Spring has finally arrived and with it the new green shoots of grass.Whilst we have been on holiday for a week over Easter, Rosy and Ferdy have spent the whole time in their paddock with no outings down the lane and no chance to nibble on the fresh green grass. Rosy can hardly wait to get out. As we tack up, she tosses her head, rejecting the dry hay on offer although Ferdy finds it acceptable and munches away. I mount. The corral gate is opened. Rosy sets off at a very brisk walk leading the way down the field through the gazing ewes and frisking lambs. She paws the ground with her hoof, waiting impatiently to be let out of the gate. Finally she is released into the lane where tantalising stems of new spring growth are everywhere. It isn’t good riding etiquette but I allow her to snatch big mouthfuls. The fresh grass of spring is such a treat. I almost feel as if I’m eating it too.. She moves around, swishing her tail, impatient to sample different types and flavours. Ferdy is more measured in his approach and picks delicate morsels, seeming to savour them in his mouth whilst Rosy greedily stuffs in as much as she can. Our ride is not very collected as Rosy keeps wanting to stop and eat. Finally, I have had enough and insist we keep moving at a steadier trot along the track. Pippin races ahead through the young wheat field – the skylarks still sing above us . There are very few insects but I guess they have all been sprayed out by the insecticides used to protect the crops. As we reach our galloping point where we turn away from the brook and back into Glapthorn, Rosy jiggles about in anticipation of charging up the hill and we fly off together into the wind , leaving Ferdy plodding behind. Once Pippin has emerged from her dip in the water, she speeds up to join us but by then Rosy has already dropped her head to sample a clump of tempting green grass and herbs. As we clop our way back up the lane, Charles and I discuss partitioning off the paddock with electric fencing now that there is so much grass. At their recent annual health check and teeth rasp, the equine vet had firmly pronounced that Rosy and Ferdy are both too fat and need to eat less. Even though they are shut in at night and Ferdy wears a permanent muzzle when he is out during the day, he still manages to eat too much . Just like us, whilst it is fine to have the odd treat, it is not good for our long-term health to overeat. Later that day we put up the electric fencing to make a restricted paddock and have ordered a new battery to make sure they get a shock if they put their heads underneath the strands of wire to eat the grass beyond. Rosy is frightened of the fencing and would never venture to touch it, but Ferdy is inquisitive and always works out when it is not working. They do not complain but I know Rosy will be delighted when we next go out together and she can try some different grass. It is good for equines to eat a variety of different herbs too. We leave them grazing in their smaller area, whilst the ewes and lambs who do need to put on weight tuck into as much grass as they can. We cycle back down the lane to our town life in Oundle and our coffee and toast.
After letting Rosy and Ferdy out to graze, on a bright Sunday morning in mid April we strolled through Southwick Nature Reserve. Pippin charged round under the mature oak and ash trees, dashing through the clearings of young green shoots flecked with the deep blue of spreading bluebells. Recently I had met the warden who’d been looking for deer to cull as they move in from the neighbouring fields, but luckily for them, neither of us had seen any .. I have never come across roe deer on our frequent walks in these lovely woods . The week before with the birding group, we’d been absorbed watching coaltits bobbing about in the thorn trees by the entrance, whilst catching glimpses of the ceaselessly moving tree creeper. Time stood still as we’d paused to listen to the melodious song of the mistle thrush and spy him high up above in the tree top. Using binoculars, I had been shown where to see a highly vocal blue grey nuthatch in a distant oak tree, listen to its drilling and insistent sound and admire its chestnut flank, whilst following its movements up and down the branches, often on the underside before it flitted off to another on . As we had walked on through the woods reverberating with birdsong, we had spied a fast moving treecreeper. An elusive wren flitted across our path followed by the surprise of the trilling song emerging from such a tiny bird. We paused to concentrate on the short distinctive call of chiffchaffs and from afar the drumming of the greater spotted woodpecker. There is so much to experience, especially when you are shown by experts, although the lesser spotted woodpecker has not been seen or heard for years .. The blackthorn blossom billowed like a white cloud, celandines glittered at our feet amongst small clusters of purple violets and everywhere the bluebells were just starting to open. Suddenly there was a rhythmic rush of movement and a herd of at least eight roe deer passed by and disappeared into the woodland as mysteriously as they’d arrived, without Pippin even noticing them. It felt a magical moment with a dreamlike quality. How glad I was that the warden with his gun was far away . I returned home feeling enriched and with the sights and sounds of the spring woods imprinted deep within my mind’s eye .
