Monday, August 13, 2007

From a Winter Down-Underland

A whole month and no blog.

It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing. Far from it. But I’ve not been doing a lot you’ld want to hear about.
Mostly, I’ve been freezing. I must remember never to come to New Zealand in July again. At my age, it’s just asking to be turned into a snowperson, starting at the fingers, the toes and in the small of the back, and going on from there. I have be forced to finally succumb, after 61 years, to an electric blanket.
Then there’s been the farm. When I arrived home, Wendy had it immaculate. But, since I’m only going to be here a wee while, I then had to launch on a whole year’s worth of jobs. End of immaculate. The trees, first. Ugh. Then the 800 metres of drive to be graded and resurfaced. Then some vast new drains. Each job meant machinery, and who says machinery says mess. Mud. And money. I’m not sure which I like least.
Still, it’s all done .. just the fertiliser on the hay paddocks to go and that, surely, can’t be too messy. Though of course it will be money, And the day after it’s done – and Gwen and Duchess have been safely packed off to stud at West Melton to meet their tube of expensive, imported French semen – I am getting on a plane for sunny (it had better be!) Australia. I’ll come here again when it’s unfrozen.

And then, of course, there are the horses.
Wanda, alas, couldn’t cope with the step up from the workouts to the trials. She has speed, splendid courage and (a mostly good, if sometimes impatient) attitude, but not as yet sufficient of the simple bodily strength to cope with being a racehorse. So she has been sent for another big holiday, and we shall try her again this time next year, after six months of heavy feeding, exercise and musculation, physical and mental.
My other potential racehorse, the lovely Elena, the (very) big filly I bought from the NZ yearling sales last year, has been brought on slowly. She, too, needs strength, but for the opposite reason to Wanda. Wanda is tiny, Elena (a year younger) is huge. However, even if her giraffe-y frame also could do with some filling out, she has come back from her latest long holiday with her ideas altogether matured and has done well enough round our home training track to be moved on to the next stage. Today, she went for the first time to the beach.
Now, going to the beach is, for a horse, not just grab-your-bucket-and-spade time. Hurdle one: horse who has never (or hardly ever) been on a horse float has to be persuaded to climb in. And take a 15mins journey in confined spaces. Hurdle two: horse, who hasn’t since babytime been off the property, has to cope with seeing the Real World. People, cars, scenery, other horses with carts on, dogs, roads, mastodons and pterodactyls etc etc. Hurdle three: to get to the beach, horse (with cart on and driver in) has to walk through half a mile of pine-forested dunes with bogies round every corner and many an unfamiliar hill and vale ... to reach finally hurdle four: the sea. What is THAT?! Hurdle five: horse who has never paced on anything but the home grit track meets … sand! Is required to go straight lines for the first time instead of oval ones! Past screaming kelp and snarling driftwood and … and after all that the poor thing is expected to pace beautifully for a mile and a half back down the strand.
It’s a lot for one young woman to cope with, all on the same day.
Well. Hurdle one was a tricky one. Elena is very tall. She walked up onto the ramp to the float, arrived with her forehead around roof level and flatly refused to go further. Wendy put an undercheck on her to keep her head down. I pushed. Wendy pulled. Sarah arrived to pick up feet and place them ever a little higher up the ramp. And twenty minutes later ... she was on. Off we went … a whole fifty metres. For up our drive was approaching a huge articulated lorry, coming to take away the drain digger. Wendy had to back the float up. And then the truck driver found he couldn’t get round our corner: so HE had to back up half a kilometre in the other direction. Once he had, we left him to Sarah, and set out for the sands where Rose, who was going to drive pacemaker-cum-nanny Justine, had been waiting for yonks.
Things can only get better, we sighed.
And they did. Elena coped almost unconcernedly with the real world (just a couple of ‘oooh what’s that’s’), and she went through the dunes and the forest like one bred to it. She thought three times about her first taste of sand but, after a couple of pretty awkward shimmies, set off, in Justine’s wake, and, after a couple of hundred metres, I, watching from the dunes, saw her legs swing into official pacing mode and I knew we would be all right. And – for a first effort – mostly we were. There are and were so many things that can go wrong when a young horse does something like this for the first time, so we were happy that the initial float-fright was the worst we would get. (She learns quickly: on the way home she bundled herself on with only a moment’s hesitation). So I came home pretty happy.
Enough said. Here’s the tale in pictures.

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