The Man Who Listens to Horses – Monty Roberts

My battered but well-loved copy of Monty Roberts’ The Man Who Listens to Horses is a book I’ve been reading and re-reading since I was twelve years old.

Having first picked it up when owning a horse of my own was nothing more than a distant dream, I rifled through it continually for help and support in my first few years of owning my own pony, and have kept it close ever since, carrying it to the two occasions where I’ve been privileged enough to see Monty work live – with two groups of friends at different livery yards years apart – and at one of those had it signed, a couple of decades after it first became a staple on my bookshelf.

 

 

In the horse world, there will always be those prominent role models who we are most inspired by, and love to watch and learn from. For me, there are several who stand out from the rest – Nick Skelton is a huge one, a showjumper whose posters were on my wall when I was nine years old – carefully pulled out of Ponies Forever magazine – and who, decades later, I was elated to watch (standing side by side with Charmer in his stable after work, phone propped up streaming the big moment) winning gold in the 2016 Olympics with the beautiful Big Star, post-recovery after his previous accident and rounding off a dazzling career. Luca Moneta, with his unique approach to communicating with his horse even in the most high-calibre of competitions, promotes a refreshing brand of horse-welfare-focused horsemanship. Monty Roberts is without a doubt one of these role models too, having been such a huge part of my early forming of ideas about how best to relate to horses, and in particular to my own – who I was blessed enough to find myself responsible for when we were both only young, and who I was determined to do the best I could for.

The Man Who Listens to Horses is a captivating story, I’m sure for those not involved with horses as well as those who are. Beginning in California in the 1940s, at a time when the balance of life was about to be upset considerably by the arrival of the war years; it focuses initally on Monty and his brother Larry’s childhood on a large competition yard, their work there and their own competing as they grew up, describing the unique opportunities afforded to Monty through his life with the horses in local rodeo events and even in roles in some of the huge cowboy films of the time while doing stunt work for actors like James Dean and Roddy McDowall.

The true heart of this story, however, is Monty’s desire as he grew older to break out from what was the norm in both his upbringing and the culture of the time of horse-starting – or “breaking”. Finding himself determined to find a new and more peaceful method of doing this, he discovered as he did a new path in more aspects of his life, and a deepening desire to reduce violence in the world not just for horses but for people too.

Monty’s outlook is by no means unique – a few years ago I read another very interesting book, Talking with Horses by Henry Blake, which was written in the UK some years previously and focused on many similarly peaceful approaches to communicating with his horses. However, I do understand that in his circle at the time he grew up, to Monty his efforts to break out of the way things had always been done were a constant struggle, and the resistance he met led to a difficult journey for him.

Towards the end of his teenage years, Monty recounts what seems to have been a very defining experience in his life with horses – having the opportunity through summer herding work to watch a group of mustangs interact with one another entirely in the wild – first becoming intrigued by this when observing an exchange between a “trouble-making” young colt “misbehaving” in the group and the dominant mare who dealt with this:

“The dun mare didn’t hesitate. In an instant she pinned her ears back and ran at him, knocking him down.. while this chastisement was going on, the other members of the herd didn’t turn a hair. It was as if they didn’t know it was happening. She ended by driving him out of the herd.. I was amazed. She kept her eye on his eye, and faced up to him… he was terrified to be left alone…. he stood there, and I noticed there was a lot of licking and chewing going on, although he hadn’t eaten anything. I remembered the foal and how it had snapped its mouth, which is an obvious signal of humility as though it was saying “I am not a threat to you.” This colt was saying the same thing to his matriarch… To my astonishment the dun mare was now grooming the colt. She’d let him back in, and now she was keeping him close by and giving him lots of attention…”

Some of these behaviours, and many more witnessed over several years in the natural setting of herds, would go on to form the basis for “Join-Up”, a method for relating to horses, particularly those unsettled for any reason, as other horses would – in doing so putting them at ease, removing the element of fear and bridging any gap in understanding; and in turn providing a solid foundation for building the relationship between horses and humans – one which involves both of us learning so much from each other, and one which is so incredibly rewarding. 

The Man Who Listens to Horses is an intriguing book, part autobiography, part textbook, and spans decades of a life spent working with horses and learning from them. It is one I have carried with me throughout my life, and which has helped me find perspective on many ups and downs of my own life with horses.

Hygge Love ❤

Last January I discovered (to my joy!) for the first time that there was a word, hygge, which summed up just perfectly everything I love most about this cosy wrapped-up time of year. A year on, and hygge has continued to sweep across from its native Denmark to take our countries by storm, revolutionising how we approach wintertime – especially the post-Christmas part of winter. It offers a softer and more rounded alternative to the out-running, diet-beginning resolve of the new year; in the form of a more achievable balance between good health – with fresh air and long, rambling walks – and indulgent nights in – with a little bit of chocolate, a mug of something warming and some cosy time devoted to enjoying good company and home comforts.

