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.


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.


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!


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!

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.


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!


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.


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.

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.


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%.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.

A Most Exciting Day

Yesterday the ponies and I went to the riding club dressage competition.  This one was held at my instructor’s yard so we were wonderfully relaxed and at home.  It felt strange not to be going away to compete but it was fun to be involved in the set up.

Cookster and I did the Intro C dressage test.  We are not quite ready for a canter test yet – our steering can be dodgy and we often lack impulsion – but our walk and trot tests are definitely improving.


He felt nice and responsive in the warm up and was actually going forward which was gratifying.  He was a little wobbly in the test itself  and very noisy – he kept calling for Galahad and the judge commented that we could have done with some music to go with his vocals!


This was only our third test though and I was extremely pleased with how he went.  We ended up with a score of 63% and a fourth place so I was thrilled.

I had time for a quick cup of tea and then I had to get Galahad ready for the pairs class.  My sister couldn’t ride with me so I had recruited one of the children on the yard.  Our practices had definitely improved but we were not expecting much – for two ponies who live together they were not really working very well as a pair.  Galahad tried to bite Cookster more than once and Cookster was determined to play follow my leader instead of riding side by side.


Having two ponies to compete is wonderful but it does keep you busy!

However, once we got into the arena I was pleasantly surprised.  There was no fighting at all and although we definitely lacked impulsion – I had to work very hard to keep Cookster up with Galahad – we were more or less together most of the time.  It certainly felt much better than any of the practices had done and was a lot of fun.


Some of the other pairs had looked very good though so we were not really expecting to place very high.  However, at the prize giving our names kept not being called until there were only two pairs left.  I had picked the other pair as the winner and so I was convinced we would be called next.  We weren’t though which meant we had won the class with 68%.  We were both astonished but absolutely delighted.


Cookster was very miffed he didn’t get to eat the Easter egg!

After that excitement I had to calm down to take Galahad in for the Prelim 13 test.  I had never done that one before but I really like the way it flows.  Galahad felt great warming up but by this point I was freezing – it was a beautiful day but the wind was icy.


I kept my coat on as long as I possibly could!

The test felt pretty good and not rushed as it can do sometimes.  Most important for me though was that we got the correct canter lead on the right rein.  That is a major achievement for us and meant that no matter the result it was a successful test for me.  In fact, we came fourth with 66% and were the best of the senior competitors.  It was a very successful day for the junior riders!


Once the ponies were away I had to rush and write for the judge.  It’s a job I find very interesting and it is possible to learn a lot from hearing all the comments as the tests are ridden.  I also found it fascinating watching the novice tests as I could see that some of the movements were very similar to the ones we had done in the prelim test but just slightly more advanced.  It shows how we need to be working to improve.


‘We’ve been working hard all day – where’s our dinner?’

I had the most wonderful day and was so proud of both ponies – they really did work hard.


Christmas Dressage

It has been a busy day!

I found out yesterday evening that I was able to take Cookster to the Christmas dressage show today as well as Galahad.  I had a concert last night and I spent all the time I wasn’t playing frantically learning two extra tests for him.


Cookster’s classes were up first and I was a little apprehensive – we hadn’t had a chance to practise and our steering was a bit questionable in the warm up.  However, although his tests were not perfect by any means I was very pleased with the progress he has made.  He even managed to score an eight for his final halt (the halt in the first test was not good at all).


The last time Galahad did a dressage test with Cookster also at the show we had a disastrous round and I didn’t know quite what to expect this time.  What I got was an extremely noisy pony but thankfully one who was willing to actually listen and do what I asked him.  Sadly, I was back to having to ask a couple of times for the correct canter lead on the right rein but otherwise it felt really good.


Galahad was a lot more forward going today – we usually get comments about needing more energy so this was good to feel.  I was also especially pleased that our halts went well as we had rather an argument about them yesterday.


Cookster was unplaced in his first class but came seventh in his second while Galahad came away with a ninth and a seventh.  They were big classes as it was a championship event so I was thrilled with both of them.  Galahad’s first test was one we did a fortnight ago and we got a better score this time around.  It’s a definite sign of improvement which is always welcome.


It might have been a long day but despite the rain and cold we had a fantastic time.

Dancing in the Rain

Last weekend Galahad and I went to our first competition in several months.  It was a riding club dressage event and I was very happy to be out competing again.


The warm up was slightly interesting – there were cross country jumps stacked around the arena which Galahad thought were pretty scary – I spent half my time trying to persuade him to go near them.  Then the rain started coming down in earnest.  I had forgotten my contact lenses and before long my glasses were covered with rain and I could barely see.

We got them cleaned up and ourselves into the indoor arena for our actual test.  Galahad settled down nicely and did what felt like a pretty good test.  I didn’t think it was amazing but he did everything I asked and – best of all – he picked up the correct canter lead on both reins.  As I said last week, that’s something on which we have really been working hard so I was especially pleased to get it right.


Before long we were called for our second test and again it felt like a nice, safe clear round.  The canter leads were correct and this time our shapes felt a little more accurate.  I was so pleased with Galahad!


