I think it’s every dressage rider’s dream to have a beautifully designed saddle, that correctly supports the rider while also providing optimum comfort for the horse also.
There are literally hundreds of dressage saddles on the market - made to measure, custom design, brand new off the shelf, second hands. And while this makes it fantastic for having a wide variety to test & try, it also makes it a nightmare to whittle down and figure out which one is best for you, which is best for the horse and which you can afford! Recently, while at Bramham horse trials, I met up with an old friend who is also a grassroots competitive amateur, having a go at a bit of eventing and dressage. She had recently purchase a Voltaire Design saddle for her previous horse post-kissing spine surgery. Unfortunately she has now lost the horse, but when I asked her about the saddle, the information that poured from her was very innovative. Coincidentally, Voltaire had a stand at Bramham, so I headed over, with my friend, to find out more.
I was interested in how the saddle was made, as Louie is very sensitive, and has a HUGE set of shoulders. There I met Laura & Bonnie, two of the fitting specialists. They took time out to explain the wider than average gullet to avoid sitting on the nerve and bone structure running along the back, as well as a fairly revolutionary way of building the panels underneath.
How are Voltaire Design saddles made and fit to you horse?The saddle come in just two sizes, and each one is built up to fit your horse with a 3-layered foam system. I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s a little like a tough memory foam - when you push your thumb into it, it moulds around it, but springs back to shape when you release it.
The panels underneath a saddle are typically built in two sections - front to mid seat & mid seat to back. Voltaire break that down into four, meaning it’s much more adjustable and customisable for the fit of your horse & you. There is the panel above the knee roll, another under the skirt, another across the seat and the forth supports the back.
For anyone dubious about foam panels and their longevity, on a saddle used on one horse for about 45mins 5-6 times a week, they will probably last 7-10 years. A complete new set of foam panelling is £400 so very much in line with the combined cost of flocking top up throughout the same period. I write this sitting with my previous horse’s dressage saddle sat with a permanent listing on every sale site going. It looks brand new, not a mark on it, and I’ll probably be losing £500-600 on it after just a handful of times. It was last used five years ago...
This situation doesn’t really exist with Voltaire. If it was a Voltaire saddle, I’d be able to send it away and have a full panel refit to enable it to fit Louie and best of all, I’d have been able to ride in a dressage saddle for the last four years!
So long as your change of horse doesn’t go from something very narrow to very wide, or vice versa, the panelling can be redone.
PricingWhile chatting to Laura & Bonnie, I asked the dreaded question of price...I’d already seen something of the saddles and knew they were at the upper end of the market. So while I sat there in a dressage saddle on their show stand horse, I nearly lost my breath when I heard that the buffalo leather saddle was £4,700...
BUT PLEASE READ ON!
All of the fitting after care is completely free! So if like me, you like to have a fitter look at your saddle every 6 months, at and average cost of £80 (before any flocking work), you’ll be getting that for free. However, in reality, I probably look at Louie about four times a year thinking he’s changed shape and I need it looking at (that’s usually what triggers my call for the next booking!).
Now, let’s look at a quarterly saddle check at key points of the year. February when they are at their slimmest, May when the spring grass makes them a bit tubby, August when they should be quite fit after a summer of competition & enjoying cantering in fields, and finally November as they come into the winter and you anticipate a shape change.
Each one of those is £80. So in one year that’s £320. Louie’s 8, so let’s say we hopefully have a good 5 years, at least, ahead of us. So £320 x 5 years = £1,600
If you multiply it up to the estimate life of the foam panels, that turns into £2,240.
Take that cost off the price of the saddle I was sat in, suddenly the cost is between £2,460-3,100, which lands it smack in the middle of your standard brand new saddles. Voltaire did NOT point this out to me - I came to this conclusion for myself when I was at home that night weighing up whether to take the plunge or not.
It made a lot of sense to me as over the last year, Louie had one saddle fitting. He went off the boil in February and it took me until May to figure out it was the saddle. Why did I leave it so long? Because there was always something else that demanded my £80... A winter vets MOT, a physio session, a new rug, stabling for overnight shows, dentist checks, bitting consultation... We all know this, there’s always something else to pay for.
Well not anymore as it’s FOC with Voltaire.
Conformation fitting for you Voltaire saddleAfter paying a FULLY REFUNDABLE deposit at Bramham (I literally bought nothing else there...maybe a few small bits!), I arranged a conformation fitting consultation with Bonnie, my area’s specialist, for two weeks later & that was only because I was away with work.
Saturday afternoon I was so excited for Bonnie. Louie was bathed, mane pulled, tail tidied and made to look as smart as a dart. I was pretty impressed with Andrew & mine’s efforts!
Louie is a wide in Voltaire, Bonnie instantly saw that. I chatted about how sensitive he is if anything becomes too tight on his shoulders, and that anything that swings around on his back will create a nice neat buck. She worked away putting a demo saddle on and popped underneath the second panel a 10mm extra foam panel. She also took into account that as he hadn’t been in full work due to having no saddle, that he was a little tubbier than he would be normally!
Then the time came to ride in it. I literally couldn’t wait!! I put my stirrups right down and hopped onboard & realised I needed more length! It felt so strange riding this long, but the position it helped to put me in felt fantastic and it was clearly helping me to be more influential with Louie as we instantly sharpened up our walk to canter transitions!
