Sunday, 29 June 2014

Turning dreams into reality

Part of me still can't quite believe I am writing this update... Yesterday Buddy and I completed our first event. It has been a long journey to get to this point and I have definitely taken it slower than I needed to (in terms of soundness) and, if I'm totally honest, part of me never expected to get here. To complete an event has been the holy grail of returning to work and of working hard on his feet and we've just done it. It feels incredibly surreal and it wasn't until I got Buddy home last night that it all sunk in. I expected to be in floods of tears through the finish line but I wasn't, I had that amazing feeling of elation and I think it was because I expected to finish.. it wasn't a fluke as we had trained hard to make sure we were ready and although the conditions and everything was far from perfect on the day we had done enough to ensure we were confident and good to go. I am blessed to have such an amazing support network around me but huge thanks obviously go to Nic and Rockley Farm for making my dream a reality.

We'd had a good week prior to the event and I'd gone XC schooling with Warren at Mattingley which was really great. We came home full of confidence and I felt completely prepared for the task at hand. I was very lucky with my times but still had an early start as I wanted to make sure I had breakfast and some chill time before I got to the yard. The weather forecast was not great and heavy rain and thunderstorms were predicted in between 10am and 3pm - pretty much exactly when I'd be riding. Great. I'd walked the SJ and XC the night before and was confident it was do-able without too many issues so just needed to get through the dressage and see if we were up to being eventers!

I know it's blurry but I just wanted to show how confident B was with the going

It started to rain pretty much as soon as we got there. I ran over to get my number and check in then it was back to the box to get B ready in between showers. I'm not entirely sure why I bothered as the heavens opened pretty much as I got into the warm up! He felt bright but attentive and I was pleased with how our warm up was going although it was hard to not be distracted by the other horses slipping and sliding all over the place as the rain continued. Buddy was coping so I ensured that I kept him as together and balanced as I could and it was soon into the ring. According to the other competitors, our ring was incredibly slippery but I have to say I didn't think so (or Buddy didn't) and as you can see from the video he wasn't finding it an issue at all! I got back to the lorry and watched the test and I was pretty happy with it - there were moments I would have given a 5 to but also moments worth an 8. I was confident it would be a sub 50 score ;o)

Then it was back to the lorry to try and dry off a bit and onto show jumping. It had been raining quite hard, thunder was rumbling and the going was the worst I could have wanted - rock hard underneath but soft on top which equals a recipe for slipping. I decided I would see how he felt and go from there. One of my lovely fellow Rockley friends came to help and she kindly went to see what our dressage score was. We had done OK she said... 33 and currently around 5th place. Blimey... A double clear and we'd be in the placings for sure! I tried not to be too competitive as that was not what the day was about.. so onto the warm up!

The ring was disgusting, slippery and with a whole load of people who need to learn warm up etiquette which made it quite stressful. Buds wasn't too keen on the ground and the take offs were getting pretty churned up so I kept my warm up to a minimum and just popped each fence a couple of times. In the meantime it appeared everyone was getting eliminated, multiple faults and time faults a plenty. I couldn't understand why but I do think the ground played a huge part. It was our turn in and my plan was to go with the flow but to trot round the corners and into the spooky fences. I had Warren's advise ringing in my ears and tried my best. I did make two mistakes getting in front of the movement and Buddy quite rightly told me to bugger off as he wasn't sure and I just made his life harder so it was easier for him to say no. So two refusals and a whole load of time faults... BUT we didn't get eliminated!

Before the heavens opened!
As there had been lots of eliminations we got ready immediately for XC and went across. By the time I'd warmed up and was ready to go the heavens opened and the rain wasn't messing around. Within a minute I was soaked through to my knickers! I have to say they were the worst conditions I have ever ridden XC in. I could barely hold my rains (thank god Buddy isn't strong) and could hardly see at points. We had a refusal at the first as I wasn't concentrating and expected him to just pop it (won't make that mistake again) and then later on in the course, 4th from home (#13) which I had expected him to look at but he was totally distracted and not paying attention to where he was going. On paper it was the worst day ever - final results aren't up yet but I would assume we had the furthest fall from the placings ;o) - but I completed each of my objectives and that is the main thing.

Best bit was that Buddy bounced out of his stable this morning and we went for a gentle leg stretch. He is totally sound and was striding out obviously very pleased with himself! We have a lesson with Warren on Tuesaday and I'm going to try and get a late entry into an eventers challenge for next weekend in preperation for our next event on 13th July.

Monday, 23 June 2014

What a week - Finished with a show!

Buddy was not exactly enthused to see the lorry pull up on the yard this morning as I was interrupting his snooze time! I quickly plaited him up and we were soon loaded and on our way. It was a relatively local show but was held at our county show ground and I hadn't quite realised how popular it would be as I saw more and more horseboxes and trailers going the same route as us - eeek! 

