Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 Review

Reviewing 2016 already?! I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone! It’s been a funny one for me personally as I’ve had a lot going on and I’ve finished the year in a much better place than I thought possible. I didn’t think I’d achieved that much with Buddy this year but now I’ve sat down and thought about it I realise we’ve moved forward leaps and bounds.

I started 2016 with the intention of having some time off from eventing and focusing on my flatwork and training. This hiatus ended up with me deciding that Buddy just wasn’t a natural eventer and to make him one I would need to do far more jumping and xc training than I have time for. I like to achieve things and the fact I wasn’t able to meet these aims meant I was no longer enjoying it so I decided that competitively our focus was changing to dressage. This took a lot of pressure off as I was only training for one discipline which meant hacking and jumping became fun stuff rather than another training exercise.

After deciding (or Jane telling me!) that I needed to leave Prelim behind and just do Novice level tests we focused on nailing our training and then made our BD debut in June which B ended up winning! Three outings and three sheets got our AF qualifications nailed and then I decided to focus on getting the AF test just right. I was delighted with Buddy on the day and even though I feel like we deserved a placing it was awesome to come 12th out of 22 great combinations and I am using this as my motivation for 2017!

A random Facebook pop up led to another addition to the team – NS Sundancer or Dancer to her friends. A beautiful buckskin (we think she’ll end up chocolate buckskin) filly by Legrande who will hopefully be my next eventer or dressage diva – she’s bred for both so we will take life as it comes. She’ll be staying at stud for the foreseeable so she can just be a horse and grow up in a herd environment with other youngsters.

We’ve had some great training opportunities this year too – we continued training with Jane and ended up moving to her yard in September, I’ve seen Giles far less than I would like but will try and sort this next year, Central Dressage camp led to us doing the demo with Andrew Gould and Spencer Wilton plus we had sessions with Matt Hicks and Charlie Hutton which led to me starting having lessons with Charlie. Buddy has stepped up his game too and is now training at medium level at home which has also meant I need to step up my game having only ever ridden at Novice level before!

We’ve also welcomed Zecora Photography into the team for the year and they have given me some beautiful memories that I will cherish forever. Natures Way Natural Hoofcare have continued their support and Buddy and I are so grateful that Steve comes all the way from oop North to keep an eye on us and he is an incredible friend as well as sponsor. Thank you so much for supporting us during what has been a relatively quiet 2016.

Looking forward to 2017 I am incredibly excited! We have already started our 2017 Petplan campaign and already have our sheets for one round. I will another set (or two) to maximise our chances of getting into the top 10 and to a second round. We are doing Team Quest again so BUBDs are back together with another addition to the team – a lovely pair from my yard, Laura and TinTin – so we are full steam ahead for our first outing in February. I have also just finished creating my floorplan for our elementary freestyle and am hoping to debut this in Jan/Feb and get our qualifications for regionals. Then, as a non-competitive aim we are doing the Rockley Rehab Reunion Ridgeway Ridge and will be doing 43 miles in three days over the first May bank holiday which should be awesome fun!

Then, for some light hearted relief (and for our adrenaline fix), we are also going to do some of the BD combined training competitions. B has been incredible to jump recently and I’ve had a huge grin on my face every time. Eventing has crossed my mind as he has felt great over SJ’s and XC fences and I miss it dreadfully so we may do a couple of unaffiliated events purely for some fun with zero expectations!

Plans for 2017:
  • Qualify for Petplans at Novice
  • Qualify for Petplan second rounds at Novice
  • Qualify for Team Quest and My Quest regionals
  • Qualify for Elementary freestyle regionals
  • Rehab Reunion Ridgeway Ride (5R’s)
Thank you again for all of your support. I am going into my fifth year of rehab with a sound and very happy horse. I am really excited about competing next year and seeing what our training brings!  

Monday, 14 November 2016

The learning never stops....

If you follow us on Facebook then you'll know we've been keeping pretty busy with lots of outings - if you don't then a quick summary is in order!

Looking smart in the Autumn sunshine
After Wellington we decided to chase another set of sheets which started well at East Soley where we achieved 65% and then we went to Merrist Wood to do two tests. Unfortunately the surface in the indoor was terrible, Buddy hated it and we ended up on 61.7 and 61.9 which is rather frustrating as it was fractionally away from being good enough but it wasn't so Area Festivals v2 was off the cards. We had been based at Springwood Grange (Jane's yard) for bootcamp prior to AFs but I made the decision to move there full time as it made such a positive difference to be based with Jane and be around people who all have the same ambitions. I was very sad to leave Jules, she built back my faith in yard owners again and Buddy loved being there. We both have some fabulous memories of our time and I made some wonderful friends.

