That was 2016 – PART 1 Nerves, Internationals and my happy!

I didn’t write a New Year summary of 2015. It was an odd year of uncertainty and worry, trying to get divorced and failing dismally. Just a whole lot of stress on all levels. I stepped into 2016 hoping to be single and back to my old self with the flick of a switch, all those New year resolutions poised and primed. Sadly, it took until February to finally get the divorce settled and signed off and with it a whole load of getting ‘me’ back. I felt like a lost child in those months, a whole load of anxious spouted forth unexpectedly, and a lot of depression too. Not an experience I would like to live out again, the thought makes me shiver. So why share this on a horsey blog? Well it has everything to do with my little horse Wanda. Medicated up to my eyeballs I decided to not follow my doctors’ advice and went cold turkey, desperately trying to find my riding mojo and a focus in my own life, while still being a mum and earning a living…oh and live in temporary accommodation while we built a new home.

Much of this year has been spent training and hacking, I didn’t really feel up too much else. Eventing was just a disaster and either I was poorly, the children were poorly, or something kicked off at home. I totally fell out of love with the sport. I just couldn’t see the point of making myself even more worn out, doing something that didn’t give me a ‘buzz’ anymore. But it’s all worked out well. Taking time out from competing has brought my riding up a level. For sure I could be fitter, stronger and thinner, but that will come. What I have gained by quietly working away with my long supporting trainers Fiona and Matt has been invaluable and reaped its rewards on Wanda’s way of going and what I’m feeling and responding too while riding her. This is the year I ‘got’ the point of it all and those damn stupid dressage terms make sense… ‘over the back’, ‘into the hand’ and the simplest but hardest to achieve ‘straightness’. It’s all had an impact on my test riding which is heading in the direction I want it to follow… onwards and upwards!

I decided to aim for a few dressage competitions and have the odd jumping lesson with Mia Palles Clarke, who again has been a long-standing supporter of what we do and totally ‘gets’ what I want to achieve out of training sessions. We did a few BD competitions, with some success, and then Fiona mentioned that it would be worth aiming for selection to the Suffolk squad for the inter-county challenge. A competition I had no clue about. But with half the year almost gone I decided it was time to take the plunge and focus. It felt like time was slipping away…

Intercountry trials consisted of several training sessions with the fabulous Mette Assouline, then a test riding day, on the basis of that performance the teams were selected. Scoring a PB of over 74% at the test day gave me a place on the squad and we eventually came 9th out of 28 teams – the highest placed Suffolk team that weekend. It was an amazing experience, something I wouldn’t have even dared contemplate at the start of the year, and was a massive learning curve in terms of competitive dressage riding, in a busy atmosphere, during the hottest weekend of the year (with a stomach bug – ewwww)!

It was an experience that rekindled a buzz for competitive riding, and to be accepted onto part of a team was a responsibility I didn’t shy away from but relished.

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The summer was a mix of school holidays, sunshine, building projects, Pony Club and hacking out with the children, so competitions were on the backburner, but again I felt the year passing me by and I looked towards getting out and enjoying Wanda. It was all about the ‘experience’ with my horse and it was intriguing to see my ‘want’ to ride and compete slowly creep back. I think part of my motivation was talking to my dear friend Hannah Francis. She was always one to encourage, uplift, and motivate. Her infectious personality did have an influence on me then and still does today. August was an emotional month for so many of us, I miss Hannah terribly but I always spare a thought for her every time I ride and spend time with the horses. Every time I moan about the mud or the rain or the hard work it all is, I am also equally grateful for being able to own and ride my horses. I don’t think Hannah ever knew how influential she was to me and now by supporting her charity I can pay that back. The Champions Willberry Charity Race in 2017 will form part of that and I hope will be a fitting way to remember Hannah and raise funds for Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony and the Bob Champion Cancer Trust.

