The Truth About Mares, Dogs and Winter
Mares are not very popular in the horse world. In fact, most people will actively avoid them. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me in that horrified, slightly high-pitched voice “Oh my god, you have a mare?!”, or the “Well that’s a mare for you!”, I would no longer need to be studying my butt off to become a lawyer. I was, in fact, once among those people, stating once infamously that I would never own a mare. The reality now is that I own 5 of these horrible creatures, with not a gelding in sight.
Although people call me crazy, I have convinced myself over the years, either through madness or sheer desperation, that I am actually 'mare' person and that they really do love me. However, most of the time during the course of mare ownership, you either find yourself having intense discussions, arguing with them, or showering them with food, love and anything money can buy because you got through a training session without feeling like you were going to die. The other time is usually spent cleaning them, their gear, feeding them and yelling at them to get over here and love you because you have put in all this effort.
My best horse, known by most people as Lotus, pushes my buttons more than any horse I have known. In truth, she has taught me ALOT, and we have had some whopper arguments, and some
immense success in the year I have owned her. Her little whinny everyday proves to my mare loving self that we have a special bond, and that all those gifts I buy her are actually worth eating rice for the next week because that fleece rug she just HAS to have was stupidly expensive. At least, this is what I tell myself.
Success with Lotus :)
Mares are also extremely intelligent, and that's not to say our friendly little geldings aren't, but mares are a different kind of intelligent. I am convinced they will do things on purpose, just to see what you do. Janie, for example, is a mare I have had for 9 years. She has tested me, broken almost every bit of gear I own, and generally been an all around pain in somewhere I won’t mention. She won't tie up, she has to cough, fart, sneeze, cough (in that order) before you can start your training and she MUST have the last bay on the truck, and first stable in the barn. But I deal with it because at the end of the day, she puts her sensible hat on and performs at the shows. Most of the time.
Lotus a bit the same. We have had some weeks where in truth I'd rather face down the entire army of paintball-wielding macho men than actually enter that arena to train. But we've also had some amazing weeks where we could take on Valegro (I wish!), and she is learning the passage and piaffe so quickly that we could almost start in the Grand Prix next week. Almost. Despite the fact that I feel like I have no idea, we prance around the arena looking semi-professional and all the Germans are gawking, exclaiming that they honestly thought the week before I was going to die.
And then, like last week, you eventually bundle up your courage and take the mare to a show. It was the last Ankum PSI for the winter season, and our test just happen to fall on my 25th birthday. I was having a minor quarter-life crisis, feeling that as halfway to 50 I was ready to start selecting my coffin and giving up those dreams of ever being successful with horses. And this is when my trusty, food-loving, muscly, big-eared mare came through for me, placing 3rd with 79%. We made it through to the final to place 3rd again with 72%. With success in our corner again, I was back to loving mares!
In the arena at Ankum PSI.
The truth is I have had some amazing mares. My big girl, Ultra (who I have sadly said goodbye to as she headed off to her new eventing home), will always hold a special place in my heart, and Lotus is slowly worming her way in there. It’s not always an easy relationship with them, and I find they are just as opinionated as I am! But the success to me has meant more in this last year with Lotus as we have really had to forge our way through many obstacles.
My very special princess Ultra looking after me as always. I will miss her immensely.
In December of last year, I made the big decision to fly my Chihuahua to Germany. It was not a decision I took lightly, as it would mean changing his home, his lifestyle and his environment for an extended length of time. He would go from a farm to an apartment, and from summer to winter. In the end, I decided I'd be much happier having some company (because really, Netflix and pizza just don’t cut it), and so, with the help of the IRT of the Dog World, little Leroy jetted off on Qantas Flight 1 where I anxiously watched his flight for 26 hours on flighttracker.com.
He arrived late at night, and nobody on either side of the world had slept for fear of him not making it! He was in good spirits, happy to see me and basically peed everywhere due to excitement. At long last I could have my little dog in tow, going to shows, walks to the bakery, running (when I could) and road tripping it around. Oh, how my life with a little dog would be amazing!
Leroy finally arrived!