I entered the dressage and 2'6" jumping as it was all going to be on grass and I wanted to practise in a competition environment prior to our first event. I was warned that the warm ups and rings were slippery and so I made sure I kept Buddy up together in his canter and well balanced whilst warming up. We did our test and whilst it wasn't amazing (that sodding right canter got me again) I was pleased with him and his left canter was uphill, rhythmical and spot on . The score definitely did not reflect that but that's dressage so onwards and upwards!

I was then told that there weren't many left in the jumping and I'd not seen anyone go clear whilst warming up and there were shod (and studded) horses slipping all over the place so I wondered how educational it would be. After chatting to the ring steward I decided to give it a go so went and swopped tack and came back. I'd hoped to watch a couple go and learn the course (typical eventer) but there were only two more of us left to jump so I ambushed a kind young lady who taught me the course and then went and warmed up. The joys of being on your own are that you have to jump what's in the warm up and my choices today were a 2' cross pole and a 3' oxer... hmmm. I cantered over the cross and then jumped the oxer a couple of times - we then knocked it down and there was no one there to put it back so I went into the ring!! 
Ignore me hauling right to get to the next fence!!
The course was not easy for a first time (there had been 6 clears all morning), with a tricky turn on a right angle from 5 to 6 and the same in the jump off section. My plan was to get round and as we came into the ring Buddy went really green on me and backed off. I remembered my session with Warren and did my best to ride positively and keep my shoulders behind my hips. We trotted into the first as I could feel him going boogly eyed and then cantered when appropriate. The going was slippery so I was careful on my turns and I trotted between 5 and 6 but we were clear! Unfortunately due to all my trotting and setting him up we were the slowest in the jump off so came 7th and they only placed to 6th. I was a bit gutted but today wasn't about that and I was just really glad to get round together and it was a super warm up for our first event which is next weekend.

We have a much quieter week this week - I will be practising my dressage test to try and do better than this weekend - we are off to Mattingly with Warren on Wednesday for a final XC school and then it is the biggest day of the year. Wish us luck!!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

What a week - XC schooling

The horrible events at the weekend really bring home how dangerous our sport is and prove that you can be at the top of your game or jumping relatively inconspicuous fences and the worst can still happen. Thoughts with all their families and connections at a time like this. 

However, life can end in the blink of an eye and my theory is that I can do everything in my power to ensure me and my horse are as safe as possible but for me these events have just proved that we should live every single day to the full and enjoy every second we have. I am on such a high after all my time with Buddy this week, I am so proud of the horse he is, the horse he is becoming and our future together and I appreciate every single second.

We started our XC adventures back at Wheatlands Farm at an XC clinic with Ginny Howe. I had taken a place on this at the last minute as I had been indecisive about which class to enter at Buddy's first  ODE and couldn't decide between the 70/80 class so wanted another opportunity to go round so I could make my mind up. The M4 was horrendous so I arrived just as the clinic was scheduled to start but luckily the other people in my group were also late so I had time to get ready!! Our group was a couple of more established ponies competing at 100 level so I was a bit concerned my baby would hold us back but I needn't have worried. Ginny started by asking about our history and she had heard of Rockley and was interested in how we had used the rehab to bring him back into work. We started off warming up in walk, trot and canter - ensuring that the horse was off the leg and thinking forwards - and lots of forwards and back in canter. Then we warmed up over a roll top - we went straight in at 80 and stayed between 80-90 the whole session -  and I concentrated on keeping my shoulders back and thinking forwards. 

Buddy started off a little bit green, especially over a line of skinny doubles, but as the session went on he was really starting to get it and was taking me into fences he hadn't seen before full of confidence and started showing the type of horse he is going to be. As long as I rode positively and kept my shoulders back with a supporting leg then we were flying.  Ginny thought he was fab and that my ambition of getting to Badminton Grassroots (or Novice) wasn't entirely unrealistic and actually pretty achievable. She also told me I should enter the 80/90 class so I have amended my entry and gone for the 80 - eeeek!

Then onto Saturday - I had arranged with a fellow Rockley Rehab to pop across to Boomerang. We had a fab time and Buddy was feeling more and more confident and happy to tackle the fences. This could also be because I am also feeling more confident ;o) We popped up and down some steps, managed to canter through the water and popped his first trakener. I was really chuffed with him and he gave me a sneaky peak on the horse he is growing in to. I am excited!!

I will update the blog as soon as I have the video from Wheatlands and I'm just editing my headcam footage from Boomerang so it will be on here ASAP.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

What a Week - Part Two!