In the canter, I felt like my leg was pushing forward and pushing me back in the seat, so we dropped my stirrups another hole which made a massive difference for the better. I was a bit unbalanced in trot just from not being used to riding like that but once my saddle arrives & I can get going, I’ll soon get used to it again! We also agreed to add some more length to the knee block to ensure that it came to the top of my knee, as well as bringing the block forward to give my thigh bone enough length from hip to knee.
Voltaire Design Conformation Fitting - YouTube
Louie felt AMAZING - he was fluid, loose, and really working all the way through. I couldn’t believe how much difference a saddle could make! And this is all with an unbalanced rider sitting on top!
Bonnie has now put the order in for the fully customised version of our saddle, with Voltaire turquoise gullet, added turquoise stirrup leather holders and I’ve treated myself to a black Swarovski crystal Voltaire logo on each side at the back of the main flap!!
It will take 10-12 weeks for the saddle to arrive and you pay before dispatch when it is ready. Unlike most self-employed saddle fitters, Voltaire offer two financing options.
Four equal payments of remaining balance after deposit so you’ll have pretty much paid most of it off by the time it arrives
Using their finance partner to set up a credit agreement to pay it over a series of instalments
I’ve actually chosen to pay in full with a 0% interest rate credit card as their credit provider option did have interest in the agreement. With a credit card, I’m in control and if I choose to pay lower payments, I can do so, simply transferring my balance to another 0% interest credit card if I still have a balance when it expires.
Voltaire offer free, no obligation confirmation fittings, and my recommendation would be to book one! I would never normally go into a saddle stand at a show, ever! But listening to the technology, the innovation, the history, and especially the passion of each specialist, really turned my head. Whereas previously I just had an opinion of them being beautifully fancy overpriced saddles for the "rich & famous", I left the stand full of information about why they warrant the price tag they do and why they could be a good option for Louie.
So while every month I’ll miss some extra pony party pennies, each time I sit in my beautiful new dressage saddle, I’ll remember what a lucky girl I really am!
Well, where exactly have I been? I know, I can hear you all asking... My last post is our March round up, which definitely had a different spin on it and really showed just where & what & why we'd been up to what we had during March.
Well, I'm very pleased to say that throughout April, we've been in a much better headspace and although silent on the blog and a little quiet across our social media, we'd been back to our usual "behind the scenes". If fact, with a crazy life right now, I'm appreciating my down time in the saddle more and more... I love not even thinking about everything that's going on and for a short period of time, not even looking at a phone screen. Looking through my camera roll, I haven't even got as many photos of us out hacking as I used to.
Downtime is great for the mind, so I'm glad I'm managing to find it one way or another. So sit back and relax as we talk you through all we've been up to this month...
April kicked off with a trip to Copenhagen (I know, I promised I wouldn't talk about work!), BUT when I arrived back home, it was fantastic to see a huge box filled with Silvermoor goodies for Louie to enjoy. I've literally never seen as many treats & Louie definitely thought all his birthdays had come at once!
Included was a selection of Treatsies treats in three different flavours - Unicorn with extra sparkle a.k.a mint, calming Chamomile and tremendous Tumeric. But that wasn't all... there was also a bunch of Swingers in grass, apple and carrot flavours.
Our flatwork training started back up... Started back up? When did it stop? Well, if you remember to the back of March, Louie revisited the vets for his re-scoping which looked lovely and healthy. While there, he had a bit of a mechanical workup too so for the first week in April, he didn't do anything.
I climbed back onboard on 6th April and it felt fantastic! Not only to be back up and riding Louie, but also he just felt fabulous. Loose, bouncy, powerful, and fresh minded... Great!
A few days later, we had our reguarly monthly session with Cathy Burrell. It went well and we really worked on getting a more consistent and still outside rein contact. I took this as my biggest learning and went home with this as the thing to work on.
Dressage Training - 08.04.19 - YouTube
It was a great session, but I could still feel and see that I didn't think Louie was completely comfortable in his bitting and bridle, so I reached out and contacted a specialist to come and help us figure out what would be comfortable. Read on to see how that went... I also asked my physio to come out and make sure Louie was comfortable all over too.
A week later our physio, Lee Clark, came to visit us. Lee was really happy with Louie's movement and balance during his trot up. He was happy with his overall foot balance and said he was moving very well. Working over his body, Lee found some tightness on the right side behind the saddle and over the top of the quarters. He used a temms machine on this area for 10-15 minutes and released a lot of the tension so Louie showed no reaction when working that area. I always find Lee's sessions really interesting - he's clearly very passionate about what he does, very driven to always be improving his practices and gives great explanations that you can really understand. Although, I'm pretty sure he gets sick of all the questions that I always seem to ask!
Two days later, we were joined by Louise Bates from Bit to Perfection. Louie is a BHSII freelance coach, Lantra accredited and Neue Schule qualified. I've never met Louise before, but on her arriving it was quite quickly clear she wanted to really understand you and your horse, and I mean REALLY understand. After the completion of a comprehensive questionnaire, Louise gave Louie a thorough exam of his head, face and mouth, explaining each step so I really understood what it was she was assessing.
Louise also took time to understand who Louie is, describing him as a delicate little flower, but impressively taking all the time needed to take a look in his mouth, and making sure the reactions he gave weren't just the Louie-isms that he has. She highlighted a couple of sore points over the cheeky bones, just where the grackle rings sit and explained all about the nerves in the skull that reach this point in the face.
