Putting your mind to it In the pipeline is a blog about all of the amazing things we got up to in September, including BRC Quadrille, Blenheim Horse Trials demos and Beau, Sardra and Seamus being formally thanked for their participation in the Northampton town carnival parade. Whilst i work on that though, I really felt I had to share my thoughts about how attitude and mindset really is everything in riding - and in general life
Where should we focus? It's a dog eat dog world out there, and in between holding down careers, caring for families, trying to maintain a social life, shopping, cleaning and just looking after our horses, we sometimes lose sight of why we have horses - and that is to have fun!
We all start our lifelong passion with horses in different ways. I was born with it even though my family was not horsey. Some people take up riding later in life. For some their dream is to have a pony and as soon as they have their own job they make it come true. As well, many people stop riding for years, for various reasons, and then realise later it's all they want to do. This level of passion exists because we enjoy riding, we enjoy being round our horses, we enjoy watching horses and we enjoy the company of other horsey people
As a kid i loved nothing more than the adrenaline rush brought on by riding hell for leather across country, regularly having the fastest time in competitions on a welsh pony (they really can run if they want to). After a 15 year break, as a grown-up i find just getting on to be something of a challenge some days, so my cross-country days are probably over, but there are plenty of other activities that will give me the same rush. So how did i find out what those activities are?
Rider Confidence A couple of years ago I attended a Rider Confidence course run by the Centre for Horseback Combat. The focus of this course was on mindset and included group hypnotherapy as well as giving us strategies for dealing with situations if they do arise, such as how to fall off safely. We were taught to imagine everything going right, and focus on the outcomes we wanted so we could achieve them. If you focus on what could go wrong, it is pretty much guaranteed to happen! This course was the start of my journey into trying to understand how my own mind works in relation to riding. And it is no exaggeration to say it got me back on a horse. Happiness and our brains I found this blog by Christopher Bergland to prove my completely un-academic theories: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201211/the-neurochemicals-happiness
I have come to know all of the above gradually over my life, and now my sole aim in my free time is to increase the level of enjoyment i can have with Beau. I understand that for me to have fun, he has to be having fun too. Unfortunately for him, his greatest joy is galloping and jumping over fences, but at 21 and with a wet drip rider, we tend to do mostly dressage. How can dressage possibly be fun I hear you cry? Well, believe me it can, because it challenges you and makes the small victories so enjoyable.
So how do we have fun? We do what we enjoy. Each year, with my amazing Cherwell Valley team mates, we enter the BRC Quadrille Qualifier. We are not dressage divas and we do everything ourselves. It takes the whole year to come up with a theme, create costumes, build the floorplan and mix the music, and every second of that is fun (even when we all fall out!)
Occasionally I take to riding aside too, and it's challenging to do well and therefore very rewarding. Beau has taken to it very well so we hack sideways, we have done dressage competitions sideways and we have even shown (that was a little too staid for me though, lots of standing around and then the challenge of waking Beau up again for the individual show without making him too cross)
In between times we attempt dressage to music. The distraction of the music and having to concentrate to be at the right pace at the right time makes it fun. I had a very sage piece of advise, which was to not have a floorplan but to wing it every time. Now that is fun! Winning at life? In all of the above, we are not setting the world alight. I have yet to score over 70% even at prelim (though we have at novice, go figure) even though we can do all of the Elementary moves pretty well at home. The team does not win at quadrille, I don't often come home with a ribbon and it's a hard slog to qualify for any championships. But the journey is what's fun! If i can come out of the arena feeling as though I had 3 strides of OMG Trot, or a smooth downwards transition, I'm happy. On occasion i have had an appalling score, and some mean comments from judges, but have still been on top of the world because I know we have done well and our partnership has felt right in the test. That's the key and all I ask
You may think I mustn't be naturally competitive. That could not be further from the truth! I really really want to win every time i go out, but I have learned that attitude actually sucks the fun from the competition. It's all in the mind set and that's what helps me to be able to hold down a difficult job in the week, and still focus on what's key for my own mental wellbeing at weekends. Learning about fun is FUN! I wrote this blog : https://beaubayou.blogspot.com/2017/07/june-2017-its-all-about-socks.html last year having attended a fantastic Centaur Biomechanics seminar at Moulton College. One of the key speakers was sports psychologist Charlie Unwin whose methods make perfect sense. Luckily my coaches Alison Kenward and James Burtwell agree! Alison in particular is helping enormously in changing my mindset and supporting all of the above whilst teaching me how to ride properly too!
Beau appreciates all of this, which means I appreciate Beau and my happy hormones can flow freely...
My partner is not flamboyant. He does not like to dress up and owns just 2 suits for black tie do's and weddings. But he has always been disappointed during trips to the tack shop. If I wanted to I could come out with a pair of pink tartan breeches and a glittery gilet, but he could only ever come out with beige or black, or a muted grubby olive if very lucky
He decided to do something about this, to bring a little colour into his and Parker's life - so he founded Equestriman!
