5Photos1Day: February #HorseBloggers Challenge

This month, I took up the challenge set by Sam from Haynet blog to post five photos in a single day that give insight into typical daily life. Since Instagramming photos of the pony and dog is one of my favourite things at the moment I jumped at this challenge! I decided to take the challenge on a weekend day, as they’re much more fun and less likely to be 80% photos of coffee! I also quizzed my bemused husband on whether he thought a photo of ‘x’ or ‘y’ seemed more appropriate in an attempt to make a plan. In the end though, I think the photos were more or less organic and they’re definitely a good representation of my weekends!

Here we go with photo number 1! This is how literally every day starts: tea and doggy cuddles. The mug was a leaving gift from my previous job, most office colleagues seem endlessly confused by the early starts and the mucking out involved in horse ownership, so this comedy mug is a perfect representation of how they see me! Spider pup is a bit of a lapdog, despite his tough exterior when we’re out and about, so no cup of tea is permitted in our house without a small dog sat on you!

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Photo 2, shows the real “glamour” of horse ownership, ha! It’s raining and I’m pushing a wheelbarrow of muck through ankle deep mud. Glorious. The things we do for the animals we love! I like to get my all my jobs out the way first thing when I arrive at the yard, it’s a good way of warming up and means that when I get to riding I can enjoy it without a million tasks in my head for when I get back. For Starks, it means he gets to mooch about in his field for a few hours stretching off after a night in the stable before working as well.

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Photo 3 is what it’s all about for many of us, the riding! As you can tell from Ginge’s wet ears, it was definitely a rainy day, but luckily for us it slowed right down for our little plod around the village. I was really proud of us this day as it was our first time hacking out alone for quite a while. I’m a big baby about hacking out alone and try to avoid it if I’m honest. I’m not entirely sure why as Starks is normally pretty good hacking out. We had a bit of a nappy phase about a year ago and an incident where he turned into a rodeo horse in an open field and I’ve not fully trusted him since. This is probably sensible, as you really never know with horses even if they’re usually the safest plod on the planet. However, he was school tired for this week and I really fancied an outing, so with no one to go with us I text my husband a route and estimated return time (just in case), covered us in hi-viz and off we went. Ginge was a perfect gent, of course, and once I relaxed I think we both enjoyed ourselves. It was quite a nice experience actually, just the two of us spending some quality time together. Since I wasn’t busy gossiping, I got to actually admire the beauty of our lovely Cotswold surroundings and since I wasn’t hurrying him along Ginge got to enjoy having a good nose and trying to go down everyone’s driveways. Bliss!

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Photo 4 is another insight into our home life. My husband and I bought a 1970s house, which had remained unchanged since then, two years ago and have been slowly making it our own. Very talented husband has done most of the house without any practical input from me, but very occasionally I get involved and help with a spot of painting. We’re doing the hallway at the moment – an exciting point that means we’ve finished upstairs and we’re moving onto the ground floor – so I helped by diligently painting the middles of all the walls on a rainy afternoon.

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The final photo of the day is another of my lovely ginger boy. I brought him in early out of the rain, as he seemed particularly unhappy about it today. He used to live out 24/7 during the winter, but these days he seems to quite like his home comforts. Here he is all snug in his stable rug (which is filthy because he is endlessly scruffy) munching on a fibre block. He doesn’t get these very often, but if he needs a bit of extra stable time he has them as a boredom buster. He’s no fool so he makes short work of them despite the small net by crushing them and eating them off the floor. I think I’d have to find something a bit more involved to keep him occupied if he ever had to spend a real extended period of time indoors. The real bonus is that the extra fibre and vitamins is really beneficial for him at this time of year when we’re low on grass and starting to feel like it has been winter forever!

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Well, that’s pretty much me – who else is taking the challenge?

In Praise of Poo Picking!