It is March 21st -the vernal equinox – and spring seems to have arrived in East Northamptonshire. Philip the subsistence farmer and our landlord has moved his first newborn lambs with their mothers out from his big barn where they were in tiny separate enclosures and into the big open field right next to ours..It is a surprise to find at least a dozen small young lambs sitting together in a tight little nursery group watched over by their vigilant mothers who are grazing round them. One ewe stamps her front hooves in warning as I walk past to reach our fence, where Rosy is watching form behind her corral gate.Philip’s stock is never the smartest nor does he ever have top quality animals. Perhaps he gets the bargains at the end of market.. His ewes are shaggy and unkempt and often seem to be either lame or have coughs and even their lambs look grubby. The day before we had been in the Peak District, walking up Whin Hill high above the Ladybower Reservoir and admiring fluffy white sheep and lambs in the sunshine against the backdrop of the sweep of green stony hills. Nevertheless these bleating lambs are sweet and tiny and already so soon after birth are able to orientate themselves towards their mothers and their peers and will soon be skipping around together in the sunshine . I walk through the field to muck out and decide to tack up Rosy and go for a short ride. Soon we are trotting along the stony bridleway track leading towards Cotterstock with arable fields of wheat shoots on either side.. there are two wide strips of set aside grassland bordering one field almost like two sides of a triangle – as we move along steadily I hear the long pleasant liquid warbling song of the skylarks rise above the clop of Rosy’s hooves and her rhythmic breathing and snorting, as the barely visible birds hang in the air over their territory. I can’t see them but their presence is unmistakable. Soon the brown unobtrusive birds that are a bit bigger than a sparrow will nest out on the open ground of the arable fields and on the ungrazed grassland. They feed on plant and animal material on bugs and snails and whatever grains and seeds they can find around them. It is surprising that we never notice the skylark going about its life in the fields and raising up to 3 broods of fledglings per season, and yet their song fills us with joy as the herald of spring, perhaps even more so as it is mysterious and enigmatic – being heard and not seen.
Everyone relaxed into the warmth of sunny days in early March. Winter seemed to recede and we basked in the pleasure of sunshine on our faces and the brightness of early spring flowers. As I cycled up to the field celandines gleamed in the golden warmth of sunshine while the pale yellow of primroses peeped through the edge of the hedgerow by the little stream. Once they had been released from their corral on these bright mornings, Rosy and Ferdy walked eagerly out into the field to munch with appreciative intensity on the first succulent tips of green spring grass. They no longer wanted dry hay… Their joy was short lived. Suddenly as if out of nowhere Storm Gareth appeared and swept along in forceful gusts of cold wind, squally rain and grey moody skies. The elements regressed back into winter and animals and humans retreated to the comfort of shelter and home. After they had ventured out and found it too cold, we left Rosy and Ferdy eating hay in the stable and drove down with Pippin to walk along the willow brook in Glapthorn. It has seemed the least muddy of the local daily morning walks as recently wherever Pippin has charged along at full tilt, whether by the river Nene or in Short Wood, her paws, legs and tummy become caked in claggy soil, which spatters everywhere and has to be thoroughly washed off. Today the skies were grey and full of wind. We were pelted with stinging rain as we neared the little foot bridge that takes us further along the brook. What a surprise awaited us. There just by the bridge was a small patch of tiny purple violets as if in defiance of the stormy weather and grey skies. Their clear colour and presence gleamed – so pure and simple and steadfastly timeless … a reminder to stay resilient and not be put off or set back by forces beyond our control.
