Friday 6 September 2013

A post about Captain

I'm going to warn you before you begin reading - this is, as promised, an entire post about ponies. In fact, it is just about Captain. So, I apologise to all my lovely followers who aren't interested in the pony details - I promise the next post will cover other things too :)
However, as most of you know, ponies play a pretty important role in our lives. We are very lucky to have the most amazing ponies living with us, but this is the story of Captain.
Long term blog readers may remember that Captain came to us as an unseen youngster - rising 6 but very green.  We fell in love the moment he arrived. He was intended for my eldest daughter, just moving off her 13hh pony , Matt. However, as Captain was such a novice, I rode him on for the first six weeks.
He has never been anything other than amazing! He is only 14hh, but he has the biggest heart of any pony I know. There is a childlike innocence to him, even now. He likes to play, always, and he hasn't EVER shown any bad temper or irritation - I don't think I've ever seen that in another equine. He doesn't quite abide by the normal herd behaviour rules with other horses. He seems to have no concept of personal space with ponies , friends or not, and will walk straight up to strangers to share food, or even to grab their neck and invite a wrestle. (He did this once while being ridden!). Weirdly, this behaviour is tolerated by all - he is simply treated like a foal, indulged  and looked after, or at the worst, ignored.
The downside of this is that he is a slow learner. Willing, but slow. He needs to have instructions spelt out really clearly and simply, and it can take a while to register. He tries for a while, feeling a bit anxious and confused, and then suddenly there is a 'Eureka' moment, and he's very pleased with himself!
When he first arrived, he came from a flat county. He had really only just begun work, and his initial way of going was to be very overbent and to barely move forwards at all. This was compounded by our steep hills, and the very first time I rode him he just stopped the moment I turned up hill, and appeared really bemused as to how he was supposed to get up it. It took 6 months before he felt like he was moving forward, and another year before he really began to engage his hindquarters rather than powering from the front.
By this time I had long  handed over to the fey daughter. She had weekly lessons on him, and took him to Pony Club camp that first summer.
 He started to learn to jump, which he found pretty scary to start with, although water was simply another opportunity for play!
In the Autumn of 2011, Will arrived to live with us. Captain was smitten!
The Fey daughter and Captain slowly improved together, with the help of Sarah Howard, her fantastic riding instructor (who also taught me as a teenager).
By this time, the two of them had become an inseparable partnership. Captain was experienced and safe on the moors, and I knew I could trust the pair of them out all day on the moor.
Captain's had finally mastered walk and trot, and at last was starting to build up some top line and back muscles. Although he was fine cantering out on hacks, he still struggled to balance in canter on a circle, and was beginning to fall out through his shoulder.
This was causing a bit of a problem when jumping, as he still wasn't confident, and he realised that he could drop his shoulder and run out.
The fey daughter had to up her game, and learn to ride better. She did. She worked her socks off :)
At the same time, I had Captain's back checked, which was fine, but the vet, on giving him a general once over, pointed out that he had a heart murmur.  This was news to us, but then I hadn't had him vetted when we got him.  After an initial panic, I realised there was no point worrying about it. It hasn't stopped him from doing any of the things we wanted to do with him, as long as we get him fit slowly, and allow him recovery time during hard work whenever he asks for it, I guess we just carry on as usual. It does mean that between that, and the sarcoids which I discovered when he arrived, he will never pass a vet  or have any resale value. Luckily, that doesn't matter, as he won't ever be sold, as he is worthy his weight in gold to us!
Captain is barefoot, and always has been. I'm very pro barefoot, though well aware it doesn't work for all (I have had to put front shoes on Will, because he is built to pull, and is naturally heavy on the forehand and pounds his front feet down, wearing them down and banging off his toes very fast, which results in throbbing digital pulses). I'm also lucky to have both a fabulous EP (barefoot trimmer), and a great farrier, both of whom are happy with  my choices, and both of whom encourage me to do regular hoof maintenance myself under their tutelage.
We do plenty of road work as well as lots of moorland riding, which includes a lot of stony tracks. None of this limits Captain. He is equally as happy to ride down the main road while lorries and coaches rattle past, as he is to stride across the moor. At this point he was borrowed by our friend and riding instructor to escort her students on a 2 day moor ride, as her horse was unable to go. In true Captain style, he was the star of the day. While other horses pranced and danced, and a diversion led them into a bog, Captain ended up taking the two smallest children on the lead rein, and calmly leading everyone over Dartmoor for two days.
Christmas rides and mince pies are a favourite of his. He had been wearing antlers and sleigh bells for most of the day!
Then in March this year he did his first dressage competition. They got a respectable score, although they still hadn't quite nailed his habit of falling out through his shoulder.