I am so very proud of him. We started with a trip to BETA this January with a launch date of 1st September. We were told by everybody that a new range of breeches in a new previously un-sourced fabric (yes never before used for breeches - even ladies) would be impossible in the timescale he set himself. And yet here we are in September with a fully stocked webshop which did indeed launch on 1st September
Not only is that an incredible achievement, but the breeches are lovely too. I own a blue pair (despite being a girl!) and they are the most comfortable breeches i have ever ridden in - including riding tights. And I'm not just saying that
He did not want to launch with just the #nomorebeige breeches so alongside his work to identify a manufacturer, make test samples and source the fabric, he also brought in various complimentary items both from independent sellers and from the fabulous Noble Outfitters. They create some beautiful quality riding and country wear and he wanted to support them because we own and love many of their items ourselves - including their neoprene wellies - currently on offer here: https://equestriman.co.uk/products/muds-stay-cool-high-boots
I have seen first hand the work it's taken to make these gorgeous clothes available for male riders, and I think Simon so deserves to be successful. Tell everybody about his new venture, and check out his wares here: www.equestriman.co.uk
Equestriman #nomorebeige breeches, Churchill t-shirt and peaked hat on Equestriman's founder - the amazing Simon:
I don’t know about you but I always seem to be skint. If I ever have any spare cash I spend it immediately on a lesson or a competition, or if I am feeling very flush (or have a desperate need), new tack for my beloved horse. Tack is a tool, a fashion statement, a way to show off your horse’s best features, to show you understand the new field of equestrian science or simply to display your own good taste in saddles. It can help or hinder your horse as much as bad riding, and if chosen well it can improve your riding too. Always use a qualified saddle fitter to help you – they have been thoroughly trained by the Society for Master Saddlers – a list is available on their website here: https://www.mastersaddlers.co.uk/
There’s no getting away from it though – it’s an investment. Decent tack from nosebands to discipline specific saddles is expensive. Even if you trawl eBay and pick up good quality second-hand tack it’s still not cheap to buy, or to have to replace – so I try to look after it
We are supposed to clean our tack after every ride (ahem!), but back in the real world it’s difficult to find the time or the will to do that. I try to give it a quick clean and a soap or a treatment once a week, and to take it apart properly once a month or before a big competition
For cleaning, there are myriad different soaps and cleansers and balms and potions out there. You can buy traditional, or modern – the same brand as your saddle or as your favourite feed supplement. Personally I find that traditional glycerine soap is the best – whichever brand. It gets nosebands shiny, cleans grease from the insides of reins and keeps everything supple. Important note – if you feel the need to treat the seat of your saddle either do it a few rides before beige breeches make contact with it, or use a leather milk that won’t make it look like you sat down in mud (or faced a veryscary fence across country) when you dismount!
The dishwasher is the perfect place to get rid of grease from stirrup irons or grass/treat fragments from bits – especially loose ring bits. Don’t forget to take off any lip straps or other leather fittings first though
Keeping your tack safe is always a challenge too. You have spent a fortune acquiring it and you’ve spent hours cleaning it only to chuck it in the back of your car or lorry and scratch it, or have something drop onto your saddle in the tack room. I keep my saddles safe with a fleecy cover, and use a locker in the tack room – double secure. At shows it’s handy, and sensible, to have some kind of stand or trolley to move your tack from the lorry to the horse without having saddles on the floor or bridles on the ramp asking to be trodden on. The same trolley would double up as a secure way to transport your tack – stand it in the living or the last partition and lock the wheels. Simple!
Storage is key. Your tack storage needs to be dry and secure. We have the luxury of a secure locked tack room attached to a house, but not everybody does. I also use a locker – with wheels so it can be moved about for cleaning. The padlocks have number codes so if anybody else is riding Beau I can give them the number to get to his tack and it can be locked up safe for next time
After a hard cross country round or a day’s hunting - for a quick clean of sweaty bridle: fill a bucket with water, and add 2 drops of both vegetable oil and washing up liquid. Simply dunk the complete bridle, give it a swish round, and hang it up to dry. It will be clean enough to use the next day and because of the oil will not have hardened
If the insides of your reins are greasy, instead of scrubbing with something too abrasive simply save a bit of mane from the last pulling, tie it into a firm knot and use the knot to scrub off the grease bumps. Works a treat. For really stubborn grease dip it into moistened saddle soap
To get rid of soap blocking the holes in your bridle, simply stick a matchstick through the hole and wipe the blob off the end before drawing it back
To prevent sand or dirt from your stirrups marking your saddle when put up, you can buy little socks for them – or indeed use a pair of socks!
If you always mount from the left, try to swap your stirrup leathers over each time you clean tack. This means both will stretch at the same rate, instead of the left stretching more than the right if you never swap them
To get a really good shine on plastic stirrup treads – use plimsoll whitener, or black instant shoe shine liquid for black ones (obvs) – be sure to let them dry well before putting them back into your stirrups or like me you will wreck a good pair of jeans!
If you ride on a synthetic saddle, use synthetic stirrup leathers to avoid rubs and stains. Oh, and wash it after you ride, not before (as I discovered, it’s difficult to keep a towel in place during rising trot)
We all have off days, horses and humans. The important thing is not to be disheartened, but to learn from it and move on
A couple of weeks ago Beau and I performed a dressage to music test at prelim level. In theory this should have been easy, because we have all the elementary moves at home. However that particular day Beau was having none of it
We are all taught from our first time in the saddle that if something goes wrong it's our fault and not the horse's. This was true that day as much as any other, there would have been lots of tools in a better rider's kit to overcome his behaviour. But... never forget you are riding a living, breathing, thinking, sentient being; in Beau's case a being with plenty of his own opinions. On a good day he is like riding a machine - very sensitive and very easy. On a bad day he reminds me that at 21 he hasn't just read the book on evasions - he wrote it!