We trundled off this evening for our dressage lesson with Sara-Jane Lanning. I have a couple of Rockley friends who have had sessions with her and she comes incredibly highly recommended so I was both excited and a bit nervous! My dressage background is rubbish - it has always been the bit I had to get through to get to the fun stuff - and I have never competed above Novice level so I am a million miles away from being a dressage diva. However, I have started to enjoy it more since having Buddy (I do think winning frillies helps - I know how bad that sounds) and he definitely has the ability to go way beyond Novice level and I would like to teach him to do some of the more advanced movements down the line. I also have another motive - if I want to get to Badminton then my dressage has to be in the low 20's - if it's not I've got no hope of being competitive so this is the first step to improving our marks.

I filled SJL in on our background and we had a walk and a trot around but as soon as I went on the left rein I thought 'he just doesn't feel right'.. not lame but not right. I stopped and said to SJL that I thought I'd have to stop as he didn't feel 100%. She said she'd seen it and he wasn't lame but he was stiff through his body so she asked me to take up more inside bend and move him out on the circle. It made a huge difference and he felt a million times better. She then said I had 'lazy legs' and was stifling Buddy's movement as my seat was driving him all the time and making his back dip away. Naughty Mummy. So I sat still and asked with my legs only which made an immediate improvement and meant he had a huge over track in walk. I then had to keep the same thing in trot and the hardest bit was maintaining the correct bends and riding each rein differently. SJL said his 'normal' trot would earn him a 7 (which he does tend to get) but the improved trot would be more 8/9 so I will be aiming for that on Sunday ;o)

Then onto canter. SJL really liked his movement but I must remember to keep him straight on the right rein and keep some inside bend and a supportive outside leg on the left rein. Once I got this there was a huge improvement and he felt lovely. We also worked on our downwards transitions, I find these really hard and haven't been able to improve them on my own but SJL said my problem is that B is too obedient so I don't have time to ride into the transition. She showed me what she meant and then B and I had a go - when I got it right it felt brilliant so lots of practise required!

SJL gave me some lovely feedback, she says I have good feel and Buddy is a lovely genuine horse and he has got really good movement. She did make me laugh though as she said the first thing she though when she say Buddy was 'gosh - he's got big ears'!!! I did say his nickname is 'donkey' for that very reason. She made such a huge improvement in us from very small changes (and it works really nicely with the way Warren teaches too which is very important) so we will definitely be going back again soon for another session.

Sorry for no pictures but there will be video tomorrow as I'm having my lesson recorded. I am really looking forward to it!!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

What a week - Part One

After our brilliant session with Warren last week I wanted to set up another one pretty quickly. The opportunity came yesterday and so I leapt (no pun intended!) at the chance to go to his yard. I was hugely excited as I got so much from the clinic last week and could tell very quickly that Warren has a great eye for identifying exactly what you are riding and I am very much in need of some fine tuning.

Warren very quickly identified an essential flaw in our plan - Buddy is behind the leg and I sit too correctly (never been told that before!) and as a result as soon as Buddy drops behind the leg, I immediately ask him to move forward - if he doesn't respond then I use my heel which drops my shoulder and makes me tip forward which immediately makes my position ineffective and I've got no hope. It also means that it is difficult for Buddy to engage behind and really use his back end, especially when jumping and my weight is forward and on his shoulder. 

We spent some time working on getting me sat with my shoulders slightly behind my hips and ensuring that each time I asked for forward with my calf I got it. If I didn't then I had to immediately give a kick by the girth and get a forward response - ideally in the gait higher than the one I'd asked for. It was alien to both of us but Buddy quickly got what we were looking for, even though it was quite hard work!

Warren jumping Buddy
I struggled far more with the exercise - Warren likened it to trying to rub your head and pat your tummy whilst also trying to ride! I will need to work hard to make this a subconscious change and it is a fine line between encouraging forward motion and becoming defensive so once this does become subconscious I will still need to pull back and focus on it occasionally to ensure it is correct.

We jumped some fences, making sure I kept my shoulders back coming in to the fence and that I left Buddy alone in the last few strides (I have a habit of chasing and kicking on take off). I wasn't quite getting it right so Warren asked me to walk until 2 strides before the fence and then trot which equaled a much better jump! I then had the feeling I needed and we made a bit of a course - there was the odd sticky jump when I didn't get it right but when I concentrated it made a massive difference to the jump. 

Pingy Pony
Warren then asked if he could have a sit on Buddy to make sure he felt the way he looked. He spent some time making him forward - working on walk to canter to make him sit. He said that Buddy wasn't loading his shoulders evenly which was stopping him from taking a contact on the outside and that, on the right rein, he hangs on that inside rein. I'd felt this for a while but wondered if it was just me as I am wonky and the issue goes when I've done lots of small circles (and of course he is then loading his shoulders evenly and sitting more...!) and worked on that engagement. But Warren continued to ask the questions and Buddy kept finding more evasions (the sign of a good horse according to Warren!!). Eventually (after a few circles) Warren was happier and he popped him over a couple of fences and I managed to get some pics. He thought he was a good horse and with a bit of work we can do everything I want to which was great to hear.

