Summer – By Lisa Gregory

Writing a Horse of the Week blog might sound like a simple task, but it’s actually quite tricky. And that is because all my horses here at Cannock Chase Trekking Centre are so fabulous! I am sure you would all agree!

This week’s nomination was an easy one, and it is one that came from several members of my staff. We all agreed that this had been a very special experience and our beautiful, little Welsh Section C mare Summer played a vital role.

Summer

recently spent an emotional and inspiring hour or so in the company of a very brave lady who is terminally ill. We were all in awe of her courage and good humour in such a desperately sad situation.

She has a bucket list, and one of the experiences she wanted to complete was to ride a horse. It was, she said, something she had always wanted to do but had never got round to organising.

She is only a little lady, so, of course, only needed a small horse. The obvious choice for her was our pretty strawberry roan. Summer is renowned for her gentle and kind nature, so was perfect because of her laid-back nature.

As Summer is one of our pony team for little riders, some of you may not know her very well, so let me introduce her.

She is the grandma of our herd and the oldest of all my horses. But you would never know that from seeing her at work. She is still full of energy and enthusiasm, and shows no signs of wanting to retire. In fact, I have someone waiting with a retirement home for her but Summer isn’t slowing down yet.

She has taught thousands of children to ride over the years and is brilliant at teaching her young riders to canter.

Buy one, get one free!

Summer was just six when I bought her, and I thought I had taken delivery of a fat little pony. But there was a surprise in store as, unknown to me or my staff, she was in foal.

Our tubby girl provided me with the prettiest little chestnut baby with four white socks and a flaxen mane and tail. I named her Autumn and she is an invaluable member of my team.

 

A very special mare

When the lady arrived, we said she could choose what she wanted to do and her first thought was that she would like to meet her chosen horse and perhaps do some grooming. We knew that if she didn’t want to ride, Summer would stand quietly, enjoying being fussed.

However, our client was very excited after meeting the gentle Summer and, after spending some time bonding with her, she decided that she felt confident enough to get on.

Our instructor Lucy supervised, and she was both amazed and delighted when the ridden session progressed to rising trot! It could not have gone any better. Our rider loved the whole experience, and that was thanks to Summer.

Summer also has another regular visitor who benefits from her kind nature. This is a lady with dementia, who is regularly brought to visit us by staff from her care home. We bring Summer up to the bistro and the two of them spend some time together. Summer’s manners are perfect – and her reward is the bag of carrots that her friend always brings for her.

She deserves all the attention she gets; she’s a one in a million.

Buttons – By Lisa Gregory

It’s time for our latest Horse of the Week nomination – and it’s the turn of our instructor Lucy Powell to name the horse who is impressing her most at the moment.

Lucy’s choice

Lucy’s pick is Buttons, our beautiful tri-coloured Standard Bred x Irish gelding.

Most of you know Buttons very well indeed. He is a wonderful, forward-going ride out on Cannock Chase and is a popular choice among my clients. And he is also a very reliable escort horse who is ridden by all my staff. Not only that, but he is the undisputed leader of the Cannock Chase Trekking Centre herd, and respected by all our other horses.

Buttons has even carried the Sheriff Of Lichfield on the annual traditional beating-the-bounds ride.

But it is not for his abilities out on the Chase that Lucy has chosen him as her Horse of the Week. It is because she rates Buttons as our most improved horse for his work in the indoor arena.

From baffled to arena superstar!

As you all know, trekking out on the Chase is our speciality, which will always be the case, but when I planned the redevelopment of the centre, I decided to build an indoor arena.

There are some excellent riding schools in Staffordshire, particularly Ingestre, which is not very far from here. I had no plans to try to compete with them – they are specialists in what they do – but I had many clients who were asking if they could possibly have lessons on their favourite trekking horses.

So we decided to give it a go, and it was clearly challenging for the horses. They were used to trekking on the Chase and were being asked to work in a way that they were not used to. Some took to it well, others were a bit baffled – and one of those was Buttons. On his first lesson in the arena he took his rider onto the centre line and planted himself there for 15 minutes! He was on strike!

Of course, we do not use whips or crops to get horses moving, so it was all a case of patient persuasion. Gradually, he began to realise that it was not so awful after all, especially if he was working with another horse.

Suddenly, it clicked with him, and he decided he loved the saddleless classes, where he was with a group of horses all having lots of fun.

The days when Buttons napped to the centre are long gone. He is forward going and relaxed, and has no problems working alone. He is great for teaching extensions, because he has such lovely long strides. He can be used for teaching all levels, from beginners learning to trot to more advanced riders working on their dressage.

Our polework clinics are where he really shines. He is like a cat through the most complicated grids, which involve lengthening and shortening strides. He never touches a pole. It is a great feeling for his rider and incredible to watch.

Yee-haw!

In the last couple of months, we have trained him for Western riding and he is now one of our go-to horses for Lucy’s Western classes. And when we staged our Western arena display for our Ranch Party Night, he turned out to be an ace at barrel racing too!

He is our most improved horse in the school, and both Karen and Lucy agree that he deserves this title.

We always knew he could do it – and now he knows it too. So step forward Buttons – our Horse of the Week!

Saffy – by Lisa Gregory

This is the second episode of my new regular blog feature – horse of the week.

As I explained in my earlier blog, I want to highlight one of my horses regularly who has shone through in their work in some way.

I and my staff will nominate our choices and, as I had first pick with our lovely Friesian gelding Oberon Foppe, this time I have asked my yard manager Sonia Aston to name her hero or heroine.

Sonia’s choice

It’s not exactly a surprise that she has chosen Saffy, who is often Sonia’s lead horse. We all know how much Sonia loves this honest and genuine mare, and the two of them have a wonderful, close relationship.

Sonia can always depend on this lovely Clydesdale x cob, but she says that, during the spring and summer, Saffy was called on for extra duties and really came up trumps.

Good old Auntie Saffy!

This has been an exciting time at the trekking centre as we have introduced five new horses to the delights of hacking out on Cannock Chase. I have trained our beautiful young Andalusian mare Nymeria and our homebred filly Indiana, who is the daughter of my Dutch Warmblood stallion Zidane. Plus I have bought Oberon, who has done very little hacking out during his life so far, and Sonia has bought her own young horse Elka, a four-year-old Friesian x Dales. And now another of Zidane’s daughters, the four-year-old Montana, is ready to join them.

All of them have had to be introduced to the big wide world that is the Chase and Saffy has often been called on to act as baby sitter.

It is not just Sonia who has been impressed by Saffy’s calm, brave and bold attitude. Each time I have been riding the newbie, I have been so glad of Saffy’s solid and reassuring presence alongside me. If the new horse has spotted something that worries them, they have cuddled up to her for safety and reassurance, and she has allowed them to do that without a problem.

She spends all her time in the field grazing alongside her beloved Alfie and her best friend Nutmeg. She has now allowed her new friend Nymeria to join her little field gang. So well done, Auntie Saffy!

Next time, it is the turn of our instructor Lucy Powell to choose her horse of the week.