We started well in the warm up - it was very very hot so I took it easy on us both. He was soft, moving sideways from my leg, and working properly. There was a short walk to the competition arena during which he squeezed in half a dozen spooks - out of character for him but i thought OK, we can work with this. When we got to the arena though, the PA system let out a loud screech that made us both jump, and at that moment i completely lost him and could not get him back
The test felt like a disaster to me. He was so tense we were about 20 metres behind our music by the turn at C! He wouldn't stretch and he wouldn't accept my legs or hands. It was like riding a picnic table. It probably would have been fine if i'd had 5 minutes to canter round the outside and soften him, but we were first in so that didn't happen
After the test i took him back to the warm up - he could not be allowed to be naughty and then be rewarded by me getting off! Confusingly he worked for 5 minutes like a star, so i called it a day
When I collected our sheet our score was 66%, which i was so disappointed with. I have still yet to score 70% at prelim but have managed 69.81%, and have beaten 70% more than once at novice. Go figure!
The score was what made me think properly about what had actually happened and what i needed to take away, and here's the learning:
A year ago I would have been so happy with 66%, so we must have improved for me to be so be disappointed
I must have learned along the way that the score doesn't actually matter - it's the feel during the test that counts, and that's what had upset me
Going forward I need to work on Beau's emotional suppleness - with Alison's help - and how to distract him
Beau must, in any situation, accept the contact. We occasionally work now in a double bridle or loose draw reins at home, and that has worked miracles for him because even though I ride off the snaffle all the time, he has no easy escape route!
The warm up is key, but that continues all the way to the bell, I mustn't let him wander to the arena
The only reason we had an OK score at all is because I have now learned to push sideways into downwards trans
Having seen the photos i need to either lose weight or wear a jacket even in 30 degrees C!
Christine from Dressage Perspectives shared her insight: The test was in parts perfect, in parts distracted and when distracted it was terrible!
Finally, the simplest lesson of all in a music test - if one end of the school is scary - don't use it!
I hope you can find some help and/or encouragement from what I learned that day - onwards and upwards. Be More Charlotte!
The day started with a cracking work out, must make horse clean, must make horse clean. So she had a good brush for 45 minutes resulting in me looking like I’d been dragged through a white hair hedge backwards and slapped in the face a few times. Sardra looked fab and was very happy for the love and attention. Little did she know that we were off to day camp to improve our mindset, and see if we could better our dressage scores. Hard work was coming!
On arrival at Moulton College, Alison was there to great us with a goody bag full of items from Equissimo, Equilibrium, Laura Mary Art, Dressage Perspectives and Alison herself. A really nice touch that put a smile on my face before we even started. Thank you all! Needless to say I was first on, so while my camp buddies Karen and Kaz put their horses in their stables (thank you both for getting Sardra’s water ready) I tacked up and hopped on. Now the real work started.
Sardra hadn’t been in full work for a couple of weeks, just lightly worked, and Alison was mindful of this and took it easy - yet pushed us. A really great balance. I find that when I’m on my horse I’m in my happy place and I do tend to revert to nursery behaviour and become a little inattentive. Alison recognised this and really helped me focus our training session, so we had some of the best canter work we’ve had in a long time. We focussed on quality of turns and flow in all paces, and I think I’m actually starting to get it. Alison broke things down into small chunks and as I understood each part, she pushed me to the next. At all points in the lesson I felt included in what was needed in the training, how I wanted my horse to go and what the end result should be. I think Sardra was impressed too as after 30 minutes, we walked her off as it was a really positive place to stop.
Next up was Kaz and Harvey, I’ve known Kaz and Harvey a few years and they are always extremely consistent in their dressage scores and have success at unaffiliated. What I didn’t know was that Kaz was nervous and found Harvey’s canter a bit excitable. Well, she cantered brilliantly and had the biggest smile on her face. It was fantastic to see. Well done Kaz!
Karen next entered the arena with Seamus. Now, I’ve ridden Seamus and he is a character and can be either a little behind the leg or excitable! Karen has also lost a bit of confidence in the last couple of years and is starting to rebuild the ridden relationship she has with Seamus. Alison absolutely helped Karen nail the empathy needed for Seamus and the trot work was fantastic, they almost accidentally cantered too. Karen was beaming from ear to ear!
Next up was our first unmounted mind-set session, where we were joined by Tam and Christine. In this we were given a test to read through and visualise how we would ride it. I find myself looking through the horses ears and riding in real time (perhaps a little faster, like fast forward). At various discussions between us, we all identified a section that we could visualise and count in real time and then feedback our thoughts. Alison then coached us as if we were riding and helped us visualise again. I found this really helpful, and the sharing our thoughts and ‘visions’ with other riders was quite refreshing. It made me feel included and part of a team. I loved it.
