Our Friends in Horsham

Well it’s been a very strange 15 months, with lockdown dominating everything. So we were pleased to be invited to visit our friends in Sussex who have a lovely property and a self-contained cottage in the grounds where we could safely stay.

Stan is a Horsham tree surgeon who works long hours to build his very successful business. We’re always fascinated by the work of these experts who inspire me and fill me with awe. When Stan and Sue bought the property it had been neglected for years, not least the 3 acres of overgrown woodland. As tree lovers, they wanted to keep as many trees as possible, whilst enhancing the landscape and improving the health of the environment.

Some tree removal needed to be undertaken and the big machinery was brought in to tackle most of this work. Stan had made videos so we were able to watch the progress without getting wet! Once he’d removed the dead and diseased wood, he cleared undergrowth and left some of the trunks and branches to rot as homes for insects. Tree stump removal was next, although some of these were left to be carved into woodland creatures, whilst others were turned into seats or left to rot. But some needed to come out so they were lifted by specialist machines or ground down. I particularly loved the owl that had been carved into the nook of an old tree – such a lovely touch and something that personalised that woodland.

So the wood was the first to be tackled, then Sue and Stan dug a large pond, which they surrounded by suitable trees and planted up the rest of the garden. There was still room for a couple of pony paddocks for Sue’s horses, so everyone was happy. And what a lovely tranquil setting they have created. We spent a week there in blissful peace, enjoying the Horsham area, which was even quieter than normal due to the lack of planes flying from Gatwick! Those who were off abroad may have missed the flights, but we loved the peace and quiet.

We’re now back home, inspired by our friends to tackle some of our trees and improve the land further. I feel it’s going to be a busy summer!

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Tree Surgery at the Smallholding

If there’s one thing I’m particular about – and there are many – it’s looking after our precious trees.  Not only are they essential to maintain a healthy environment for us all, but they look fantastic and the trees on our land have become our friends.

It may sound mad and I’ll be accused of being a tree-hugger I’m sure – but what’s wrong with that?  If it’s good enough for the Prince of Wales …

We’ve become good mates with the guys at SolihullTreeSurgeons.co.uk who are great arborists and know everything there is to know about trees and how to look after them.  Ted is the main man and he’s been doing this work for over 20 years. It’s like he’s a tree whisperer because he seems to instinctively know what to do to bring out the best in each tree.

Sadly we had to cope with tree removal this year when one of the magnificent ash trees caught the dreaded disease that’s affecting so many. We took the decision to have it felled to try to prevent cross-contamination. I hope we’re in time to save the others.

We have quite a few oak trees around the property and they just need an occasional dead branch removed, but some of the horse chestnuts needed a bit more attention this year. I don’t know what’s wrong with them but a couple have leaves that turned partially brown early in the year and were clearly distressed. Ted has taken them under his wing, had a chat with a couple of them and hopefully done some magic so they look better next year. He muttered something about bleeding canker. I thought he was just using colourful language, but found this picture on Google.

Ours look similar as the bark is starting to peel. Really hoping they can be saved because the smallholding is going to look really bare and sad if we lose our majestic horse chestnut trees. And what on earth will the local kids do for conkers?

Ted says they have a good chance with the work he’s done so we’re all keeping our fingers and toes crossed that he’s right.

Alongside the bigger trees, Ted also looks after our fruit trees. None of them are what you’d call professional orchard standard, but they do provide us with a wonderful harvest every year, so we’re grateful and thoroughly enjoy picking and storing the fruit.

We have a selection of apples, including an old Bramley, but most of the varities are old and traditional. I keep thinking I must ask a local grower to identify them all because we really have no clue. But they taste so good straight from the tree don’t they?

As well as apples we have pear trees, almonds, damson and plum. So a good selection for both eating and cooking (then eating). I make a fine apple and plum crumble that always goes down a treat. Ted’s co-worker, Robert, is particularly partial to puds so I make him a nice crumble each year to take home for the family to enjoy. He has 6 kids so it has to be made in a big dish.

We’re all set for the winter now that everything is pruned and our friends at Solihull Arborists have taken care of our trees. We’ll look forward to bumper harvests next year and hope to see plenty of blackberries too because my particular favourite is apple and blackberry pie – with oodles of custard of course.


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Firework Night

Whilst we all like fireworks, we certainly don’t like the way it’s going on for ever this year. What’s going on?

In previous years fireworks may have been let off for a week or two before 5th November, but this year they started about a month ago and are continuing even now on 11th November. It also happens to be Remembrance Day so it’s causing a lot of annoyance in the village.