I have recently been reading the very beautiful Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, given to me by my sister as a lovely present at the beginning of the winter, and it has been such a special book to dip in and out of every day.

“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life – or just be comfortable in each other’s company – or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea… Hygge may be the closest we come to happiness when we arrive home after a long day’s work on a cold, rainy day in January… this is where most of our lives will play out. Hygge is about making the most of what we have in abundance: the everyday.”

This weekend, with snow lying on the ground and frost glinting from every branch of the trees outside the window, felt more hyggeligt than ever. My husband has been working away this week and as both of us are for a couple of days each next week too, we were all the more grateful for a lull in the busy-ness, some time together and the chance to enjoy winter’s cosiness.

The boys have been happy to have us both home too. It has been lovely to spend time with them, and Ty especially has been enjoying the extra company  around the house all day. His little face is always there, waiting to see what’s happening next, and he’s been our shadow this weekend as we’ve gone about our days and evenings, enjoying the companionship.

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The last couple of days have been very much a blend of wrapping up to wrangle with the biting weather and spending time enjoying the warmth of the indoors. Yesterday I spent the afternoon riding along crisp paths with friends, chatting and patting our fluffy-necked ponies as we did, carefully avoiding still-icy patches on the tracks here and there – the sun setting at 3pm without a true thaw ever quite reaching us. We’ve been for long walks along the bracing but beautiful waterfront, and have been as a matter of routine pulling on hats and gloves before each leaving of the house.

This morning on a venture to my mum and dad’s, spent some easy time chatting and watching the world outside the window with our hands wrapped round coffee mugs, the dogs sleeping peacefully – my old girl Ginny by my feet, the cat stretched along the full length of the settee just under the kitchen heater, making the most of the warmth.

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Back home, we have spent our evenings in, under blankets with our favourite box sets playing and a real warmth filling our little house that can only truly come into its own on these very coldest of days.

I love this January-March season partly for the winds of change in the air – the increasing light in our days with every one that passes, the snowdrops brightly lining verges with flashes of hope, and the buds on the trees ready to bloom again; but in a large part too for its retaining of just enough darkness to mean that we can still burn candles, light the fire, eat warming meals and wrap up with books and TV at night. ❤

Hope you have all had a really lovely and hyggeligt weekend too, and have a wonderful week. X

 

The Bear and friends…

Last Christmas, I spent much of the two-week break from work happily ensconced in a chair with a string of Tom Cox books, one after the other. I can’t remember who in my family had first come across @mysadcat on twitter but we had been screenshotting and sending each other pictures of The Bear, “the world’s most melancholy cat” (and of Shipley and Ralph, @myswearycat and @mysmugcat) for months if not years before we finally got to grips with the charm and warmth of Tom Cox’s books devoted to tales of his life with his characterful feline friends. I had given my dad The Good, the Bad and the Furry, and he had in a similar vein given me Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. Those cosy days between Christmas and New Year are so often spent in suspended time, judging a day’s progress only by when darkness falls or when the collective group is hungry enough for more turkey sandwiches. We tend to spend it rotating around our various family homes en masse, making ourselves cosy not just in our own but each other’s too, and it’s the perfect setting for the sort of intensive chain-reading the rest of the year doesn’t always allow for, all merrily reading and swapping at that same uniquely leisurely rate all Christmas activities absolutely must done at.

 

 

These books have so much heart, and I would recommend them to anyone. They shine a light with humour and sentimentality in equal measure on all that sharing a life with pets entails. At a first glance they could be taken simply for stories about the cats themselves, entertaining enough as that would be, but they are so much more than that. As in real life, and as I know to be true with my own beloved collection of animals, there is always more than just the day-to-day care of them going on. Our wider lives, with their soaring highs and devastating lows, play out alongside the daily opening of a tin of food; and time and time again we find that they are anchored by that daily routine, and given sometimes much-needed perspective by the affection and companionship offered by our pets.

One of my favourite treats wrapping up a week on a Friday afternoon is a coffee and a read at the Tom Cox website, where so many lengthy and some shorter blog posts appear, rambling through life in the countryside with the cats, a well-used pair of walking boots and an assortment of wildlife. Tom writes about so much that I love to read, and that inspired me to get involved in the blogging world – books, music, long walks, family dynamics and peaceful evenings in the middle of nowhere. Most of all though, he writes with such affection in both his books and online about the cats:

“The Bear is not so much a cat as a polite, pacifist poet who happens to be trapped in a feline body and is making his best of a bad situation. The Bear has never gone in for the petty squabbles or attention-seeking power plays of other cats, and chooses to “meeoop” gently at me or nod subtly in the direction of the food cupboard when he wants to be fed. When Shipley has tried to square off with him or challenge him to an arm wrestle, his response has usually been to scuttle off and hide in the nearest cardboard box. When he looks into my eyes, as he does often, it feels less like he is asking for food and more like he is asking me for solutions to the world’s problems. I haven’t got any of the latter, so I settle for the former: usually as much of it as he wants, because he’s nearly twenty, and I feel blessed to have been able to know him for the last decade and a half.”