Before lunch, we had a group ridden session where we were to put into practice the mindset session and the first ridden session learnings. This didn’t really happen as it was about 30 degrees and none of us wanted to push the horses too much. So brain of Britain here decided that it would be great to do 1/4 pirouettes in walk to start to put into practice the shoulder control I was starting to get more. So well had to do shoulder fore, shoulder in and then our pirouettes. Well I felt a bit like a spider on an ice rink wearing hob nailed boots at first and Sardra objected to the confusing messages I was giving her. Alison once again helped break it down and I think we did ok, we certainly turned with the haunches.
During lunch, we found a place that was cool and all reflected on what we had learned in the first three sessions and got our minds ready for the next mindset session. I think it’s fair to see, our lunch was accompanied by gallons of water. The horses were all snoozing in their cool day stables and really quite happy.
The afternoon session was all about applying our pre-lunch learnings to our next competition and what tools we needed to use that we had learned. Again it was visualisation and also writing down what could go wrong and how we can improve that. For me I realised that I can overthink it and that is where I lose ‘flow’. So quite simply I had three things to do for the Prelim music competition the next day. Know my music, counter flexion before turns and shorten my reins! There were some really good discussions had about how we all feel and what our focus should be. I think that we all finished the day feeling really positive and knowing that we could achieve at least one thing well and the rest would follow. A really positive and inclusive experience.
The next day was competition day and Tam was able to join us with Beau. We’d already agreed with Alison that we would only need 15 min warm up in the mid day heat at Moulton College before our test. Upon arrival we handed our music in and went to find Alison to discuss our warm up action plan. I can honestly say, I was not nervous for the first time I can remember. I was excited, and really looking forward to us having our dancing shoes on. I kept thinking about all the things we had done on the Saturday and how I was going to apply this in our freestyle. Sardra seemed to have a bit of energy too, so we were ready to dance.
The warm up was so simple for us as I didn’t want to push her in the heat. We mainly walked on a long rein to loosen up. Then established a contact (shorten reins), asked for some bend and flexion in walk and the. Trotted a couple of circuits and asked for canter. I asked for a forwards canter in a light seat and Sardra was a little behind in the transition, so I gave her a tap with the stick to sharpen her up. Well, cheeky mare did a handstand! I found my bottom made contact with the saddle faster than I had intended. That told me. :) needless to say, I left her alone with the whip and just made sure we had gear changes in the right order and walked while Tam went to do her test. Alison gave me instructions of just walk and then ‘make some shapes’ just before coming in. Fortunately I knew that meant get her listening and bending round your inside leg.
Then came my turn. I made my usual entrance at walk. If I was on a different horse I would probably trot, but Sardra is so nosey, it’s good to let her get her noseyness out of the way and have a good look around. I did have a little wobble with the thoughts ‘oh **** what if I can’t remember my floor plan or music’. So I put my kind back to the day before and thought, counterflexion, shorten your reins and enjoy the music. Not quite what I formulated, but fun and enjoying the whole experience is so important to me. As someone I know always says ‘imagine something good is going to happen. Everyday can be like Christmas day’.
Ting! And we are off. I think the girl starting the music was more nervous than me as I had to give her clear verbal instructions on where and when I would start. Turns out the PA had screeched when Tam went in and Beau objected. Up goes my hand and the music starts... the next 5 minutes were a joy to ride. I had the biggest smile on my face and I loved every moment of it. I remembered to shorten my reins, I counterflexed the tighter turns, I imagined the next bars of the music. It was great!
I would like to share a bit about my thought patterns during the test. To summarise, it was a flow of instructions from my thoughts translated into requests to Sardra and feedback again. Now this may seem normal to some people, but I normally think about what’s for dinner, did I put Versailles on to record...so a huge step forward to being in the moment in my dressage tests. So the mindset training really worked.
It worked so well, we achieved our highest score to date 72.5% and a red rosette at affiliated nonetheless! In fact I was so happy, with my reflection session with Alison after the test, I forgot which parts I needed to work on for next time. Some habits die hard!
To summarise, I found the whole weekend enlightening, inclusive and a positive experience. I started the competition day with the right mindset and the objective of just focusing on a few things. It made the process more enjoyable and I was able to lose some of the pressure I put on myself. I think this showed in the way my horse went. She appreciated the support and gave me what I asked for. Would I recommend a camp like this to others. Absolutely, go in with an open mind and absorb the learnings like a sponge. You will love it.
Cherwell Valley Riding Club has this year, in addition to hosting 3-day stay-over camps at Bury Farm EC, decided to hold day camps on specific disciplines. Genius!
