The diary of the home-made livery yard: fall of the year, house building and mental scarring

  • We have all survived another festive period at South Woolley. Both my dignity and stomach lining remain intact and we are steaming merrily ahead into the New Year.

    Christmas crept up on us all too quickly, as it always seems to do. I was hugely looking forward to giving the liveries and friends of the yard their Christmas presents. I had got matching branded bobble hats printed out for us all to wear. Part altruistic gift, part shameless advertising for the yard (see picture above). I am learning.

    The hats were given out, along with the annual awards, over a glass of mulled wine after our Christmas hack. We had several contenders for ‘best fall of 2017’ this year. Without a doubt, this accolade had to go to Sarah, who fractured three vertebrae in her back when her horse fell on top of her in an unlucky mounting incident at her house, just up the road from us. Impressively, Sarah walked out of hospital that same evening, having arrived only a few hours earlier by air ambulance, with only a pair of crutches, a bag of happy pills and a half year ban from riding to show for it.

    We are now in the home stretch of building our temporary accommodation at the yard. I say ‘we’ — it has been entirely my husband, Jerome, and a couple of his friends to help him so far. I have barely lifted a finger on this project until now. But now I am deemed neither pregnant and delicate enough (now that baby Monty is nearly five months old), nor busy enough on the yard (due to the God-sent assistance of my equine apprentice, Trin) to shirk construction duties. So, I am back on the cabin building chain gang; plaster boarding, fitting insulation and painting. I am really pleased. Jerome and I built the entire yard together. I do not think the ‘house’ would feel like mine if I did not play a part in its making.

    Me busy helping with the building

    We have also been busy building an eighth stable ahead of a new livery arriving next week. We proffered a collection of complimentary ear defenders ready for any clients visiting that day. Wendy, one of our liveries, came in to muck out her stable and found me aimlessly facing the wall of the barn (avoiding looking at the welder so as not to damage my eyes). I explained that this is standard procedure for South Woolley stables construction. Jerome does all the hard work of welding while I stare blankly at the walls and hang around waiting for intermittent direction to fetch, carry or hold.

    Wendy assures me that this is indeed universal conduct for matrimonial DIY. One person (my step mother will be mortified at the proceeding sexism, but let’s be honest, it’s often the man) will be engrossed in the project while the other (sorry Leana, but often the woman) stands by gormlessly awaiting instruction to retrieve a specific item. I never know what the item is, so I usually bring back every item in the category and several more for good measure. It will still be the wrong one.

    Jerome working his magic

    Every time Jerome prepared to weld a piece of metal, I shouted to Wendy: “Eyes, Wendy. Eyes,” so that she would know to avert her gaze from the welder. Each time Jerome prepared to cut a length of steel on the metal saw, I shouted out: “Ears, Wendy. Ears,” so that she would know to put her ear defenders on. I had extra call to shout safety warnings out when Jerome truly got into the role of construction worker and exposed his bare behind to us in an offensively up close manner: “Eyes, Wendy! For the love of God, EYES!” It was too late. Wendy will be receiving compensation for emotional shock on her next livery statement.

    I had forgotten just how all-consuming trying to do several full-time jobs and raise a family is. Inevitably, the rest of ‘life’ just has to fit in around it all.

    Baby Monty wearing a South Woolley hat

    We often find ourselves hitting Lidl (our only family outing these days — the grand highlight of my week) after a long day of mucking out and building. There is no time to change. Jerome, myself and the three kids trundle the aisles still plastered in mud, hay and building dust.

    I think the weather had been particularly bad and we must have been looking spectacularly dishevelled on one trip recently. The cashier at the till looked the five of us up and down. We were all of us caked in mud and the man gave a chuckle and joked, “Trip out to the big city for you lot today, is it?” The fact that this was in the small seaside town of Bude, the gentleman on the checkout had the thickest West Country accent imaginable and the fact that I am originally from London, had me giggling all the way home over my goats cheese and pesto focaccia.

    My son Jasper playing in plasterboard dust

    Sometimes I am filled with guilt that the kids spend all their time either at school or at the yard. People imagine them to have this magical childhood where they spend all day roaming free on ponies, frolicking in the sunshine and learning the trade from mum.

    Continued below…

    In reality, the kids are generally drenched from head to toe, being shouted at to go somewhere else or, “Get out of the way!” It’s a health and safety requirement. I undoubtedly prefer my children in their 3D form, as opposed to the flat packed variety I might find if they came across the bottom side of a horse’s hoof. Besides, I have found they will put up with impressive amounts of boredom and inclement weather if provided with enough junk food.

    I do hope they will grow up to know that it all comes from a place of love and wanting to keep them safe so they can live long happy lives. And fund my retirement. Mummy wants that 17hh retired Grand Prix dressage schoolmaster.


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