The Highs and Lows of Horses

Horses are a great leveller.  Three weeks ago I had a great day competing and qualified as part of a team for the British Riding Clubs’ Novice Winter Championships.  Last week we went to a combined training qualifier and I fell off in the warm-up for dressage.  Horses will never let us get too big headed!

He had felt quite tense and bouncy when we first started but I thought he had settled and he was actually working very nicely in walk and trot.  Then I asked for canter and he took off across the arena and exploded.  I found myself on the floor.

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I was only winded so we carried on but did not get our nice frame back before we had to go in to the test.  It was not very pretty.  The canter was far too fast (the judge said there was ‘much confusion’ in the transition) and he was resisting my aids the whole way round.  We did get round though and the judge was very kind in her final comments, saying that perservering will be worth it.

He nearly threw me off twice more in the show jumping warm-up which was not encouraging but as before I was hoping that the extra space and the ability to keep him moving forward in the competition arena would help me out.

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Thankfully, that did prove to be the case.  We were rather too fast and overshot many of the turns but all that practice keeping my eyes on the next fence no matter what really paid off and we managed to clear all the fences in the right order.  That was despite our stopping dead for no apparent reason as we went past a fence we had already jumped.  I can only assume that he thought I was asking him to jump one of the huge cross country fences around the arena and didn’t fancy it!

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About to stop dead!

Of course, our poor dressage performance meant that we stood no chance of a placing but it was good to finish on a positive note.  If nothing else, it reinforced what I already knew – I am much better at jumping than dressage!

Joyful Jumping

Today we got to compete in the showjumping qulaifier which should have happened two weeks ago – Storm Ciara had other ideas then!  As ever, I was looking forward to it and rather nervous at the same time.  The early morning did not help either – I never like getting up but half past four is just too early!

It was still blowing quite strongly even today but we made it to the show safely and in plenty of time to walk the course and get ready.  My horse was feeling rather bouncy and full of beans but I was hopeful that when we could keep going around the course – instead of doing single practice fences – he would settle down nicely.

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Photo Credit – BLM Photography

That did prove to be the case and in fact we achieved a clear inside the time which I think was a first for us in competition – we are not generally very fast but have been working on it!

The second round also included the jump off phase so there were several more jumps to navigate (and remember!).  I was a little worried about losing my way but managed to pilot us round without error.  The horse was amazing and jumped everything I asked – we rattled the last pole but thankfully it stayed up and we were again within the time.

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Photo Credit – BLM Photography

We were still nothing like the fastest combination but we were one of only two double clears which meant we were placed second individully.  Even better, we came first as a team which means we will be going to the winter National Championships next month.  I could not be more excited – and, naturally, terrified!

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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!

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.

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!

Alternative Show Jumping

Yesterday I was jumping the ponies in the field but today I tried an alternative form of show jumping – I finally managed to take my dog to our first agility competition.

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The show ground is a bit overwhelming at first – it seems to just be a sea of jumps and other obstacles and it is only when you get closer that you can pick out the different rings.  They are separated by a single strand of string and as I have seen dogs in the past running amok, leaving their own ring and invading the others, I was more than a little nervous about our first runs.  I was not at all confident that the dog would listen to me!

Our first two classes were on first thing so we arrived bright and early to walk and try to remember two courses at once.  Luckily my years of showjumping stood me in good stead for that!

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More importantly though, the dog stayed beautifully focussed on me and although we didn’t quite get clear rounds (we had trouble with the weaves in both classes) we got round with very little trouble.  I could not have been more pleased with her.

The scoring system was amazing – as each dog finished, their score was immediately posted up on a tablet at the ringside.  You could see exactly how you did and keep track as the rest of the competitors went as well.  It was brilliant!

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We don’t have to do this with the horses!

We had a long wait until our next class so we watched some of the other dogs running before heading back to the car for lunch.  The dog was already very tired and couldn’t really keep her eyes open but every time a dog barked – which was often – she would jerk back awake again.  Poor dog.  At least she was resting.