At the beginning of May a dressage day camp was arranged, with 3 instructors offering very different skill sets and viewpoints, across 5 sessions - 2 on foot and 3 ridden
Tory and I arrived with Beau and Sardra, settled them into their stables, and went off in search of a brew. In typical CVRC fashion there were lots of people there on their own so we all helped each other settle in, then sat and got to know each other whilst coffees were poured
We were divided into 5 groups of 2, and given time slots for our activities. Tory and i were together so followed the same sessions throughout the day. There were rest gaps too so we could watch everybody else learning. I don't know about you but I think that can be at least as valuable as being taught directly
Jules La Garde Biomechanics - Bouncy Ball and Consistent Signals Our first unmounted session was with Jules La Garde, biomechanics instructor, who by getting us all to sit on on a Swiss ball and bounce explained how the angle of our pelvis and its relationship with our shoulders affects how we impact our horses when we sit to the trot
She also had us working in pairs - one person wearing a bridle over their head and holding the bit with their two hands, and the second person behind them holding the reins. We had to walk a simple circle, and then a figure of eight only by instructions down the bridle (and a click for 'move you lazy pony' of course!). It was really interesting to find that all of us give slightly different signals for turns. I found it difficult to turn because i mostly use my legs, so ended up confusing Tory who didn't understand indirect rein pressure - which she does in fact use when riding! Fascinating stuff and a real insight into why it takes a while to build a relationship with a new horse, and how our riding signals can be confusing to our ponies. The fact that our horses manage to work out what we want, and give it, just cements the fact that they're all legends really!
Amanda Rawson - A Judge's Viewpoint Our second session was also unmounted, with CVRC Chairman and listed dressage judge Amanda, who explained what the judge is looking for through the scales of training. She also explained that from a judge's perspective, a test that flows and is rhythmical will score higher than a stilted test with the horse in an outline. Also it's important to demonstrate the difference between corners and circles. That sounds obvious, but a quick look on YouTube at videos of tests will show you that circles are usually squares, and corners far too round - more on this in the ridden sessions
Jules La Garde Biomechanics - Corners and Seat Bones The first mounted session was with Jules La Garde and was on the impact of our weight through our seat bones. She had us riding round with the weight in the outside seat bone (incorrect) and then changing to the inside seat bone to help the horses balance - it was remarkable how much it affected Beau's way of going. I need to make sure I use this - including going down the centre line to prepare Beau for the turn at C. By putting your weight to the inside seat bone (not all of your weight, just a slight hip tilt) it helps your horse bend through the rib cage - I guess you are almost pushing his ribs outwards
With our brains full, we then sat down to a hearty lunch courtesy of the Boughton Mill cafe, and filled our tummies too whilst the horses scoffed their haylage
Matt Cox - Corners and Acceptance of Contact Then it was tack up and get back to it for a session with GP rider Matt Cox. Beau decided two was too many and at this point refused to accept the contact or move away from my seat bones as learned an hour previously. So the session was spent walking and trotting in various sizes of circle and trying to get him to accept the outside rein. After 40 minutes of the 45 minute session he relented and we got some lovely work for the last 5 minutes ;) I felt i'd wasted the time but Matt assured me it's so important that proper contact is established that any time spent working on it is time well spent. Tory in the meantime was working on her canter balance in corners and on circles
Amanda Rawson - Corners and Loops in a Dressage Test The final session of the day was with Amanda again. She had us putting into practice what we had learned during the day, and improving our dressage scores with simple tweaks - like pushing (and using seat bones) with your inside leg more into corners so that when you circle it's obvious to the judge. No more square circles or round corners! Also we worked hard to make our centre lines straight and accurate - not as easy as it looks!
It was a thoroughly useful, relaxed, informative and valuable day. Every person there ought to be an expert on corners by now! The panel of experts gave such simple but great advice and helped us to understand fully - I plan to use all of it and can't wait for the next CVRC day camp
I grew up in Cheshire, and when i was very little i remember a village fete with knights and jousting horses. I can't be sure but i think that is how horses got into my blood. I can remember being completely awestruck (and possibly even speechless) at the sight of the brave knights and beautiful horses. That day has stayed with me all these years, and never since that day have i seen horses at a carnival - until last week!
We had the honour of being invited by the Mayor and Mayoress of Northampton to lead the carnival procession through the town on Saturday June 9th 2018. Of course without even thinking about it I said yes, and didn't find it particularly difficult to persuade the rest of the quadrille team to join me
So it was agreed that we would go in our Ride of the Valkyries costumes, followed by Maloney pulling his decorated wagonette containing the Mayor and Mayoress
As we got closer to the day we all started to wonder whether this had been a sensible choice. With the loss of community spirit in general though we though the procession would be fairly small and quiet. We also put certain safety measure in place to be sure all horses would be happy and humans safe. So we drove the route before hand noting escape areas, should any of the horses become distresses. We agreed with the parade safety manager (an ex mounted policeman) that we would hack back to base off route if need be. We arranged parking for the horses close to the parade start and out of the way of the funfair (there's a funfair!!). The Mayoral limousine was set to follow at a safe distance behind Maloney's carriage to a-be a buffer between us and the floats, and b- alternative transport for the Mayor and Mayoress in case we had to bail out of the parade. Finally it was arranged that Simon and his brother Matt would dress up in keeping with our costumes and walk alongside - just in case. They had lead reins wrapped round their waists at the ready. Their job was to ensure nobody came too close to the horses, and to lead in hand if anybody was worried
The week of the parade we had some very sad and shocking news, so one of our number was unable to join. They were very sadly missed - we all shed a tear for them. This left 3 Valkyries and a special space where they should have been. We did it for you x
The day dawned...