After a ridden assessment, we swapped my existing bit - a NS turtle top loose ring - to a Micklem bridle. Instantly Louie felt more relaxed and even Andrew commented on his jaw looking more relaxed and comfortable. OK, looks like we need to invest in a Micklem for Louie... Next, and after I'd described the instability feeling I get, Louise suggested an eggbutt turtle top to try as well as a hunter D turtle top. I tried the eggbutt first. I loved it - Louie was way less fussy and just much more consistent. I rode round for 10 minutes or so and concluded it was for us, but rather than just agreeing, Louise made me try the hunter D. After all, that could be better again... It wasn't. I hated it! Although a more rigid bit, it felt it moved all over, more than the loose ring, and after about 30 seconds I gave up. Louise said walk away and give it another try. I did for 5 minutes or so, but I didn't like it and went back to the eggbutt. In the hunter D, Louie had become unsettled in the contact at the sinpliest of things, but as soon as I rode in the eggbutt, he was back to stable and taking the contact.
It really highlighted how much of a difference a bit could make, and if you find one that makes a difference, you really can feel it instantly. Typically, the size of eggbutt turtle top is sold out nationally... So we've bought the size up and will swap it when our's comes into stock. We're also on the hunt for a Micklem bridle...
Then is was Easter.... Wahoo, four full days away from work to have plenty of pony fun!
We kicked things off going to hire a local cross country field. While I'm very lucky to have a course on my yard, I wanted to be able to jump, circle and come back to elements, and our one at home is on a track so much better for working on stringing things together and working on your rhythm and pace.
We've been a few times before, but recently they have invested in many new fences up to 1m, so we were looking forward to what was there and what we could have a play over. You wouldn't have known that it's over 6 months since Louie looked at a cross country fence, bearing in mind how spooky he can be! He loved it!
We started off with a few of the smaller options to get him into jump mode, but he was soon in rhythm and we pieced together a few things, as you can see in the video.
I was also curious about Louie's confidence with water, but soon found out he has bags of it as be bounded through the water, no questions asked! It was quite hot and Louie hasn't done a lot recently so we ended after the last jump in the video, but I'm looking forward to going back and doing a bit more very soon!
Easter Sunday was a beautiful and warm morning, so Louie, Andrew and I set off on an 8 mile ride around 8.30am. It was heaps of fun as we rode along together (Andrew on the bike) and watched Andrew try to master the ability to cycle, taking selfies and manage to get us in the picture! It was very funny to watch him avoid the tree roots and branches while filming us!
I gave Louie the Monday off work and headed down to Masham in North Yorkshire to visit my Grandma for the day, taking her out for lunch. Just another great way to enjoy a day off and totally forget the hustle and bustle of everyday life!
We enjoyed a hack throughout the week as well as heading into the arena for a schooling session. But one thing I have aimed to increase back to at least once every ten days is lunging Louie. It's such a great way to build up his muscles without the interference of a saddle or rider. Now it is lighter nights, I'm happy to do this on a weekend which also frees up some of my day to enjoy with Andrew or doing the bits & pieces that you always find to do.
It also means he has a bit more energy for the next day when we went on a super long few hours hack to really unwind before jetting off to Oslo at 6am the following morning. And with these views, what's there better to do...
I think it says it all that I'm sitting down a whole week late to write up my March round up post... It's been a funny old month, with a few set backs but turning corners & I'm leaving the month feeling positive. So sit back and hopefully enjoy what is going to be a VERY honest monthly round up...
Getting into the right headspaceLet's be fair, as much as I had a thoroughly great time at the Regionals at the end of February, I had a pretty poor run up to it which in hindsight I can now see completely obliterated my confidence & self-belief. I tried to put on a mask and hide it, but it just doesn't work...
So for anyone else out there feeling like they are completely hopeless, that they can't achieve what they would like to, or that they are the world's worst horse rider & haven't a clue what they are doing... You are not alone. I'm right here, and there will be 1,000's more that experience feeling like this.
When everything gets onto of you...All these waves of emotion came to a bit of a head when I almost had two very pubic meltdowns during two flatwork sessions. I have an amazing trainer and friend in Cathy, who took the full force of my emotions, frustrations and temper. She got it. She's explained to me how she herself has been there, how many other have, and if people haven't they either will, or you should question their honesty about it.
I fell into a very negative spiral that looking back started way back in December, and with a culmination of things, that progressively worse because I chose to ignore it. Thankfully, March was absolutely crazy at work, with two weeks back to back travelling to Copenhagen, Oslo & Amsterdam.
This was the best recipe I could have asked for to help me lift away from a repeated pattern and shift from negative into a positive mindset.
The organisation I work for ran a Leadership conference for all managers to attend mid-March. It meant being away Monday to Thursday but during that time we learnt about conscious leadership, mindfulness, becoming aware of mental health & emotional intelligence. Despite all four of these areas being connected to a work environment and some were not new to me from other development training that I've completed, I found my time away EXTREMELY refreshing, motivating and took me home with a complete different attitude, not only to work, but to my riding too.
Work out your own life balanceWork life balance is very important to me. Most people use this statement in passing to get early finishes, prevent working outside of their hours and to feel like they can still do what they want with their personal life, forgetting completely about their work.
For me it means something very different. I love my job... Really, I do. It gives me some headaches and frustrations, but with those I turn them into challenges, goals and a drive to be better. I am fortunate in that we were gifted a flexible working solution in my office towards the end of last year. It means I can leave a couple of hours earlier, go and enjoy time with Louie, come home, spending time with Andrew having dinner at a sensible time, with time to go back online to finish up any work I parked to leave or organise my next few days. I also often do a bit of extra work for a few hours on a weekend, moreso when I'm not competing.