I had been away for a few days and had left Kathy and her mother Cynthia in charge of Rosy and Ferdy. Sometimes we ride out together. No money is involved but I always bring a present. I was due to pop up with it on Friday afternoon. It had been a wonderful early spring day – much brighter than the weather on our trip by the coast- just perfect for trotting down the lane. On an impulse I asked if Kathy had time before tea for a short ride. Yes she’d love to meet up at the field with her two children.. Joseph aged 7 has weekly riding lessons. He is the only person who can rise to the trot and keep Ferdy moving along in a collected manner. Susie aged 9 is frightened of horses and keeps out of the way – often sheltering behind the bars of the hay section, where she says she’s safely in prison. Today was different, in her own time she emerged from the hay and joined in with the preparations. We brushed off the worst of dust and mud – she was especially keen on watching as I carefully picked out their hooves. We set off, with Kathy on Rosy, William sitting up straight on Ferdy and reluctantly attached to a leading rein. Susie ran on ahead in pink wellies on her long legs – her long red hair flying – she looked like a pretty filly leading the way. It was a happy time going round the track in our usual way. Birds sang and the willow buds were just starting to show. After Kathy had galloped Rosy up the hill whilst we struggled to keep Ferdy going, as he instantly slowed to a snail’s pace when not in the lead, I asked Susie if instead of being at the back behind Ferdy’s bottom, she’d like to be led back up the lane on Rosy. ‘O no, I can’t. I daren’t . It’s so high up. My feet might come out of the styrrups. I might fall off. ” Finally, with much encouragement, she reluctantly agreed to try as long as Kathy led her on the leading rein. Rosy set off gently for Susie’s first ride, ” I like this, ” she said sounding surprised,” It’s a lovely feeling. I can see so far. I was so scared but it’s not like I thought it would be.” It felt such an achievement. As we made our way back up the lane, I reflected that often in life if we can find the courage to take a deep breath and just do it – whatever it is – we can push our boundaries and preconceptions of what we can achieve. This develops personal confidence . Otherwise we limit ourselves to what we know and restrict our ability to try new experiences. It was a delight to see Susie riding for the first time.After we’d untacked and given Rosy and Ferdy their carrot titbits, Susie patted Rosy, probably for the first time. “I’d like to come and ride again please.”
The last few days
This week it snowed, the air frosty and cold as the thermometer dipped to – 3 degrees – the ground laced with crackly white . The ice froze thick on the big water butt- we splintered a hole and pour in hot water.. the fence tie-ropes stiff with cold .. Rosy and Ferdy stand waiting to be released from their night corral and for their hay in the morning as usual.. a lesson in mindfulness – they accept the dramatic change in the weather without any drama, although today Ferdy waits inside the stable door with just his hopeful muzzle sticking out round the corner, ears pricked waiting for his titbit.. whilst Rosy tosses her head impatiently as always.. Titbits and treats as always a source of real and immediate joy. On this first sunny day of almost spring, we sally forth for a trot down the lane, taking care to avoid icy patches.. the birds are singing as we swing along,, Ferdy jauntily in front.. Rosy skittering behind, excited by the frosted grass. We meet Terry the old man with bandy legs who takes his constitutional walk up and down the lane every day whatever the weather. ..then move on through the transformed landscape, Charles picking up an old and delapidated checked cap – hanging it carefully on a twig in the hedge. As we edge carefully along the ploughed edge with the many rabbit warrens , a red kite is outlined against the grey blue sky and the sweep of winter field, a tiny wren pops through the lattice hedge and a buzzard hovers in the distance checking the ground for food.. Rosy gallops hard up the hill, leaping over frozen puddles. I love these exciting moments when we leave the earth and fly together through the landscape.. Ferdy plods extra slowly until we return to nudge him up the hill. . As we walk back home we see a figure with bandy legs moving along slowly in the distance, surely it can’t be Terry… he has been going up and down determinedly looking for his tattered cap on the ground for the last thirty minutes in the cold, yet missing it as we’d hung it in the hedge. Charles goes back to retrieve it . Terry seems glad to be reunited with his very ancient hat, placing it firmly in his pocket. He had been determined to find it. It seems determination and focus is rewarded if we stick to what we have decided and do not give up..Rosy and Ferdy settle down to eating their hay in the sunny stable, as we, feeling invigorated, cycle home to the comfort of coffee, a nice warm shower and the rest of our day. Any problems in life seem so sortable up in the field.