We bathed the horses and got all of our makeup and costumes on at home so that when we got there all we had to do was dress the horses. We found the lorry entrance to the Racecourse Park, and drove through the (huge) crowds to our parking area. I cried a little bit when i saw the carnival in full swing - it was so beautiful. I could not have been more wrong about community spirit! It was incredible to see all of those happy shiny people together enjoying a glorious summer day. Amazing
When we drove into our parking space we saw Karen, Grant and Jenna with Maloney and Seamus and the carriage already in place. They seemed to be relaxed and not at all phased by the loud drum and bass music blaring from different floats nearby. Sardra was equally unperturbed, but Beau was finding it all a little too much. He did not want to come down the ramp off the lorry, and when he did he proceeded to half rear again and again. He was in a proper tizzy. Luckily Tory had had the foresight to acquire some noise cancelling ear bonnets - and once Beau's was installed he put his front feet on the floor and started to calm down. Also luckily our friends Karen, Pat and Nicola had turned up to help. It took 3 of us to get Beau's bridle on him! I was seriously considering bailing at this point for Beau's benefit but decided to count on the other 3 relaxed ponies to be a calming influence - we would only be walking and we had all our safety and horse welfare measures in place
Once the ponies were tacked up and munching hay Tory and I set off to find the start and make contact with the officials. Then it was time to mount up and join the parade!
I think people were a little bemused by our costumes - the theme of the parade was Peace and Love! So we became a peace keeping force for good ;) Apparently some Northampton schools were studying Vikings because most of the younger children knew exactly what we had all come as!
So we joined the front of the procession, and on the way past them many of the floats kindly turned down their music - and some of the incredibly dressed dancers stood still so their costumes wouldn't scare the horses
Beau couldn't quite bring himself to stand still for long, so Simon attached the leadrope - just in case, and we walked circles. I am so so very proud of Beau actually - considering he was nervous he still behaved like an angel - he never got out of a steady walk and was responsive the whole time. We didn't need the leadrope - but safety comes first at all times
Once the Mayor and Mayoress were installed in the wagonette we set off! It was magical seeing the faces of the kids in the crown as we walked past - some with pure disbelief and joy. The amazing lady who organised the carnival walked with us most of the route and she had to act as a go between answering questions about the horses at every stop point! Her energy is endless and the job she did to put that together was outstanding
After about 5 minutes Beau was back to his normal self and didn't even react when a balloon popped right next to him. What a star
The full parade went entirely without a hitch, and at the end when we got back to the lorry the ponies had their own fanclub waiting for photos - which they enjoyed as much as the people with the cameras
Thank you to Karen and Nicola for your help (sorry I used up all your Rescue Remedy Nicola!) and i want to say how immensely proud I am of the ponies and the team, and how thankful I am to The Mayor and Mayoress that we got to do this. It was a day that will go down in my personal history, and a small tear of joy has collected right now writing about it!
Challenges It's important to know which challenges to tackle, and then to tackle them. There's an old prayer which I am sure you've heard of:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference
Warm up I am learning (very slowly) that the warm up is key to everything. Having said that we can produce some marvellous work in the warm up and then go into the arena and it all falls apart. It's almost as if when we stop and walk to the arena Beau thinks it's all over, and being so opinionated spends the next 5 minutes trying to persuade me of this!
We've had some marvellous work using lateral moves in the warm up - small circles in walk leg yielding in and out gets him to accept the contact and work up into it. I have to avoid the perfect accelerator check which is a walk to canter transition, because he offers them in the test if I do, and we are mainly at prelim!
The key is about 15-20 mins with Beau - 5-10 of just walk up into a contact, then a bit of lateral trotting before we go in. Ideally we should trot from the warm up to the test arena but it's usually not possible :/
I got some lovely work out of him in the warm up for the worst scoring test of the year, but we were out there an hour and then rode the test, so he was starting to get bored and a bit grumpy, which means he starts to look for trouble!
Arena A sage piece of advice i received this month to explain why Beau can be a monkey at home but is almost always very good out at competitions. At home, he is looking for his friends. At competitions his friends are not there and it's all new - so he's looking for me
Training I have found that before a competition I can't ride through the test because Beau learns it quickly. On one occasion Tory and I were both riding Beau in the same class. She completed her test, then I hopped on, went straight in and tried to ride the test, but because Beau had done it and figured he knew where he was going, I could not get him to the sides or ends of the arena - he did the whole test in the middle!
New approaches From the minute you get on each time you ride you need a plan. If you do the same thing you will get the same results... so if something doesn't work - change it!
Judge's opinions This is a tough one - I apologise now for any controversy!
