Dressage Divas

Last Sunday was our area qualifier for the novice winter dressage championships and I am pleased to report that my superstitious hacking in my show gear did the trick – I did not fall off!

I had never actually represented the riding club in dressage before so I was pretty nervous.  I enjoy dressage but it isn’t my strong point as I am not very good at maintaining the correct outline.  Nevertheless, I was determined to do my best and not let the side down.

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I started off with Prelim 18 as a warm up class and although I felt it could have gone better it was at least not as bad as I thought it might have been (our practice the day before had not been great).  We ended up with a score of 67.88 and eighth place which pleased me immensely.  I even won my first goody bag!

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For the qualifier itself we did Prelim 12 and while it was still not perfect it felt a lot better than the first test – until we started centering and he threw his head right up in the air.  Still, we scored 67.59 and came sixth which was very exciting.

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My team mates did well too and we came away with team fifth.  No qualification this time but I was pleased and I think they were too.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and, as we all know, that is the important thing.

On Superstition

When I was a teenager I noticed that I quite often fell off when I was wearing new clothes for the first time.  A new t-shirt or jumper was usually okay but specifically horsey things like riding hats made me fall off.  Once I wore a new hat cover and carried a new whip at the same time.  I was bucked off whilst out for a hack by myself.

I have no idea how many times things like that actually happened but it was enough for me to develop a superstition about it.  I had to make sure that if I got anything new I did not wear it for the first time at a competition.  That would just be asking for trouble.

Of course, the rational part of me knows that a new hat will not make me fall off.  However, I also know that the mind is incredibly powerful and if I think I will come off it makes it much more likely that I will.  Which is why this week I found myself hacking out in a new hat cover and new (to me) show jacket.

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It felt a bit odd but also as if I was in one of Ruby Ferguson’s Jill stories which I love so actually I was very happy.  Perhaps we should go back to hacking in hacking jackets!

Holiday at Home

I have been working very long hours this week – almost double what I normally do.  I am utterly exhausted now but I have actually had a great time working at the Appledore Book Festival and I wouldn’t want to change it.

However, it has meant that I have had to neglect the ponies a bit.  Obviously I have made sure that they are fed and watered but that has been about it.  My Dad has done a sterling job of turning them out and bringing them in when necessary.

I think they have been a bit lonely though – they have started turning up at coffee time looking for company (and possibly treats!).

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This coming week should be more normal and I am looking forward to getting back in the saddle.  First though I need to sleep!

Sneaky Ponies

After the excitement of the past few weeks it has been nice to be back home spending time with the ponies.

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Obviously, I have had a fantastic time while I was away but it was pretty tiring and of course it meant that I wasn’t riding the ponies.  Now though I am back home and back on the ponies which is lovely.

The ponies are enjoying themselves too.  I turned them out a few days ago without checking the gate across the other side of the field because it is always closed.

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It had however been accidentally left open after a dog walk and naturally the ponies noticed – they were soon through the gate and munching on the lush grass on the other side.

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Luckily there were two more gates between them and the road.

It taught me the lesson though – always check all the gates!

Beautiful Burghley

Last week I went up to Burghley Horse Trials.  I have only been once before but I absolutely loved it and I was so excited to go again.  It just has such a great atmosphere and of course the competition is exciting too.

We made sure to get there in time for the first trot-up on Wednesday and were back bright and early for the dressage next day.  We even had time to stop off at our favourite place for breakfast – the Country Living vintage tea room.  It was just a shame that they have had to stop using teapots as so many of them got stolen.

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The two days of dressage were excellent – it was great to see first timer Eliza Stoddart take the early lead, although all the changes on Friday afternoon made it very exciting.  I loved the cross country course which was a proper five star test and I had a great day walking round the course on Saturday.  We finished at the leaf pit and once the final few riders had been past us we listened with bated breath to the loudspeakers as they made their way round the rest of the course.

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Of course, the Sunday show jumping could not have been closer – at least for the final three riders.  I was actually trembling as I watched Oliver Townend, Piggy French and Pippa Funnell go round.  It did not help me at all that they each had a pole down!  I would have been happy if any of them had won but I was so, so pleased to see Pippa come out on top.  She has long been a hero of mine.

