“The weekend started with a bang – literally! In fact, there were quite a few ‘bangs’ on the Friday night as one of our neighbours hosted a party with loud fireworks to finish.
For many animals, the firework season causes significant distress, but, in our household, we appear to be very fortunate because our own dogs are not fazed at all by the annual light-and-sound displays around the village.
If they are outside in the garden, our dogs will either go about their business completely disregarding the fireworks, or have been known to sit in the middle of the lawn and watch the displays as they light-up the night sky.
This year was no different, and our own dogs were joined by Ruby, who was very relaxed outside in the garden, perhaps due to the continuous socialising or the frequent exposure to lorries, trains and other loud noises.
On the Sunday, Ruby attended a party of a different kind, held down on the village playing field. It was thrown for one of our friend’s dogs, Blue, in celebration of his 13th birthday. There were ten other dogs in attendance, and Ruby had huge fun running around and playing. She also enjoyed a small doggie bag of treats!
During the week I met with Claire Lush for our monthly one-to-one, when we visited town with Ruby and sat in a cafe to practice her settling skills (Ruby’s, not Claire’s!).
Claire and I chatted for 15 minutes while Ruby quietly sat underneath the table and, despite the close proximity of a selection of discarded crumbs, eventually lay down and went to sleep! She was very calm throughout - a real star.”
"This year is about as depressing as it can get - the South of England (where I am ensconced) is as wet as it has ever been. I have only got five horses in, but the continual rotation of ever wet rugs, gateways are like mud baths.
The local shot seem to find it necessary to kill the three nearest pheasants to my yard regularly, but last week they took the biscuit on the very day I decide to lead in four 16.2hh dutch warmbloods at the same time. I wasn't in a very good mood to begin with (owing to the fact that the local shop has decided not to stock Bombay Sapphire), but being pulled face down and then jumped over was the perfect end to a perfect day!
By the time they had been caught, after demonstrating passage and piaffe around the yard with the security lights on the blink, it looked like strope lighting meets the devil rides out. Ten minutes later, they were caught, hoof picked, growled at, and merrily eating, and as only horses can, looked as if nothing had happened, and were wondering what all the fuss was about. I must admit, they look cracking winter and summer on Baileys feed, this has to be one of the wettest Novembers I have had at this yard, although its green sand and good draining soil, even this land has begun to give up.
Next on the list, the lorry will want a service, and plating (thank christ for Mother's credit card), the two horses we have had in to break to harness need to leave the safe familiarity of the yard, and go up and down the road (pheasants, partridge, and local preacher permitting). I live in a wonderful little hamlet of Hoyle which nestles between Midhurst and Chichester, and although usually quiet, the recent economic situation saw one or two people selling their 'quaint weekend cottages' - substantial farmhouses to you and I - these have been bought and subsequently raised to the ground and built their partcular versions of an idyllic weekend retreat.
So we are awash with lost builders merchants, Polish labourers, local authority officers and in one of the houses they were about to knock down, they have found a slow worm and a bat, no not living together, but merrily ensconced in the loft and behind the sink, so we can't knock that one down yet.
Next season can't come soon enough, with the South of England Carriage Driving Fair on the 14th March 2010, and the judging invitations plopping through the letterbox, and masterclass at Equifest, and the launch of the Hackney Horse Society pony display team, there is a lot to do, I just can't wait to leave domestic wet bliss!"
Sharon and Jasper opened the College of West Anglia's rehabilitation centre this week
"Another week has flown past again but with more variation than the last couple. I have still been busy competing but also attended various different functions as well. I have also bought another horse, which is proving to be absolutely delightful in every way! He is a real find, 16:1, bay, five-years-old and called Bertie. He is by Cavalier and out of a Clover Hill mare so very well bred too. What’s more is that he was only five minutes down the road; now, whoever said that you can't find things on your doorstep?
I went to Addington again on Tuesday with some rather fresh horses. In hindsight, they needed longer to warm up, (again the classes were not very busy) and I had the odd fence down. Tweedy (Silbalto) was the superstar of the day and jumped all clear rounds and Amber (Red Amber) a close second having just one down in the Foxhunter jump off; Kenny (Kenny) was good for his first show back and just had one down in the first round of the Foxhunter.
I also competed at Norton Heath with Imp (Impulsive), Tweedy and Amber in some affiliated dressage classes. They were excellent and the standard was quite high. Tweedy was third in the Prelim with 67 per cent and fifth in the Novice. Amber fourth in the Novice with a credible 65 per cent, and likewise in the Elementary. Imp is really beginning to excel and scored 67 per cent in the Novice and was third and performed a very good test in the Elementary 65 per cent which should've been a little higher but the judge missed my give and re-take twice! Never mind – I was delighted as he is improving rapidly.
