The diary of the home-made livery yard: the dangers of toasted mice and horsey fancy dress

  • It seems miracles can happen. And, indeed, very busy and tired livery yard owners can pass exams with little to no training!

    I was over the moon to open the post and find a ‘pass with distinction’ result on my recent BHS Intermediate Teaching Test. I was delighted to discover that even some of what I believed to be my shoddier work (yes, that lunge lesson and the private jump lesson I told you about last time) is still up to senior coach standard.

    Thank God. I really don’t have the time or funds to be doing too many re-sits. Neither do I have enough wine.

    I spent the next 24 hours with a massively over-inflated sense of ego, thinking perhaps I should triple my prices now I had my BHS ITT or Stage 4 Teach award?

    Heading in to work the next day, I was brought nicely back down to earth as I realised that no matter what piece of paper I hold, I still have to muck out stables and stand out in the horizontal rain and hail, teaching.

    We have been busy lately. Absurdly busy. Both at the yard and at home. We have had a lot of friends to stay, housing the waifs and strays (I’m sure our friends won’t mind me referring to them as waifs and strays) of North Devon and Cornwall. I temporarily have an extra toddler living with me, so that is now four children. Or six, if you count the two men in the house!

    I will admit, I am tired at the moment. Absolutely knackered. The other day, I awoke after far too little sleep and stumbled downstairs to start the breakfasts and packed lunches before feeding the horses. I made myself a restorative cup of tea and only just stopped short of drinking it when I noticed it was a violent purple colour. In my state of extreme fatigue, I had poured boiling water into a mug over a laundry detergent capsule!

    I am really happy with the yard at the moment. We have a full house for Christmas, with the arrival of new livery, Toby, and his owner, Debbie. Six liveries and not a single ‘horse person’ among them! I know you know what I mean.


    Toby came at just the right time for me. I have had something of a groundwork revelation in my life, thanks to Vanessa Bee of the International Horse Agility Club and another good friend of mine who has been helping with Chunky’s loading issues, clipper shy horses and any individual groundwork problems at the yard.

    So I now count myself as part of the school of wizardry whereby I can influence the way a horse moves (or doesn’t move) around me. I am still very much a beginner, but already I feel so much safer around our horses, as I can stop them from coming into my space or pulling me around like a freight train.

    Toby was at risk of becoming a little problematic for his owner with his general ‘rudeness’ on the ground. However, with a fresh start at a new environment, he is well on the way to becoming a true gentleman. And I now understand the true reason why we should wear hats for leading horses. It is to prevent you from taking your eye out when you flick the end of one of those rope halters up over the horse’s neck to fasten it. Perhaps I should buy myself a stetson? Do correct me if I am getting my stereotypes muddled up.

    Talking of hats, I had a second incidence of delusions of grandeur (the first, following my exam success) at the West Country Equine Fair last weekend. I spotted the stands that were selling Gatehouse riding helmets and gravitated towards them like a magpie.

    Me at the West Country Equine Fair

    You might remember that earlier in the year, Gatehouse kindly agreed to sponsor me a lovely, new Conquest MK II hat. I took great delight in trying on some of the blingier models at the show and could not resist dropping into conversation with the stand assistants that: ‘Well I am sponsored by Gatehouse, don’t you know?’ I was brought instantly back down to earth when one of these ladies innocently asked: ‘Oh, so are you an event rider, then?’ Um, er, well… I sheepishly mumbled something dismissive and tried to change the subject by asking to try on a Chelsea Crystal. No risk of getting too big for my boots around here, then!

    Christmas is fast approaching. While I have no idea what to buy for my friends and family, adhering to the hierarchy of importance in my life, I have long had the livery presents in hand and can’t wait to give them out at our upcoming Christmas hack and drinks at the yard. I endeavour not to throw up in a hedge this year.

    We took my daughter, Ellie, to a Christmas fun jumping show last weekend. I agreed she could do the fancy dress class and we settled on a home-made costume of her pony, Spice, as a Christmas tree with flashing lights and Ellie as the fairy on top. To her credit, Ellie did help with the costume, but inevitably it ended with me sewing until midnight two nights in a row.

    Busy sewing

    I probably could have got it done quicker had I spent more time sewing and less time drinking Shiraz and complaining in sweary text messages to friends about how many baubles were left to attach.

    Ellie and Spice looked brilliant in the end (see top picture) and were only beaten when a previously underdressed looking combination pulled out a real life sleigh. You cannot beat a cute pony pulling a Christmas sleigh, so we settled for a happy second place.

    Ellie and Spice

    I simply cannot wait to move into the cabin that my husband, Jerome, is building in the new year. We have had a magical eight years in our rented converted chapel, but I look forward to having everything on hand at the yard. I have had enough of trying to keep a damp, mouldy property looking presentable (I gave up long ago), and the final straw came during a domestic trauma yesterday.

    Continued below…

    I put the kettle on and popped some bread in the toaster. Almost immediately I smelt burning. Electrical or plastic sort of burning. I sniffed around the kitchen looking for the source. I was unsuccessful until I took the toast out of the toaster and discovered an unfortunate mouse had crawled into the appliance, got stuck and met a terrible frazzled and singed end.

    Never mind checking bonfires for hedgehogs, my advice to you this winter is to check for mice in your toaster. Failure to do so could end in a smell and sight that will haunt you for days.

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