If 2016 was about learning and gaining new experiences, then riding as a guinea pig dressage test rider at Osberton horse trails was one to remember. At FEI level eventing dressage judges have a ‘warm up rider’ so that they can address any marking or tech issues before the competition commences. Although I didn’t ride competitively, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn a slightly more complex test and to ride on grass, in tails in an international environment. Wanda managed to disgrace herself by escaping at 4am as we were about to leave… then galloped across a ploughed field and onto the road. Not one of our best 2016 moments! Literally cold hosed off and thrown on the lorry, we made the trip up, accompanied with FriendsBerry from the charity Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony as our lucky mascot. I usually drive myself and compete alone, so it was a case of arriving, throwing chalk powder at Wanda’s legs to cover the mud and getting on with it. Although I wasn’t completely satisfied with my test (I rarely am), we scored well and I was particularly pleased with the way that Wanda settled and focused. An amazing experience, despite all the drama beforehand! This was a warm up to our first International competition, again a new experience for both of us!

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I had read about the Senior Home International on the BD east newsletter, they were looking for some novice riders and to be fair I hadn’t much of a clue what was involved when I emailed Kathrine, the regional rep, to apply to ride. It was a good feeling to get a bit of the brave me back, id lost my ‘give it a go’ and I felt it was returning. All very last minute, but I was accepted onto the Eastern squad, riding against teams from the rest of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland at a three-day competition at Sheepgate. I was made to feel so welcome by the team members. Eastern BD has a great team camaraderie as well as some superb coaching and volunteer support. They all work tirelessly to promote the sport in my region and the East is a very strong community because of it. All I can say is, at these sorts of higher pressure competitions, teamwork and support is everything. From helping each other sew on George’s cross flags onto saddle cloths, to killing the time between tests, to giving sympathy if things don’t go to plan, but also building you up to kick ass in the next test… without the good teamies you are sunk. I was riding 3 tests, a warm up on the Friday (we came 9th and I was happy with a top 10 in tough competition), then championship classes over the weekend. I could not have predicted how well we did, coming 2nd in the first test, 4th in the second, and 4th overall in my section, just a smidge off a bronze placing – sadly the M judge wasn’t keen on our test. What can you say other than, that’s dressage and I will take into account the comments and learn from them. Fighting talk eh? Yes, we were back in the game, the black dog had left the room!

I learnt so much from that weekend, how important the support of your friends around you is, and how fun, enthusiastic and friendly my regional riders are. These are people who have fun, party but are seriously focussed on their horse’s welfare and wellbeing, as well as riding very competitively. I have to admit my eyes were opened…and my perceptions of what ‘dressage riders’ were like were crushed.

An intense 2 weeks of competition rounded up with a 9th placing at our first Petplan Novice Festival, a worthwhile trip out, and a great benchmark for moving up to Elementary in December, which we did in style winning our first competition (and the Novice that day too), topped off with a mention in Horse and Hound. Our plan is to move up to Medium in 2017… no more messing about and waiting for the right ‘moment’. I’ve come to realise that there is never the right time to do most things, and that it’s easy to procrastinate, delay or just not try. With three children to look after and a job, my life is busy but I’ve also learnt that I need to do things for myself too. I can’t do everything I want but getting out and competing is a buzz. It makes trogging about in the mud and cold worthwhile, and I now enjoy the sparkle, which makes me happy, and not debilitatingly anxious. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year… is to grab every opportunity with both hands and not to be afraid of going out of your comfort zone, just put the work in to make it happen. But more of that in my next blog… an experience that literally made my heart almost burst with pride. But for now, can I wish you a peaceful New Year, stay safe, be brave and enjoy xx.  

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Creating memories and chasing dreams…Part I

It’s been a while since I did an ‘about me’ blog. Working in equestrian marketing it is so easy to get caught up in social media and what’s ‘new’, so sparing time to write for myself is a luxury. But today I’ve made the time, basically because this morning has been a comedy of errors (long story and not worth boring you with) … and I thought sod it… write for yourself today Nick and clear your head, talk to your laptop.