Am I a workaholic? If you want to say that, but in the same way I'm a horseaholic... I just love what I do and want to do it all the time. This makes is much easier for me to create my own work life eco balance, where work is part of my life, and my life can be a part of my work. Life is considerably easier if you can achieve this. Of course, you need a supportive boss and organisation to do so...
Back to March...
Positive dressage trainingFollowing the Leadership conference I found it much easier to reflect in the saddle & this was proven when I had a session with Cathy just a week after our previous terrible, temper-tantrum training with her. It was back to just enjoying the session, figuring out how to fix minor things and not see them as such huge mountains in front of us. I definitely wore a smile throughout the session, and we even started to learn achieve some proper steps of medium trot... Shame Andrew didn't have his camera out for our final push down the long side, but here we after when we got our first one or two...
The next morning I was up for the 6am flight to Amsterdam for a management meeting over two days, before flying to Copenhagen for a full team meeting with my department. I was pleased to be flying off after such a positive session, but on the other hand I was keen to keep going.
I enjoyed a short ride out on Friday evening, and a lovely long ride on Saturday, before heading back into the school on Sunday. It's great now we have lighter nights that I don't have to go in the school after work and enjoy hacking out to break things out a bit more. My next competition was meant to be at Richmond on 30th March, so I'd only really wanted to head in the school a couple of times before that.
Revisiting the vets
On the Monday (25th), Louie was heading back to Clevedale for his second gastroscopy. If you remember back to the lead up to the Regionals, Louie saw an occasional nod under a certain contact which was not timed with any foot fall. It you edited his head out of a video when he did it, he was completely sound. Adding it back in, he looked like he took some uneven steps.
My regular orthopaedic vet asked while he was there should he check it. Louie was sound under all the usual lameness checks, so the vets worked up a series of nerve blocks up both front legs, and found nothing. However, a neck flexion test did show a resistance to the left which is the rein which sees the nod. A quick scan revealed a very tiny spur on a vertebrae, and so we have medicated that to see if there is some discomfort coming from that when worked up into a contact.
It meant that Louie was kept a little longer than expected at the vets, but had his gastroscopy early on Thursday and was home in his usual stable by 2pm. As soon as he was home, he was back to his usual self, desperate to be in the field with his mates, but with the medication comes an increased risk of laminitis so he had to stay in. When I came back four hours later, he hadn't touched his haynet - there was not a blade pulled from it - and he'd spent the afternoon walking around his stable. I decided to put him out for 30-40 minutes, which he clearly enjoyed, and he was much more settled when he came back in, tucking straight into his hay.
A quick update on Louie's gastric ulcers
Good news about the ulcers though... After four weeks of medication, they have all cleared up!! I'll be writing an update on that very soon as I was lucky enough to watch the gastroscopy for myself and it was really fascinating!
Unfortunately, the trip to the vets and the subsequent treatment meant that we didn't make it to Richmond to compete at the end of the month, and as I sit here today, Louie hasn't been properly ridden for almost two weeks now. I was again in Copenhagen again this week just gone, so popped him on the lunge on Thursday when I came home and he looked just great! Free, loose and enjoying his work. So today, I'm going to head into the school to see if I can feel a difference after his neck injection. I'll be working on loads of flexion and bend, working long and more upward, as well as some transitions too. Very basic stuff to get us going again!
Twitter is NOT Dead...You Get Out What You Put In! I often read posts online that make reference to the glitz and glamour of Instagram and Pinterest for bloggers gaining traction in their reach and traffic, and that Twitter is a dying platform. I also see many comments in the groups I'm a member of on Facebook making the same statements. However, I have to say, I disagree to some extent, & here's why... When I started my blog in late 2012, I was a little shy about "putting it out there" and for about the first four months happily kept it as a diary-style update. It was at that point only really a training log detailing our weaknesses and what we were doing to try to improve them. I soon realised that I enjoyed finding new exercises and tips to help us improve through YouTube videos and other 'articles' shared online. I wanted to be able to share these with other, but at the time I didn't have a wide equestrian network on my Facebook, Instagram wasn't really anywhere, and Pinterest was all about cooking and interior design...However, I had seen lots of success in sharing my professional views via my own Twitter. From that, I decided to give @TeamTunnah a go...
My journey on Twitter from start through to today I soon realised that there was a whole network of other amateur horse riders, from all over the world, enjoying different disciplines, and doing their own thing with their horses. But they did enjoy reading my updates, and I quite liked theirs too. I then discovered numerous "chat hours" dedicated to those enjoying equestrian life... #equinehour was the first and used to be by far the most popular and engaging from my seat, with #horsehour a close second after a while. Suddenly, there was #dressagehour, #equestrianhour, #eventinghour, #ponyhour, #riderhour... You name it, there was a day and time dedicated. And best of all, they all co-ordinated so none clashed. Throughout 2014 and 2015, I engaged with these hours regularly - not all the time or on all of them - but regularly.
