“Oh my god this feels amazing” I shrieked across the arena at a friend last week followed by “please say it doesn’t look terrible”!! No, I wasn’t doing anything incredible, there was no Piaffe or passage going on not even an accidental spook inspired one. I wasn’t doing anything remotely close to a dressage test movement. I’d simply, after trying to get it for almost half an hour managed to get a horse really long and low, stretching out taking the contact forward and working over the back which for at least six strides felt bloody amazing. Naturally I lost it about half a circle later and spent the rest of my time trying to find it again. See, that’s what happens when you love flatwork, the feeling of doing it even half right for half a circle is like crack cocaine and we need our fix. We are mad really.
Spending hours repeating the basics trying and often failing to get “that” feeling is bizarrely addictive. We don’t mind if everything feels like an epic fail at the start or if we are bordering on dehydration from sweating or if our leg muscles are about to cramp up and die once we at some stage get that elusive feeling of getting it right, of progress, of feeling like you are gliding along looking like you know what you are doing for twenty seconds. What exactly “that” is of course varies day by day and from horse to horse depending on what you are working on but it’s what keeps us going.
I’m utterly useless at every other sport. When I was a kid my parents were hoping horse riding was a phase so they tried to enrol me in anything and everything else to pique my interest – basketball (im a hobbit, never gonna happen), ballet (I’d spent so long trying to keep my heels down no way was I putting my toes down on purpose), GAA (short kids don’t run as fast), Irish Dancing (felt like my arms were in straight jacket) and swimming (I hate cold water). So based on my lack of ability to do much else in sport when I am on the ground, I don’t know if this addiction to getting a handful of seconds of getting it right exists in other sports. I can understand a golfer spending hours trying to get a putt or a hole in one but some days I think Jesus I must be the golfer spending an hour trying to hit the ball and then celebrating when it happens once.
Loving flatwork and dressage has stood me well in other aspects of life though, I’ve fairly low expectations of work to reward ratio. Dangle the prospect of dinner or glass of wine or kilo of chocolate in front of me and I’ll happily work until my arms fall off beforehand and still say thanks afterwards. I work hard in my job and am still glad not to get fired. I kind of expect several rounds of chaos and everything going wrong before getting something right so that doesn’t phase me anymore. Like I said, we’re all mad here.
When I am teaching show jumping or cross country I have a mantra I always bang on about. Why? Well the answer is two- fold. Firstly if you are going to be a coach you need to have your own philosophy on things and your own way of explaining things (Drive that bus Christa!), otherwise sure we are all just going to stand there bored reciting lines from a book. I have a list of my own choice phrases some of which are only adult appropriate. Secondly, banging on about something is the only way it will penetrate the massive level of noise the average human hears daily and embed itself into their brain. When that happens you have some hope that it might be recalled by the rider when you are not there or in competition. I know it works as it is what most religions and the Irish educational system in the 90’s was based on. I can’t remember what I did last week but Jesus I can remember some amount of random stuff from school simply because it was drummed into me day in day out. I haven’t a clue for example who Zacchaeus is for example but there is a song in my head for the past twenty years from school that says he was a greedy little man.
So, when teaching jumping for riding club and pony club and riding school my mantra is that you must have the right line and the right canter. If you have both of these and are not on a dishonest animal the fence should come up reasonably okay for you. Most problems therefore can be diagnosed as originating either from the wrong canter (too fast, too slow, too flat, too erratic, no rhythm) or the wrong line (crooked, too long an approach, too short an approach). When it comes to the canter, look to the training scale. Riding is like dancing, if you don’t have rhythm, you don’t have anything. When it comes to the line – as Jonny cash said, walk it. Then ride it. You might ask what about leg? Look, if you don’t have leg you don’t have the canter or the line! What I learned last weekend is there is a third element that I often forget about – the trust.