While we renovate our lovely barn we have all been living in limbo. Five people all squished into 2 rooms isn’t ideal, such is the joy of temporary accommodation. My ‘it will be worth it’ mantra has now worn itself out and sounds like a scratched record. But we are on the final leg of the journey. I doubt we will be finished by Christmas, but it will be nice to not live out of a suitcase when the time comes. The process has made me value possessions and realise I have so much ‘stuff’, including almost forty boxes of books which will need organising, but wont be thrown away! But when it comes to it, temporary living has made me think about what I really need, and in turn what I want out of life. I’m not going down a heady philosophical route here… just the simple question of ‘does owning stuff give you pleasure or is it just a distraction to life itself and dealing with the grittier aspects of it? Hmmmm…. I don’t think I am at a point to give all my possessions away but it has made me think about what I’ve missed the most and what I have gained by not having it.

As an antidote to not having ‘stuff’ in my life and having very little personal space I’ve appreciated spending time with my horses a lot more. Not that I always didn’t, but I think before they were part of my ‘stuff’ collection and I wasn’t tapping into the fun they give.  This year I’ve not been competing every weekend, but have progressed so much with my understanding and riding itself. I’ve thought long and hard about the whole eventing thing and just found it such a big day out. Logistically organising 3 children, work, my horse, training, paying for entries and then driving myself there, competing alone, getting home, unpacking, making sure homework is done, uniforms are washed, people are fed. I just couldn’t get my head around it. Let alone add the worry of a building project, feeling like I was neglecting my children or note earning to pay for it all… the list goes on.

In sum, I just didn’t have the headspace or the capacity to process 3 phases, and try to manage everything else in my life, let alone have the cash to pay for it. To put things bluntly I felt ‘FUCK it where is the fun?’ It’s not to say when things have settled down I won’t return, but for now it’s not the passion it was. I miss XC riding terribly but I don’t miss 4am starts (or earlier), to come home to a messy house 16 hrs later and a to do list that stretches to the moon and back… Some people would say that they will forgo all of that to follow their passion, but with too many plates to spin I personally cant.

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So what do you do when the lightbulb turns on and you realise that you have been stressing out and putting yourself under pressure to do something that just wasn’t time, logistics or money for? You go and start having FUN… and this is what I have been doing!

I have been quietly working away with my good friend Fiona Reddick and also Matt Cox who visits a yard, local to me to train. We have yet to build an arena here so schooling has to either be off site or on hacks, but I think this makes for more focused work and doesn’t sour Wanda. Hacking is very much a big part of exercise for all our horses here so although an arena would be amazing, its a massive expense to legitimise while the build is on.

I was lucky enough to apply and be selected for the British Dressage Suffolk County team and rode in the Inter Regionals at Keysoe in July which was a great experience and really opened my eyes up to a more competitive side of dressage. Out team trainer was the amazing Mette Assounline who I worked with before the competition, again a real eye opener for me, which led to some massive changes in what I could feel and how I approached test riding. We weren’t top of the pile at Keysoe, but Wanda held her own and our team was the highest placed Suffolk team. I also started to tap into the challenges that I wanted to sign up for the emotions I wanted to experience, things that I hadn’t thought about or had the confidence to do as I was so caught up in what I thought I ‘should’ be doing.

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At the end of September, I was lucky enough to ride as a guinea pig dressage test rider at Osberton International Horse Trails. For those of you wondering what small furry animals and dressage have in common, a guinea pig rider, literally rides a judges warm up test. You go in, ride the test under competition conditions, and are marked. The idea is that the judges can then confer, make sure they are marking to the same level and iron out any issues before the main competitors come in.

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A great experience to don tails and ride in a full on setting. As ever Wanda was a superstar and it was great to ride through a test with a few more complex movements, canter serpentines and lateral work. Marks wise we sat in the middle of the class, had we been competing, so I was pleased with that. What I wasn’t pleased with was Wanda breaking free at 4am as I was getting ready to load her, galloping off across a ploughed field and heading across a main, unlit road… with cars. A life flashing in front of us moment when I lost sight of her, then realised a car was heading towards us both! Not ideal but I really had to pull myself together, wipe away the snot and tears, get on with things, throw her on the lorry and drive. For once I had a co-pilot with me… the wonderful Friendsberry kindly loaned from the charity ‘Willberry Wonder Pony’… so with a hug and a squeeze we set off on our 3 hr road trip to do a 4-minute test (nuts eh?). Creating memories and chasing dreams… to be continued!