Reality, however was very different…
Said dog will poop once per day, and despite the fact you have a perfectly good backyard, it will always be on the front lawn/pavement of the ONE neighbour that hates dogs with a passion. So much so, that they will make extra effort to place a sign out the front so you are left in no doubt as to their opinions on dog poop. You will then run as fast as you can away from the neighbour, who is probably sending you menacing glares from their window, fresh steaming dog poop in hand (in a poop bag, of course) as you try desperately not to drop it all over yourself. Your friend, who came on your so called 'health' walk, will then spend the next 30 minutes explaining why she chose NOT to get a dog because she didn't want to spend her time picking up poop.
Bringing him to the stables is not as awesome as it sounds. Instead of waiting patiently by the arena, he will whine, yelp and generally be a pain in the butt to anyone else when I am not around. Locking him in the stable will also not help, as he will then roll in poop, eat poop, eat leftover feed and whine at an incessantly loud, squealing pitch.
His hair, which I had never noticed in Australia due to him being mostly outside, will end up EVERYWHERE in your apartment, and there is nothing you can do about it. Your vacuum cleaner will need to be cleaned out daily, if not hourly, and your black clothes will never seem clean again.
No matter how much you try, he will NOT always be excited to go on walks with you. You will spend the walk dragging his little butt behind you whining about the fact that he needs to excercise just as much as you do. He will love the snow, and actively try to bury himself in it at every opportunity. And no, he won't wear that expensive dog jacket you bought him and flew all the way from Australia.
Leroy on one of our snowy forest walks.
European winter... where do you start? Endless fluffy snow, beautiful forests and gorgeous winter coats that could never work in Australia. Wrong. It rains, a lot. The snow is icy, and the forests are so frozen and bogged down that you can't walk anywhere without falling flat on your backside. (This, I know!) Winter jackets are expensive, and you find that you only ever wear your horse one because it's the best you own and you’re too poor to buy that gorgeous one in the window of the shop you’re too scared to enter. Mainly because you’re always dressed in muddy boots, jods and a smelly jacket.
This means that at dinners, movie dates and shopping trips are spent smelling like pony, and Pikeur is seen as the new fashion label. You will get frostbite on your butt, and thermal jodhpurs will not stop this. Your feet will lose all feeling, and you generally won't get this back until mid spring. The novelty of riding in an indoor generally starts to wear off about 6 weeks into the winter, and that's being generous. You get sick of feeling like a marshmallow on top of a pony, and the constant jacket-on-jacket-off-jacket-on when riding gets annoying.
We woke up one morning to quite a bit of snow.
De-frosting, de-icing, and digging your car out of snow also gets old. And fast. The little blue alcoholic spray bottles will end up everywhere as you try to de-ice your window, the nozzles will freeze shut, and putting a towel over the windscreen will only succeed in freezing said towel to the glass. It’s a good morning if your door isn’t frozen shut, but don’t expect your windows to be able to wind down until at least +5.
It will get dark by 4pm, and the sun actually won't rise until about 9am.
This was indeed a shock to my family who flew over to be with me for Christmas. My brother, who spent the weeks leading up to their arrival telling me it couldn’t possibly be THAT cold in Germany, spent the first week of his trip whining about the ice and complaining he didn’t realise it would be THIS cold. He was also brave enough to sit on Lotus, who in true mare fashion, took over completely with her “I-am-the-boss” walk and charged on around the arena. James was not impressed.
A freezing day in Pompeii... the only day it snowed in the last 50 years!
We had some wonderful adventures, travelling around Germany and then a weekend in Zurich followed by a week in Rome and Naples, along the Amalfi coast. It was absolutely freezing, with most of the towns covered in snow for the first time in 50 years. So much for my warmer christmas holiday!
A beautiful sunset over the Bay of Naples.
I said goodbye to the family in January, and it was a tearful few days as I watched their plane slowly head back to Australia via my trusty iPad. I have no plans to travel back home this year, and it will be some time before I can see them again. Suddenly, my tiny apartment that had been close to overflowing now seemed very empty. The truth is that there are some days over here where you do get lonely, and it’s that horrible, bone-aching loneliness you get when you’ve been away from home for a long time.
I am lucky that I can train every day with a horse that tries very hard for me, and I am riding with lovely people, a great trainer and a groom that is fast becoming my best friend. Those odd comments you get here and there from the other riders that see you training daily make the distance from home worthwhile when they mention just how far you’ve come as a combination. And the thing is, they are genuinely happy for you. Every rider, groom and stable hand at the barn work 7 days per week from sun up until sun down, rain, hail, snow, wind or sunshine. Success comes from hard work, and it’s nice to share that with the people who travel the same road as you.