Let's leave Twitter a moment... At the end of 2016, I bravely launched my Facebook page. The nerves were real... I'm not even sure why. Maybe because it's the network full of friends & family, and although literally everyone is mega supportiv of my blog, at that time, only the "big boys" had pages. You know, brands, professionals, teams, and bigger setups. One of the main reasons I decided to go for it was to stop bombarding my non-horsey friends on Facebook with "awww look at how cute my horse is" type of content! And to this day, it's why I very rarely share my blog page content to my personal. What's the point? I may as well just put it on my personal profile if I'm going to share it there right away and as a way to garner engagement on it...
A few months after, I decided to focus on my Instagram account. I wanted to make it more dedicated to my blog and our stories. After all, my life outside of horses doesn't seem that interesting in comparison to these "perfect" life accounts that are out there. Plus Instagram is all about great pics... If you want to update friends on what you're up to, Facebook is this way folks!
Think I've gone off on a tangent? Well sort of, but intentionally...
The focuses onto getting Facebook up and running and considering content for Instagram took up a lot of my "spare" time that I had for the niceties for my blog. Which, left Twitter almost neglected. OK, so maybe not neglected, but my attention to it, definitely went down... And as time went on, I was drawn more and more into other areas. Twitter is conversational, so if you can't give it a little something all the time, it does go downhill.
Let's focus on my recent performance on Twitter (& I am a small account in scale of the platform and bloggers on there!) At the start of 2019, I set myself, what I am now starting to think is an almost impossible goal to reach 2,500 followers, hit 25k impressions each month AND be more commited to it as a platform. January went well... February was a good effort to, but with almost a quarter less tweets by me.
I can very much tell you... Twitter is NOT dead. Otherwise, how did I go from just 5,000 impressions on 12 tweets in December, to 39,000 impressions over 182 tweets in Janaury, picking up 839 profile views and 33 new followers?
If the platform was dead, I would have wasted my efforts entirely over the last two months.
How does that translate into traffic back to my blog? Shamefully, I have zero visits from Twitter in December. Yes. ZERO! January saw 861 and February dropped to 654.
Now when you factor in that Twitter's primary focus is talking to each other, traffic is an added extra. You have to be prepared to engage with others and hold a conversation with other users; it is not only about pushing out your own content.
Twitter's Algorithms Vary Vastly from Facebook and Instagram It's similar in one sense - it wants to sow you content that you like. Let's start at the beginning as a brand new account...
You follow accounts. Your 'Home' feed will be full of the content that those accounts are pushing out. Simple.
You start liking some of that content. Twitter reads that as a signal.
You start retweeting the content. Twitter sees that as a strong signal as you're happy to essentially share it.
You click on a few links in tweets, or click to expand images. Twitter sees that you are kind of interested, but maybe not commited.
Next time, your Home feed will be adapted to prioritising content that you've previously engaged with.
Wait...this sounds a lot like Facebook and Instagram... Let's add a layer of complexity.
You reply to tweets from various accounts, like a few tweets and retweet a one or two. AND you start pushing out your own content. Well now Twitter has a lot to consider. It will determine what to show you in the Home feed based on how you've interacted with other accounts, and even make connections within patterns of behaviour between you and other users that you follow. So often when you are seeing that someone you followed liked a tweet, it's probably because it's from an account that you usually like tweets from also.
But what about if you're following some who keeps putting out content that you don't really like. This is where Twitter introduced one of its best features ever... Mute.
Most people just complain at the "rubbish" on Twitter. But it can literally only show you what follow and interact with. So just mute it. It's a temporary signal to Twitter that you really don't like this account's tweets.
Even stronger, and I've no idea why people don't just do this - unfollow them. Guess what? You'll never see content from them again. Ever. Unless you go looking for it, which is sort of your own doing!
So what do you need to do to make sure that the efforts your putting into Twitter don't go to waste? Here's my top 12 tips on how to make sure Twitter can work for you. If it's new to you, you'll need to put the hard work in to build the momentum and get some traction. But it will pay off.
Absolutely number one - be able to have a conversation with someone you don't know but share a mild & lose connection with an interest that you hold
Do not go all out and self-promote. You will not be welcome.
Once you've master the art of this platform, put energy into your followers because it does directly link to increased engagement, providing you stick to the principles
Build your audience within your pocketed niche - don't start on broad topics. Start small, work big
Do not just kepe posting the same tweet over and over - adapt it. You can get 4-5 tweets from every blog post. Easy.
Got 'auto post to Twitter' turned on from Facebook, Instagram or your blog? Don't. It looks awful to us Twitter lovers. If you want to put content on there, make the effort.
Use multimedia - photos, videos, links. It's there. Use it.
Make sure your blog post are setup for Twitter cards.
Practice the art of writing catchy tweets that grab people's attention in 1-2 seconds. Literally.
Test but don't spam. Figure out when is best to tweet, what type and with what content
Get yourself a Buffer account to help with broadcast tweets and management of retweets to avoid spamming your followers while you're having 5 minutes making a coffee
Do all you posts have a share to Twitter button? If not, add it.
I am super proud to announce that we've been listed in the Sparpedia top 20 equestrian blogs...& we're in amongst some pretty good company with another 19 blogs from around the globe! If you want to discover a few more bloggers to start following, head over and take a look at Sparpedia's top 20 equestrian bloggers.
February seems to have taken AAAAGES to get through... I'm not sure if it was all the excitement and anticipation of the Regionals at the end of the month, but I think it is the first time I have ever sat down to write a monthly update post where I haven't seen the month flash by in a heartbeat...
