session, which is this afternoon. The reason for my apprehension is that I like being in control. That stiff upper lip is hard to shift. I remember walking into a room at the hospice where my late husband Ian spent his final few days.  On the tables were boxes upon boxes of tissues. My first thought was ‘You’re not going to get me to cry’. Of course, within two minutes of the doctor talking to me I was inconsolable! Once more I’m battling with my stiff upper lip as I embark on a journey of discovery. This time, though, I have set my intention for the training – it is to be vulnerable – a word that is often misconstrued as a sign of weakness, but, as BrenĂ© Brown states in her book, Daring Greatly, ‘Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.’ Wish me luck!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Mindless = Mindful

Wilbur meditating
I was listening to Clare Balding yesterday on her Radio 2 breakfast show, Good Morning Sunday. She was discussing mindfulness with baptist minister and christian mindfulness practitioner, Shaun Lambert. Having read several books on the topic, I have tried to meditate, and still try to fit in some meditation practise when I can. The usual excuses arise for why I can't find the time - too busy and that I find it very difficult to sit still! However, when I have managed to practise mindfulness, I have reaped the benefits. So, my ears pricked up when Clare described how a retired professional swimmer she had met had come back into swimming because he had missed the passive thinking time during training - and the heightened awareness he'd had during those sessions of his body moving through the water and the sound of the water. This struck a chord with me because I realised how the daily task of mucking out Wilbur's stable offered me the same opportunity, not forgetting the regular task of poo-picking his field. They are both activities that don't require too much brain power, so I can focus on the task whilst concentrating on my breathing and being aware of how my body is feeling. Not only that, but I'm in the fresh air and don't have to sit still to do it. Who would have thought that these everyday tasks could offer such benefits? So, next time you're digging in the garden or mucking out your pony, remember this and, as the saying goes, 'step out of your thinking and come to your senses'!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Signs from Heaven

Willow Hill twinkles teasingly at me. With a snow cloak bejewelled by the sunlight it looks stunning. I breathe in the sharp morning air, cleansing my lungs, trying to slow the thumping of my heart. Do you remember, my darling, the first time we tried to conquer this hill? My fear of heights overwhelmed me and we sought solace in a steaming hot beef stew and dumplings in the nearby tea room. This time, I’m alone, determined to overcome my apprehension, inspired by the dignity with which you faced your mortality.
I take my first step onto the dark millstone grit path, glistening with hillside stream water recently freed from its ice shackles. The sun warms the back of my neck as I place one foot in front of the other, breathing steadily. I make a pact with myself that I won’t look down until I reach to the top. Keep looking up, I remind myself as my mind winds back to the day of diagnosis. “There’s nothing more we can do Mr White.” We walked out of that oppressive consulting room in a daze. You turned to me, my darling, your eyes filled with tears and trepidation. My heart felt as if it was being wrenched from my body. We hugged each other, sobbing, not wanted to ever let go. We stood motionless as the world swirled around us at an alarming rate, our future distorted and blurred. We were so young with many dreams to fulfil together, and now only the wonderful memories remain.
As I near the summit, I have a compelling desire to look around me.  The view is breath-taking. Reservoirs glisten, resembling eyes of unknown depth. Narrow country lanes weave across the terrain like arteries connecting the hillside villages, the vital organs of this living, breathing landscape. The last part of the path is a steep shale-filled gulley. It leers at me, precipitous and intimidating. I clench my hands, digging my nails hard into my palms, and take a long deep breath. All of a sudden, I feel you close beside me, enveloping me with  your love, reassuring me onwards. A surge of courage carries me to the top. A solitary tree greets me; its naked boughs are a stark contrast against the dazzling whiteness of the snow surrounding us. Something catches my eye. Two balloons are caught in the tree, their flight to freedom prematurely curtailed by their streamers, which are entangled in the branches. An involuntary sob escapes as I realise they are gold and ivory - the colour scheme of our weddng! Tears roll down my frost-tinged cheeks as I life my face to the clear blue sky. "Thank you my darling."
This was my entry for the Berkhamsted Writing Competition 2013

Monday, 25 March 2013

Moosie Mud Baubles

Moosie mud baubles
Today, Lizzie Loo and I had to trim off the mud baubles that had formed on Moose and Toby's tails, and which were causing the pair to walk as if they had wet their pants! I bet they felt so much lighter after that weight had been removed. We also had to snip off the 'giant' mud balls that were clinging to their feathers. This winter is a testing one for sure. For the first time in four years, Moosie, who lives out 24/7, has had to wear rugs, and I'm now feeding him 1-2 feeds a day to supplement his hay intake. The fields are being reduced to mud baths. Come on spring, we definitely need your appearance soon - only, please give Moose and Toby a while to re-grow their hair extensions so they have effective fly swats for the summer!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Snow Angels