Fireworks can be extremely noisy and they upset all the animals. We’ve seen there’s a campaign for silent fireworks and hope that comes into being. It’s okay to have a couple of big organised events when the noise is limited to a couple of Saturdays around the 5th, but when they go on and on it starts to cause upset and even the most tolerant get fed up.

When I was a child, Dad always did fireworks in the garden, but they were done one at time so probably didn’t cause so much stress to animals. I’m also sure they were a lot less loud! Dad would put a few rockets into milk bottles and could be seen lighting the fuse and running back to get out of the way. We had jumping jacks, that would never be allowed today as they just jumped all over the place and you had to jump out of the way. One of my favourites was the catherine wheels that were nailed to a fence and spun round, spewing out flames.

Then there were the pretty ones like Roman candles that sat on the ground and shot out lovely colours. They were pretty primitive compared to the complex fireworks we have today, but they didn’t cause the upset you hear about now.

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Halloween in the Village

We love Halloween and every year our village makes a big deal of it on 31st October. This year was no exception and a great party was hosted in the village hall. We all dressed up of course and the kids had a great time.

Our youngest is still at the age when he wants to go Trick or Treating, so we spent an hour on this quest before heading to the hall. The village is pretty much geared up for this modern tradition. It has been unilaterally decided that those who want to participate leave a lighted pumpkin outside their door. That way, folk who don’t want to be disturbed don’t have to participate.

It works well and our lad finished with a pretty good haul of sweets. Not really what we’d want for him since they rot his teeth and get him into bad eating habits, but it seems churlish to refuse, so we grin and bear it.

After the trick or treating trail, we all headed off to the village hall for a brilliant party. Absolutely everyone was in fancy dress and some were really pretty scary, from ghosts and witches to ghastly blood-covered monsters. A great time was had by all and we enjoyed a great buffet supper, prepared by the local pub.  It’s a wonderful village and we’ve made so many friends since we moved here.

Roll on Bonfire Night when we’ll be taking part in the bonfire and firework celebration.  We country folk know how to have fun!

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Our Dogs

We have three dogs that rule the roost. Raboo is our Jack Russell and definitely boss dog, even though he’s the smallest.  Sandy is a beautiful golden retriever and Max is a labrador x poodle – now known as a labradoodle!

Raboo is 6 years old and we got him as a puppy at 8 weeks, so bear full responsibility for all his spoilt little ways. He’s cheeky and typical of his breed as he disappears for hours at a time, no matter how careful we are with the fences.

JR similar to Raboo

Raboo loves to come out when we’re riding and he has many friends, both doggy and human. He’s a little character and loves everyone. In fact all my dogs are very friendly.

Sandy is 5 years old and a real sloppy guy.  He was a sort of rescue because we got him from a couple who couldn’t cope with his energy. Not that he’s really high energy like a labradoodle or a Jack Russell, but he had too much for an elderly couple. But they did love Sandy and he was pretty spoilt with titbits and overweight when we got him 3 years ago. We put him on a diet and gave him loads of exercise and he’s turned out to be a fabulous dog.  He’s very gentle and a bit of a contrast to our other two manic guys.

Max is, well a labradoodle!  They are definitely mad dogs – hence the name after Mad Max. He’s super-friendly and very good with children but he definitely has a lot of mad moments when he tears into the garden, runs around at full speed for 5 minutes, then comes back in again and wags his tail while you wonder what happened. I know a couple of other people with the same breed and it seems pretty typical.

Max came to us by accident really because I’d never have paid around £1,000 for him, which is a typical price. I think people pay so much because they are so good natured but also because they don’t moult, which is a big advantage for the house-proud and also for people with allergies.  But our Max was a beloved family pet, owned by our friends who lived up the road. We used to meet for dog walks. Then they decided to emigrate and start their life over. They had no kids or ties, so off they went to Canada with the aim to live a life in the wilderness, go off as they fancied and be free.  Somehow a labradoodle didn’t fit in with that type of life and they were afraid Max would be cold, so they decided to leave him behind. They asked whether we’d take him and I jumped at the chance.

Max is around 10 years old now and we’ve had him around 18 months. We still keep in touch with his old owners and they’re so pleased to know he’s settled happily, while they are relishing their new-found freedom in Canada.

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Our Ponies

We have two ponies for the kids and they are adored, petted, pampered and live a life of luxury.