I’m not going to pretend for a second that I enjoy the seemingly never-ending task of poo picking Starky’s fields. Especially in winter, when the wheelbarrow gets stuck in the mud at the field gate and you are freezing! It is a necessary chore though, that I try to do regularly (except in the very worst weather) and here are a few reasons why your horse and paddock will thank you for it – and you might even enjoy the odd moment!

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Say No to Worms – More and more equestrians move towards faecal egg counts to avoid over-use of wormers. Poo picking and good pasture management is a great way to help make sure your horses worm count is as low as can be. It seems pretty obvious that the more hygienic your horses paddock is, the more likely it is that they’ll avoid picking up a worm burden. Healthy horses = happy owners! It also helps with saving the pennies as an egg count is much cheaper than a wormer, so if you don’t need to worm your horse when the results come back then you are on to a winner!

Better Grazing – another clear benefit is that poo picking helps the grass recover quicker. Grass is never going to grow while it is suffocated under piles of horse poo, so clear it away regularly and give it a better chance of recovering. This is particularly important on our winter paddocks, they get trashed so quickly with the weather and enthusiastic horses so any chance we can give them to recover ready for next season seems sensible. The clearer the paddock is, the easier it is for our ponies to find grazing spots. It always amazes me how Starky seems to find something to graze on in the sparsest fields, but I want to give him the best possible chance of finding the good stuff! In the summer, it is also a chance to inspect the fields for ragwort and other field invaders and to get rid of it early.

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Flies – writing in January, flies seem like a distant memory, but in summer the struggle is real and they will swarm around the horse poo in your paddocks and bother your horse incessantly. There seems like there’s no getting rid of them, but less poo in your paddocks will certainly help ease the issue!

Spending time with your horse  – one of the things I actually enjoy about poo picking is spending time with Starky out in his field. It is great for our bond to spend time around him without wanting anything from him. He gets to choose whether he wants to investigate what I’m doing and spend time around me, or not. He gets to go about his business without seeing me as the annoying human that’s always trying to either clean him or ride him! I might as well make myself useful while I’m out there, especially as in the winter it’s a bit too cold to just stand around. Photos look better when it’s your horse out in a beautiful green field than surrounded by piles of poo as well!

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Rider fitness goals – poo picking is surprisingly hard work! Any extra time spent on your feet and on the move is good for general fitness and doing it with a wheelbarrow of horse muck in tow adds a bit of resistance. All good news on the quest for rider fitness. With Starks and I aiming for affiliated dressage this year, I should probably pull my weight on the getting in shape side of things. He has got fit a lot quicker than me this year so I’ve got some work to do if I’m going to play my part in our team!

So there you have it, poo picking may not be the most fun you’ll have in your equestrian life, but it has a lot of benefits for your four legged best friend. That’s how I keep myself motivated when I’m getting covered in mud up to my knees anyway!

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Applying Equine Bio-mechanics in Training

We have all seen the Pammy Hutton and Heather Moffat campaign to petition the FEI to act against the practice of Rollkur and too tight nose bands. If not, Alanna Clarke has written this excellent blog for Tottie Clothing on the subject recently which is worth a read. Pammy and Heather run a Facebook group as part of the campaign and to educate riders and trainers where they recently shared a video by Equitopia on the Padmavideo YouTube channel about equine bio-mechanics and self-carriage, which can be found here. Equitopia are a Californian outfit that strive to educate riders and help them to work in harmony with their horses and provide their beloved four-legged friends with happy and healthy lives. They provide free lectures and resources on a variety of subjects like correctly fitting tack and horse health as well as applying classical training techniques when schooling.

This video appealed to me as I find the study of equine bio-mechanics fascinating. The application of modern science and understanding of bio-mechanics to the classical training foundations explains why the scales of training are so important and how training our horses to be balanced, as well as being balanced ourselves, helps them to do their jobs comfortably and happily while minimising the risk of injury. Just as you wouldn’t put your body through an exercise class without thinking about proper form to avoid injury, it is our responsibility as riders to train our horses in the safest way to carry themselves. Rollkur is a cruel technique that has come about as a quick fix way to create the effect that a horse is engaged and working in an outline. As with any quick fix, it is not the answer. The giving and retaking of the reins in many dressage tests is a test of self-carriage and proof that the horse has been trained to carry and balance themselves and not been forced into the illusion of roundness.

