The diary of the home-made livery yard: relaxing horsey day out — is there such a thing?

  • Just before Christmas, we acquired a Golden Retriever puppy; Wiggles. We have been gradually introducing him to life at the yard and getting him used to the horses.

    Worryingly, Wiggles will obliviously follow the horses when I bring them in, just inches from their feet and follow them into their stables if I am not quick enough to intervene. While this has aged me several years in the space of a couple of weeks in stress and worry lines, I am pleased that he is not excited by the horses or scared of them. He is just a little, well, obtuse.

    I had a training breakthrough today though, when leading a horse in from the field. Wiggles was hot on our heels and I actually managed to get him to stop, lie down and stay. Not by command, but simply by growling at him. In fact, I seem to spend an awful lot of my time each day growling, now. Between the puppy and the children, I seem to be permanently barking orders, chastising and nagging.


    “Wiggles, get down! Jasper, put that back! Ellie, where are your shoes? Wiggles, no! Jasper, get down! Ellie, where are your clothes? Wiggles, no! Jasper, no!” And so on. It is exhausting and hilarious in equal measures.

    I try and distinguish between my corrections for dog, horse and child by using a growl for the puppy, an “ah, ah!” for horses and bribery/pleading/threat of the naughty step for the kids. The pace of the chaos can be disorientating, however, and I often find myself confusing man and beast, growling at the children and absurdly warning the horses that they are “this close” to a time out.

    I have mentioned before that my liveries are exceptional in their tolerance for my kids. I am finding they are equally heroic in their patience with the puppy. It is becoming something of a regular occurrence to find clients with a double armful of wriggling golden fluff asking, “Where do you want him, Katy?” because Wiggles has run into the arena while someone is riding yet again or he is sniffing perilously close to a pony’s legs.

    My mantra lately has been, “One day I will miss this.” Eventually the kids will be grown up, the puppy will be an old dog and it will just be me, a peaceful yard of horses (with everything in the place where I last left it) and a minimalist, beige and cream house to return to at the end of the day. Oh, sorry, I am meant to be downplaying the virtues of a life after small children and puppies. Er, yes, the cleanliness, quiet and calm will be misery, I am sure.

    Chunky with his owner Jo

    We went on a yard outing this week to take a couple of our young and green horses to some local unaffiliated dressage. My friend, neighbour and relief yard worker, Sarah, took her five-year-old thoroughbred, Tom. I took Chunky, one of my liveries, a cob x shire who was broken in five months ago at the ripe old age of eight-years-old.

    I promised Chunky’s owner, Jo, a nice relaxing girls’ horsey day out. We would spend the morning pampering her horse, mosey on down to the show, ride the tests (no pressure, they’re babies), have some lunch and pootle on home. All she had to do was come and enjoy Chunky’s debut, soak up the atmosphere and I would bring home the rosettes.

    I really should know better. Eleven years in the horse industry now. Several of those spent as a professional groom on the international showjumping circuit. Going to a show is never a “relaxing horsey day out”.

    It started the afternoon before show day. The plan was a last run through of Chunky’s tests, fathom what to do with that wild, natural mane of his without spoiling it and give Chunky a bath.

    I am on the welfare team for the British Horse Society and I got called out to look at a welfare concern just after lunch. Of course, because I had things to do that afternoon, it took me a good hour to even find the horses once I got to the location and, after knocking on a few wrong doors, it turned out to be quite a time consuming case.

    Chunky with his owner Jo

    So I got back to the yard running three hours late. Jo, Chunky’s owner arrived and we set straight to work, in a hurry to get on with our agenda before dark. The Gods were against us, however, as we discovered that both the tack room key, my mane and tail scissors and the yard hose pipe had all gone missing! Hmmm, perhaps not so much “the Gods” but “the Husband”?

    It was hastily decided that actually, not being the fittest of specimens, Chunky would benefit from a day off before the show. Spare scissors were located and I connected up the mains water pipe to use in place of the hosepipe. If an average hosepipe appears like a snake to a horse, then this huge blue water pipe was a predatory python. Dear little Chunky stood as still as he could bear with his eyes popping out of his head in alarm while we got the job done.

    Me in action with Chunky

    Show day came and, with huge golf balls sewn into his mane, Chunky tottered onto the trailer like a lamb (unlike the stubborn donkey he suddenly turned into when it came to loading for home). Gale force winds were upon us and when we got to Tall Trees (our local, friendly venue) I opened the side door of the trailer and half a bale of shavings blew out like a blizzard into my eyes and hair.

    Chunky and I mid-test

    Chunky was an angel for his first venture into an indoor arena with banners and music. He came home with a first and second rosette and some very respectable scores and comments for his first ever outing. Sarah and Tom bagged a first and third for their tests too.

    Continued below…

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    Having been promised a “relaxing horsey day out”, Jo spent most of the day running around, fetching and carrying boots, bandages, numnahs, whips and the rest. I was meant to be the professional looking after the owner and her horse on his first outing, but the mother hen in Jo could not resist looking after me, insisting on plying me with baby wipes for my boots and tissues for my nose.

    Still, I don’t think she’s been too put off. Jo has said there will be a “next time” and she might ride the next test (now immortalised on H&H, so there’s no getting out of it, Jo!).


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