This year i have completed 3 tests in competition. One in which my score was baaaaaaad, but the judge's comments were fair and i agreed with what she had put - in other words i had felt what she saw. So i was happy with that, the score is the score. But these last 2 weeks i have had some odd experiences. In one test, Beau was tense and i was riding pretty badly, so we were inconsistent and the score was bad, BUT I felt his free walk was the best he has ever done - and we have had 8.5 in the past for that. That was the high point of the test for me so it was the first box i looked at on the sheet - and she had given me a 6 with the comment no contact maintained. When i checked the photos that Simon had taken however, there was no loss of contact at all! And further when i checked the rest of the sheet the judge had scored us 6.0 for every single movement (feisty upside down trot and smooth, even, good canter) except the entry for which we got a 7.0. Odd
The following week at the same venue but with a different judge, our test had some good moments but was't brilliant, and the score was in the low 60s, which i felt was fair - and then I saw Tory's sheet. I watched her test which was lovely and flowing and smooth, and should have scored (in my head, and i am not usually far off) high 60s, and i beat her. This did not make sense. The judge seemed obsessed with rhythm, and if there is one thing Sardra is very consistent at it's rhythm - even if being a girafolopolis, which she wasn't
Sometimes it's tough to keep motivated towards improvement, when you go out and the judge's opinion is either simply wrong, or doesn't reflect what you achieved. The main thing i have taken from it is that I felt some improvement in my riding so I will hold onto that, and that it's not possible to change things to please every judge - so I will keep my goals in place and keep working towards them - whatever other people say. My aim is for harmonious riding and a happy relaxed consistent Beau - which will come from a happy relaxed and consistent me - because he already knows his job.
Not much has happened lately. With numerous BeastfromtheEast weather fronts, and snow and ice every weekend, it's been safer to stay home! What has happened though, we have learned from Dressage - how to warm up We almost got 70% this month! So close with 69.81%...
In the warm up other riders were having issues with overly bouncy horses, and some riders were so focused there were actually a few crashes. Beau is pretty wise though, and when two horses crashed right in front of us he simply stopped, waited and trotted right on as if nothing had happened! The result of this chaos was a particularly useless warm up from me because i was just trying to steer round everyone else
CVRC chairman Amanda was on hand, and seeing that we were just aimlessly bimbling about waiting to be called, she got me working on lateral work and transitions to get him listening - this was a complete revelation! He was so attentive, soft and rideable in the test I truly believed we might get a 70% Until i messed up my signals during a canter transition and we had to do it again - DOH!!!
The judge was very kind and gave me an 8 for my riding :D She may have been marking highly but I am taking all the encouragement I can get. It's just a shame that before a competition you never know who the judge is
I suppose picking and choosing based on generous judges defeats the object of competing which for me is to benchmark myself against others and measure progress - even if that is simply being more consistent rather than massive scores
I read online about a lady who looked up as she rode down the centre line and described how her heart sank when she saw the judge! I went out under the same judge last weekend, scored a spectacularly bad 59% (double trouble tension issues) but when I read the sheet i actually though the scores and comments were completely fair. Especially as we got an 8 for our entrance, though it deteriorated pretty quickly and stayed bad ;)
I'd again used lateral work in the warm up, riding small circles in walk leg yielding in and out to relax Beau. However, this time i overdid it and the old feller was tired through his back and neck by the time we got in. Add tension to tiredness and you get an uncomfortable horse who completed the test at 100 miles an hour with his ears up my nose, so he could go home
Mother Bee - http://motherbeeonline.co.uk/ This month I wanted to include a plug for this marvellous cream - if it works let the world know I say!
I got a small tub of it at YourHorse Live last year, and luckily enough have had no cause to use it until recently
Last week Parker decided that he was hungry, and Beau's neck looked tastier than his hay. He managed to bite right through Beau's rug and gave him a sore looking weepy hickey which this cream sorted out overnight. It also helped my sore chapped hands when i came in from the ice and wind - lovely scent to it too, very natural and clean
Lunge lessons It's Beau's 21st birthday on 1st April (his official birthday - like the Queen). I plan to celebrate by having a lunge lesson with my friend who is hurtling towards her instructor exams. We will both be good guinea pigs ;)
Actually it's proving surprisingly useful and i think is something i may wish to carry on with. To start with it's quite difficult to let go and trust that someone else is controlling your horse. After a while though i was able to focus more on my position and on fighting my own body which was going into default slouch position whenever i stopped actively thinking about it. I found it much easier to sit to the trot, to use my body weight and see its impact on Beau, and to keep my hands up when not slouching, and to work all this out when not steering!
Cherwell Valley Riding Club knows the value of learning. The team knows that it’s important for everybody to be up to date in their riding, horse care and knowledge to ensure we are all giving our horses the best life we can. So when the opportunity to run a course leading to a certificate in Essential Horse Care came up, we grabbed it!
The group met at our committee member Rachel’s house for the first session, where she had laid out chocolate treats for us all. The first thing we all did was go and see the beautiful foals she has! Then, down to business. Annette from BRC HQ came along to take some photos and introduce us all to the course (and kindly made us all a coffee)
We all completed a short form to indicate our memberships (BHS, BRC, BD etc) and so that the tutor, Emma, could learn our names. The attendees were roughly half juniors and half seniors – the juniors being at somewhat of an advantage because they’ve been working their way through the Pony Club tests
Emma explained that we had opted for the second stage to start with, because the introductory level would have been too basic for those of us who already own and/or care for a horse
We covered various topics on the first day, some in more detail than others depending on whether the class knew the answers already:
We discussed condition scoring in horses and the two systems available to use. We opted for the 5-stage Carroll and Huntington system where 0 is defined as emaciated and 5 obese. Rose shared photos of a horse she had rescued – that scored 0 in the first picture, and was looking amazing and a perfect 3 (good condition) by the time he found his forever home
Next up was signs of good health: pricked ears, healthy membranes, good appetite, temperature, pulse and breathing etc., followed by signs of ill-health such as loss of appetite, staring coat and changes in behaviour. Because a horse has a strong fight or flight instinct, changes in behaviour are very important. They key is simply to know your horse
Points of a horse
We studied a chart indicating the main points of a horse, and learned what the examiner will be looking for when we are tested. We have to keep in mind that when the examiner points somewhere he is asking for the points of the horse name, not the skeletal system behind it – so if he points to the ribs, he wants to hear barrel
Colours and markings
I was amazed at how many of the colours and markings I didn’t know. How many of you know what a feint is? Or a frosted?!