So what did we get up to? Well, still lots actually. A cold snap at the start of the month left us missing out on a weekend of pony parties & playing, but gave us some time at home in the arena which we put to good use while we had Andrew's extra pair of hands for some polework! We've enjoyed a showjumping training session as well as a flatwork session with Cathy, and of course we finished the month off with a FANTASTIC weekend at Morris Equestrian to take part in the Winter Regional 2019.
However, February wasn't only a month filled with happy times, we've also had a couple of blips along the way. During the cold snap, Louie turned exceptionally grumpy...I'm talking ears flat back and telling me to leave him well alone. But oddly, after 15 minutes he was back to his usual self. After three days, I called the vets and a couple of days later, following a gastroscopy, Louie has been found to have grade 3 ulcers in one area of his stomach, with some grade 2 ones on the exit.
I've written a full blog post about being diagnosed with equine stomach ulcers so if you want to find out more, head over and give it a read. Earlier this week (26.02), Louie was given his first Omeprazole injection which he'll now have every Tuesday for the next four weeks, when he'll be re-scoped to see whether there is any improvement in the ulcers. I also changed a couple of things when managing Louie, the most drastic being to give him a decent bucket of Alfa A Molasses free a good 20-30 minutes before working him or travelling him. While I was away at the Regionals, I also gave him a few buckets throughout the day in case he was stressed to help absorb any extra acid.
Gastric ulcers weren't the only hiccup in February... Four days before the Regionals, at a British Dressage training session, Louie looked uneven and we were asked to stopped. After a rollercoaster 24 hours and a visit from the fantastic Phil Dyson at Clevedale Vets, I'm almost 100% confident this is a bridle lameness as Phil found nothing, and on riding Louie twice again before we competed, it didn't present again. If you think that it sounds a bit odd, firstly, it is (!!!) but secondly there's a few reasons why I just couldn't get Louie going into the contact for that training session. Head over to the preparation section of our Winter Regionals round up to find out what it was!
Here we are in our final session at home before we went...
Making the most of the beautiful winter sunshineDespite a cold start, February has been exceptionally mild with some really beautiful days...perfect for long rides out on a weekend!
It's also meant we've had some FABULOUS photos from our time within the arena too!
How's it going on the blog?Excellently!! On Monday, we discovered we'd made it as one of Silvermoor's 2019 brand ambassadors. It's a fantastic opportunity to work with such an ambitious brand that started locally to us. We of course are still an ambassador for the super stylish Boudica Equestrian too, and this month I treated myself to the Ella quilted jacket by HKM. It's lightweight but warm and a must-have spring item. It's selling at £63, but don't forget to use TUNNAH10 to save 10%!
And what against my 2019 goals? Well, this month has been slow, with minimum increases to what I reported in January, so I am determined to put back in the effort to grow my accounts. That said, I've managed to reach my Twitter monthly impressions by 3.8k extra already and this will be my 7th post of the month.
OK, so for all of you that follow us & keep update with us across our social media will probably be more than aware we've been pretty excited about heading up to Morris Equestrian Centre to compete in the Winter Regionals after qualifying back in November.
Well the weekend finally came around...honestly, it seems absolutely years ago that we entered, let alone since we qualified! I'd had a competition & training schedule for the start of the year to help get us nicely prepared and feeling confident. Unfortunately, and as always, it didn't all fall into place, it didn't work out how we had quite hoped, but we made the Regionals, did our test, didn't disgrace ourselves and had a fantastic weekend too!
So, sit back and enjoy our journey to the Winter Regionals!
Gaining Winter Regional Qualification
I hadn't put this on my radar until I came back from the Pet Plan Finals having had a blast... I was straight onto how we can go to more pony parties overnight and enjoy the experience and atmosphere in a bigger competition environment.
I studied the British Dressage handbook and soon realised that I could attempt to gain enough qualifying points for the Winter Regionals at Prelim based on the scores I was achieving and the number of tests I was able to put in.
It would be tight. I had just six tests to achieve the remaining eleven points that we needed in test scores of 66%+. We were on a brilliant run, and within our first outing at Alnwick Ford Equestrian we did it with a 70.17% & 69.79% in long arena tests.
Ever since starting out affiliating in 2011 with a previous horse, Buddy, I'd wanted to be able to put in tests that were of a strong enough quality to gain this qualification. I never quite made it with him so I was over the moon to finally be able to achieve it with Louie.
Preparing for the Winter Regionals
Anyone who knows me, knows I can be super strictly organised and almost a little too structured when I put my mind to it, so of course I'd sat not doing very much in December creating our plans for the new year.
I was perfectly planned, until real life took a hold...
Winter bugs, flu and cold had other ideas & I missed our January training session
Lack of practice over the festivities gave us a VERY rusty competition result mid-January
Louie turned into a super duper grumpy sod for a few days & later diagnosed with ulcers
Our preparation in the week leading up to the Regionals was absolutely dog turd...
Sounds like I'm making excuses? Well, I'm not. It's life and the very nature of working with horses.
We bounced back from missing a training session in exchange for having our dressage coach, Cathy, supporting us in the warm up when we travelled down to Richmond at the end of January. I actually learnt a lot that day as to how to get the most from our warm up with it becoming anywhere near as intense as a training session. The results were good and we felt more confident after a poorer performance earlier in the month.
Louie's ulcers were diagnosed early February, and thankfully they don't seem to be related to his behaviour under saddle. He's been on a special supplement since that day, but only today (26.02) started his official injection treatment, so fingers crossed that in a month or so, we'll have those behind us too.