Simbi is a 13.2hh New Forest gelding, aged around 14 years.  He’s been there and done it all. Love him to bits and he’s a great kid’s pony because he’s kind and very tolerant!  My 8-year-old son rides Simbi, as do all his friends.

Raffie on the other hand is a little more of a handful. He’s a 10-year-old gelding, New Forest x Thoroughbred, around 14.2hh and owned by my 13-year-old daughter, who is a pony nut. He’s great cross-country and pretty fast – that’ll be the thoroughbred in h im. But he’s a handful doing dressage and even showjumping he can be a tough ride.  But Jess loves him and I can’t see her ever giving him up.  Luckily Raffie is well built for a TBx so she should be able to ride him for many years to come.

We’re not a hugely competitive family, though Jess likes to do the odd hunter trial or local show and they both belong to the Pony Club. Our local club is a bit pushy but they enjoy some of the events and the rallies are always good.  Camp is a must and they all enjoy that – ponies and riders. I find it a chore to get the ponies fit enough as they need to be able to go three hours a day, so it takes weeks of work to get them up to scratch. However, once they’ve been to camp they’re good to go for the rest of the holidays.

I’ll be telling you adventures of the kids and ponies as they occur so check back in regularly to hear how we’re all getting on.

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My Horses

I can’t resist talking about my horses first in this blog.  They are such a large part of my life so you must hear all about them.

First is Bo, my Warmblood x thoroughbred 8 year old.  I’ve had Bo for nearly 5 years so much of his education is down to me. I reckon I’ve done a pretty good job because he’s a very lovely chap who tries his best all the time.  He’s a 16hh gelding who loves to jump, though we do a little dressage too to instil some discipline into his life.  Bo enjoys nothing better than a gallop round a cross-country course or a day out hunting, tackling all the big hedges and ditches with the best of them.  He’s not quite so keen on working in the school, but I feel it’s good for him so we do school on a regular basis.

I’m planning to do some eventing with this gentle horse in the not-too-distant future, so we’re currently working on his showjumping skills.

He’s not a natural showjumper because he’s too gung-ho!  He loves to gallop and leap rather than take on the mantle of a collected and precise athlete in the ring.  But he’s not bad and it’s just something we have to work on so he gets more careful in his jumping.

I’m lucky enough to have a nice set of showjumps at home in the arena, so we can practise with our instructor until he improves.  Then I will be off on the eventing circuit and looking for some real fun.

My other horse is a youngster called Spider.  Spider is more TB, about three-quarters, and we’re not sure what the other quarter is – probably something Irish as he has something of the stamp of an Irish Draught.  Remember the true Irish breed?  They were lovely horses with a great nature and when bred to a thoroughbred they produced a calm yet fast horse that was capable of a lot.  I had a beautiful chestnut mare years ago who was IDxTB and she was fabulous, but that breeding seems to have disappeared in favour of a lighter horse, without the wonderful nature of the ID.

A Beautiful Irish Draught

However, back to Spider.  I’ve only had him 6 months and he’s something of a project.  He’s 3 years old and almost ready to be backed.  But he’s been spoiled by his previous owner, who was a hobby breeder.  There’s nothing more challenging than teaching a horse respect when he’s been raised to think he’s in charge of everything!  However, he’s learning and proving to be a willing pupil.  Spider is still growing but I expect him to reach about 16.3hh so he’s a big boy.

I’ll relay some of our adventures another day and tell you about our ponies too.  But for now I’m off to exercise my boys.  See ya

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Our Smallholding

Six acres of heaven – for me at least.  I live with my husband and two children in a quiet yet accessible part of the Midlands, close to Nottingham.

We’re a quiet family I guess, not prone to wild parties and constant socialising, but we enjoy our surroundings and sharing them with like-minded friends and family.  Our bunglow suits us all. It’s not huge but big enough for our modest needs and has spectacular views over the surrounding hills, with their beautiful woods and fabulous sunsets. I love to take snapshots of red skies and cloud formations to entertain my friends.

Surrounding the house is a carefully block-paved area which provides plentiful parking and somewhere the kids can play when the grass is wet and mud is everywhere.  Beyond the drive are our paddocks and my horse training school, where I play with my ponies on a daily basis.

It’s a pretty ideal lifestyle and we’re so happy that the kids can grow up surrounded by horses and dogs, in a peaceful and enchanting setting.

Read my regular blogs to find out more and to see what I do on a daily basis.  Some people think country living is an easy life, but we folk work hard and don’t get days off when we have animals to care for. You may be surprised or you may be appalled, but I hope you keep reading.

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