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There is such a gratitude in Tom’s writing for the privilege of living a life with these animals, one I know very well in my own life, and the different personalities are wonderfully painted in all his pieces. Along with so many others, I have followed with baited breath George’s journey as he moved with ups and downs from a homeless stray to settled housecat; Roscoe’s recovery from her terrible injuries last year, overjoyed to see her fighting fit again; Shipley and Ralph entertain the twittersphere with their angry and beautific expressions respectively; and, most of all, the very special The Bear, who reached 21 years old last month, age so very gracefully. (Now almost entirely “retired” from social media (still popping up now and then with photos with his fellow housemates), The Bear is an amazing age and enjoying a quieter pace of life.)

“What has changed about The Bear recently is that he’s gone a bit deaf, although this hasn’t made him any less polite, just polite in a louder kind of way. His two main noises – the “meeoop” and his half-meow chirrup, both of which were always very soft and mild – have evolved into a completely new noise. This noise is quite hard to describe but I think the best way I could put it is that it’s the kind of sound a particularly friendly bumblebee would make if it was a foot high and came to live in your spare room. The Bear, of course, has no idea he’s being newly loud. When he meows at the fresh bowl of water I keep on the bathroom floor for him, which for some reason he seems to be in love with, he believes he is singing the water a gentle, private lullaby. He has no idea that, not far away, people are breaking off their conversations and asking “Who is that mournful old lady that I can hear wailing to herself? I wonder if she recently lost her husband.””

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There is such a richness to the way these wonderful characters are documented and shared with the world through both the turning pages and the scrolling screen, and I would recommend them to all.

Hope everyone is having a lovely week. x

 

 

 

 

 

Wisdom from Green Gables: An ode to Anne, a kindred spirit…

I loved so much writing a while back about my favourite pony and animal books from my childhood, and about what an amazing outlet they provided for passions which have defined so many stages of my life. I knew then I would love to write too about some of the other books or series which have been friends to me throughout the test of time, and as I have recently been cosily reading through the Anne of Green Gables books – their joy undiminished by the passing years – they seemed a perfect place to start. Anne Shirley gets a free pass to be included here first off purely because I love her so very much, but also because she holds in such high esteem family, friends, home, and the wonderful world around her – all things I do too, and love to pour into this little blog.

Some of her favourite phrases are ever-present at the back of my mind – whenever I meet someone new I love to see in them a “kindred spirit”, and when all else fails it is as Anne says “truly lovely to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

Her enthusiasm for life, her unwavering faith in the beauty and wonder of the world around her, her flaring temper and her equally passionate love for her people all contribute to her well-deserved status as one of the best loved children’s characters of all time – and a true favourite of mine.

Anne treasures home to her heart among her very closest loves, a tendency I identify with very well:

““I wonder if it will be – can be – any more beautiful than this,” murmured Anne, looking around her with the loving, enraptured eyes of those to whom “home” must always be the loveliest spot in the world, no matter what fairer lands may lie under alien stars.” – Anne of the Island, L M Montgomery

At this time of year particularly I understand her most of all – I don’t think a day has gone by in this beautiful and ever-changing month that I have not thought how grateful I am for October…

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… And now as we approach November, possibly my favourite month of all, I long to see those crimson sunsets and hear those deep passionate wind songs in the pines once more.

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This weekend has been spent mainly comfy on the couch, a spiced apple candle lit and the wind billowing outside while I read Anne’s House of Dreams – in between trips to the farm for autumnal rides in the golden-leaf-framed world and time with friends old and new, hands wrapped round mugs, appreciating the company and good times.

 In her spirited approach to every challenge she meets, her romantic streak and her settling as the years go by into the warmth of the people around her, Anne’s outlook on life is one of hope and unwavering optimism, and she is forever an inspiration to me and truly a kindred spirit of mine.

In praise of Pony and Animal Books… Childhood Favourites <3

Aside from my animals, another of my major passions in life – and one which has similarly been a constant throughout my childhood and adulthood alike – is reading. From as far back as I can remember I have loved to read, and some of my earliest memories are of my earliest books. I remember finally reaching the stage of being able to read by myself as the beginning of a magical era where I could just become lost in another world while I breathed in a whole story from start to finish. From the heart-thudding dashes I made through the caves of Kirrin Island with the Famous Five to the memorable day I was right with Harry, staring wide-eyed at Diagon Alley and Hogwarts for the very first time, I fell fully into the worlds on the pages before me and dreamed of them in games, daydreams and my own stories scribbled in jotters long after they were over.

