The tale of the rag rug… and taking time with horses

A long, long time ago, in a past life, I used to teach art, and make a lot of my own work too. I was quite successful, with pieces in the permanent collection at the V&A and in various private and public collections across the world. I loved it… but it’s a hard career to keep going. You need time… studio and research time to keep the ideas developing. With teaching to earn a living and then having kids and a family to look after I fell out of love with making ‘stuff’. I wasn’t prepared to make generic work that was just a re-hash of what I’d always made. I have a rather belligerent streak that won’t accept anything but the best. So I literally sold off my works, gave away a most of my materials and stopped being an artist (can you stop being an artist?). Either way I didn’t feel I had the time to make art anymore. Horses filled the creative and time void and I got to where I am today, a writing horse owner with 3 kids.

My kids love art, we make stuff, but I rarely do much beyond domestic alterations and the odd drawing. But tonight a few months ago decided to start making something. It’s for my new home, totally domestic and a bit of a marathon task. I’m making a rag rug. Its huge, its tweedy! I don’t even know if I have the patience to finish it. But as I sat there my mind was made up. I’m in for the long haul.

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I know that making things is really good for my mind and I get a clarity of thought when I’m working away. I was thinking about making a rag rug and working with horses. To start, its hands on, requires an amount of dexterity, knowledge or the ability to work with someone that can impart the knowledge required. But what else is similar? Well there is the time factor, the amount of time invested and how ever hard you try, you can’t make something like a rag rug in a hurried way. It is a slow and thoughtful activity.  Its seems in the equine world there are a lot of riders who seem to be in quite a hurry to achieve an end goal. Maybe it’s this mad rush to feel ‘ready’ for the start of the season, to feel like you are ‘progressing’, getting value from all the time and money invested? Sometimes it seems that everyone is off doing this clinic and that clinic, with multiple trainers, at various venues. Spending a lot of time and money and being very ‘busy’ with their riding.

 

A good thing maybe? Well it pays trainer’s wages and I would never dispute putting the hours in. But it feels to me like fast tracking? A little like the pass your test in 5-days driving school?  Is there another way? Everyone has their own approaches but the more I ride, the more I think that maybe training, learning, improving and goal setting needs to be long term, and subtle not short term. Like the bloody huge rag rug which I hope one day to complete, we all sometimes need to step back, enjoy the ride and slow down.

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I have had and still work with some brilliant trainers. I love the wisdom they impart and the time they selflessly give to help me refine and improve my performance. But I also believe it’s important to take the time to work out things on your own. That wonky arm, the un-level seat, the swinging quarters, the inconsistent contact, the fear of jumping. You can pick your poison… we all have one. I honestly think many of these things can be ‘corrected’ by a great trainer, but they also need homework to get them 100% right. I suppose I’d call it taking responsibility for your own learning and ‘feel’. My most recent discovery has been that I can learn more hacking than in the school – discovered because we don’t have a school at our new farm – so via default I guess. I think being out in the open makes me more aware of my own and my horse’s straightness, and I have a couple of hours to suss out what I want to be feeling, not the frustration of going round and round in circles, literally.

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Everyone has their own ways of working, I’m usually running at warp speed x 10000. But I can’t keep it up. I wonder sometimes if our horses feel the same. They need time too to not only build the strength to perform but also the mental agility to cope with the demands of travel and competing or training. Maybe it’s time for us all to slow down, just a shade, and enjoy what we have. Think long term and not short, appreciate how fortunate we are and enjoy the ride while we can. Think and dream big but appreciate the little steps along the way, bank them in your memory and celebrate them. Just like children growing up, it can all be over in a flash. Enjoy what your horses and enjoy the freedom of riding them. For those that can are very blessed.

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Riding Wear Trends for 2016

Often I like to collaborate with friends and contacts, to swap ideas and expertise. My most recent blog swap was with Personal Trainer and Fitness Consultant Carys Jackson from the Activerider (check them out for some great in house and online rider fitness plans and tips)…here

***Riding Wear Trends for 2016***

Featuring brands such as  Montar UK Cavalleria Toscana Tredstep Ireland Noble Outfitters UK Kastel Denmark euro-star , many of which are available at one of the companies I work for Uptown E Store

Read more here

Enjoy! x Nikki

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B&W Reviews… FreeJump Safety Soft’Up Pro Adult Stirrups

Over the past few years there has been a surge of technical stirrups new to the market. From the very popular Sprenger Bow Balance (from £160) to the lightweight metal, and very popular Jin Stirrups (from £125), and recently the ‘safety’, ergonomic option FreeJump.  With prices over £100 to the £200 mark these are big investments and loved by a pro’s and amateur riders alike. The latest offering from FreeJump is the Safety Soft’Up Premium Pro Stirrup. But just how good are they and are they worth the extra spend?

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What Freejump Say…

FreeJump Safety Soft’Up Pro adult stirrups are the latest innovation in safety stirrups. They have a bendy plastic arm which will stop your foot getting trapped however, if you get really stuck (for example in a fall) the arm will snap away completely if the right amount of pressure is applied. Should the stirrup snap in a fall FreeJump will replace the stirrup free of charge. The stirrup is strengthened with steel and the foot grip is wider and thicker than usual which makes for a more comfortable ride, it also has a slight angle to help give you the perfect position. If you lose your stirrup during riding, it is specially designed to swing back to you.