Winter wonderland
Do you believe in angels? Despite being a scientist, I do believe there are things 'out there' that we can't explain, as I have eluded to in previous blogs. Events this week have been another reminder to listen to that 'guardian angel', 'inner voice', 'intuition', whatever you wish to call it.
On my walk back from the yard this  morning, I pondered recent events. After a couple of nights of cold compresses and bandages, Wilbur's leg is feeling and looking a whole lot better (thank you Henry for your pearls of wisdom). The real test will be a night without bandaging.
In retrospect, he couldn't have picked a better weekend to be on box rest. Given the inclement conditions, all the horses are on enforced box confinement, and given the treacherous nature of the yard, I wouldn't even want him to be going to the walker. This weather is set to continue, so the liklihood of being able to exercise him consistently, even if we were both fit enough, would be remote.
Instead, I'm now venturing into unknown waters - with clicker training on my list (thanks again, Karen), to keep both Wilbur and I cerebrally challenged (some would argue we already are!). I think Wilbur and I are more similar than I like to admit - we certainly seem to share the same work ethic (and we both worry to the extent that he, like me, probably worries if we don't have anyting to worry about!). Perhaps this 'fat leg' incident is telling Wilbur what others are telling me.
And so, I'm almost at home - as I walk past the Village Hall, something glints at me in the snow. I look down, and there on the pavement is a gold star, and further on a gold heart, no doubt fallen from a child's project after a morning at the daily nursery held here. I smile - my snow angel is with me.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

We have brace-off!

I held my breath as Mr James brought my x-rays up for assessment. 'All looking good' he said. 'Just remove the brace for longer periods of time over the coming 3 weeks.' 'Anything I shouldn't do?' I asked, a little flippently. 'What, you mean apart from parachuting or horse-riding?' he joked. Hmm.
Three more months before I re-mounted was his advice, to make sure my core stability was good enough to stay onboard. I walked out of his office with other ideas - what did he know about horses anyway? I excitedly began planning my next  ride on Wilbur. I rang Henry and told him my thoughts about getting Wilbur ridden over the coming weeks. As I did, a little voice in my subconscious shouted, 'you know what happens when you plan - life sends in a googlie!' I pushed the voice aside. I contacted friends and family to let them know that my back had healed well and dismissed their concerns about be 'being silly and doing too much too soon'.
Of course - the Universe clearly had other ideas. I should have remembered my earlier life-coaching sessions with Kevin Watson -  the reason behind the mug! Kevin listened intently to me and then summed up what he'd heard. He had me to a tee - the ultimate planner! And  hadn't I realised yet that life does not go according to schedule?
So, having established an exercise plan for Wilbur and picked up a wonderful saddle from Kay Humphries, he has come in from the field with a puffy foreleg. Clearly, Wilbur knows me far better than I realise and certainly doesn't want me rushing into things before I'm ready. You can't really argue with that can you? Thank you to Karen Bush for talking such sense this week and for giving me a much needed kick up the jacksy. After all, what is the rush here? Why don't I just enjoy owning Wilbur for who he is, and make the most of the time I have to work with Wilbur in-hand? And, with the help of Karen and TTeam, I can build a really solid partnership with my beautiful horse so that we are both physically and mentally strong when the riding work starts again. One day, I will learn to go with the flow and enjoy the moment, rather than fight it. Let's just say that's work in progress!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Glorious mud!

Breakfast with Moosie boy   

My legs feel as if they have run a marathon! I love my morning walk across the fields to give my retired horse, Moose, his breakfast, but this morning it was made more difficult by the sliding mud. On the plus side, it did at least force me to slow down and given this could be the last week I have to wear my back brace, that's no bad thing. This week I travelled to Cambridge to give my first presentation in a long while. I attended the Herts and Cambs clinical researchers freelancers forum - an annual event which I really enjoy. I always come away feeling very positive and motivated - it's good to feel that as a freelancer you're not alone. This year I was invited to present a short seminar about 'Working in and on your business' - a topic I feel very passionate about, thanks to working with my fantastic life/business coach Elaine Bailey. The presentation was very well received and provoked lots of animated discussion. Perfect! I received some lovely emails too from colleagues who attended the meeting and who have made a few small changes to the way they run their businesses to help them become more efficient. Although I didn't drive to Cambridge - thanks Sonia! - the journey has taken it's toll this week. Perhaps it's a little warning that when the brace is removed, I still need to keep my life at a steady pace to allow my back to fully recover.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Balloons and anniversaries

Ahh - rhubarb! A good sign - not only is Spring in the air, but rhubarb crumble is iminent. The ponies are in lighter weight rugs, the birds are chirping and the sun has been shining.