I was then kicked down by my asthma and had a bad attack which knocked me out for a few weeks  and then I had a car accident which has injured my shoulder so Jane started riding Buddy again. She had sat on him a few times over the summer to teach him half pass and the more advanced movements. It was a decision I made as Buddy is a very quick learner and I've hit the limit of my dressage training so instead of getting both of us confused and upset when it goes wrong during the learning process (which it will however good you are), I decided that it would be in Buddy's best interest for me to hand over the reins. Since then, this has stepped up a notch and Jane has been riding him a couple of times a week which was to cover until I'm fit but they have such a brilliant partnership that it will continue for the foreseeable future and hopefully will start competing at Medium in the new year.

All of the BD rules changed (again!) this year and Area Festivals are in a different format for 2017 with first rounds starting in May and then a second round in October. Due to this the qualification dates started on 1st October so we have started our collection of sheets already. My plan is to get at least one set before Christmas (we have one more sheet to go) as I want to get to two or three first rounds to give us a good shot of getting to second rounds. 

That leads us to this weekend and there was a test riding clinic organised with one of the judges from Area Festivals - Alison Duck - and I was really looking forward to it. As I've written about on here plenty of times, I really struggle to get the scores at competitions that we are capable of. There are no particular movements where we lose marks consistently or accuracy areas I need to improve so I've been really working on getting Buddy going as best as I can but even though he has improved so much my scores have only been going up a fraction. The first test wasn't great as B was lazy and so behind the leg and I was absolutely gutted. We still managed 64.something so it wasn't too bad but I needed to do something to wake him up! So I terrified everyone by going for a hoon around the arena - it got him jazzed up enough to get through another run through and we got 67.4% so a decent improvement and more like what I would like to be getting out.

Love this one!
The feedback was very interesting - horse is more than capable of getting regionals score and I'm more than capable but our problem is me - well my brain! I give up before I've started and its clear I don't believe in myself so we do the test but there's no ringcraft or showmanship or positivity which impacts on the overall picture. I need to do some tweaks on my position (which I'm working hard on already) and get some thinner reins (I have the smallest hands in the world and have always struggled through regardless) but the biggest change I need to make is my self belief. I've got a couple of options and Jane is going to help me but I am going to beat this and make 2017 our best year yet!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Wellington Area Festivals

The focus for the last month or so has been completely on Area Festivals and getting me to a point where I am totally comfortable with the test and what I need to do and when! As usual Buddy has been throwing in some curveballs to keep me on my toes and I have been working so hard to try and get my position as good as it can be (there is still a long way to go!) and work out exactly what Buddy needs from me to support him.

Papped on the way to the warmup!
The test riding sessions were going really well and I was feeling confident that we were as well prepared as we could be. The week prior to AFs I felt a bit under pressure, I had a lesson on the Monday and B was being a little devil and I finished feeling totally awful as he was being a pickle and I felt like I was doing everything right. He is so tricky sometimes and although there is zero malice in it I get incredibly frustrated when he wants to just take over but I can’t get cross as he is just having so much fun with it so I just have to find the right way to manage him to keep the enthusiasm but also make sure he works in the right way!

We had a final test riding session booked at Wellington two days prior to AFs and after Monday I wasn’t feeling that great about where we were at but Buddy pulled it out the bag and although we had changes in the left canter after the medium I felt much happier and knew what I needed to get things sorted. Thursday we hacked out and then had a quick run through of the canter work and I was feeling ready for the next day.

I got into the warm up at Wellington and B felt great and was listening. I have my warm up nailed at the moment and it fills me with confidence that I have a plan as soon as I get in and I know things I can add in if there are issues showing themselves. The canter was full of changes on the left so I wasn’t feeling confident as I was called into the ring but I said to myself that it is just one or two movements so don’t stop riding the rest. The bell rang and we started our test. The centre line was straight and confident, we lost a bit of power coming round the corner but I didn’t want to over ride as he has a habit of cantering! The medium trot across the diagonal wasn’t as good as it could be and the 15 m circles were a bit big which threw away stupid marks which you just can’t do. However, the canter was ACE. I wasn’t as giving on my give and retake of reins on the circle as it encourages him to get long and change so I lost marks there but not as many as I would have lost had we made a mistake. I rode the mediums forward and struggled to get as good a transition to medium as I would have liked but again, it was a sacrifice I had planned to keep him moving forward and not breaking or changing. As soon as the canter finished I had a massive grin on my face for the final movements. We’d nailed it and as soon as I halted I had tears in my eyes as we’d delivered the best performance to date exactly when it counted.

The high continued with my amazing friends who all came to support us who said that the test was great and I was hoping for a decent score as it felt like a solid 66/67 test to me. However when the results came out it would appear two judges agreed (67/65) but one did not and had us on 60%. I was devastated as it pulled my score right down to 64.something and although we were in the top 10 right to the end we got knocked out and finished in 13th place out of 22. All the scores were incredibly close and just a single percentage more would have had me in the top 10 but hey ho, that dressage and whilst I was really upset on Friday I’ve had the weekend to rant and think about it and however much I don’t feel like we deserved our final placing I just need to accept it and move on.