Here we discussed the necessities – clean water, clean feeding equipment, good quality forage and food, and feeding the right amount for the horse and its level of work. More detail is to come on this important topic
We played ‘match the described behaviour to the word’ on small cards. This was much harder that you would think! We all know our horses pretty well, but the aim of this game was to show us that we need to know what the examiner is actually looking for. A bit like a driving test I expect…. Let’s see!
I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting and informative the evening was, and really looking forward to the next sessions
Days Two and Three
The next topics on the list were feeding and watering, worming and vaccinations, illness, wellness and quarantine, and buying a horse
Feeding and watering
We discussed the rules of feeding, which I think we all knew already – little and often, cleanliness is key and fresh water must be available at all time. It got much more interesting when we went deeper into the quantities your horse will need, and we learned a few handy equations to apply for the exam. In real life we feed according to work done, type of horse, and what it says on the feed bag!
There was a little exercise to do for watering – we had to list the advantages and disadvantages of various methods of providing water – buckets, troughs, baths etc. Gets you thinking…
Worming and vaccinations
So those of us who compete for CVRC know already that flu vacs have to be kept fully up to date with annual boosters either on the same date as last year or earlier. Tetanus jabs are every other year, and other jabs such as strangles, EHV and mites would be applied as required and do not affect being able to compete for CVRC
Worming was the kind of conversation you can imagine, with much googling of grim pictures! We all agreed after much debate that the most popular approach would be to worm for encysted redworm in winter, tapeworm in autumn and worm count the rest of the year with a suitable wormer given if need be Illness, wellness and quarantine
None of us wants our ponies to be ill, but sometimes it happens, so we discussed how to tell, and steps to take in case of contagious diseases such as strangles. Did you know strangles can lie dormant and not affect the carrier horse for up to two years? I didn’t!
Buying a horse
Now for the exciting part! We came down to earth with a bump when we started thinking about the risks of buying horses, and steps you need to take to ensure you’re buying the right horse for you – such as trying it doing what you aim to, and making sure you check its history with locals – ie in Pony Club. We talked about vetting – 2 and 5 stage, and if it’s ever sensible not to (not really). We learned about the right approach to the shopping visit too, and what to make sure you see and do before even thinking about riding your potential new buddy. The key thing I took from this session was take an expert to every viewing
At the start of Day 3 we had a recap of Day 2’s feeding rules and calculations to make sure we’d all understood the maths bit – I think we were mostly OK, shouldn’t be a problem. Now onwards to the next set of topics – we are hurtling towards the exam!
Days 4 and 5 and 6
We moved on at the next session to talk about safety. This topic is really important and safety considerations should drive everything we do around horses. For example we need to know the right way to store tools, how to use electricity around horses and generally that we need to be tidy and organised to avoid silly accidents. We need to know what to do in the event of a fire or an incident where people or horses are injured. We need to know what kinds of clothes and shoes are suitable around horses, and make sure we wear them! We also learned how to move heavy objects safely - important when horse food bags can weigh 20 kilos
Next up was hacking. I am amazed at the number of people who do not wear hi-viz. Nobody will think you're uncool for being visible to drivers. The roads are busy and people rush, wearing a simple hi-viz vest gives drivers the chance to see you in time to take evasive action to avoid an accident. Even on bridleways and fields, you will want to be seen so that if you fall off and need help you can be found. The Highway Code was covered as was the Country Code. We all like to think we already know this stuff, but it does no harm to refresh memories
All horse owners know that a major cost is shoeing. We learned what to look for in a well shod foot and how to spot when we need to call our trusty farrierThe last topic on the syllabus was boots, bandages and tack. We learned how to identify different bits of kit and what their purpose is. We covered bitting in some detail - always a contentious and complex topic!
For the final week we worked on some scenarios that might be seen in the exam, and had an opportunity to quiz Emma Stoba - our patient and knowledgeable coach - on topics we weren't sure of. We particularly covered what the examiners would be looking for - there are always so many 'right' answers when it comes to looking after horses
I planned to arrive early for the exam so that I could do some last minute cramming in the car and meet up with another lady so that we could quiz each other. I was surprised to get there 15 minutes early for the exam and not be first! We were all keen to get in and show what we knew
Annette from BRC came along to take some photos and record the occasion, and Emma was waiting with all of the exam papers from HQ
The exam was an hour and fifteen minutes long, with questions varying from those whose answers were obvious, to those which needed some thought. I actually enjoyed it - fingers crossed we all pass!
My only question now is: When can we do the next one?
Thanks Emma for your teaching, Rachel for your facilities, Alison for winning this course for the club in a competition, and lastly BRC for helping us all to become better owners