Really, the canter leads made my day but it got better.  When the scores were posted I found I had scored 60.53% and 62.93%.  We got our usual comments about Galahad being, ‘Economical with the energy’ but the judge also made some nice comments about the trot which were good to see.  We placed second and fourth which was obviously great but even better the scores were good enough to qualify us for a local dressage championship next week.  So exciting!

Working on the Canter

This week I have been focussing very much on our canter transitions.  Galahad particularly struggles picking up the correct lead on the right rein as the brand on his near hind makes it weaker.


We have, however, been making progress.  This week we did some work on simple changes in a figure of eight.  We got the first one wrong but after that they went so well that I decided to try something a bit harder.

I trotted up the centre line, asked Galahad for a particular lead and he got every single one right.  That was unexpected!  The video isn’t perfect but it is proof.

I’m not expecting us to just get them all perfectly now – in fact it took us a couple of asks to get it right the very next day – but it is definite progress and it does show we are capable!

Bright Lights

The ponies are spending a couple of weeks with my riding instructor – partly so Galahad can have a bit of a trim and partly so we can get to our dressage competition in a fortnight.

Of course, I am taking full advantage of the facilities while they are there.  They were collected on Friday afternoon and I went over straight after work to school Galahad.  He hasn’t been ridden under lights for months – probably not since last winter – so he was a little tense at first and had to have a very good look at the darkness beyond the lights to make sure there were no hidden monsters.


I just worked him quietly round the school and before long we could ride on a loose rein with no problem.


We actually had a very good session.  Galahad was working nicely, although he did tire a bit.  He got pretty hot as well – definitely time for that clip.

Enjoying the World Equestrian Games

Yesterday I was fully intending to ride after work.  The trouble was that the World Equestrian Games cross country was running and I really wanted to watch that…

The ponies did not get ridden because, well, they would be around today and the cross country would not.


The cross country was fantastic.  The course was really interesting and I especially loved the water jumps featuring fountains and actual waterfalls.  I think it’s safe to say that Galahad would not have liked them at all!

Of course, it was also great to see the British team doing so well – five clears, four within the time, is very impressive and it will make the show jumping phase extra exciting to watch tomorrow.  I will certainly be doing my utmost to be at home to watch it.

It has been wonderful being able to watch the dressage too and two bronze medals is a great achievement.  It is just a shame that Florence has forced the cancellation of the freestyle – always my favourite part.  I am looking forward to the rest of the games though, especially the driving marathon which I love.


As there was no eventing or dressage today due to the hurricane I did get out for a hack with Galahad this evening.  We had a lovely time riding through a fine drizzle which was very refreshing.  A wonderful way to end the day.

Wilton Horse Trials

I am just back from a great weekend at Wilton Horse Trials.


Wilton ’18 was written incarrots and bananas!

We had a small setback to start with as we were staying in Wilton very near to the main entrance to the house but hadn’t realised that the only way in to the horse trials was two miles away round the other side of the park.  We knew that was the main gate but not that it was the only one.  It was a shame but we’ll be better prepared another time.

I don’t get to go to many of the smaller events but I do love them – you can be so much closer to the action.  I spent Saturday morning basically sat in the warm up area watching the dressage and showjumping.  It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many horses.


Once the cross country started we obviously had to walk the course and apart from being a little wary of approaching horses (there are less string fences than at the bigger events so we had to be very aware of where the horses would go) it was fantastic exploring the course and being able to get a good look at the fences.


Saturday morning was novice cross country but I had a look at all the jumps we passed and I was particularly interested in a double on the BE100 course.  I could see several different ways to approach it and I was curious to see how it rode.


Once the BE100 class started I went to have a look and the first two riders took one route but both had a run out at the second element.  The third rider took a different route and made it look easy so I thought that settled the question.

It’s never as simple as that though – over the two days I saw all possible routes taken and all of them cleanly so my first look must have just been bad timing!

Saturday had been mostly sunny – although very windy – but rain was was forecast for Sunday.  We knew that but the long dry spell has made us a bit complacent and although we had brought waterproof jackets we hadn’t really considered how cold we might get and we had actively decided not to take waterproof trousers.  It rained all day so we learnt our lesson!


Even the horses were hiding from the rain!

We arrived on Sunday to find that the majority of the trade stands had packed up which was a real shame.  We hadn’t had time to look round them the day before and had planned to do so on Sunday morning.  The few remaining food stands were doing a roaring trade though!

First up on Sunday were the intermediate classes and it was great to be able to get a good look at the riders warming up.  I hope that I managed to learn something.


We didn’t walk the whole of the cross country course this time – partly because we now knew it pretty well and partly because it was pouring with rain and blowing pretty well too.  I had dreadful trouble with my hat and ended up looking like Paddington.


The hat will never be the same again.

We picked out a few of our favourite jumps and went to watch those.  The furthest field from the main showground had a fantastic group of trees where we could sit in comfort and watch six fences (eight or nine jumping efforts depending on the class).

I really think we had the best seats on the course, although a coffee van would have been nice!  We were also sat right by the double I had been interested in the day before so I not only got a good view of it being jumped, I also got to watch many different people walking it and it was fascinating to see all the different approaches.


Despite the weather we had a great weekend and I’m already looking forward to the next event.