As a child I was horse mad - even despite the fact that the first time I ever sat on a pony I was led under a low branch and fell off backwards! I rode every weekend without fail, often coming home bruised and bloodied and with frost bitten hands, much to the horror of my non horsey mother. One memorable weekend I came home and gleefully announced, “I fell off six times today!”
Coming up to 15 years old a combination of an actually scary fall, the pressure of school work - O levels for those old enough to remember them - and the notion that boys might not be as annoying as previously thought caused me to give up riding. For the first time.
The love of horses remained and over the next 30 years a pattern emerged. I would start riding again, embrace it enthusiastically for weeks or months and then there would be a fall (bucked off in the middle of nowhere in France) or a terrifying incident (galloping out of control on Rotten Row in London) and - bang! My confidence vanished and I would give up yet again. Moving around - from Nottingham to London then to Dublin and finally to Portugal certainly didn’t help as finding a new riding school and sympathetic instructor is not always easy.
A chance remark by my partner, James, got me back on a horse in 2010 so I started riding regularly here in Portugal. After a few months we took the next step; my very first horse. Daan was a 27 year old thoroughbred and a former trotting champion; probably not an ideal choice for a novice rider but luckily he was a sweetheart who looked after me very well. Murphy the Welsh Section D came next and after a few months at a livery yard we took the final step and moved them to our small quinta (farm). The hourly checks to make sure they were still alive thankfully abated after a couple of weeks!
Before long we had amassed another four horses and we created a Paddock Paradise track system to give them an environment that was as close as possible to the way they would live naturally. Being first time owners at a relatively mature age was both an advantage and disadvantage - a massively steep learning curve but with no preconceived ideas we were free to work with the horses in a way that felt right for them rather than convenient for us.
We ran a highly rated trekking centre and school initially and then trained as EAHAE coaches - running communication, management and team building courses with a difference, the trainers were the horses. As experts in non verbal communication, horses see through the protective layers we show the world and respond authentically and in the moment - without ego or judgement. It was wonderful watching the way people interacted with the horses - from being nervous and unsure of themselves to confident and somehow taller, all within one day.
As with everything in life there were setbacks - a slip of the surgeon’s knife during a routine operation left me with a paralysed vocal cord and six months of speech therapy in order to be able to speak again - pretty essential for someone running a training course. Then, of course, came Covid and the business ground to a halt.
Now we have five horses, all in their mid 20’s so semi retired however they still love being around people and bring joy to us daily in just being themselves.
I’d love to hear about your journey with horses - your highlights, your funny stories, that horse of a lifetime whose hoof prints are still embedded in your heart.