What about this really crappy week leading up to the Regionals? Well, yes, actually it was RUBBISH.
We'd signed up to a British Dressage training session to be guinea pig riders for coaching taking their UKCC assessments. It went wrong from the second I left the office... twenty minutes late! I only had 30 minutes at the yard to get Louie ready, loaded and away. Brilliant. & thanks to that driver who enjoy a drive along the sea front for my whole journey where I am absolutely convinced I could run quicker (& I am a really bad runner!!)
So, there I arrived at the yard at the exact time I was due to leave. Perfect... not.
I raced around and was gone within 10 minutes. I have to say, it's amazing what you can actually do in 10 minutes when you've no other choice! One thing you can't rush is transporting a horse. I arrive at the venue five minutes before the session started, and was very surprisingly just 5 minutes last into the session.
However...this was actually a nightmare for us. Firstly, it was only a 35 minute session, so I knew I needed 15-20 minutes for a good warm up to get Louie thinking forward and taking my contact. Secondly because we went straight into the session and were asked to do a fiddly little leg yielding exercise on a circle. Not the ideal exercise for forwardness.
About 15 minutes in, the coaching instructor came up and asked if Louie felt normal. He did, but I was honest about our lack of warm up and the annoying way of his going when he isn't going forward, comes back up at me and skips around behind the contact. Yes, he bobs about a bit...
OK, let's see how he goes... So I carried on. And five minutes later I was asked the same again but with expression of concern over his evenness in front. As he summed up - for bing a guinea pig, it's not worth breaking anything. Very true.
I hope if he, or any of the coaches in that session are reading, I am absolutely not complaining. It was the right thing to do, and after asking someone to video us, I could see what they saw. I knew what caused it, but it was a fair statement and fair concern.
I quickly spoke to Cathy, and I was due the farrier that evening. There was definitely no lameness on a trot up, but when watching the video, the farrier agreed he was 'off' but it could be something simple like an abscess. To be honest, I wasn't worried remotely about the leg, the cause (if it was anything) or how to fix it... I knew my trusted vets would sort that out if need.
But the disappointment hit me like a truck at full speed on the A1... And it really hurt!
After a teary drive home & taking some time to sit on my own (all night!), I resigned to that I was no longer going to the Regionals. I was devastated after being excited for what had felt like months!
While I took my quiet time, Andrew reached out to Louie's vet with the video and asked his advice. I mean, how many of you have a vet that at 9pm at night you can send a message to, he asks for the video and gives you all that support... He is a fantastic vet and truly a part of our team! He agreed though that Louie looked off, but said he was in the area the next day. Obviously in my heavy mood about the whole situation, I didn't see the point in booking a vet's appointment, but did it. Might as well start investigation now...
Dashing out of work, I arrived at the yard after the vet. Andrew had brought Louie in and the nurse was running Louie back and forth for the vet. I dragged myself to the tack room to get changed, before heading into the yard. When I did, they were coming back from the arena where Louie had been lunged.
The vet simply said 'Well...he's not lame today!'
This should be a dream to hear, but after such a rollercoaster the night before, all I could manage was a 'FFS...' But it was good news. We chatted briefly about my plans between then and the weekend, and he was happy for me to crack on and if it presents again, let's look at it.
I got on after he had left and I was absolutely determined not to let this horse drop behind the contact. I did just that. Sent the video to Cathy... who pointed out I'd clearly gone far too OTT and now had Louie coiled up like a tense spring that was about 3ft long.
The next night I sarcastically climbed back on and felt like I was riding a barrel racing horse on almost the buckle end, pulling me down, completely on the forehand. When I cooled off, I watched the video and was amazed at how much loser, relaxed and easy things looked for Louie!
I sent it to Cathy. Good news & that was it now until Sunday's test!
On Thursday and Friday, our livery Facebook group put several messages on about various gelding losing shoes...so I was convinced Louie would be missing at least one by the time we left at lunchtime on Saturday. Thankfully this was one part of the week that didn't stray off plan!!
What a rollercoaster of a few days...& it did leave me slightly dented for what would occur on Sunday.
Travelling to Morris Equestrian Centre
After a few hours turnout in the morning, I dragged Louie in to give his tail and socks a good wash, as well as a good stain remover here and there. For a grey, he actually isn't too dirty! Typically when I didn't want to take ages to wash him, he shuffled about and suddenly found random things exceptionally spooky...you know, like the bricks on the wall he was tied to, or the leadrope... I know...
I did start to let my emotions get the better of me in that situation, but while bandaging in the stable and using my stain remover, I calmed back down, and just before 1pm, we were ready to leave.
The drive up is fairly straight forward - get to the A1, down to the A69 all the way to the M74 and follow it all the way to Kilmarnock. It takes about 3-3hrs 20mins for us to get there. I wanted to arrive in the light, and to get Louie settled before we headed for some tea, to then check on him for the night and give him his own tea.
He settled straight away, munching at his haynet, spooking at his water bucket, but seemingly content. I was happy to see he had overcome his fears and drunk half a bucket by the time we came back from having our own dinner. I popped his lycra hood on and pulled his stable rug neck up, but was quite sad to leave him for the night.
You can sleep in our horsebox, but it's not ideal with needing to clear all the shavings out, lifting the partition to one side, and using an big blow up air bed. Plus we've no hook up, and although the weather has been mild, it's February and was the beast from the east at this time last year! So I'd booked us into the same hotel as when we came up in October. It's a 5 minute drive away, and gives a great night's sleep, and even if we don't get to enjoy their smart facilities, it does mean I can have a lovely hot shower before bed!