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My Experience – Soft’Up Lite – For Children…

I purchased a pair of FreeJump Soft Up Lite stirrups for my son at the start of the year. He is only 8 so I went for the slightly less expensive and smaller children’s style. I actually managed to grab a virtually new pair on EBay for less than half price (the full price is £145) – bargain! The SOFT’UP LITE by FreeJump is inspired by the SOFT’UP PRO but reduced in size for younger riders. I wouldn’t normally splash cash on things like stirrups. But was prompted after Henry fell off several times and got his food stuck in his traditional elasticated safety stirrups. He has found his FreeJumps have really helped this issue – and I have seen the safety mechanism work very well in real life when a particularly naughty pony bolted with him! The outer side of the stirrup is made from notched plastic so bends open should his foot get caught in a fall and in my opinion the style of the stirrup looks tidier than an elastic sided or bent stirrup. Henry has found the secure grip on the tread helps him maintain a good foot position in the stirrup (he rarely loses a stirrup now). I’ve also noticed that this section of the stirrup is generally broader so he puts more weight through his feet and ankle. In my opinion his lower leg is more stable, more often than not in the correct position and looks more balanced than before. This is likely to be due to the design of the stirrup and the 45° angled eye at the top of the stirrup. Henry likes the way you can clip the stirrups on and off the leathers to clean or change them to a different saddle. He has mentioned, without me prompting him, that they feel more comfortable, are easier to ride in and feel safe. I think they have been an asset to his riding from a safety, and balance perspective. As a parent I have been very impressed with their safety, styling and ease of use / care. Well worth considering for the young rider.

These stirrups accommodate a shoe size of up to UK size 6, the 10.7cm width fits soles not exceeding 10.2cm, so very petite adults might get away with a children’s pair!

Available in Black, Brown, blue, pink, yellow and red, from £145. The new edition ones have metal plates on the outside that can be interchanged and customised with national flags and other designs.

 

My Experience – Soft’Up Pro – For Adults…

With Henry getting on so well I decided to treat myself to some FreeJump Soft Up Pro’s (RRP £215) but splashed the cash and purchased the new silver styled Premium version (£230). I wanted to see really how good they were, but as anyone working to a budget understands, I was a little worried I’d just spent a fortune on something that wouldn’t benefit my riding, apart from looking smart.

Overall the adult version of Soft’Ups are larger, with bigger grips on the tread and built to take a heavier rider. They are much more weighted than the children’s versions which is an asset. They have a very distinctive design and incorporate all of the features of the children’s style.  So they look great, have loads of features to make them feel comfortable, help you to gain a better position and grip, but do they work? The answer is a resounding yes! It took a while to work out how to attach them to my traditional stirrup leathers, but they were easy to clip on and off. Immediately my feet and lower leg felt very secure. I noticed this getting on my mare who often won’t stand still when I mount. The wider tread helps your balance in these situations, as it does when you have sudden spooking at kamikaze pigeons and pheasants out on a hack! For riding long distances, I found the stirrups gave a nice balanced feel, I particularly liked them for canter work on the gallops (I felt less tired in my legs and ankles). Although I haven’t gone cross country in them I think they would provide a really solid, balanced feel. When jumping I have found the Soft’Ups great. I think my leg sits in a more natural, unforced position, that is very stable, leaving my knees freer and soft. The grip is excellent and it would take a lot to lose a stirrup unintentionally.

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Overall the FreeJump Soft Up Pro’s are a large investment for the amateur rider, but are easy to change from saddle to saddle so can be used with multiple horses. The colours add a fun, team colour element to their styling and I wold be tempted to buy a red pair for XC. The new silver professional range style gives a more traditional colour, but with the FreeJump contemporary design these are most definitely stirrups for the 21st century. I wondered if they would be worth the extra spend but have found they really do live up to the manufacturers claims and in that sense offer something different to the market, that can help support your riding in a variety of disciplines.

Available in Black, Blue, chocolate, Green, Orange, Pink, Silver, Red, Vanilla from £215

Further Details…

The FreeJump stirrups can be used with any stirrup leather and boot.

The FreeJump stirrups have the following features:

  • Tempered spring steel single-branch with extra high mechanical resistance (1200MPa)
  • Elastollan® overmoulding
  • Open eye for fastening to the single strap
  • 45° angled eye for a perfect foot position
  • Patented flexible outer branch made of Elastollan® which helps free the foot in case of fall
  • Extra wide tread made of Ixef® 1022 (fibreglass loaded polyarylamide)
  • Elastomer grip
  • Screw fastened protective cover
  • Branch situated at the front of the tread for a natural slope
  • Rectilinear bevelled rear leading edge for better lateral stability
  • Exclusive LOOK CYCLE® technology nonslip studded tread surface

For further information and stockists visit: http://www.freejumpsystem.com/en/