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 - http://www.zecoraphotography.co.uk - 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!