So in light of that, we had a conflab back at the yard and we reviewed the videos and decided that I would try and give it another go.. The only issue being that I don’t have enough qualifying sheets to do another AF. So, what do you do on a wet and crappy Saturday afternoon? You call up your local venue and beg for a spot the next day to do N23 (handily the AF test!). I was so lucky that East Soley could squeeze me in and so off we trucked to see if we could start AF.v2 #JusticeForBuddy ;o)

I like East Soley and it holds good memories for me as it was B’s first ever test as a 4yo and it was where I took him for his re-debut post Rockley. It can be a bit spooky though and we were outside where he has never done a test before so I wasn’t sure what I’d get. I needn’t have worried as he was excellent. His warm up was perfect and he felt totally on side, canter was perfect and there was no hint that he would change. The test itself was good, with moments that were better than Friday (mediums and 15m circles) but the little pickle spooked going into left canter and it took 3 attempts to correct it so we got a 4 for that and then he changed (perfectly) right at the end of his medium canter which gave us another 4! After Friday I wasn’t sure, with the mistakes, that I’d done enough to get a qualifying score but luckily the judge liked the good bits and so we ended up on just over 65% so well within a QS. Phew.

So operation AF.v2 continues this week with an evening outing to Merrist Wood which is a new venue for us so fingers crossed we get the sheets we need before closing date on Friday. No pressure at all!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Charging towards Area Festivals

Firstly I must apologise as I’m slightly behind in my blogging – if you miss me don’t forget that we are on Facebook and I do a much better job of keeping that up to date! It’s been a busy time recently, I went back to work (boo) but have also been focused on training and getting our Area Festival sheets at Novice so I will start with that…

Jane riding - teaching B half pass (not in this pic!)
Sheet collection had started at Checkendon and so I went there for my second outing and entered both the Novice tests hoping I’d hit my qualifying scores. It was very hot and muggy and the horse flies were out in force which Buddy really hates. As a result, it wasn’t the warm up I had planned and I just nursed him through but it was pretty bad and I nearly left before doing my test but thought I’d paid my entry and so might as well give it a go! Both tests were full of tension (Buddy and me) but I was quite pleased with how I’d ridden him as he didn’t feel his normal self and I was proud of him that he kept a lid on it when we went into the tests. We were placed 4th in both with one qualifying score and one just underneath (I went wrong and so was kicking myself as without that we would have done it).

Test practise

I then did a late entry into Fairoak to try and get that final score. I was really pleased with him and it felt like the best test at this level to date as it was more consistent and even though he spooked at the lights on the floor of the school we picked up canter again immediately and I was pleased with the rest of the test. The judge didn’t agree though and all the comments showed that she felt that spook had ‘ruined the picture’ which is so frustrating as I could see in the mirrors that he was working well. I took B home and checked the online results and they showed we’d just missed out… Again. I was so annoyed! I went back for my sheet and saw a fellow Rockley Rehabber who congratulated me on my result.. It turned out I had got the QS completely wrong as so I had qualified! That’ll teach me for not looking at the rules properly! As it was we finished 2nd on our score so the judge obviously wasn’t feeling that generous on the day.

Love this from Zecora Photography
I very often get frustrated with my scores when I’m competing as they range from 5-8 and I’ve not managed to be consistent across the board, I never get the same comment twice and seem to fluff up across the board so it’s not like I only have to work on one thing to increase my scores. The main challenge seems to be that I am just not very good at riding tests and lose my ability to ride so I’ve decided to focus totally on the Area Festivals test which is Novice 23. My training is going to be focused on nailing the movements (and the specific movements at the right place in the school) and so I have enlisted Jane from Springwood Grange who trains me anyway but also Debbie Poynter who is a livery at SG and is a listed judge. We started ‘Mission AF’ on Saturday and I warmed up with Jane and then rode through the test twice. As soon as I was in test mode I went stiff and tense, forgot to keep B together and just rode badly! The first test was representative of what I get when I’ve been out competing.. excellent bits and bad bits which evened out to 62.59% which is ok but not where I want to be. So Debbie and Jane walked me through the bits where I was throwing marks away and gave me some handy hints to help improve things. We rode through it again and even though there were still mistakes I managed to increase my overall score by maximising the good work B does and not panicking when it goes wrong. I was delighted to score 67.4% and even got two 9’s!