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I am also clearly a lucky charm for British riders.  When I went two years ago there was a British 1-2-3-4 and it was the same again this year.

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Naturally I did a little shopping while I was there too.  Burghley seems to be a place for me to buy slogans – last time I got my ‘Living the dream’ gilet.  This time, I found this excellent polo shirt on the BHS stand.

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I also treated myself to these riding tights.  I have never had any before but I have enjoyed wearing them this week.  Plus, my phone actually fits in the pocket properly!  I also loved looking at all of the horse feed stands.  When I was little I used to wish I had a pony and could get samples to take home for it.  Now I can and it felt so good.

Once again I had the best time at Burghley.  I will definitely be back in the future.

British Riding Clubs National Championships

Last weekend was absolutely wonderful.  I was of course very nervous but definitely excited too.  I love being part of a team, although I do worry about getting everything right!

It was fun to pack everything into the lorry and we had a surprisingly easy run up to Lincoln – six hours in total with only about an hour stuck in traffic.  We arrived at lunch time, got the horses checked in and settled whilst our camp was set up, then sat down for lunch.  It was very civilised!

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My favourite part of the day was hacking the horses to stretch their legs and help us get our bearings.  The competition has grown a bit since I was last there!  I also walked the style jumping course which actually helped to settle my nerves – fear of the unknown is far worse than fear of the known.  Plus, once I knew what I was facing I could visualise myself riding round the course – and getting it right!

The next morning it was all hands on deck to get the senior horses ready.  Dressage was first for us so I went up to support my team and also managed to watch the first few style jumping rounds.  These did not fill me with confidence as the first four riders all had refusals at the first fence and the first two were both eliminated by fence three.  In reality though, it was really useful – it made me very determined to get over the first fence if I did nothing else.

Before long I was up on my horse and ready to go.  Murphy can get worried and tense at shows but – apart from calling desperately for his friends – he felt remarkably relaxed.  We were soon into the ring and saluting the judge – 0Murphy had to call out a greeting too!

Our round didn’t feel all that tidy – which matters in style jumping – and we got a couple of incorrect canter leads but we were at least jumping clear.  Murphy had a good look at fence one but there was no way I was going to stop at it!  After that he didn’t look at anything and was jumping beautifully

Then we came to the penultimate fence.  We were only a couple of strides out when it blew over and we had to circle away whilst it was rebuilt.  We jumped it on our second attempt but sadly knocked the last pole down.  Its impossible to tell how much we were affected by the break in rhythm but I was nevertheless thrilled to have got round respectably.

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I have no pictures of me riding yet but I will share them when they arrive.

Having waited for the class to finish I found that we had come 16th out of 50 in our arena and 30th out of 108 overall.  I was delighted – at a national championship and my first attempt that wasn’t bad at all.

Sunday was another busy day helping our junior riders in their classes.  It is great to be part of a team, where everyone supports each other and the delights of success are shared.  The success wasn’t missing either – the lorry had a good decoration of rosettes and sashes for our long journey home.  It was a wonderful weekend and I will be trying very hard to make it happen again.

Nationals Bound

In July I went to our regional showjumping and style jumping qualifier for the British Riding Clubs National Championships.  The showjumping did not go quite to plan as we had one refusal and  twenty three time faults in the first round which clearly put us well out of the running.

We had to go into our second round almost immediately so I gave myself a stern talking to and tried to push my horse forward more.  We had a pole down but were at least inside the time and it felt like a much better round.  Obviously I came nowhere individually but we did come fourth as a team which was some comfort.

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Picture credit: Indy Equine Photography

We moved on to style jumping which I had never done before so I was quite nervous about it.  Especially as the horse I was riding is inclined to pick up the wrong canter lead on the left rein.  However, this time we got all the right leads, the course felt nice and flowing and we jumped clear.  All I could do then was cheer on the rest of my team and wait.

I ended up coming second which was very exciting and totally unexpected.  The person who beat me was on the winning team so I knew there was a chance I could be invited to the Nationals as an individual but I tried very hard not to get my hopes up.  However, two weeks ago I received an invitation and so we are going to Nationals after all.  When I heard I was so thrilled I actually squealed and dropped my phone.