In the meantime, lessons continued, and Captain generally gets to be the 'practice on' pony.

Then, they decide to have a go at mounted games training! Poor Captain was utterly bemused by this. He liked the idea that it was all some sort of game, and was keen to help pick up flags and potatoes, but he just couldn't get to grips with racing, particularly a racing start.
The fey daughter has gamely soldiered on - she and her friends think it is the best fun ever, and it is hilarious to watch. Slowly Captain is learning new things, and I'm pretty sure he enjoys it too. I don't think he is ever going to be a threat to our neighbouring pony club teams though!

Much to the fey daughter's annoyance, we had a polocrosse training day while she was away for the weekend. So her sister took Captain instead. He took to it like a pro, and they declared it was the best fun they had ever had.
It was very fast, and very noisy, and very rough, (between riders, not ponies) and looked to all intents and purposes as if the pupils of St Trinians had been let loose on ponies.
Meanwhile his flat work is coming on nicely.
Out goal for his year was to have Captain fluently jumping a 2' 3" cross country course. At the beginning of the year I was doubtful this was attainable. We still couldn't get him really going forwards into the jumps, and certainly not moving on and away afterwards. He still wasn't entirely confident about it all.
A couple of schooling sessions at a local course helped a bit - and he has always loved water!
Then at the beginning of the summer the fey daughter and Captain were in the junior dressage team and went to compete at the Devon and Cornwall Area Dressage. He was the only hairy cob at the very smart Royal Cornwall Showground, but despite the terrible nerves, and it being only their second ever dressage competition, they did brilliantly, and got the highest marks out of their team.
And then we had a breakthrough! After all this time, the jumping suddenly 'clicked'! One day Captain turned in to a jump, and he flicked his tail , pricked his ears, and took himself in to it. They haven't looked back. It is wonderful to see him enjoying it.
The 2'3" cross country goal has been more than achieved this summer, and together they are confidently jumping 2' 6" showjumping courses. In lessons Captain is happily jumping higher, but I'm reluctant to let the fey daughter push too hard and risk knocking his new found confidence.

And then at camp this year (Captain's 3rd Pony Club Camp) the fey daughter got her chance to try polocrosse.
They've taken to it so well, that we are wondering whether we can get a team up and running.
I'm not sure I can add that to my list of jobs!
So, it's been a long old journey getting here, and after the initial 6 weeks, it has been entirely down to the fey daughter. She adores Captain, and he adores her too. Sadly, she, like all my children, seem to have had their feet in compost this year, and have all grown incredibly tall. Her peers are moving on up to horses, but we've had a lot of discussion about this. She is adamant that she doesn't want to give up Captain (which is, quite frankly, a relief, as I certainly don't intend to let him go!).  So, I hope they have a lifetime together. It may be that she wants to go on and do more than he can do in the future - in which case I hope she can borrow. She is finally a competent enough rider that she gets offered horses to ride now. She did borrow a friends horse to take her C+ test last week, because I felt it was too much pressure to ask Captain to go out and jump 2' 9" showjumping and cross country in an exam environment when he has only just gained his confidence.
But most of all, I am proud of the pair of them, for they have achieved so much together!


Freyalyn said...