Winter Regional Competition Day
The arena walk/familiarisation was at 9am - quite sociable really! I gave Louie his breakfast at 8am, where he was actually waiting patiently and was super cute to whinney as he saw us enter the stables! I head into the arena with all its flower pots, judges huts, hanging flags, drapes around the edge, seating, windows to the cafe, music playing, and literally didn't know what would happen... Baring in mind, he spooked at a wall that he had been stood in front of for ten minutes and a bucket of water next to his haynet the day before.
He took to it like a pro, marching out past everything, ears pricked and taking it all in his stride. We used the full 30 minutes, for if nothing else than giving him a good leg stretch after travelling and being in a fair small stable overnight. It filled me with confidence for his attitude for later on in the day.
We had a long wait - we weren't on until 16:38. So we grabbed some breakfast and enjoyed watching some other tests. Andrew was on tack & boot cleaning duties, while I used more stain remover to get rid of the mud splatters and poop marks on the back of Louie.
With Louie's ulcers, I'd packed LOADS of chaff, which he was clearly thrilled about being fed every 3-4 hours! I gave him a bucket full at 12, and then at 3.30pm before we warmed up.
I'd got everything on a timer, so at 2.30pm we started plaiting. It was really great as the stables back onto the main arena which means the freestyle novice class music was as clear as day for us to enjoy bopping around to. There sounded to be some really great music to enjoy dressage to, including Whistle While You Work & Jolly Holiday from Mary Poppins! Not sure if all the bopping about is the reason my plaits weren't quite as straight as normal...
I wanted to be in the warm up at 4pm to give Louie a good ten minutes to walk around on a long rein and be relaxed. I wanted to achieve the feeling I had at home on Thursday...just without my sarcastic attitude about it! He felt good, but I knew it was very safe and I was riding fairly basically in contrast to what we'd been working on over the last few months.
Before I knew it, it was our turn. We headed in... I was so excited, nervous, concentrating, determined, all in one!
Louie trotted around the edge just like he had walked around earlier in the day. We were dinged in and we headed down the centre line...
Louie likes a surprise as for the first time in four year, he pooped in his test. cue my pony club style kicking to keep going!! After that, he was a star. We played it WAY to safe and cautious. Put in a neat, tidy and accurate test, but nothing exciting. Lacking power and energy...
Winter Regionals 2019 - Prelim Silver - YouTube
We scored 63.22% which when being judged by List 1 judges, competing at the Regionals, and for a very safe test, I was pleased with. We didn't qualify, only the winner did. But it was an amazing experience from start to finish! Would I do it all again? Absolutely!
After prize giving, Louie had a little bit of chill time in the stable & a bucket of chaff before we headed home. Packing up takes a surprisingly long time - sorting all the horsebox out, making sure everything is put away, loading the horse and mucking out your stable. But by about 6.30-6.45pm, we were on the road, needing to make a stop for fuel and to grab some tea for us.
I fell asleep just before we got back onto the A69, but we made it back to the yard for around 10.15pm, so not too bad in terms of timing considering our stops. Louie had a lovely plump bed waiting for him, and after giving him his tea, we headed home ourselves. It was a great feeling when my head hit that pillow!!
Each month, we attend a flatwork training clinic with Cathy Burrell where we spruce up on our dressage skills. Unfortunately, due to the winter flu, January's clinic was cancelled, so I was even more looking forward to our February session!
It didn't disappoint either, it was a super productive and fun session. We worked on lots of different aspects, starting off with straightening up our canter. I hadn't realised how Louie's hin was drifting inward but with an arena with a few mirrors at the end of the long side, I'd no excuses not to spot it! We worked on using the 3/4 lines to straighten things up, spotting that it was also my shoulders causing some of the crookedness, so was made sure they were squared up and no curling to the inside. We rode "straighter" turns and not letting overbend to the inside along with a subtle shoulder in aid to straighten up.
Whilst were talking about the canter, we also worked on getting me to sit down and onto my seat bones & resist the temptation to tip forward. I sit well on the left rein, but on the right I'm much weaker and lean forward, so I need to work on sitting up and keeping Louie together and the power underneath us.
Still on the canter, our upward canter transition need to be sharper and more forward. At the moment, Louie has great lift but isn't going forward into the canter. So we worked on lots and lots AND LOTS of upward canter transitions. With Louie becoming slightly confused and over sensitive to the insight leg, we took a breather and walked on a long rein for a few minutes.
This is a great trick to reset Louie's brain when he gets a little misunderstood about what you're asking.
We also worked on trying to get Louie to take me more contact forward in the trot, which seems to come much better after a bit of a break on a long rein. I need to get used to the heavier feeling than I am used to in my hands and not interpret that as a negative. It also makes me really conscious to sitting up tall to keep Louie together.
Speaking of hands, I've spent a couple of weeks trying to get my hands into a better position to help stabilise them. The work has paid off as they felt much better, but I'm still ensuring that I don't become over-obsessed with them and create an even big problem about them!
Here's a short video of our session showing our canter straightening work and the work towards a better contact from Louie.
Dressage Training - 11.02.19 - YouTube
Our next planned session with Cathy is on 11th March, and as it will be after the Regionals we're looking forward to what should be a tough session where we begin to take our training to the next level and work on some new dancing moves!!