We have another session booked (xc this time) on 25th June so I have just over a week to practise everything and hopefully Warren will see an improvement. In the meantime we have a busy week ahead - lesson with Sara-Jane Lanning on Tuesday, XC clinic with Ginny Howe on Wednesday and then we're off XC schooling with a fellow Rockley Rehab - so be prepared for a whole host of blogs this week - I'm hoping to have at least two more for you (depending on photographers available).

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Wicked lesson with Warren Lamperd

We had a bit of a disasterous weekend last weekend - we had a lesson with Sara-Jane Lanning planned and our first ODE - arena eventing style. Unfortunately I had to do a last minute dash to the hospital with a relative (who is totally fine now) so that scuppered all my plans. SJL was so very understanding and I'm looking forward to my lesson with her on 17th.

This week was manic with work so poor Buddy had to cope (!) with just some hacking and got away without schooling once, lucky thing. We had a clinic booked in on Saturday with Warren Lamperd and I was really looking forward to it... Until I saw the weather forecast. Thunder, lightning and tornadoes were forecast for Saturday and I would not have taken Buddy to a new place in those kind of conditions, he's worth far too much to me. I needn't have worried as although we had horrific thunderstorms in the morning, by the time the afternoon came round it was beautifully sunny.

I've never had a lesson with Warren before but had heard good things from friends, plus he's a UKCC L3 coach in both show jumping and eventing so I hoped I wouldn't look like a total numpty and let Buddy down. The group was a nice size, there were 4 of us, all of pretty similar attitudes and although Buddy was one of the greener horses there we held our own in good company.

Time for a canter Mum?
To start I introduced myself and Le Donks and we went through a potted riding history. I told him all about Buddy's injury and said how he was barefoot now. I am always wary of telling professionals this purely as there is a lot of stigma around being barefoot but Buddy is sound and this method has worked for him so I will continue to share it! Warren, luckily, was very interested and had a look at Buddy's feet and we chatted through what he thought they should look like (shorter in the toe) and I explained why they look like they do and even though they don't look like they should work they do. We chatted through supplements and then he said that I was definitely doing the right thing for my horse. Wow. I was so relieved that we were not only accepted but also approved of.

The session went really well, we started off by jumping a cross pole twice and then we were brought into the middle to analyse how our horses went and then changes we should make to improve. Our issues were straightness (Buddy) and riding too much (me). So next time round we worked on it and slowly got better. The lesson continued in this way and I LOVED Warren's approach, it made you think about key elements that you could improve on easily and those small changes made a massive difference in all the horses and riders.

Stopping for a drink in the river
One exercise Warren used with all the horses was to bring them back to trot around 5/6 strides out from the fence and then pick up canter again. It worked like an exaggerated half halt and got all the horses cantering better and powering from their hocks. The first time he used it on Buddy and I we were coming round a corner into an oxer which was around 100 and it was wide. We got a good take off spot and I was pleased with the jump but as soon as we landed Warren told me to give Buddy a pat and come back to walk. I panicked, wondering what I'd done wrong - was he lame?! Warren then asked me how the jump had felt to me - I said it felt like nothing special, we got a good spot but he could have come 'up' more. "Interesting" said Warren, "Where do you think he jumped it?" he gestured at the wings and I said maybe he'd jumped 6" higher than the back pole. Nope - Warren then gestured pretty much at the top of the wings, which were 1.60m give or take, and he said "here". What?! It felt like nothing... Honestly, nothing special at all.. I didn't have a prolonged moment of suspension or anything. Warren then told me that's what it feels like on a special horse. Big grins all round.

We finished off by adding a triple into the course, it was a straight with one stride to a parallel with three strides to a cross. The key was to get the take off right at the first element to allow them to meet the parallel easily. All the riders messed it up first time and backed off the first - Buddy ballooned the parallel and we ran out at the cross as I had slipped my reins to allow him to stretch. Once I sorted the take off point we jumped through beautifully.

My prized possession arrived this weekend - signed by the man himself!
I was gutted I didn't have a photographer there as I was really pleased with the way he went. Warren was a brilliant trainer and I will be going back to him for lessons as he made me think about my riding in a more positive way and the small changes made a huge difference to Buddy's form.

I am planning on going XC schooling again next weekend, then we have a local RC show where I can do some dressage and SJ on grass and then we have our first event booked in for the end of the month! Am ridiculously excited about getting out there again.