More test practise..
As we are competing on Saturday (Novice 23 ;o) ) I had a lesson with Jane last night to practise the bits that need tweaking. The biggest challenge I have is my medium canters as B has such a huge stride I have to be careful to not let him get long and on the forehand because when I ask him to come back to working canter he will break if he’s unbalanced. We ran through the test again and it was much more consistent throughout although he did break early in his canter (coming back from medium – doh) but overall I felt like it was an improvement. Jane totted up the scores and it was 68.3%. Blimey. We then practised the medium a couple of times as I need to make sure I keep him up and together but don’t hang on and kill it and he was ace so I know the feel I need now. I’m actually looking forward to Saturday and putting it all into practise, we have a very tough judge so it will be great practise and as long as I ride well and consistently I will be pleased. Plus we’ve got 4 weeks until AFs so plenty of time to practise!!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Central Dressage Camp

We've just got back from Central Dressage camp which was held at Wellington Riding. It was set to be a busy weekend with plenty of lessons, talks as well as the Gala evening on Saturday night which Buddy and I were featuring as the guinea pig riders. We arrived on Friday evening and, as usual, B wandered straight into his stable and was a total star. He had a very cute mare next door who was flirting outrageously with him and B was very happy to give her snuffles.

Making new friends
We got given our itinerary and we had two sessions with Matt Hicks and one with Charlie Hutton as well as our evening session with Andrew Gould and Spencer Wilton. I took B for a hack around the estate and B was wired! I was hoping that it would chill him out a bit before our lesson but that wasn't quite the case! He was rather forward and a bit tense and so after talking to Matt about what we were doing he got us warming up and focused on the suppleness so there were lots of transitions, 10m circles and on and back within the paces. When B gets tense he completely blocks me through his body and I tend to back off a bit and lose control of the shoulder and quarters. Matt wanted me to focus on shoulder in and leg yield to try and get B to give and he was super on the right rein but the left rein was a bit trickier. It's both of our 'bad' reins and so when things go wrong it's always highlighted there. It didn't feel great but luckily my lovely fellow BUBD Lucy came to video for me and the work looks mainly good despite the tension showing in canter (breaking early and picking up the wrong lead) and shorter choppy strides in the trot. I know I do not help the situation by becoming tense when I can't 'fix' the tension  so I also need to be aware of that and work on chilling out!

Hacking at Wellington
It was then time for a quick rest and then to start getting ready for the gala evening which meant that we needed to plait and look smart! I was starting to feel really nervous as I've never ridden in front of lots of people and I have had huge issues with people watching me in the past so this was a big test. Plus as Buddy wasn't really totally on side I knew it would be a tough evening but was looking forward to having Spencer and Andrew help me find some ways to help in those situations. I was happy that B was very well turned out, we had our new pad from Zecora Photography and I'd been scrubbing my bandages so that they were gleaming too! There were 115 people sitting in the Dukes Hall and the butterflies were in full flight. I wasn't allowed to speak to Andrew or Spencer before the session as the plan was to treat it like a genuine 'first time' coaching session so the first time they knew anything about B was the moment we stepped in front of everyone. We walked in, B saw the huge crowd and just carried on regardless. Love him! We walked around to get him used to the atmosphere and he was tense but still on side and wasn't freaked out completely. We then shared a bit about ourselves and I debated whether to tell them B's story but I decided not to so carried on like normal. A & S asked me to warm up and there was a bit of debate as to whether that was as I would at home or at a competition - S agreed with me that a competition warm up is very different than one at home due to that added pressure. They went on to have a bit of a debate and I felt a bit silly so just kept wandering and then one of the audience had a question and as there were no mics we couldn't be heard so I had no idea what they were talking about.

Looking smart before the demo 
B had started to switch off and was getting a bit more tense and so S got me to work around him on a circle and we did lots of transitions trying to get him to relax a bit which was great. Then we worked on the canter. I told them at the start that B had a big canter which I sometimes find hard to control and it gets long and flat, especially when he's tense. Right canter was good and then we moved to left and B was just not listening to my left leg and was blocking me and striking off on the wrong lead. He was also swinging his quarters and not stepping through correctly which made him look short behind which the audience immediately picked up on. A explained that he was swinging his hind leg rather than placing it straight and in the same line as the foreleg and it was tension not soundness that was the issue. I was finding it really hard to manage him on the left as he completely blocked me and I didn't feel like I was given any new tools to manage the situation. A then wanted to highlight how switched off B is to my leg and got me to leg yield to the right and left and it was clear that B blocked me completely on the left as I couldn't even get him to react. It was embarrassing and I did finish the session feeling pretty rubbish.