Having both watched this video recently, my mother-in-law/trainer decided to give the lessons learnt a try on Ginge and I in a recent training session. We put the emphasis on impulsion and straightness. The plan was to work on having Ginge working forward and from my inside leg into outside hand to maintain the straightness and balance. Nothing ground-breaking, but actually very effective. We started by essentially banning the use of my inside hand. In the past of relied on it as a guide rein, but today it was banned completely. This prevented me potentially pulling him round on a circle and causing him to fall onto the forehand and inside shoulder and encouraged me to use my seat to direct him. This change of technique also forced me to improve my position to support him better. The results were surprisingly sudden – Ginge is a sensitive soul so tiny changes to my riding make a big difference to him. Focusing lower down the scales of training on straightness rather than worrying too much about engagement resulted in the best outline we’ve ever worked in, an actively engaged hind leg and even a move towards cracking our canter problem. Proof if ever it was needed that “quick fix” is not the answer and giving our horses time and the tools to find the most comfortable way of going provides the greatest results in the long run. And, if the scientists are to be believed, it also means a reduced chance of injury down the line. Win-win as far as I’m concerned. I’d definitely recommend watching the video linked above and considering what pointers you can takeaway in your own schooling!

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Dogs at Equestrian Events

As horse owners we tend to be animal lovers. I don’t know the actual statistics on how many horse owners also have dogs (or indeed any other animal), but in my experience it is quite a high proportion of us. I’m sure that we’ve all had the dream of hacking out with our faithful canine happily trotting alongside, but sadly the reality often is that horses and dogs aren’t always the best of friends. According to the British Horse Society, there has been a great increase in reports of dog attacks on horses recently and I have definitely noticed increased controversy around our canine companions attending equestrian events. I attended both Withington Manor Horse Trials and Gatcombe Festival of Eventing as a spectator this year and at both events there was chaos at least once when a loose dog chased a combination on the cross country phase. This has resulted in a few calls for dogs to be banned from attending equestrian events for everyone’s safety. Olivia Wilmot talked to Horse and Hound about her anger after being chased by a dog at Gatcombe last year, she may not have been hurt but it is hardly optimum competing conditions. Others argue that a few incidents like this shouldn’t be allowed to ruin it for the hundreds of well behaved dogs and their responsible owners who attend these events safely every year. Luckily, I didn’t see anyone actually get hurt, but even one accident would be one too many!

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From personal experience, as the owner of a rescued Jack Russell Terrier, I’ve been working hard to teach my dog about responsible behaviour around horses. I still wouldn’t trust him off the lead around them, but he’s basically fine now on the yard and when he sees them hacking while we’re walking. Poor, tolerant Ginge has been brilliant during the desensitisation process. He has come with us on walks and I’ve hacked round the field with my partner leading the dog nearby – we’ve done a fairly good job at convincing him that horses are extremely boring and not worth barking at.

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I still prefer not taking him to equestrian events though and generally speaking I just don’t do it. I was talked into giving him a try at attending Gatcombe this year, I had tickets for my birthday and everyone we would normally have left him with was away. His best doggy friend, Barney, was coming along too and we hoped they would just be quiet together. Honestly, I won’t be taking him again. I’m not sure it was an enjoyable outing for either of us. It turns out, despite all our hard work and training there are two things that are just too much for my tiny dog to cope with: clapping and horses galloping. You can expect both of these things at an event and he handled it as many terriers would – with a lot of barking. As a result, I spent the whole day consoling or attempting to discipline the dog (neither worked) and did a lot of laps of the car park or shopping areas to steer clear of the horses and riders. I saw very little eventing and came home exhausted with a headache. Not an experience I plan on repeating.