Some of the books I loved most however, especially in my earliest days of reading, were animal and especially pony books. It’s a genre sometimes belittled or viewed as frivolous or unimportant; when in fact nothing that inspires a passion for reading in any child should be. Reading about animals or children relating to their pets and ponies drew on both my love for those themes and my growing love for being swept up in stories, and some of those books from my primary school years are the very same ones I find myself plucking off the shelf now when I need an  escape or want to revisit the long ago worlds I loved so much and that children’s authors took the time to create.

The Hodgeheg – Dick King Smith

This little story was of the first I can remember reading for myself, a beautiful book aimed at maybe ages 6-8ish and with large print but – so excitingly to me and I’m sure so many other children – in “novel style”, a paperback book with that real book smell, thin rustling pages and hidden within them a wonderfully endearing tale of Max, our unforgettable hedgehog-turned-Hodgeheg hero.

Animal Ark books – Lucy Daniels

The Animal Ark books came along at just the right time to be a firm favourite in our house, swapping them between us as children and always marvelling at who would be in what next – Goat in the Garden, Badgers in the Basement and Pony on the Porch becoming contenders for favourites, but nothing comparing to the first discovery of Puppies in the Pantry and Kittens in the Kitchen – the Hope family’s valiant efforts at helping and treating animals over and over again in the small village vets’ surgery as untiring as our appetite for the next book to appear. I remember being more disappointed than I should have been to learn in this modern Wikipedia world that “Lucy Daniels” was in fact a team of writers churning out these titles faster than any one person could – but in the end all that mattered was that, whoever it came from, we were gifted the ammunition for years of imagination-stretching vets’ surgery games in dens with our friends and entranced Christmas holiday reading.

The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann

The Animals of Farthing Wood – dashing Fox, wise Badger, poor Mole with all his self-esteem issues, Pheasant ever in a flap, and all the rest – had me utterly captivated as a child as they banded together to make their perilous journey onwards towards White Deer Park. In addition to reading first an abridged version of the book and later once I could the full one – and watching the TV show of course – , I collected the weekly Farthing Wood Friends magazines, and learned so much about wildlife as a result. They were always so educational, teaching about animals’ habitats and behaviour in great detail, and had me so interested in the world around me and engaged with all and any wildlife and nature that might cross my path.

The Jill Books – Ruby Ferguson

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Jill Crewe, like the Famous Five had before her, arrived recommended from the older generation in my family, and had already been the pony-book heroine of my mum’s childhood when she became mine. Headstrong, kind in spite of her flaws and not afraid to challenge the sometimes elitist world of horse ownership, Jill had me onside from the word go and made me laugh, swell with pride and smile as she navigated school, gymkhanas, ill-fated money-making ventures and general adventures with her faithful ponies Black Boy and Rapide.

The Midnight Fox – Betsy Byars

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In The Midnight Fox, Betsy Byars brought to glittering life for me the night sky on the farm, the uncertainty of Tom’s emotional turmoil at the beginning of the book giving way to first the lessons this unfamiliar rural life had to teach him and later completely to his desperate desire to save the black fox from her fate. An absolute treasure of a book, I learned with Tom that if you can find a passion that surpasses everything else, something to believe in and to strive for, you can find courage amidst self-doubt and make a difference against the odds.

Midnight Dancer books – Elizabeth Lindsay

Possibly my very favourite of all, Elizabeth Lindsay’s Midnight Dancer series truly had my heart, in spite of only being six short and relatively uneventful books. Mory and Josh’s childhood and upbringing by their parents and extended family closely resembled my own and I loved the familiar warmth of life at Black Rock. Mory always battled with her worst self but somehow managed to come out on top, appreciating and – when the situation merited it – fiercely defending her family, friends and pets alike. I liked her instantly, before even the world-changing moment when she looked up to the hill and saw the black pony standing there. Mory’s Dancer was everything I dreamed of in a pony and when a few years on I was lucky enough to come to own Charmer, my own midnight black pony, I shared her lack of ability to quite believe it – and in fact still do to this day, the best part of two decades on, often marvelling as we amble out on a post-work hack at how my trusty pony ever came to be mine. The Midnight Dancer books were being published annually in my later years at primary school and were the reason I waited for the book fair to roll in to school, always so excited to pre-order the next adventure, count down the days until the delivery arrived and trace my fingers over the red and gold embossed lettering that stood out on every cover throughout that long school day before I could run home to start reading.

All of these stories – poured into well-thumbed paperbacks, most of which I hold onto tightly to this day – made up such an inspiring chunk of my childhood. They taught me valuable lessons about the world around me, gave scope to my love of the animal world and inspired so many dreams of the future; and I will be forever grateful for them.