This is a lovely, lovely post - so gorgeous to see photos of Captain and his rider and their friends. And I do particularly enjoy seeing how much he is loved and valued, and allowed to set his own pace and level - if only all horses and ponies has this level of consideration and care allowed to them. Thank you for posting it. (And we're down in Somerset week after next)

Danielle Barlow said...

Thankyou Freyalyn :) We have such an obligation to care for them - I am constantly amazed by the difference in personality they have, and how individual each is, and how you have to learn to understand each one.
OOh, what are you doing? Would be fab to meet up (but it's PC show on the sunday - I'm sure it was last time you came!)

Kath said...

well, I for one, thoroughly enjoyed your pony post and photos. I love Captain (although I have to admit it is Will who has stolen my heart) and it was a real treat to read all about his progress.
I loved seeing him in the line up with the "show ponies", it reminded me of when I used to show my little hairy Highland, who was the sweetest, most placid pony I ever owned.
I'm so pleased he will stay in your family, it's so sad when a much loved pony is outgrown.
So who do we get to read about next :-D

Danielle Barlow said...

Thankyou Kath :)
I love Highlands - my Piper is half Highland. And I think both she and Will need an update as they have been on such a journey this year. But I guess I'd better wait a bit or it might frighten everyone away!

Valerianna said...

A wonderful story of perseverance, commitment, hard work and love! He's a beautiful pony, so majestic and I love his wild look. I have a heart murmer as does my cat, Pasha... slows me down a tad, but not Pasha!

MEME said...


Terra said...

I love this post and your photos and words about the ponies and especially Captain, what a handsome pony he is. He has found a great match with your family and your daughter.

Em Parkinson said...

Lovely to see his whole story. What a brilliant find he's been and how brilliantly you and the pair of them have done!

Virginia said...

Im so glad Captain is doing so well. He's such a beautiful boy. I had to google 'sarcoids' - what a horrible condition! Perhaps by the time your children really have outgrown Captain there will be other local children who would benefit from his wisdom - or a "Riding for the Disabled" group near you.

Great photos - what an idillic childhood your children have!

Bovey Belle said...

'andsome is wot 'andsome does, John Jorrocks used to say, and I say, hurray for the Hairy Cobs. They may not always be up there amongst the Mensa candidates, but they shine in the sensible and dependable department, with lots of A*s! Once he has learned his lesson, he takes it to heart and gives of his all, bless him.

He has nice conformation, but I think these chaps take quite a long time to develop and really get balanced. He looks SO much more toned, muscled and fit in the more recent photos and obviously, finally a lot more active behind.

Your daughter and her instructor have done wonders together, and I can only say that you have got a 1st class PC pony there.

Congratulations on their recent successes. I am sure you could loan him a dozen times over if your daughter could bear to part with him - good ponies are like gold dust. That would give her a chance to take on something bigger.

You have brought back memories of my happiest days as a PC instructor for the Hursley and various other branches, and what fun we used to have at camp. One year I introduced Cushion Polo to my ride, and as you say - a bit like St Trinians on horseback. The boys, especially, enjoyed it!

Brilliant post.

Danielle Barlow said...

Thankyou all - I'm so glad you all didn't run a mile at my pony post!

Virginia - to be honest, Captain's sarcoids are tiny, and not at all troublesome (not like the horror stories that google will show you!). He just has a couple of large warts, which cause no bother at all. But a prospective purchaser would probably run a mile, because that's what vet's tell them to do!

BB - Thankyou - your praise really means a lot :) And yes, when university and jobs loom, am sure I will be able to loan him out locally. Our old boy, Matt, who was born wild on the hill behind the farm, is 20 now, and has never lived more than 4 miles from that same hill, but has moved from family to family as needed. (and done 11 pony club camps in that time!)

Gail H. Ragsdale said...

Such a lovely post! I love your pony posts greatly and have loved Captain from when you first got him. Looking forward to more :)

Slamet Riyadi said...

I like this post because it is complete with charming photographs. thank you.


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