Most of the rings had finished by the time we got to our last class so the show ground was getting quieter and less distracting.  I thought we might be in trouble though when the dog before us ran off with someone else’s treat box.  In fact my dog was right with me for most of the course – the only problem being the weaves (again – we need to work on those) when she decided she really had to stop for a scratch.  We got a cricket score in time faults but again I was so incredibly proud of her.

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Yes, I did nearly run into the fence myself!

Today went so much better than I thought it might and it has given me a lot of confidence for the next competition.  Hopefully I’ll remember that when the time comes!  The dog is currently fast asleep and looking like she might stay that way – these days are as hard work for her as they are for me!  Definitely worth it though.

A Horseless Horsey Day

Today has been extremely busy for me.  I went to help my riding club team at the horse trials qualifier and it was a long but very fun day.

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I got to walk the cross country course with the team, then it was all hands on deck to tack up and get the first riders down to the dressage warm up.

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Once the first rider was finished with dressage I helped adjust their tack for jumping, then I became our team’s chief pole putter-upper in the warm up ring.  I spent several hours adjusting poles and getting rather sandy in the process.

I also got drenched – when I left the lorry it was blazing sunshine and I was worried about sunburn but before too long there was an almighty crack of tbunder and the heavens opened.  I was in the middle of the warm up at the time and had no chance to get my coat.

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By the time our last team member was finished show jumping most of the others had finished completely so once I’d helped her get ready for her cross country round it was time to start removing studs and getting the horses booted up and ready for the journey home.

I had a great day helping out and hopefully learned a lot too.  I managed not to fall asleep on the way home but I was definitely not the world’s greatest conversationalist!

Badminton From the Sofa

We used to go to Badminton every year but haven’t managed it for the past few.  However, Badminton weekend is still very special for us and we always make sure to watch as much of it as we can.

I so much appreciate the live stream on the Badminton website – I got to watch the first trot up after work on Wednesday and my breaks on Thursday and Friday were spent cooped up in the staff room with the dressage.  It never gets shown on television so it was wonderful to be able to watch it.  Oliver Townend’s record score made it extra exciting too!

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I rode both my own ponies on Saturday morning (listening to Radio Badminton as I did so!) before making my way inside to settle down for the cross country.  This is obviously the big draw of eventing and is always very exciting but this year I knew it would be even more so – the new dressage scoring meant that the scores were tight and time penalties were going to be very influential.

I thought Eric Winter’s cross country course was brilliant.  There were lots of difficult questions which caused problems for the riders without too many falls.  It was wonderful to watch and the riders seemed to like it as well – they were all commenting on how great the course was and that the going was perfect.  I was particularly taken with the Nyetimber Heights, Shogun Sports Hollow and Outlander PHEV Bank combinations which at first glance looked impossible but mostly rode very well.  It was a fantastic day of sport and I was glued to the television.

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This morning I was up bright and early to see to the ponies before the final trot up.  We always make ourselves the same picnic breakfast we would have had if we were actually at the event and it was a lovely, leisurely way to start our Sunday.  My sister came round to ride and, feeling inspired, we did some jumping of our own.  It wasn’t quite up to Badminton standard but we had fun!

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Today’s show jumping was nail biting, especially when we got to the final few riders.  I couldn’t decide who I wanted to win – I am a huge fan of both Piggy French and Oliver Townend.  I really wanted Piggy to win her first five star but for Oliver to claim the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam would also be great.  Either way, I was thrilled with Piggy’s clear round – it meant we had a British winner.

Oliver Townend had one fence down but he could afford that as well as a couple of seconds over the time.  Even as he cleared the last fence we thought he had won – I think everyone did – but the clock ticked over just enough to drop him behind Piggy French.  I was so disappointed for him but absolutely delighted for Piggy.  She definitely deserved a win.

It has been a wonderful, if somewhat lazy, weekend.  It’s a shame it has to end!

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