This week is a poignant one for me because on the 4th March, it would have been mine and Ian's 13th wedding anniversary. Four years ago, I experienced something which I will never forget. I want to share it with you because it was quite profound. Although many will argue it was a 'coincidence', I believe it shows there are things that exist, perhaps in another dimension, that we can't as yet explain - after all, many years ago didn't some 'plonker' once think that the earth was round?!

It was the first wedding anniversary following Ian's death and I decided that I wanted to watch our wedding video. I knew it would make me cry, but at the time that felt like a good thing. After re-living the events of that day, I noticed the light was beginning to fade and so I stood up to close the curtains. Something caught my eye and I held my breath. There, in the tree opposite my house, were two balloons, whose flights had clearly been curtailed by their streamers getting tangled in the branches. So what, I hear you say. They'd clearly 'escaped' from a party at the pub nextdoor. True - but the extraordinary thing about these balloons was their colours and their timing. One was ivory, the other was lilac. The colour scheme chosen for mine and Ian's wedding day.The next day they were still there but had started to deflate. I felt comforted by their presence - for me, that was a sign that I wasn't alone in the world.

Everyone thought that Ian and I were mad to get married in March - especially in Lancashire - a place not reknowned for it's sunshine! However, the day dawned crisp and bright, and now I am rather grateful that such a poignant day  falls at the start of my favourite season - a season of hope and new beginnings.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

TTouch rocks

Today, Wilbur and I enjoyed our first TTouch session with Karen Bush. We observed Wilbur in his stable and noted several things:
  • His neck muscles are more developed along the bottom of his neck, and  less well developed just in front of his wither - so there is a 'hollow triangle' at the base of his neck on each side. This contributes to a general disconnect between his front and back end so the energy generated by his hindquarters isn't able to follow through to the front end when ridden.. He finds it difficult to stretch his neck forward and down when under saddle.
  • He holds quite a lot of tension in this neck - indicated by the tightness of skin along his neck.
  • His chest muscles are more developed on the near side with a small amount of 'extra muscle' located on the inside of his near foreleg that isn't present on the off-fore.
  • When standing, he has quite a narrow base, with this fore feet closer together than the width of his chest and his off hind is generally forward and in front of this near hind. 
  • He has good muscle development in his hindquarters and behind the saddle area. 
We decided to concentrate on his front end, i.e. his neck and shoulders, with the aim of helping the energy created in his hindquarters flow through to his front end when ridden. We practised several different TTouches, including caterpiller along the top of his neck, inchworm along the bottom, wither rocks and forelock pulls. After just one session, his neck was less tense, and his feet were wider apart at the front. I've learned so much in this single session about Wilbur and look forward to more sessions in the near future.


Let me introduce you to my other horse - this is Moose (aka The Irish Moose). He is now retired and lives out 24/7. He hates being confined in a stable, but has to come in now and again for essential maintenance! He came over from Ireland in 2002 after my late husband, Ian, fell in love with him whilst on a riding holiday in Galway. Not quite the souvinir we had planned but he and Ian had so much fun eventing. Together they reached Novice level; their highlight was being presented with a 10th place rosette by Princess Anne at Gatcombe Horse Trials in 2006.


This is Wilbur (photo taken by Chanell Murray Equine Photography)  - officially known as Wild Spirit. He's a TB x Hannovarian and came into my life in 2009 - 14th February to be precise. Prior to owning Wilbur, I owned Willow (Madam Willow) who I evented to Novice level. Sadly, Willow had to be put to sleep in November 2008 due to colic - I remember the day because it was exactly 6 months to the date and time that my husband Ian died of a brain tumour. And it was just three days after we had returned from a trip to Norfolk where we enjoyed what was to be a final gallop along Holkham Beach together. A friend told me about Wilbur shortly after Willow's demise but I wasn't ready to take on another horse at that time. When I eventually went to see Wilbur, a pair of gloves that I thought I had completely lost (in fact I'd bought a replacement pair), turned up in my hat bag. I knew then that this was a sign that Wilbur was the right horse for me. Ian had been in hospital on 14 Feb 2008, and he had promised that he'd do a lot better than dinner at Stoke Mandeville for our next Valentine's Day......he kept that promise, and Wilbur came home. We have evented together but Wilbur's forte (and mine) lies in dressage. Although he's bold and brave across country, jumping coloured poles has never been 'his thing'.


Welcome to Myrtle Musings, my blog about  life in general and my passions for writing and all things equestrian. This is Harry (aka Haribo Tangfastic) who is also my house mate, confidante and sanity check!