I was also lucky enough to be part of the opening of the College of West Anglia's rehabilitation centre with Jasper (Tankers Town) on Wednesday, we are honoured to have a plaque that has our names engraved on it outside the building. I felt very proud. Jasper demonstrated how the water treadmill works and loved it. Such fantastic facilities on my doorstep again. There is also a solarium and a spa to help with various injuries e.g. splints, sore shins, tendons, bruised feet, etc. After a few interviews including one for BBC Look East, we went home and collected Bertie on the way.
I was also lucky enough to have lunch with Twink Allen this week. He is an incredibly interesting man, full of stories and humour. I have learned much about embryo transfer and cloning. Very interesting topics, which fascinate me, particularly as I have a mare that I potentially would like to breed from.
I have also been for three meals at owners’ and friends’, luckily lots of swimming too to help the winter pounds! I love this time of year to catch up, although presently I'm socialising and working as hard as usual so I could presently do with a few more days in the week please to catch up on all my outstanding projects! Hopefully the next few weeks will calm down.
I do hope though that this winter will not be continuous with rain and wind; I’ve nearly been bucked off too many times to count due to the banners blowing or jumps falling over, oh how I wish I had an indoor school!"
"I recently had a fascinating chub session on Norfolk’s River Wensum very close to the Kingfisher Lakes in mid-Norfolk. The river was very low, very clear and very cold and I really had to work desperately hard for my fish. As it happened, I just had an inkling that there were two or three big chub in a particular swim and I pulled out every trick in the book until I finally caught one.
First it was trotted maggots.
Then it was rolled meat.
Finally, it was a piece of legered flake hard against the far bank where there was a screen of dead rushes. A tiny bite but a hard fight from a big, flawless chub.
In the winter, it frequently doesn’t come easy but when success does happen, it’s with a wave of personal satisfaction."
"We have six different species of deer in this country so venison is readily available. The quality of the venison we have now is better than ever with good quality young animals being harvested for the table throughout the season. Most of what we buy in the supermarket is Fallow and Red Deer. Red has a slightly stronger flavor than Fallow but both are succulent, meaty, full of natural vitamins, and low in cholesterol. The fat content of venison is very low so this is something we need to bear in mind when cooking it and specially when pan frying, grilling or roasting it. Venison should be served slightly pink - never well done - by cooking venison well done you are removing all the moisture from the meat and turning it in to something resembling shoe leather. If you have only ever eaten meat well done please please try it Medium and I guarantee you will never go back to eating it well done.
Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce
Now for a recipe there is not a lot I can do to improve something that only needs seasoning and cooking, what I can do is in the same way a wine connoisseur suggests the perfect wine to have with your food I can suggest sauces that will compliment your steak. Here is a favorite of mine. All the ingredients for the sauce can be found at any supermarket and venison steaks can be found in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer’s.
50g Dried Porcini mushrooms
150ml game jus
Take the dry Porcini Mushrooms and place them in a bowl, add 200ml of boiling water. Allow them to soak for 30 mins
Drain the mushrooms and place the mushroom water in a saucepan and add the Game jus (see my blog on jus and stocks) and bring to boil, add the Mushrooms and reduce by half
Add the cream and reduce again to coating consistency
Season and cook the Steak then serve with the sauce
“I have now got back most of the farm from the tenant farmer who is going on the pastures new (excuse the pun!). I get the final bit of the farm including two farmhouses and a cottage, back at the end of December. Luckily I have already got interest in two of the properties from locals. So we are going to be busy in January getting them ready for occupation in early February.
We are currently busy with “tupping”, which is putting a tup (or ram as it’s called in England) with the ewes. This will give us lambs in late April, which is later than most places but as we are in the Highlands and spring comes later, we try to leave it as late as possible so the spring grass has started to grow again. Some years we still have snow on the ground in early April! If the weather is bad in the spring and the grass hasn’t started to grow, we have to feed the ewes to ensure they produce enough milk for their lambs and that can get expensive.
We have had no snow yet but lots of rain. The hydro-electric is doing well at least, but everything is growing webbed feet! We have had only one good day in the last week and that was, luckily, the day we had a let partridge shoot with paying guests. It went very well but had it been the day before or after it would have been a total wash out. It really helps having some extra income coming in this time of year, so I am glad I didn’t have to cancel it. My two game keepers have been getting frustrated too and when it’s this wet it’s almost impossible to get out onto the hill. They have managed to cull quite a few deer between torrents of rain and have also finished putting out grit for the grouse at regular “gritting stations” across the hill. However they have spent a lot of time doing “indoor” jobs like cutting fire wood and repairing stuff and I sense they are beginning to get cabin fever.