During the gala session with Spencer and Andrew 
People were also asking questions during the session which I couldn't hear (which ended up being a good thing) but right at the end someone said that all my problems with suppleness would be sorted with shoeing. A rubbished that statement and so I then ended up saying why he's not shod and what happened. Spencer seemed interested and just as I was leaving he asked if he could have a word with me. I completed my story and then S told me that I should put shoes on B behind to help 'support' him. I asked why he thought that and he said that a shoe (with lateral extension) would increase the surface area and make him use his hindquarters immediately. I asked how he thought a U shaped piece of metal would give a larger surface area than the frog and sole but he missed the point a bit and we started going round in circles! As I was already a bit frustrated and upset the last thing I wanted was a conversation on shoeing and so said I appreciated his opinion but I would not be putting shoes on Buddy. He looked shocked so I jumped off, picked up B's front foot to show exactly why shoes will not work for him and both S & A agreed that it wouldn't be right for him and that he had the freakiest feet they'd ever seen which made me chuckle as I'm pretty confident B's feet wouldn't even grace Nic's top 10 freaky feet chart!!

June 2016 vs August 2015 B is looking hench!!
I left feeling incredibly disappointed and frustrated which was not the end objective I'd hoped for. There were some really mean people in the audience who thought I was too fat for my horse, too unfit and couldn't ride. I was so upset about it at first and nearly put B in the lorry and went home but I guess if you put yourself out there then you have to expect there will be people who have an opinion and that might not be positive. I decided to stick my fingers up at them, I'm definitely not perfect but I'm on a journey and this is all part of the process to getting better and at least I'm trying!!

Sunday dawned and we had an awesome lesson with Charlie Hutton working on our medium trot and controlling the quarters when he goes a bit tense. He gave me lots of things to try to help me in those moments which was a huge boost and I got lots and lots from the session with him. B worked really hard and I was delighted with him at the end. Then our final session was with Matt again. Matt is a really lovely guy and gave me a real boost which made me feel much better again which I really appreciated. We didn't want to work them too hard so we focused on the suppleness again and I noticed that B was working more uphill faster so the weekend definitely helped me with that process. Then we started walk pirouettes which B actually found quite easy! We were only doing very baby steps to start the process as neither horse (or rider) had done them before so that was another great tool to have.

Overall I got a lot out of the weekend, both good and bad! I found the demo to be really hard on me mentally but actually I have realised that I'm far stronger than I was as although it hit me hard to hear the horrible things people said and I had a hard time on the Saturday night by Sunday morning I realised what they said says far more about them than me and there is no point in letting them drag me down. I want to improve and get better and can only do that if I keep pushing myself harder and working on pushing those boundaries.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Zecora Photography doing what they do best!

I was up with the larks to get Buddy in from the field, groomed and plaited ready for our first photoshoot with our awesome new sponsors Zecora Photography. I was nervously excited as the photo's they've taken are all beautiful and I was hoping B and I would live up to the expectations.

I'd spoken to Lisa about something I wanted to do on the shoot and the prospect of that was also making me feel a bit nervous but we decided we would try it at the end.. Just in case anything went wrong! Lisa and Natalie turned up ready for action and B was looking smart so it was just time for me to put on my first outfit and channel my inner Gigi Hadid (where's the crying laughing emjoi when you need it?!). During the shoot there are a few outfit changes so you can alter the look you are going for. I had no idea what to wear so bought a smart casual outfit and my competition gear with a couple of other options in case that wasn't right.

We took a wander around the yard before getting Buddy to find some locations that would work well and there were plenty for us to be getting on with. We grabbed B and started work! I was probably not the best model in the world but Lisa and Natalie were excellent and helped me relax and find some poses that really make the pictures look great. I'd not realised how hard it is to do an equine/owner photoshoot. Not only did they have to synchronise making sure I had my eyes open, wasn't talking (sorry Lisa I wasn't very good at that bit) or pulling an odd face but they also had to capture Buddy with his ears forward and not trying to grab some grass, kill a horsefly.. It was a tough job!

We ended up doing 3 outfit changes with the last one being a rather special one for me. I got married 5 years ago and have always wanted to do a shoot with Buddy in my dress but for whatever reason life got in the way and I just hadn't got round to it. I had no idea how Buddy would react to my dress as it was rather large and rustly but he was a super star. Yes he trod on it and slobbered over it but I am delighted with the results and he was an absolute star when I got on which was the opposite of what I was expecting! 

I am over the moon with the sneaky peak of pictures Lisa has sent through already and they've done a brilliant job of turning us into respectable models which was not easy!! If you're thinking about doing something like this, seize the day and book Zecora Photography. Check out their website - - for more amazing pictures and go and give them a look on Facebook too. I promise, you'll have loads of fun and will have some stunning pictures that you will treasure forever. 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

First step to Area Festivals

Buddy has been working so well recently I needed to get out and test that I could do it outside of my comfort zone and without someone reminding me of what I need to do. So, I put my brave pants on and entered my first Novice BD test. My single objective was to get over 62% which is an area festivals qualifying score.

We had a lesson the day before and we focused on keeping the hindlegs sharp, practised our counter canter and ran through the test. B tried so hard, especially as the conditions were incredibly warm so I was very pleased with him. I felt very confident going in to the competition.

