Today is International Horse Appreciation Day and my daughter Saoirse asked me to make today’s blog about her beloved horses.
A while ago, my friend sent me a text to say she had just seen something very unexpected. Little green men? Sam Maguire in Leitrim? No, it was me in running gear, yes that is unusual, but not what she meant. I was throwing a bale of hay over a gate and then climbing over the gate and dragging the hay though a field.
I’m not a city girl, I grew up in a small industrial town in North Wales. I lived on the outskirts of the town in a cul-de-sac that was adjacent to miles and miles of fields. I’ve always enjoyed country walks and fresh air, but I’m definitely not the farming type. I’d me more comfortable in Jimmy Choos than Hunter wellies. So, the sight of me wrestling with a hay bale on a cold Leitrim morning is pretty unexpected.
As usual, I was late getting my daughter to school, so I was off to do her morning job of feeding her animals. You’ve already met Heidi but now it’s time to introduce the three biggest members of our animal family. Meadow and Hughie the horses and Shadow the donkey.
My husband Mick doesn’t remember learning to ride as he was so young when he did. He was always around horses growing up and with his horse Jono, he regularly went up against his older brother Pat (and Ringo) in show jumping competitions every week. It was a such a huge part of his life.
Mick’s Dad died when Mick was only 13 after as short battle with cancer. As well as the devastating blow of losing his beloved Dad, with eight mouths between the ages on 2-15 to feed, there was simply no way to keep the horses.
This was no doubt another huge loss in his life. He didn’t complain or make a fuss, because he’s the kind of person accepts what happens in life and gets on with. This is a trait that has been so very important in our recent lives.
By the age of four Saoirse was showing a huge interest in animals and after having her first ride and first fall on my friend’s pony, we decided to start her at the Hayden’s the local stables (no relation).
She was a natural and barring a problem with never holding her reigns tight enough at the start she flew along. By the age of eight she had convinced us to let her spend her Saturdays at the stables helping out. Since then, that Is exactly where she has spent every Saturday and most of her summer holidays.
She has made brilliant friends and works very hard when there, teaching her discipline and a strong work ethic. Also, it’s a very cheap summer camp, as all she needs is a fiver a week for the tuck shop.
Saoirse’s biggest dream has always been to have her own horse. Last year, when working out our finances we decided we could stretch to a horse of her own. I know a few people think having a horse means you have loads of money, but trust me we really don’t. When you have a horse you are either super rich or constantly skint, we are the latter.
Someone was on our side when we started horse shopping, as I was scrolling through the ads a new one appeared, for a horse that, on paper, was perfect and she was half our budget. My Dad always taught me that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. But with this one, I had to try.
The next day, with Saoirse’s super helpful and dedicated riding instructor in tow, we travelled over to Roscommon to view ‘Lady’. My god she is a lady, a beautiful dapple-grey mare. Aileen, the girl selling her had been training her for years and had grown too big for her. She was a lovely girl who bred and trained horses, each of whom she felt a strong connection too. She just wanted Lady to go to a good home where she would be loved and cared for. The deal was struck.
After years of challenging times in our family, where Saoirse has never complained and had done her absolute best to look after her brother and sister, and at times me, it meant the absolute world to us to make her dream a reality.
We also consider it to be a very important part of managing her mental health. Being able to ride is a great outlet for Saoirse to escape and blow off steam when things get hard at home. Particularly as her teenage years are approaching and she wants to escape us all.
Saoirse decided to change the horse’s name from My Lady Black Jack to My Lady Meadow Brook. Meadow Brook is the name of the stables Mick’s Dad ran and where his and Pat’s ponies lived. This was the perfect name to remember Mick’s Dad and make a special connection.
To us she is just Meadow. She’s a temperamental, feisty bugger at times, just like her owner Saoirse – they are a perfect match. To keep Meadow company we acquired a donkey, Shadow. He belonged to a lovely local farmer who when I asked if I could buy him said No, but I could have him.
He was very kind and even paid to get his hooves clipped and him castrated before he gave him to us. I don’t think Shadow considered being castrated to be very kind. But we did!
Then Shadow the donkey escaped over a hedge and onto the main road for a little run around, when Meadow was at the stables we decided he needed company when Meadow was gone. So we adopted Hughie from the local horse rescue centre and now they are an inseparable gang.
I love watching Saoirse riding on Meadow and occasionally have a go myself. There is a lot of work that goes into having a horse, so we all muck in and muck out. I went to help Saoirse clear it a few weeks ago, we only have one rake, so Saoirse told we to use my foot! What?
So, embracing country life and keen to try out my new heavy-duty wellies, I thought, that the hell and started kicking it out around with my foot. That is how I discovered my alternative therapy!
It is so damn satisfying to quite literally kick the ‘shit’ out of something. I know it may sound aggressive, but it’s literally hurting no one and giving my thighs a good workout. Although I would be lying if I said I don’t often imagine the head of our current inept and in my opinion, negligent, Health Minister, Simon Harris’s head perched on the top of one of the piles of dung. I always give it an extra hard kick if he is there, I’m not sure Peppa Pig would approve!
PS – I always give my wellies a really good wash at the hose before leaving the field.