There were plenty of dogs there, including terriers, who behaved perfectly all day of course. I may be banning my own dog from attending equestrian events, but I don’t think this needs to apply to all dogs. It just needs us as dog owners to act responsibly and decide the best course of action as individuals to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. As much as we love to have them with us everywhere, sometimes the best choice for everyone is to leave them behind with a responsible adult. I was disappointed to miss out on the action at Gatcombe to retreat to a safe place with the dog, but I was more comfortable leaving and missing out than stressing him out and taking the risk of causing an accident on the course. I think we’ll be sticking to our quiet country walks in future – I hope other people make responsible choices about what suits their pooches too.

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Equine Allergies and a visit from the Emergency Vet

It’s a call that every horse owner dreads. 7:30 on a Saturday morning and the yard owner is on the phone, “Don’t panic, but [horse’s name] has come in from the field this morning and he’s not right. You may want to call the vet…”.

Within minutes, photos of poor Ginge’s giant swollen head and hive covered body have been sent by the yard owner and forwarded to the vet, while I’m on the phone to the receptionist trying to pretend I’m not freaking out. Despite his giant head, Ginge had successfully eaten breakfast and wasn’t having breathing issues, so in theory I wasn’t freaking out. On the inside, I was definitely freaking out. He is my baby after all.

Luckily, Greg the vet, has had many years experience with hysterical horse women and passed on this message via the receptionist: “Don’t panic, it’s not as bad as it looks, I’m on my way.” Despite the fact he was still eating, Ginge was definitely feeling a bit sorry for himself. We had half an hour of cuddles while waiting (what felt like an entire day) for the vet. Ginge is not normally a cuddle fan!  Our vet visit was only a flying one, he was right about there being no huge need for panic of course. A steroid injection for Ginge, strict instructions for me to go home for at least three hours while the steroids worked their magic and a diagnosis of “contact dermatitis” caused by an allergic reaction to pollen spores he would have rolled in on wet grass after a rain shower. The vet was soon on his way again. Three hours later, the hives had gone and his head was decidedly less fat. The next morning, only my bank account showed any sign of the incident.

The trouble with allergies, is that when they strike the effect is dramatic, sudden and pretty horrifying. The positives are: an attack is easily and quickly resolved and once you are aware of the problem it can hopefully be managed fairly effectively in future. I’ve had to revise my policy on allowing Starky to be turned out naked in the height of summer, especially when rain is forecast, and it seems to be doing the trick so far. A month has passed (and several fly rugs have come and gone) and we haven’t had another attack so far. Pollen and fly season are nearly over for another year, so hopefully he can have a bit of rug free time before clipping and winter rugs are upon us! Now someone just needs to explain to my horse why rugs are for his own good and stop him from shredding them. User testing says Shires rugs are getting our thumbs up this summer. Rug one was a “bargain” zebra rug that lasted a day. Our Shires zebra rug has undergone some customisation thanks to Ginge and his field mates, but remains mostly rug shaped and functional despite their best efforts (and what more can you ask for).

 

Variety is the spice of life!

With the arrival of some summer weather (finally), ginger pony and I have been very busy lately trying his hoof at any and every opportunity that has come our way. Dressage will always be my true equestrian love, but having a go at bits and pieces of other disciplines has great benefits for any partnership. In the same way as human athletes benefit from cross-training in other sports to train different muscle groups and increase flexibility, our horses benefit from a bit of variety in their lives.

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Flatwork schooling is our main focus, but if I try to school more than twice in a week Ginge is very quick to make his boredom clear. A bored ginger pony does not make for a productive session, so I’m keen to avoid this where possible. An easy way to engage his brain is to get out the coloured poles – a technique that our instructor often uses when it looks like he’s about to start throwing his toys out of the pram. Polework (even just with poles on the ground) has a number of benefits for us: firstly, it encourages Ginge to engage his brain and really think about where he puts his feet; slightly raising the poles gets him to pick up his feet, use his core and work properly over his back; and, on days when we have our brave pants on, the tiny fences we jump have helped muscle up his hindquarters. Specific to Ginge, being a trotter, is also the fact that polework has helped teach him to canter in an arena – the poles give him something else to focus on and he often naturally transitions to canter instead of getting worked up about it as he has in the past during a simple flatwork session. All these things help improve our dressage scores as they have helped develop muscle and balance (for both of us), which in turn improve straightness and accuracy, and help with transitions within the pace as we have improved our control over stride length.

