Thursday 2 February 2017

Four years on...

At this time of year, I get a lot of reminders on Facebook from Buddy’s time at Rockley and I realised that I’ve not really done a ‘feet’ update for a while. We are entering our fifth year of rehab and as time goes on I have never lost the appreciation or amazement of just how dynamic a hoof can be and how they change and adapt according to very small changes in management, environment or situation.
Nov 2012 - Buddy's first shot from Rockley, he pulled his shoes off a week prior
You would never look at Buddy’s feet and think they were capable of handling the majority of terrains and the level of work he is capable of. His feet have always been flat and I think they will always be, his frogs aren’t huge and beefy and plenty of people have had their opinions on how his feet have looked over the years! However, his function has always been good and he has always been heel first. His first hoof capsule still showed signs of the damage that had been done and he was sensitive to stones on a hard surface and even now he can have a stumbly step if he steps on a sharp stone on the road. It definitely bothered me at first as I felt that he should be perfect over all terrain and it didn’t help that I had people telling me how cruel I was being but now I have very little problem with an odd step as I see it as protection and it happens so rarely.

Buddy grows a new hoof capsule every 7-9 months and so what I’m seeing today is his 5th hoof capsule since returning from Rockley. I started to notice a change in his feet and their shape last year at the start of his fifth capsule, they were starting to become more upright and shorter than ever before. He has grown proper bars which used to only appear when he was jumping on grass regularly. Initially I thought this was only due to his work changing – we weren’t jumping and Buddy was focused on dressage so we were working more on getting him to sit and collect – but now I think it’s a combination of this and the fact that the damage has finally grown out, plus he is working harder than ever.

January 2017 - excuse the tatty frog!
He is in medium-hard work and he is probably fitter than when he was eventing. He is schooled three times a week for 45-60 minutes and is training at medium level. He does fast work once a week (gallops or hill canters) and jumps every other week for around 40 minutes at 80-100cm. In the winter he hacks 10-20 miles plus he goes on the horsewalker (concrete surface) for 30-60 minutes 3 times a week (more if he's not turned out). Feeding wise not much has changed, although I did drop Copra last summer after he went through a fussy period and I haven’t needed to add it back in. He’s on alfa pellets (1kg), oats (500g), unmollased sugarbeet (2kg soaked) and omega rice (200-400g depending on workload and time of year). Supplement wise he’s on equivitA-Ultra, magnesium and salt.

He is self trimming and only gets a rasp around the edges to keep them looking neat and stop sharp bits. He has a fraction more wall on the inside near the heel (near my hand in the picture) and he needs this to stay sound and functioning, it has always been there and I've never been inclined to remove it as it stays at the same level and rarely changes so he must need it. He is prone to thrush but spraying Forever Living Veterinary Spray a couple of times a week really helps keep on top of it and I have found it much better than sole cleanse from red horse. His feet are cared for by Steven Leigh from Natures Way Natural Hoofcare and he comes down to see us every 6 months.

I am so pleased I listened to my gut instinct even though many people doubted what was possible as it has led me on such a journey on which I have learnt so much and met some really amazing people who I am blessed to have in my life. It's very rare in life that we can look back and say, without question, that we wouldn't change a thing but I can honestly say that I wouldn't. 

Monday 30 January 2017

No January blues here!

The year started off in an amazing fashion as I was picked as the winner of the Celeris UK 2016 competition! I have loved my new boots since I got them in August (so much that I ordered my next pair when I collected them!) and am a huge fan of the work they are doing so to win was just amazing. I popped into their studio a couple of weeks ago to collect part of my prize and ordered my new boots (Bia in black cherry) and Scharf helmet.

Valegro eat your heart out!
Since we moved to Springwood Grange I’ve been so focused on improving that fun has often taken a back seat so I decided to kick off January with a trip to the gallops. Buddy loved it and my tracker hit 38MPH although it had a rethink afterwards and settled at 34MPH but seeing as a racehorse hits 35MPH I’m pretty impressed with my warmblood speedster!! I find that having a good hooly every couple of weeks really helps him stretch and release over the back and he did some mega work after this so it’s a good thing to keep doing.

After having a test riding clinic last year I got back in touch with Jo Cooper who I worked with about 10 years ago after an accident with an old horse. She was amazing and the effects are still active today and I wondered if she would be able to help me get over my test riding challenges. I couldn’t really describe why I was having issues as I’m not nervous but my brain seems to focus purely on the test movement rather than me riding the horse through those movements – if that makes any sense whatsoever?! Anyway, I had a chat with Jo and booked in a session. I hadn’t managed to ‘test’ it so our competitive debut was focused on that! I’d picked two tests I like and have ridden a lot (N23 and N38). B was sharp as a tack in the warm up but was rideable and as I looked in the mirrors I was feeling good and totally ready. First test was N23, I was smiling and B felt good. We entered and did a centre line worth an 8 and the next movements were either 7’s or 7.5’s and then we hit right canter. I always feel confident about this as his canter is amazing but when we shot off with a leap (B can’t buck – thank god) I was trying to regain poise for our give and retake on a 20m circle when B decided he’d been good enough, did his weird headshaking thing and jumped out the arena (which is no mean feat as the kickboards are 2’ high and there is a huge bush). I got him back together, picked up canter and the little bugger did it again. I continued and finished the test but unfortunately I was eliminated for exiting the area.