We arrived and it was very, very warm but reasonably quiet which really helped as I could ficus on my warm up. As it was so hot I spent the majority of my time in walk, making sure he was working over the back and that I had control of his shoulders. Lots of 10m circles, walk to halt, on and back in the walk. He was working so sweetly and I had him as much as I do at home. I was looking forward to getting down the centre line which is unheard of!

I know I get tense when going into the arena so I need to do some extra work on this and this time was no exception, although not as bad as it is usually. As a result B got a bit tense and I lost him a bit but managed to get him back before the first centre line. On the whole I was pleased with the test - I was delighted with Buddy but I made a few silly mistakes which cost us marks. I didn't push for the medium work as I was conscious the heat was having an effect and B's response would be to go down and I wanted to keep him up which meant we got 5's across the board and I made some accuracy mistakes in the 15m and 1/2 10m circles. 

Not looking that impressed with his first frilly of 2016 
I was confident it was a 62%+ test and so was delighted when I collected my sheet to see that we had got 1st place and 65%. Those silly mistakes cost us a serious score but as I'm only in Bronze I don't really want 66%+ scores as those are regional qualifying scores and I'm in the wrong section! I'll see what happens over our next few outings but if things go well I may try to aim for winter regionals but who knows.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Huntercombe Camp

I had my annual mega holiday a couple of weeks ago and so am back feeling refreshed and recharged which is good as we have a busy few weeks coming up. We've been cracking on with our training and Buddy has been going really well. Jane at Springwood Grange has been working minor miracles and keeping us on track with our aims of moving up the dressage ranks and I am thoroughly enjoying the whole process. Buddy seems to be thriving on the harder work and it's keeping his brain engaged although he throws in far more tricks and evasions every time to keep me and Jane on our toes! It's definitely not easy but its working wonders for my riding and adding new tools for me to use in the future.

Lovely large stables
Then, this weekend we went off to The Unicorn Equestrian Trust and Lyneham Heath Equestrian for Huntercombe Horses camp. I was so excited to test out whether the focus on our flatwork had helped the jumping as he was so much more polite on the Thursday before we went at Janes. I had booked in for a flatwork lesson with Matt Jenkins on Friday evening to kick start the weekend. I'd not had a session with Matt before and I always find it nervewracking to ride in front of new people but we did not let ourselves down and Matt quickly got the measure of us both and Buddy's sneaky tricks. We focused on activating the hindleg and getting him moving quicker and sharper. To do this we focused on slowing down the trot and really thinking about getting the backend moving through. I had to focus on keeping my reins shorter and more forward to allow B to use his neck and it was actually much easier for me to manage his shoulders as I could correct the neck or use counterflexion much faster to keep him on track. Next we worked on the canter and keeping that truly through, using 10m circles and a bit of on and back. Right canter was great but we had a bit of yee ha into left canter and as soon as he saw the long side (all 66m of it) he wanted to just go so we worked on keeping him back, doing 10m circles to keep the impulsion but also not pushing it as he found the exercise tough.

Stretching our legs
Next Matt used the lunge line behind B to really getting him pushing. I was a bit apprehensive about how he would react but it really worked! The gentle swishing on the floor got him sitting down and up. The trot and leg yield work afterwards was of much better quality. At the end of the session Matt gave us some really lovely feedback, he liked B and thought he had the potential to go far which obviously gave me a huge grin for the rest of the weekend.

Warming up over poles
Saturday was jumping day, we were booked into two sessions and I was nervous but excited. First session was pure SJ and Giles quickly had us jumping scary stuff! We put a new plan into place and so I had to keeping my hands forward and legs supporting but no squeezing, nudging or kicking allowed. The reason being that B will jump but he often is a bit panicky and so we want to change that process for him and by letting him figure it out himself it removes all the panic. For the first time ever we had relaxed jumping that wasn't strong or silly. It was also so much nicer for me to ride, instead of being left behind or in front of the movement we were together all the time. It felt brilliant. This continued into the XC style jumping in the afternoon and we just let B take his time, assess the situation and make the judgement. It's pretty unnerving coming into fences with zero leg but it worked so we went with it!! We had no stops and he ballooned in confidence over the two sessions and I couldn't wait to take him XC the next day.

Popped sweetly first time - I need to trust more!
I knew that the XC would be a big test for us both and probably more me than him. I have to learn to trust the new way of going and accept that he's going to go. We warmed up over a few fences and the new theory was working.. I really should trust Giles a bit more! As the questions got a bit more tricky I had to use a bit more leg but for the first time this just encouraged him forward in a positive way and the relaxation remained throughout. Its a completely new method for me and so I didn't get it right every time but when I did the feeling was amazing, he was taking me forward and felt really happy. He wasn't at all strong or trying to bog off and he was a delight to ride - I had a huge smile on my face whilst jumping. 