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Another common boredom buster is hacking out. There’s nothing better than spending a couple of hours exploring the countryside with good friends. It is a great chance to relax (and catch up on a bit of yard gossip), but it definitely isn’t a day off! Hacking is a great way to build fitness, especially if you’ve got plenty of hills and off road stretches for a bit of speed work! It is also a great way to teach your horse to cope with the unexpected: walkers, dogs, cyclists, vehicles, all kinds of terrifying wildlife and horse eating inanimate objects (not to mention different coloured bits of road – the horror!) could pop up at any moment. Once your horse gets used to all these hazards, it can make attending competitions a bit less of a dramatic experience. Flower pots, white boards and arena mirrors are nothing when you’ve already handled inflatable Christmas decorations and summer fete bunting! It also teaches your horse to trust and look to you in scary situations, which can only improve their focus in the arena.

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Combining both of these: the fun ride – possibly one of the maddest events of the equestrian summer calendar, but also a lot of fun. Miles of off-road riding, in a location you may not usually have access to, with jumps and photographers everywhere. Fun rides are not for the fainthearted though! They can be very busy and unfortunately not everyone is particularly considerate when it comes to passing slower, young or more nervous horses out on the ride. We arrived early to get round before most of the crowds as we were accompanying a friend with a youngster. This paid off, but there were still plenty over-taking us at speed and we saw a few falls and one very dramatic loose horse, bridle free, galloping for home. Our boys were very sensible and we’ve returned home with rosettes, great photos (courtesy of XC Photos), happy memories and, let’s be honest, the confidence to handle any dressage warm-up arena with ease!

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Perhaps more unusually, Ginge recently tried his hoof at some Working Equitation obstacles. Originating from Portugal, WE is frequented by Lusitano and PRE owners, so I heard of it as our yard owner competes on her stunning stallion. The obstacles are a real test of horsemanship and team work. It means dealing with “scary” obstacles and tests control and accuracy of commands with tests of lateral work, control of paces, obedience and balance. I started by showing Ginge all the obstacles from the ground and explaining what was expected of us. Examples include: gymkhana style weaving, a rope “gate”, walking into a corridor to ring a bell before reversing out and crossing a “bridge” (which in our case was just a wooden board, but still makes the “scary” noises). We then tackled all these things mounted, varying the paces when he gained confidence. A great test of our partnership and my ability to explain how to tackle obstacles! I think Ginge even enjoyed himself.

I doubt we will be entering an showjumping, cross-country, endurance or working equitation competitions any time soon, but we will definitely keep trying other disciplines. Having all these experiences together stops us getting stale in the school and feeds back into our dressage sessions benefiting us enormously! Happy ponies = happy owners, so get on out there and so what you can learn from the rest of the equestrian world!

Handing Over the Reins

Recently, for the first time in around two years I let someone else ride my horse. I have been avoiding it for a number of reasons:

Firstly, there was the safety concern: when I first met Ginge asking him for anything more than walk in the school came with the risk of a bucking spree down the side of the arena. It is a risk you chose to take when they are yours and you know that *touch wood* you normally manage to stay on, but a different matter when you are asking someone else to take that risk. He was “that horse” who caused trainers to say “I am not getting on that” and once “I am way too valuable to have that horse cause me an injury” (I think he was at least half joking). Thankfully, this more dangerous phase of our partnership is now over!

Secondly, once progress began, there was the common worry that someone else could undo all the hard work and set you back by weeks or months by confusing or upsetting him in some way (easily done when you have a ginger on your hands).