Posing in the sunshine
The judge was lovely and said what a shame it was as it was a lovely test and we’d come on so much since she saw us last time. It would have been a mega score so was pretty gutting but I was totally focused on the fact that I’s actually ridden and the test felt beautiful up to that point so.. weirdly… I was pleased! I’d debated about whether to do N38 but thought it was worth a go. I tentatively cantered in the warm up to see if he’d headshake and bugger off but I was pleased he held it together. He was much tenser and I couldn’t soften him enough but we did a safe test and I was pleased. A bit disappointed in the score (61%) but I agree with the comments and we got hammered for his tension which is fair enough.

Baby half pass
Eliminationgate then led to me doing some more research on what could cause B’s symptoms. He isn’t a ‘headshaker’ but the contact goes light then he will shake his head horizontally (quite violently), his tongue sticks out and his neck twists round to the left. Occasionally his left eye blinks rapidly. He’s done it to varying degrees since a 4-year-old (and we missed out on our best TQ score in 2015 as he did the same in a test) but it has got more frequent over the last year. He has had everything checked and the vets said it was definitely not ‘headshaking’ and thought it could be an eye allergy last year but eye drops (and a face mask & nose net 24/7) made no difference. He does it in every saddle, bridle, saddlepad combination – only ridden and after 15-30 minutes of work, weather conditions are irrelevant. It’s not consistent at all. So I thought that maybe it could be his bit – he doesn’t do it in his jumping bit which is a ported myler – and he ticked all the sensitive tongue boxes so I ordered a bombers happy tongue to trial. Unfortunately, it made no difference and he felt horrible and heavy in it so I abandoned that trial! Jane has seen him do it and he’s done it with her too and she thinks it’s an evasion as I always back off when he does it. He is moving the best he ever has, looks amazing and feels amazing so I was erring on the side of evasion but the last thing I would want to do is push him through something when he’s not right so I called my vet for a quick chat and he thought it was likely to be the case to so gave me that all clear to crack on. He’s been loads better since and we’ve only had one instance in the last two weeks. As he loves the myler I’ve ordered a similar one to try although it has a smaller port and no hooks (as that’s not BD legal) so maybe he’ll be more comfortable in that? Who knows! If anyone has any random ideas as what else it could be please drop me a message!

Jumping fun
Bar this he has been incredible on the flat. Since Jane has been riding him she’s picked up on a few things that could potentially give us challenges as we go up the grades and so we’ve been working hard on correcting them. It has been so useful for both of us as I’ve never ridden above Novice so to have this kind of insight has been invaluable. I’m much more aware of everything I’m doing and what B’s body is doing and now it’s all about the advanced work and building the right foundations to get us there. Now we have full control of his shoulder and B understands what different leg positions are asking for it has been easier for Jane to cement the half pass. So last week whilst the school was semi frozen we decided that a walk session would be a good time to focus on the next steps. My face must have been hilarious as B nailed walk pirouettes both ways and half pass. Both test worthy and looked amazing! I was so proud of both of them. The progress we have made in the last few months has been incredible and totally down to Jane helping B understand what he needs to do and then helping me develop and improve.

To round off the month I’d booked an hour at April Farm as they have a great selection of jumps. I have a crazy idea of doing some combined training so thought I should test my new found control and jump somewhere away from home and also over some fillers. He was very buzzy and spooked violently at an Eeyore filler so I did wonder how sensible he’d be and whether I’d bother with any of the bright fillers that April Farm have on offer! I set up some tiddly fences so we could pop over the fillers (from a standstill if necessary) and we did have a couple of slammed on brakes moments. But then I gave myself a kick up the backside and realised that I needed B up and together all the time. The moment I let him get a fraction longer or downhill he has an excuse and it’s easier for him to stop. I can’t emphasise how small this difference is – you probably wouldn’t even notice a change if you were watching and weren’t looking for it – but he doesn’t give you an inch so I have to be totally focused and on him all the time. I feel like I’m sawing my hands but actually on the video its hardly visible so I’ll stop beating myself up but I think I’m chasing him in the last couple of strides so need to go back to legs off for a bit I think. As a result of the session I have booked in to do the combined training – it could be a disaster but I reckon it’ll be loads of fun regardless!!

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.