P.S. While I am here! I am thrilled to announce that our little blog has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Haynet Equestrian Blog Awards 2016. Voting is open now and a final winner will be selected on the basis of votes and a judges decision.

If you have 30 seconds to spare we would love it if you could click on the image below and vote for us…

Our blog started 3 years ago, and has been a great way to share our experiences and news to a wider audience. Personally, it has offered me a change of career and more than that inspired other mum’s to get back in the saddle. We are very proud to be recognised for what we do. #equinebloggingawards

 

Olympia set to welcome Victoria Pendleton in the Markel Champions Challenge

Olympia, The London International Horse Show, is delighted to announce that double Olympic gold medallist, Victoria Pendleton, will be gracing the Olympia arena as she turns her hand to show jumping in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund on the evening of Friday 16th December for the Markel Champions Challenge.

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She will be plying her trade against the best in the racing world. The Challenge is made up of a flat jockey team captained by Frankie Dettori and a jump jockey team captained by current National Hunt Champion, Richard ‘Dickie’ Johnson. The flat team will also include about-to-be-crowned Champion flat jockey Jim Crowley. Both teams will be gunning for glory making the adrenalin fuelled contest even-money.

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Frankie’s team: Frankie Dettori, Jim Crowley, Hayley Turner, Adam Kirby, 5th rider (TBC)
Dickie’s team: Richard Johnson, Victoria Pendleton, Sam Twiston-Davies, Tom Scudamore, Harry Skelton

The competition will see the five flat jockeys competing against the five jump jockeys over a challenging show jumping course built by the legendary course designer Bob Ellis. This exhilarating spectacle will task even the most experienced of riders, creating huge excitement around the Olympia arena for this year’s Friday evening performance.

Prior to the event, the former cyclist will undergo specialist training from a fellow Olympian, currently at the pinnacle of his career – Rio 2016’s individual show jumping gold medallist Nick Skelton. Nick will be giving Victoria special tuition as the multi-sport queen switches saddles yet again to take up this latest challenge.
Victoria Pendleton, multiple Olympic medallist, said:

“I am thrilled to be a part of such a prestigious event like Olympia. The Markel Champions Challenge will be an exciting competition with such a high calibre of jockeys and I’m really looking forward to riding in it. To be back involved in a team again and hear the excitement of the crowd will be immense, I just hope the jump jockeys can get over the line for the win!”      

Juliet Redfern, Markel’s Managing Director of Equine and Livestock, said:

“It is fantastic to see the return of the Markel Champions Challenge in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund; Markel are proud to be associated with such a credible cause at a brilliant event. To see Victoria on board will be enormously inspiring to everyone, and we would like to take this opportunity to wish all the competitors the best of luck.”  

Lisa Hancock, Chief Executive of the Injured Jockeys Fund, said:

“The Injured Jockeys Fund is delighted to be involved in this fantastic event. Not only will it be a lot of fun but it will help to raise awareness and crucial support for all injured jockeys and their families.”  

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To buy your tickets to this unique event and secure your place at one of the equestrian performances of the year, please visit www.olympiahorseshow.com or telephone the box office on 0871 230 5580.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fairfax & Favor Go Pink for Charity!

As many of you know October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month , which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease.

Running a charity project for the second year running, to show support for the campaign is luxury boot and shoe manufacturers Fairfax and Favor.

During October the brand will be selling their limited edition, Breast Cancer Awareness leather tassel with all proceeds going to Breast Cancer Care UK.

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The tassels are a  limited edition piece is crafted in Fairfax and Favor’s signature tassel style combining supple powder pink leather with a custom gold shield, all finished with a beautiful cotton gift bag to keep them in the best possible condition.

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Designed to be worn with the FF Regina boots, or used to adorn their handbags or an accessory of your choice.

The limited edition tassels are priced at £30.00 and can be ordered here

Show your support, look stylish and think pink!

 

 

Social Scene – the B&W Guide to Autumn Events

It looks like we will be dusting off our posh frocks for more than one occasion in the next two months. The end of the year sees 3 great events, across the country, which not only look set to be great nights out but also are also fundraising for some top equestrian linked charities.

