Making Do

This weekend I should have been at the British Riding Club’s Novice Winter Championships but for obvious reasons that had to be cancelled.  Instead, I have been spending the time helping out on the land.

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My parents do a lot of work maintaining the fields and – although I would like to help more – I very rarely have enough time to do very much.  Now, however, I have a lot of time and as the fields are right here by the house we can work on them without contravening any quarantine rules.

We have one hedgeline in particular which has been growing unchecked for several years.  Our first job was to get all the brambles out, then there was a lot of sawing that needed to be done.  We are getting a decent amount of firewood put aside for next winter and are shredding what we can of the rest to help with the mud situation (keeping any spiky bits away from the ponies) – although that has been drying up very nicely over the past few days.

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It is a never ending job and once this hedge is done there will be plenty more to keep us occupied.  The weeds along the edge of the stream may well be next – they don’t look much at the moment but they only take a few spring weeks to go mad.

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The ponies seem to think that every load of shredded undergrowth – not to mention every opened gate – is meant for them and they have been following me about hopefully.  I think their main aim was to be turned out into their summer field but it’s not quite dry enough yet.  It won’t be long though!

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!

Riding Club Outing

A couple of weeks ago my riding club got to visit a local event rider’s yard for a demo.  I jumped at the chance to go as I love watching how other people ride.  You can learn so much from them – one of the most interesting parts of the Wilton Horse Trials was watching all of those very famous riders in the warm-up ring and seeing what they were doing.

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It was a fascinating evening.  We had a little course walk and were given some tips about working in the warm-up ring at competitions.  We also watched two horses being ridden – one much greener than the other – and it was very interesting to see the way they each developed.

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As you can see, the light was not great for photographs!

It was a freezing cold evening so I was very grateful for the hot cup of tea in a warm room halfway through!  I was also encouraged when things went wrong – not the fact that they had gone wrong but the way any errors were explained.  For example, when a pole was knocked down we were told that it was because the horse hadn’t been presented quite straight at the fence.  I always appreciate riders who don’t blame the horse for any errors and of course it is always good to know that mistakes can happen to anyone.

It was a great evening and I do hope we will have more like it.

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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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!

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.

Fun Riding

On Friday my riding club had a fun ride around the grounds of a local National Trust property.  I have done a couple of sponsored rides before but never a fun ride and I was very keen to go.  I couldn’t get Galahad there but my instructor had a horse I could use and I jumped at the chance.

The weather could not have been better – we have been having a heatwave recently but this was an evening ride so everything was much cooler but still lovely and dry.  Even better – we were barely bothered by flies at all!

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The ride was a mix of woodland, quiet lanes and open fields.  We had some great canters but also plenty of time to walk and absorb the surroundings – there were some stunning views.

It was a lovely, sociable ride with the added interest of a treasure hunt to follow – I do love looking out for clues!  We even had a barbecue waiting for us when we got back which was just wonderful.  Of course, as we hadn’t started riding until nearly seven, it was getting dim by this point and it was properly dark when we got the horses home.  In a way that just added to the excitement though.  I had a fantastic time and I can’t wait for the next ride!

Excursions

Once again I have been off gallivanting without Galahad to compete for the riding club.  This time I was taking part in an eventer’s challenge – a round of show jumps immediately followed by a round of cross country fences.

I have only done a few cross country courses over the past couple of years and those were on Galahad so the jumps were very little.  I probably haven’t jumped a big round of cross country fences for about ten years so I was more than a little apprehensive.

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The horse felt quite tight and wound up underneath me and we had a couple of argumentative moments in the warm up ring which did not help my confidence.  However, I am nothing if not determined and we made our way into the ring.

Of course, we had to have a very good look at all of the scary tents and vans along the edge but once we were past those I asked for a canter and he shot off at top speed.  I felt like I had no brakes at all but we had gone through the start so I could hardly turn away from the first fence to settle him before we began.  I just had to commit to the jump and hope for the best.

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Look at his tail fly!

Thankfully once we were over the fence he started listening to me and we finished the show jumps at a much more respectable speed.  In fact, it would have been better if we had gone a bit faster but I was just grateful I wasn’t being carted away!

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Show jumping immediately followed by cross country means cross country colours all the time – no show jackets!

We finished the show jumping with no penalties and moved on to the cross country fences.  Suddenly we found our rhythm and the scary, solid fences flowed beautifully.  We had an unfortunate stop at one of them – the team had noticed that several people were having trouble with horses ducking out to the left at that particular fence and I think I overcompensated and sent him the other way – but he jumped beautifully and I found myself enjoying it more than the show jumping.

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Professional photographs are from Dorset Photo Event

We even managed to clear the tricky joker at the end of the course – a show jumping gate 10cm higher than the rest of the fences.  I had the most wonderful day and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  It is so good to be part of the team again!

Gadding Without Galahad

My riding of the ponies has been a bit curtailed recently as I had the opportunity to ride on my riding club’s showjumping team last weekend and I had no hesitation in taking it.  Obviously the jumps are too high for Galahad – hence the riding of other horses.  Before we had the ponies I used to ride so many different horses in my lessons and it really did make me a better rider – I was reasonably confident sitting on anything.  These days I am much more nervous and it feels like it takes me longer to get to know new horses – just because I have got so used to the ponies’ way of going.  These couple of weeks have really brought home to me how much I have lost and I am determined to keep riding other horses.

It has been several years since I jumped proper grown-up sized jumps and even longer since I competed for the riding club so I was somewhat nervous but very, very excited.  We had a much earlier start than Galahad and I are used to – we do stick to the local shows after all – and I am certainly not used to getting the horses ready in the dark.  We also had an interesting journey as the lorry broke down and we arrived as the class was starting.

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I didn’t have my usual support crew with me so thank you to Wayne for taking some brilliant photographs!

Of course, that meant we could not walk the course but we are nothing if not determined and it certainly wasn’t the first time I have jumped without a course walk.  I overshot one turn slightly but overall we got round pretty well with just one pole down.

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We did manage to walk the course for the second round but annoyingly we still had a pole down and time faults as well – which meant we were the discard score for that round.  I was still so proud of us though – I had only ridden Murphy a few times and we were working well together.  I learnt so much too which I can hopefully use another time.

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In the end our team came third overall and second of the qualifiers.  We actually had the same score as the qualifying team but were slightly slower – which makes that pole and time faults extra frustrating!

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I had the most amazing day though and am very much hoping that I get to do it again soon.