I am at long last trying to get my small amount of forestry into some sort of a management plan. We only have about 200 acres of woodland but I am keen to plant a lot more for both shelter and amenity. I am planning to plant mainly hardwoods, which are coming back into favour for both their looks and beneficial wildlife properties. They are also becoming popular as a means for carbon sequestration which appeals to my environmental side. The glen has very few hedges so we have started planting some and intend to plant lots more over the next few years. These create shelter for livestock and both food and shelter for birds.
Anyway, this week I had an initial site meeting with the Forestry Commission to get feed back on my plans. They need to approve any major planting plan so it pays to get the feedback at the outset. The meeting went well and they seemed to like what we are trying to do. The trouble with forestry plans is that trees take years to grow and by the time they are mature the plan has long since gone out of fashion! I take a very long term view, and think that mature hardwoods always look good, and if not my children, my grandchildren will be pleased that I planted them!”
“Just come home from a fantastic days shooting, I was a guest of an extremely nice, kind and interesting chap. David Waters is the man in charge of the Great Bustard project that is being carried out on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. We spent the day rough shooting. Now let’s clear this up once and for all; for those of you that are new to shooting, rough shooting is not a bunch of ill disciplined people rampaging around the countryside pillaging and generally abusing the occupants. To the contrary, rough shooting in fact requires a small team of liked minded people to be very disciplined in all matters ‘country’ shooting over a team of superbly trained dogs.
Which leads us straight into the next most common misunderstanding: if I had a pound for every time someone asks us for dog training advice and starts the conversation with ‘He doesn’t need to be well trained as I only want him for rough shooting’, but the rough shooting dog, usually a spaniel or an HPR but most breeds can do the job, will need to be extremely well trained.
The rough shooter’s dog will need to have tremendous stamina, be fearless in cover and water, hunt and find game within a very close range of the handler, stop or sit to the flush, be able to take a pin point an accurate mark, retrieve and the icing on the cake would be to be able to take direction and be handled onto a ‘blind.’ In my opinion, one of the best trained dogs in the shooting field. I have of course neglected to mention that one of the HPR’s will also indicate, or point, the position of game.
The dog handling on today’s outing was first class. Springers, cockers, a Labrador and a wire haired visla provided us with the most fantastic day in the countryside. If you are hovering on the fringe of getting involved with shooting and are not sure just which way to go, I would recommend a day’s rough/walked up shooting to anyone.
Already this season we have introduced several people to the shooting field, at least two of them were really quite apprehensive. In fact, one person was border line anti shooting. I am delighted to report back that without fail all of them have asked us to help them get more involved.
Please do not misunderstand me; I am bright enough to understand that the country way of life is not for everyone but if you are nothing more than intrigued as to what goes on, try to get an invite to a day’s rough shooting. You see I know you will be hooked because your interested in working dogs, (I know that because you wouldn’t be reading this stuff if you weren’t) and once you see gundogs in action, doing their thing, having the time of their lives doing what they have been bred to do, you will have witnessed something very special - something that might just change your whole life.
“Don’t be so stupid Kirby, how could watching a few gundogs working change my life?” I hear you cry. Trust me, if you get the bug, you will spend all of your waking hours thinking about your next fix. Tread lightly, this could be serious!”
"Things happen in 3s, so I hope I have now had my three bad journeys. The first was a burst tyre on the way home from Gloucestershire. The second was on the way home from Coventry on Wednesday: I was down in Coventry to receive my share of the Pat Smallwood Award at the BHS Convention. This is the last year that it is to be awarded and I feel very lucky to be one of the recipients. As a winner I received a cheque that is to be used to further my own training and knowledge to in turn pass on to my pupils. I am looking forward to making the most of this money. The journey home was slow due to the bad weather but was made worse when there was a bad accident on the M74 and the motorway had to be closed. The only option was to sit and wait for it to reopen. The journey ended up being two hours longer than on the way down.
On Thursday afternoon I headed up to Invergordon, near Inverness. I had an evening of teaching booked, followed by a full day on Friday. I take the train up for ease of travel and it is actually more cost efficient too. I had a two part journey with a connection at Perth. The first train was running late due to the heavy rain and flooding and I arrived in Perth ten minutes after my onwards connection had left. The option given was to wait two hours and get the next train but if I did that I would not have been able to give any lessons that night. If I rushed through town (Challenge Anneka style!) to the bus station I could get a bus and still manage to teach half of the lessons that had been booked. So the 'Challenge' began helped by a very friendly lady who took me under her wing and pointed me in the right direction..and eventually the destination of Inverness was reached! Even though the Friday teaching is a long day, I do enjoy teaching up at Coillemore. The riders are really keen, they have lovely horses and I get very well looked after..perhaps even spoilt with home-made soup and sandwiches. Home late Friday night and prepared for Rafa's competition the next day...