On Saturday 22nd October 2016, E-Dressage Ltd will be hosting their Annual Autumn Ball and Awards Evening. With a seriously special night lined up, with plenty to keep all of their 350 lovely guests entertained into the early hours. Not only a great night out but also raising money for Redwings Horse Sanctuary throughout the event. Paralympic Gold and Silver Medal winning Grand Prix Dressage Rider Simon Laurens will be attending the Ball and Awards Evening (where Black and White Eventing have been shortlisted as finalists in the Blog and Social Media categories!)

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Simon Lurens is an absolute inspiration to anybody; dressage enthusiast or otherwise. He will be on stage, chat-show-style, to talk to the guests, sharing a little of his jaw-dropping and emotional story and answering questions in typical blasé and humorous fashion.

Closing Date for Tickets: 30th September 2016 – so you need to get a wriggle on!

Event Date: Saturday 22nd October Time: 6.00pm-11.30pm, Black Tie

Location: Carden Park, Broxton Road, Nr Chester, Cheshire, CH3 9DQ

Tickets are available here

Starting November with a bang is The Willberry Ball, at Quendon Hall, Essex, on the on 11th November

wwp.pngRaising funds for a very popular charity, close to my heart, Willberry Wonder Pony. I will be attending with a group of friends and we are set to dance the night away! Tickets cover entry, a welcome drink, a 3 course meal and tea or coffee. Drinks will be available at the open bar. There will be a live auction and entertainment. Tickets for this amazingly popular event have already sold out, however there will be an auction so those not attending can participate and bid on lots beforehand – keep an eye out on the Ball’s Facebook page for details – there are some amazing lots to bid for!

On the 29th November The Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund are delighted to announce that top international eventer William Foxx-Pitt will be joining special guests Olympic Gold Medallist Nick Skelton and MBE and eventer Zara Tindall at the ‘Quintessentially and Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund Evening with the Stars’. The event to be held at an exclusive venue in London on 29th November will raise funds for this unique equestrian charity and will be hosted by top equestrian TV presenter & commentator Steven Wilde.

Guests will enjoy an evening of entertainment and fine dining at this exclusive and prestigious venue.

Tickets: £100 or table of 10: £950.00

Numbers are strictly limited, for further information: www.mdirf.co.uk

 

BLACK AND WHITE EVENTING SHORTLISTED FOR 2016 E-DRESSAGE EQUINE AWARDS

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We are thrilled to announce that we have been shortlisted as a finalist in TWO categories of the 2016 E-Dressage Equine Awards, which will be held at the luxury Cheshire estate of Carden Park on Saturday 22nd October.

Our blog and social media work was selected from a flood of nominees to become one of the finalists in the Individual Social Media and Individual Blog categories.

‘I’m absolutely thrilled to be shortlisted in not only one, but two categories in the Awards. It’s been great to have some recognition for my writing and social media work. What started off as a personal project telling stories about getting back into riding post pregnancy has evolved into a way of interacting with other equestrian fans globally and sharing my passion for equestrian sport and fashion. From this small project, I’ve been able to develop a business, Black & White Creative, which provides visual content creation, styling, design, consultancy, marketing and media services for the equestrian industry. But, above all it has been lovely to share my tales and encourage other people to have a go or think about returning to riding’.

“There is nothing else like these awards in the industry,” said Roseanna Sunley, Director and Founder of E-Dressage Ltd, which hosts the Equine Awards. “As we all know, success in any sector of the equine world does not come easy! We wanted to celebrate the hard work and dedication that all of these companies and individuals put in to build their achievements, and could think of no better way to do so than in creating these awards. 

“The entrants certainly gave the Judging Panel a difficult job. They have risen to the challenge, though, and their final selections represent the very best in every sector of the Equine world. For Black and White Eventing to have been named as a finalist in two categories for 2016 is an achievement of which they should be very proud.”

More information about the E-Dressage Equine Awards, including a full list of finalists, can be found at www.autumnball.e-dressage.com.