I rode at 90cm for over twenty years. Some times on good horses, sometimes on quirky horses and often on horses that would stop / duck out / create their own adventure if you didn’t glue your legs and ride them like you stole them. I had no experience at all of horses with real scope as it just wasnt what I rode and I was always loaning or catch riding so I never put my hand in my pocket and bought one. Now I know it is no scope no hope but sure I wasn’t hoping to do much! My own relationship with show jumping is complicated. I managed to get myself to the dizzying heights of jumping a metre last year and this year to jumping a metre without jumping something else first. However at home unless I give myself a major shove I drift towards flat work simply because I love it and I do that.
I did two dressage tests on Sunday and my horse was clearly a) high as a kite and b) dying to jump. So on the way home I called into a show jumping competition. I’d done the same the week before only to go home as it was an hour at least to go before my class and I have no patience for waiting. This week I had no excuse as the class had started. So I entered and tacked up and looked at the course as the course walk was finished, Now I know we all get doubts when we are nervous, its normal but I’ve an over active imagination and when I am bricking it my brain goes full on Spielburg. When my irrational thoughts reached the pinnacle of ridiculousness at “but, can Sammy actually jump that high, what if he can’t lift his legs that high” I told myself to shut the f**k up and get into the warm up. What didn’t help was several competitors falling off or having refusals while I was learning the course. When this happens I honestly think, ok let’s take a photo of the course, Instagram that baby, go home, drink wine and pretend we did it yeah? #iloveshowjumping #clearround.
I went in, jumped number one, headed for two which was an oxer off the pocket and overrode as I thought he would lose impulsion on the corner and he didn’t. We knocked it, he scarpered, ran, we knocked the next and he panicked. I pulled up to a trot and honestly told myself either retire or stop riding like a lemon. I went on, sat up, rode and the horse was fantastic. We managed the difficult line without issue. Once I was calm and strong the horse was happy. I have been told in many lessons to ride around the corner, sit up and allow the horse to balance and then jump but all the lessons in the world cannot force the lightbulb moment, we as pupils have to gain that for ourselves. I learned a huge amount on that course. Why did I come round the corner riding my horse as if he was going to try and avoid the fence when he was dying to jump? Simple, I was way way out of practice having not jumped for over a week.
The lovely lady who won the class was chatting to me after and said every Saturday she sets out her poles X strides apart to get her eye in. I was embarrassed as it is what I get anyone I teach that has trouble with distances to do – canter poles to get the rhythm and the right canter and the eye in. I’d be cross at a pupil who didn’t jump for almost two weeks, didn’t do their pole work and then didn’t walk the course. Yet there I was doing exactly that and struggling with related distances.
So this week’s lesson for me quite simply was trust 1) in my horse and 2) in my own advice. Everyone else’s lesson from me this week will be the holy trinity – the canter, the line and the trust!
Aidan Campion’s stunning mare Hannah K prepared using Quick Knot as well as supreme and Haas products.
A few months back a company contacted me by email to ask if I would write about their product. I told them the same thing I would tell any company in the same position – if you want to send on a product I will happily give a full and honest review but my opinion is not for sale and I cannot guarantee a positive review. The company were happy with this and sent on a product for me to try out. In turned out the product was Quick Knot – a product I had seen videos about online and was keen to buy and try anyway. In addition to not selling my opinion I also don’t believe in giving anything a half assed trial so this product has been tested on five different horses in the last four months. The results are below.
This is the product package. It includes visual instructions on how to use it but I did wonder would it be as simple in real life as it was in the photos!
The product itself looks like some sort of industrial paper clip. These are available in brown, black and white for various coloured manes. I love sewing in plaits for a professional finish so i was keen to see if this would appear anything similar with less effort – and with less of a change of stabbing yourself with a needle. the photos speak for themselves in terms of results.
Merlot (above) is a rising four ISH. She had never been plaited before so I decided to try Quick Knot on her.I find sewing plaits on youngsters is tricky as you are trying to keep them still while wielding a needle and thread and scissors. This on the other hand was quick and painless. For a young horse it was a great experience as it literally took me seconds to secure each of these plaits and they look sewn in! To secure the Quick Knot you push it through from the far side and then fold the end up and in – very quick and very simple. Also, you can plait in the stable without worrying about dropping a needle.