Finally, there was the slightly selfish concern that we had reached a point where my own limitations as a rider were holding him back and that if someone else got on he would magically look incredible and be able to do everything.

The decision to cast aside these doubts turned out to be a great one. I had found myself in a position where Ginge was starting to really focus and turn a corner on the schooling front, but I was about to be away for more of the next 5 weeks than I would be around. Ordinarily, Ginge would just have the time off, but I really did not want him to have 5 weeks off when he was finally starting to work so well. I bit the bullet and a cast of 3 friends and trainers stepped in to keep him ticking over while I was away. The result was a confidence boost for me, a mini boot camp for him and massively improved lessons with both our trainers since we have returned.

The confidence boost came in a number of ways: the proud mum feeling from other people actually enjoying riding him; the knowledge that our ongoing struggles are not purely my fault; and the subsequent feeling that I have actually done a pretty good job producing him and should be less hard on myself. Not that long ago people used to refuse to ride him and now we get compliments for his willing and positive attitude. Everyone marvelled at his giant trot and my friend was thrilled to be on a horse who actually understood leg yield, definitely feeling like a proud mum.

The mini boot camp also really helped us both. I love my pony, but we both know sometimes he can decide for us both that he has worked hard enough and I will let him get away with it. I make a lot of excuses for him, when really we are at a point where he is ready to answer some real questions. My trainers are both of an understanding nature and know there are things he genuinely finds hard, but they are also not as soft as I am so he had a real work out and had his boundaries tested. As a result he felt amazing when I finally got back on and showed us both what he is capable of – definitely the push I need to start asking a bit more from him! This has been particularly useful over poles as learning together is not always the best for our team confidence, so an experienced and confident eventer riding him has really helped him approach fences with a positive feeling.

Since I returned from my trips we have had lessons with both trainers and the quality of them (whilst they were always great before) has really improved. Now they have both ridden him they have more insight into how he feels and what makes him tick, so it is easier for them to give advice and tips that are really tailored to him. There have been a few sentences beginning “when I was riding him…”; although luckily for my ego they have also both confirmed he is not an easy ride!

I am still very careful about who I let ride my horse – he is the most important thing in my world after all – but I can definitely see the benefits of handing the reins to the right person every now and then. I am even considering an actual trip to boot camp for him when I get married and head off on honeymoon later this year.

Ginge, of course, still thinks he should just have a holiday though.

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Insider: Withington Manor Horse Trials

On the first May Bank Holiday weekend every year, a sleepy Cotswold village plays host to scores of International Event Riders and their rising stars for one of the highest profile One Day Events around (us locals think so anyway)! Two weeks before Badminton, it is a great opportunity for the big names to test their fitness and local fans to “celeb spot” without the big event price tag. This year, I happen to be working at the livery yard attached to the ODE ground, so I was there for the insider’s view of all the hard work and preparation that goes into an event like this and to spot the opportunities available for local equestrians to get involved.

In the lead up to the big weekend, the staff at Withington Manor work flat out on the preparations. Tractors charging to and fro are preparing the ground and delivering giant cross country fences, tents and decorations. Course designer, Eric Winter, also designed the course it Badminton, this year, so standards have to be high. Obviously, the resident horses find all the activity a combination of exciting and terrifying that makes turning out a more hair-raising experience than usual in the mornings! “Exit” signs, fir trees and even new gravel appearing has all needed a thorough investigation in case of horse-eating-monsters by the 20+ residents of the Manor. For us grooms, the deliveries instil a sense of excitement, buzzing about the soon-to-be influx of “celebs” (confirmation that Mary King seems just as lovely in person as you’d hope) and excited plans about when is best to sneak up and watch the event in action between jobs.

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The buzz of a busy lorry park!