We cant wait to get our glad rags on and see meet the other worthy finalists at this amazing gala event!

 

The End of Season Event – 2015 a year to forget?

Now officially off- season and definitely a holiday feel in the air, it’s time to take stock of the year. I could say 2015 is a year I’d like to forget. It’s been a tough one, particularly the last few months which saw my little boy diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a very close family member being diagnosed with lung cancer – as it happens she has her first round of surgery tomorrow.

As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well I really hope it does! But I think it’s important to be mindful that despite all the stress I am still hanging on in there, and having some incredible highs as well as lows. Wanda is as well as ever and she and my filly Wilma give me so much joy… even when they are being utter divas with attitude.

The Eventing community as a whole has had a tough year. At one stage I did wonder what on earth would come next. It goes to show how strong riders can be and how solid the glue is that sticks the community together. Over the past 3 months I have been lucky to join the team working to produce The End of Season Event, a black tie ball hosted by the Eventing Riders Association. Held at the Royal Berkshire Polo Club, we developed a Blair theme, following the Europeans hosted in Scotland earlier in the year. The committee was a mix of really hard working people who also juggled their day jobs alongside planning the party. At face value to organise a ball for 200 seems a breeze, but add in a short timescale and some plans to raise money for charity then you have a massive task on your hands.

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I could chat for ever about the ins and outs but it’s a big job and at times caused a good bit of stress… but you just keep going don’t you? If something seems the right thing to do you don’t stop even if you think why an earth am I adding to my workload here!

One of my massive motivations was to raise some money for the Eventing Family, which earlier in the year had supported the Teenage Cancer Trust and CRUK amongst other charities. Through some work I had been doing I’d met Hannah Francis, a young event rider who was diagnosed with cancer in May this year. She had opened an Instagram account, with her soft toy sidekick ‘Willberry Wonder Pony’, her companion during tough times in hospital. Hannah was looking to enlist 5000 followers on Instagram and I said I’d help out in any way I could. I don’t think either of us could have reckoned on how things have rolled and now Willberry is a veritable superstar. It would be rude to claim any credit in Hannah’s achievements whatsoever. She is remarkable and makes my daily gripes seem quite… well pathetic really. Hannah is the politest, sweetest young woman I think I have ever met. Always friendly and so brave with the way she has handled her illness. There is a lot to be learnt by her humble attitude, empathy for others and massive courage.

I was thrilled when Hannah was well enough to come to the ball, although I know she had been poorly in the day so it was a big ask. Lizzie, one of our committee members, had arranged 2 luxe cars to pick Hannah up from her hotel so she arrived in style. This was our first meeting, despite months of chatting and ‘knowing’ each other. I also got to meet Willberry!

Little did Hannah know she was going to receive the prestigious ERA ‘against all odds’ award that night. I had to be so careful she didn’t get wind of it and it was a massive surprise for Han! With all the committee on the stage, Han came up to collect her award. By this point I was in floods of tears. I make no apologies that I am a very emotional person. Sometimes it’s a pain in the arse… it really is… but what’s not human in caring and showing that you care? It was lovely to see Hannah’s face and for her to have some acknowledgement for the fundraising she has done. Hannah really is an example to us all.

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Hannah and Willbery being presented their award by ERA president Bruce Haskell and board member Paul Tapner

 

So where is this blog heading, should it have more ‘meaning’… well I’m not entirely sure! It’s just a tale of a ball, a lovely girl and her little toy pony. But possibly more than that… It’s about all the things that so often get forgotten, about caring for people and making little things happen, or even making big things happen that create little changes. It’s about trusting human kindness, having compassion, being generous and charitable. But it’s also about not expecting reciprocation. Reciprocation is about ‘togetherness’ and being part of humanity but in reality I believe no one should ever owe you anything.

For sure, I can be horrid at times. I work too hard and it makes me a stress-head- moan- arse. But I’m learning… slowly… about what really matters. Life is way too precious to not take it head on.To Carpe Diem, Choose Life or Kick On or Just Do It. Whatever your inspiration, don’t waste what you have and what you can do with it. Be brave like Hannah and Willberry and spread some kindness. Live life xx