So many of us have been here. What do you do with an ageing eventer who hates summer ground and being put out to grass in equal measure? We should have sold it in its prime, but we couldn’t bear to, so we didn’t, and now we have a geriatric on our hands with no rider and no job.
People furrow their brow sagely and advise me to put her to sleep, which might be the correct option, but I’m far too soft to call in the vet for such a vivacious animal, looking quite so sound and healthy. “Put her in foal,” others say. But I’ve already done that, twice, and now find myself with three horses to ‘dispose’ of.
Fizz is 15, and a double clear machine who goes intermittently lame in summer time when you ramp up the workload. The vets can’t find anything wrong. She is a little thoroughbreddy Irish pony type, jumps anything. Hunting seems like the obvious solution. Except that she’s never hunted, has an exhilarating buck, and won’t even queue for a fence out schooling. The clue is in her name.
So no one else is offering to be the crash-test dummy. I have four children and a full-time job, and originally sent Fizz to be evented by someone else because I had no time (and couldn’t see a stride), yet somehow find myself taking up the challenge of introducing her to the hunting field at a phase in life when I hardly have a spare moment to go to the loo, let alone several hours to while away on a horse. I have not hunted since the ban, my kit is festering mouldy in my cellar and I have ridden twice since having my third child six years ago. It sounds like Challenge Anneka, which was probably top of the TV ratings about the last time I hunted.
Horse & Hound’s hunting editor Catherine Austen was the first port of call. “Great idea. Take her out three times a week autumn hunting before it all gets too exciting,”she said reassuringly, except that taking a horse hunting is the solution to most problems in Catherine’s world. This was comfortingly followed by her other stock piece of advice for almost all global problems: “Don’t forget a neckstrap,” she ordered. “A proper one, not a breastplate.”
At this stage Fizz had not been ridden for six weeks, though her daily antics in the field assured me that she had lost little of her fitness — or her infamous fizz. I managed to extract her from the paddock she shares with two other mares, and through an electric-fenced field of black sheep with the help of a Chifney. She seemed to have bloomed in stature from her tidy 15hh to at least 16.2hh, and I rather wanted the little version back for my first ride in years.
“You need to lunge her first,” said my friend Lizzie, who had kindly insisted on nannying me during these early forays. “She’s gone feral.”
So we cinched the girth round her grass gut and watched her let rip on the lunge, before she accepted that the afore-mentioned belly was hampering her air show and I duly hopped on. An hour and a half of jig-jog hacking later, we returned a little sweaty and minus a front shoe, but I began to get a hold of this vision. Apart from anything else, I’d forgotten how effective riding is for toning the pregnancy-addled core.
Next up will be hound exercise.
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