When the big day arrives, the excitement begins with the arrival of the competitors and a spot of celeb lorry spotting. Every one arrives full of anticipation and the atmosphere is electric with last minute plaiting and preparations. For your more amateur rider, the first opportunity to be find at a local event of this scale is seeing how others warm up and get started on event day. Some people start with a hack around the grounds to help their horses relax and get used to the atmosphere; others can be seen lunging to get their horse focused and loosened up ready to go.

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Vittoria Panizzon & Chequers Play The Game in the Advanced

The dressage phase brings the next series of opportunities. Writing for the judge is a commonly cited option for the amateur rider. Of course, the quality of this opportunity varies depending on the judge. The best judges to write for are the friendly and are happy to chat through what they are looking for and give hints and pointers, there are others who are not as keen on coaching the amateur rider at the same time as focusing on judging. Obviously, try not to be too demanding of their time – judging requires focus and concentration, so you won’t be thanked for constantly interrupting with comments and questions! Another, perhaps lesser known, opportunity for the skilled amateur is the opportunity to be the guinea pig rider for the dressage phase, in order to set the judges up for the competitors. One of the liveries at our yard had the chance to take this opportunity for the 1* and jumped at the chance! After all, when else do you get the chance to ride for international standard judges and get feedback – all for free!

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Justine & Alfie guinea pig ride the 1*

Next up is the showjumping, where there’s less opportunity to get involved – unless you fancy a work out restoring fallen poles between competitors! There is always a learning opportunity though. At your local show, you are much more likely to get up close and personal with the ring and be able to analyse the different riders styles and lines. After all, where else are you likely to be almost within touching distance of the legendary Mark Todd as he handles a tricky combination!

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Mark Todd flying around the showjumping phase

Last, but definitely not least: the challenge of the cross country course. The course at Withington is challenging to say the least! Eric Winter certainly knows how to design a bold and testing course. For your local rider, there are two main opportunities: fence judging and riding the course. Fence judging is potentially a great opportunity, hopefully you get an interesting fence and you get to watch, in detail, how every single rider approaches it. You can analyse for yourself the successes and pitfalls of these approaches and maybe apply some lessons to your own riding. It is a long day and full concentration is required, so maybe not for the fainthearted!

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A section of Eric Winter’s course

A number of local events hire the course out for local people to ride for a few days after the event. A few of us took the opportunity, so I can now say I’ve ridden on an Eric Winter course! Did I jump anything? Absolutely not! This dressage diva does not have the brave pants required for that level of course. We did trot through the water, pop up and down the much shorter sides of the bank and have a good blast around the field without spooking at any of the giant fences though. For Ginge and I, it was a great chance to ride around and have a look at a world class cross country course and face his worries about water. I feel like we succeeded. For those competing at a much higher level, it is an even greater opportunity to pop a few choice fences and practice the tricky ones without the pressure of competition and a ticking clock.

So what is stopping you? Get out there and get involved at your local event!

And they’re off…

This is my (or our) “Hello World” blog. Since it’s traditional, we’ll begin with an introduction!

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This is the ginger pony, he’s a French Trotter who was imported to the UK as a two year old when it became clear he had not inherited his grandfather’s skills as a racer. In his first few years in the England he was lightly backed; broken to harness; accidentally became a dad; and then was mainly left to his own devices for a year or two except the occasional drive out with his carriage.

When I first arrived at his field it was to help school a 5 year old dressage potential, but a few twists of fate brought me together with the gangly 8 year old field ornament who has now definitively claimed a corner of my heart. Six months later, I had to move away and the ginger beast came with me to start a new life in the Cotswolds – luckily for me, his owner felt it would be cruel to separate us and that he “might as well have a job to do”.

That was two years ago, since then we’ve been battling with dressage and teaching each other to jump. After a recent lesson, my trainer commented on how far we’ve come in the last two years and that comment is what brings me here, to this blog. It can be tough to keep perspective on how far you have come when you are in the moment, so this blog is going to be a record of our successes, failures and, hopefully, gradual progression (undoubtedly with a few detours along the way). Join us for the ride, it’s always more pleasant to hack out in company after all!