This is not going to be an overnight fix and I am planning on spending as long as it takes to get him happy, relaxed and comfortable. He has all the talent but I want him to enjoy the work we do and not stress about it so we have made the decision to hold off eventing for a while as once we've got this bit sorted the only limit will be how brave I am ;o)

This weekend has proved that I have an amazingly talented but rather tricky horse who I just know is going to fulfill my wildest dreams and make me a much better rider. Thank you so much to all the people who are helping make it a reality as I could not do this on my own! 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Welcome to Zecora Photography!

I'm starting the blog with some really exciting news as I have been chosen as a supported rider for Zecora Photography. They are based in Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire (but will cover the UK) and they create the most beautiful pictures that capture the bond between horse and rider. I cannot wait to start working with them and create beautiful memories.

Check out and Facebook
After our last blog I was worried about how Buddy would react to his second flu & tet jab but with the addition of Protexin Gut Balancer I am delighted to report he's been completely fine since. Phew. Since then I've been planning my season.. a bit late but it's got to be done! We have just had a gorgeous new arrival into the BUBDs and have another on the way so we have made a decision to not do Team Quest this year as we really want to stay as a team and we don't want any pressure on any of us to compete. We will be back next season with a bang! As a result I have decided to give My Quest a go as it means I can get practise at Novice (and maybe Elementary) without the points. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get out enough to build up the points to qualify for regionals but I'll give it a shot!

Bit of ride and lead R&R
Over Easter weekend went on a last minute trip to Tweseldown to get our first XC session under our belts and I was delighted with how Buddy performed. Considering our first SJ session was interesting (!) I wasn't entirely confident with how he would react but he surprised me. Giles did a fab job of calming my nerves and helping me just crack on. Buddy was defintely bolder than last season but I still need to commit and ride every single stride. I did come a cropper when G told me to jump a step down with a right angle to a table. The table had a pink sticker on (which signifies a BE100 fence) and that messed with my head a bit - I thought it was 'too big' for my first XC session. G told me to stop being silly but I wasn't commited, had a stop and fell off. Doh. Totally my fault and it gave me a swift kick up the backside to sit up and commit! Other than that he was bolder off drops, over ditches and all the fences I rode properly to so I was really chuffed with our first session. We had planned a couple of days at Huntercombe but Storm Katie and some local cases of stragles stopped all those plans unfortunately. 

Ready for action at Tweseldown
Our next scheduled outing was to The Croft who were running a test riding clinic. After the improvement in my lessons recently we decided that it was time to leave Prelim behind for good and focus on solidfying our Novice work with the view to stepping up to Elementary shortly. I had chosen to ride Novice 28 and was looking forward to getting some feedback from a judge's point of view. I did not have the best start after a work client had a massive issue which led to me being on the phone whilst in the lorry en route, a far shorter warm up and a rather stressed Krista!! B was very good being hauled into and out of the lorry, having his tack thrown on and a rather brief 10 minute warm up.

Rocking matchy matchy
The indoor arena is rather spooky and I always find B to be on the distracted side when there but once we were in the arena and going round the boards he felt fab, forward and off my leg so I was feeling hopeful for my test. Each session was 30mins so I was told to enter when I was ready so after a few transitions we started our centre line. The minute we started he backed off completely and felt tense (I'll take some blame for that too) and so we got hammered for our suppleness (or lack of it) on the serpentines and then our left canter struck off on the wrong leg and I struggled to get the trot back to correct it so threw marks away there too. The 15m loops on both reins broke a stride before the marker but overall it was an OK test considering the circumstances. 

Nice square halt - 8! And looking rather chunky.
The feedback from the judge was that he was lacking suppleness on the left rein in the serpentines and I should have used a bit of leg yield in this to help. She also shared how I was throwing marks away across multiple movements - especially breaking back into trot in the 15m loops as this meant that I messed up the canter move but I was already trotting when I should have been making the transition so lost that mark too. Feedback on the medium trots were good (no medium canter in this test) as I kept them balanced and rythmical which was great to hear although I lost marks towards the end of the movement as he backed off going towards the boards which dropped me from a 7/8 to a 6.5/7. 

I took all of this feedback and started the second test. I knew I did not quite have him supple enough on the left - it is both of our weaker side and I need to make sure I'm relaxed to help Buddy be the best he can but it was much improved from the first test. I was thinking 'more' in the trot and although at times it felt a bit manic the marks improved and looked ok in the footage. Canter is so much better in a test now but we changed twice (grr) so I need to really keep focused on my position as the slightest change leads to quarters swinging, flying changes or breaking and I need to do more work on cantering towards boards as although he is happy to do the loops at home where we have a fence I think I need to practise with boards so I'll be hiring a local school for some practise. 