Rafa was a bit ring rusty as he has not been out for a few months. He finds the tests in the small arena quite difficult - I often find he shrinks back at me when faced by a 20x40m arena test. Considering how wobbly we were I was very pleased with two wins and marks of 70.2% and 72.6%. He has now qualified for the Novice Open Winter Semi-final in addition to the Novice Freestyle.
Hoping the weather starts to settle and we get some frost, I hate muddy horses and wet fields."
"There are two kinds of partridge in this country: the French partridge and the grey or English partridge.
The French, or more commonly known as the red legged partridge, is not a native to the British Isles, but originates from the Mediterranean. Red legs mainly feed on vegetable matter. They do well in agricultural areas and are found in small groups called Coveys during the winter months. Males (cocks) and Females (hens) are hard to differentiate; both are grey with a white throat, black and brown flecks, red legs and beaks and the males are slightly larger. The average weight is between 400g and 500g and you will get one portion per bird.
The grey partridge is a native to the UK. Its numbers were in decline due to changes in farming methods and the wide use of pesticides that reduce insect numbers. Insects are vital to the diet of its chicks. Recently they have made a slow comeback in some areas because of the popularity in organic farming and the fact that farmers are leaving more hedgerows. They like large areas of open, agricultural and scrub land. As with the red legged partridge, they can be found in large groups during winter months called 'coveys'. Again, they are hard to differentiate between the cocks and hens. Both have an orange/red head and a red/brown heart in the middle of a grey breast, but the males are very slightly larger. The average weight is 350g to 400g and you will get one portion per bird.
Here is a very simple recipe that will suit both these birds:
Grilled Partridge with Thyme and Garlic
For four portions
2 cloves of garlic
1) Cut the birds in half length ways by cutting along one side of the breast bone, then chopping through one side of the back bone before doing the same with the other side and removing the breast bone and back bone.
2) Rough chop the garlic and the thyme, add some sea salt and place in a liquidizer with a little oil. Liquidize into a loose paste and pour this over the birds and allow to marinade for a few hours or overnight.
3) Remove from marinade and scrape off excess. Cook on a griddle or on a BBQ grill. Once the meat has been colored on the outside, I like to place it into the oven for eight to 10 minutes just to finish off cooking. Leave them slightly underdone, then rest for five minutes or you will find that the meat will become dry and tough.
This makes a great starter or you can cook a few displaying them on a large platter for all to share and pick at."
"A slightly quieter week than the last few. Last Saturday we had a late celebration of bonfire night for staff and friends with a bonfire, drinks and games up on the new land. It was great fun and everyone enjoyed themselves.
On Wednesday we had our second side-saddle taster course in which clients learnt a little about the discipline and the fitting of the saddle before having a go. I think everyone was very pleased with how it went and enjoyed riding in this different way.
On Thursday we had another John Adams Show Jumping clinic in which 14 rider/horse combinations worked on approach and straightness, with a big focus on the horses’ way of going in between the fences. The weather was kind to us and the horses were very well behaved.
That afternoon I went off to Scotland for another weekend of teaching the Scottish Dressage Group in East Calder. We were fairly lucky with the weather and although very tiring, it was a great clinic and most enjoyable. I would like to thank Joy Maclean for all her hard work in organising the clinic along with Janice Thompson who was on holiday in some lovely sunny land over the weekend. Another thank you must go to Jane and Graham Wood who put me up and give me a fantastic time with lots of lovely food and plenty of wine!
Meanwhile at home, they were not so lucky with the weather. Saturday saw weather warnings for high winds and heavy rain. Thank goodness for the indoor school, which was at times a little cosy! The bad weather didn’t deter 95 per cent of riders and lessons went ahead, as well as the vaulting group and a children’s birthday party. The horses and ponies were needless to say a little spirited though.
Sunday was much brighter and they had a busy day of lessons.
I would like to say welcome to the team to Helen who has joined us as a senior working student.
We said goodbye to Josef this week, who came from Germany to improve his English and has been working with Paul around the yard for a couple of months. Thank you very much for all your hard work. Paul, Josef and Gary have worked extremely hard over the last couple of weeks putting in post and rail fencing around our new land, which is almost ready now to introduce the horses to. Just to let you know Zak’s collar bone break is on the mend and the sling is off, so that is good; back to sport soon!
This weekend will be all go, with an unaffiliated Dressage competition here on Saturday and a Classical Dressage Day Course on Sunday.
Next week we look forward to our bi-monthly John Bowen dressage clinic, so that will keep us all busy."