I have been up once before – fifteen years ago when I was a junior and got eliminated in the second round of the show jumping.  Hopefully I will at least manage to finish the competition this time!

The Championships are next weekend (I am both very excited and very nervous at the moment!) so I will have no blog post next Sunday.  I will update you on the whole experience the following week.  Fingers crossed it’s a good one!

Relaxing Rambling

My sister and I recently took advantage of the weather to go for a little mini picnic ride.  She was in charge so all I had to do was get my pony ready.  She even carried the food!

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We rode up the hill to a little patch of woodland.  It is rather overgrown but that makes it all the more perfect for picnics – it is secret and seems suited to a fairy tale.

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The ponies were very interested in the food and Cookster actually managed to find – and attempt to eat – an apple which should have been safe inside the bag.  He made proper teethmarks in it!  They were pretty cross not to be allowed the chocolate biscuits but were pleased with the apple cores!

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Having eaten I could have quite happily settled down for a nap but of course Galahad couldn’t allow that!  The view from the log was simply stunning though and I could have stayed there gazing at it for hours.

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Dressage Downpour

Yesterday the ponies and I went to another home riding club dressage event.  This time – for the first time – they were doing three tests as each had an individual test and we were also having a go at both the walk/trot and the canter pairs tests.  I don’t often get to compete both ponies so it was an exciting day before we even got started.

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Luckily, my ever supportive ground crew was ready to lend a hand!

First up was Cookster in the Intro B class.  He is starting to feel very nice in his walk and trot work and although his canter still needs work that obviously isn’t an issue in an intro level test.  I came out of the arena feeling very positive about our test but even so I was surprised to find that not only had we come second, we had managed to score 69.56%.

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I was then straight on to Galahad to warm him up whilst my partner for our pairs tests was riding the test with someone else.  A quick turnaround and we were into the arena for the walk/trot test.  We started this with a pretty major spook at the people watching by the gate but after that they settled quite nicely and even had moments when their legs were working beautifully in unison.

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We didn’t have long before the next class but did find out just before we went in that we had managed to win the walk/trot class with 72.87% – a good score for both of us which left us feeling very positive as we began the canter test.

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Unfortunately, there was an absolute downpour part way through.  I for one had a terrible time trying to stop Cookster from swinging his quarters round into the rain and our first canter circle was somewhat messy.  However, it still felt pretty good overall and I would have been pleased with it as our first attempt at a canter test even if it hadn’t been raining.  The judge was very nice about the way the ponies kept going and we managed to score 77.5% to win that class as well.  We were thrilled and just a bit surprised.  Also absolutely soaked!

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Before long I was up again and ready to do the Prelim 13 test with Galahad.  By then he was starting to feel a bit tired and although he did a pretty obedient test I was struggling to get him bending the correct way.  I finished it thinking that it had been okay but not spectacular – and not as good as Cookster’s test which is a first.  Still,  I was so proud of both ponies and how well they had behaved.  It had been a great day.

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As it turned out, Galahad and I came fourth with a score of 65.96%.  This was a bigger class than Cookster’s and we had scored almost as high as our last outing when he did only two tests.  It was a pretty successful day altogether and I can’t wait to take them out again.

Pony Photo Shoot

Our local village show has a photography competition every year which we love to enter.  One of the themes for this year was ‘Lost’ and we had no photographs we could think of that would fit the bill.  We were trying to think of what to enter when I came up with the idea of using the ponies and a large map.  A photo shoot was obviously called for.

Galahad was incredibly well behaved given his general nervousness around things which flap.  He was not very keen on my being handed the map and started to walk off when I had it.  I kept hold of it for quite some time but eventually had to drop it as I was just not managing to turn him back to where we wanted to take the picture.

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I retrieved the map and returned to our designated spot.  This time I already had it in my hand when I mounted which was much more successful – he doesn’t mind me holding things so much, it is being passed them which is the main problem.  I assume that’s because whoever is doing the passing has to lift up their hand and whatever it is they want to give me.

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My holding the map to start with really did make a difference – Galahad stood like a rock, except for shaking his head to dislodge the flies.  He was perhaps a bit tense but nothing major and stood still quite happily until we got the shot we wanted.

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We didn’t win the class but I certainly had a lot of fun getting the picture!