Test sheet - lots to work on but a good start!
Feedback was much better and there was an improvement in the marks so that proves the point! It was a really useful exercise and I'm on the lookout for more test riding clinics as I really need to improve my test riding and that environment is more like a proper competition so it's much better practise. The best bit was that we didn't disgrace ourselves and I will be heading out with my head held high to get my AF sheets and my first ever BD points! It also means waving goodbye to Prelim. I've got my last entries to get my last sheets and from then on it's Novice and above. Eeek. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

The impact of outside influences

A few weeks ago I noticed a definite shift in Buddy's capability over stones... For the worse. I racked my brain wondering what it could have been that changed as B has been pretty consistent over the last three years and he has had the odd day of increased sensitivity if he's out too long but nothing that stuck around for a while. I started to worry a bit as I couldn't think of anything that had changed... Exercise had remained stable with a gradual increase (and B always gets better with more exercise), diet hadn't changed in the last 12 months, forage remains the same. I was stumped.

Ears pricked while we explore
We'd had some frosty mornings which would have explained an odd day or two but we were approaching week two and whilst he was improving I had no idea where the sensitivity was coming from. I started thinking further back and remember he'd had his vaccination three weeks before but initially dismissed it as he has never reacted before and hadn't been affected by the shedloads of sedation and antibiotics he had in January. I then realised my critical error... I usually give him a fix of Protexin when he's given any form of chemical into his body as a 'just in case' measure but I hadn't this time around.

Springtime photo call
That one small thing had kept me guessing why he had lost capability but has reminded me how important the gut is and how influential it can be over feet. Annoyingly I missed my jab date by 4 days so have had to re-start my course. B is pretty much back to normal now, almost 5 weeks after injection date, but he has his second jab on Weds so I have ordered my Protexin in readiness and will hopefully miss out the horrible side effects this time round.

Friday, 11 March 2016

First comp of the year

In a fit of insanity I entered our first BD of the year and first competition since TQ regionals in October. I've been getting really bogged down with some stuff in my personal life, plus work is incredibly busy and so, whilst on the train en route to a meeting, I decided the best thing to do would be to just get out there and do it. Totally insane. Plus I added the extra difficulty of entering the novice.. just for a laugh. Ha de ha ha.

Looking handsome in the sunshine
My preparation was thorough... I had one lesson and hardly rode the week prior but B was feeling very well and jolly and, as we hadn't been out since October I had no expectations. I'd entered the new 'bronze' section as I only wanted a qualifying sheet for Area Festivals and wasn't expecting a 66%+ score on our first run. In the days leading up to the show (and I hadn't managed to ride) I decided to withdraw from the Novice as I just didn't need the pressure so I planned to hack there and have nice relaxing warm up for the prelim.

Enjoying his tea with The Herbal Horse keeping him looking fab
I had a lovely time so plaited and cleaned tack in the morning before. It did take me almost an hour to plait though as I was trying to make them neat whilst being ever so aware that I was hideously out of practice... I seem to nail my routine around late August / September just in time for the end of the season! I was feeling very relaxed, hopped on board and off we went with my hi viz donned. For some reason B was on high alert as soon as we got on the road. This was helped (!) by the cars squeezing past us with centimetres to spare at around 50MPH. So we arrived at the venue after our tense journey with me wishing I'd just gone in the bloody lorry!

Comparison Winter '15 vs Winter'16 - delighted with how he's looking
Our warm up followed the same theme... Loss of ability to bend anywhere in his body but his neck became a plank of wood which made his trot attractively choppy and short. I spent my entire 15 minutes on a circle trying to get him to soften and he was much better by the time we were ready to go but when the steward says to you "never mind, sometimes you just have to write days off" it's never a good sign!!

A good bit!
We got in to the arena and Buddy was much more relaxed once he was on his own. We had a good trot around and I had him going much better so as the bell rang I was feeling happier. Then a car came into the car park spitting up gravel which sent him into high alert/tense donkey mode just a few strides before my turn down the centre line and I didn't have that much time left to start so I stopped, patted him and we continued. The centre line wasn't great due to this but there wasn't much else I could do so it was a bit of damage control.

Overall I was pleased with how I got him back and what we achieved despite him being not entirely on side. It was nowhere near where he has been working at home but for a first competition back I was pleased. The video doesn't look as bad as it felt but the judges comments align and there are glimpses of the standard I would have expected. We ended up with just shy of 65% which I am delighted with. I would have been annoyed if we'd got over 66% as I'd not entered a regionals qualifying section but I got my first AF sheet which was the objective so onwards and upwards.

My plan is to focus on my dressage until June purely as work is so busy and, right now, my head is not in the right place to think about eventing. That may change but for now I'm keeping the pressure off and will focus on getting my sheets for AFs, team quest, going to camp and training.