This is Brogan – he has the thickest mane in the yard. I need to tackle it with the mane comb soon but he was heading to Interschools and I didn’t have time before hand. Quick Knot does come in an XL size for thick manes but I had the original and given that we were looking at black golf balls for plaits if I used bands I decided to give them a go.
I was impressed with the result as were his owners. Even better we left these in over night as he had another show the next day and they still looked great! Removing the Quick Knot is quick and easy. Much quicker and easier than unpicking sewn in plaits with a thread pick. Much less waste than plastic bands.
My own Sammy is another thick maned animal. With his big neck and crest I prefer sewn in plaits than bands on him. The Quick Knot gave an amazing result I loved how his plaits turned out and its much better looking on him than banded plaits too. These stayed in all day without a hair out of place.
In conclusion, I was dubious at first about the claims made by this product but having used it I am really impressed. I am ordering a fresh supply for the dressage and showing season as I simply can’t see myself going back to stitching plaits or using bands when i have these unless an owner requests it. Our team member at Dunbyrne Equestrian Stine Due Anderson also used these when going to a showing class and loved them as well.
The benefits for me were the speed at which I could use the product, the appearance of the plaits, how long the plaits stayed in and the fact that they were so easy to remove. I saw comments on another website about people being worried about dropping these in a stable. I stood on one or two and would personally be more worried about dropping a needle in a bed than one of these. (I usually only sew plaits outside for this reason). The product can be re used. I personally would use them twice as I found after that they get a bit too misshapen – I found this worked well and with the price point of £24.95 for a hundred pieces it gives good value for money.
You can find out more about the product or buy online at
I love to shop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for me which makes Christmas shopping great fun as it is guilt free spending! If you haven’t got all your Christmas shopping sorted yet don’t worry – the internet is your best friend – no traffic, no queues, no slow walkers. So grab the credit card and follow me down the rabbit hole
Best for Saddlecloths.
I have bought a few saddle pads this year and find that it is hard to get good quality pads that look well, are thick enough, fit the saddle and give good wither clearance. My top pics are the Horse Caesar dressage saddle pad which has a gorgeous bling trim (which has survived several trips to the washing machine) and the Decathlon gp/jumping grippy saddle pads. Both have been tried and tested and I would highly recommend them.
Horze Caesar Dressage saddle pad. Also available in GP
Best for Affordable Custom Bling
If like me you trawl the Equiture website drooling over their fabulous customised crystal browbands you will be familiar with the level of attention to detail and choice the brand allow. What you might not have realised is that the company do custom stock pins with matching earrings available that are a serious bargain!
I bought my stock pin from the company a while back it is silver with grey and clear crystals which matches my hat and jacket perfectly. I love it as its really unique. I ordered another as a gift for a friend during the summer and she loved hers too. The product was a bargain and delivery was fast, highly recommended.
This company do a selection of customised products from browbands to matching fly veils. My only issue is trying to design or pick from the incredible selection available.
I wrote about Haas brushes last May (see here – https://equestrianreality.com/2016/05/19/are-haas-a-must-have/) and every since then I get asked regularly – are they worth it? My answer is always, yes, every cent. These brushes do an incredible job or lifting and removing layers of scruff, stains and dry skin from coats even those you already thought you had gleaming!
My top picks for buying Haas brushes:
in the UK – contact https://eqclusive.com/collections/haas
In Ireland the best deal I have found is from Whites Agri (who will give you 10% off if you are an AIRC member too!).
Both companies have sets created for specific horse colours to get the best grooming experience.
Best for Hat Silks and XC colours
I am in love with this company their XC sets are fantastic with a huge variety of designs and colours to choose from. I am promising myself a black hat silk with a furry pom pom and unicorn decal for next years eventing season!
A friend showed me this bundle last week and I want it! I love playing music when I ride but it kills the battery on my iphone. I also loved riding freesytle dressage last year and am keen to do so again but the logistics of managing the music were e pain from battery drainage to having to keep taking my phone in and out of my pocket. This bundle looks ideal for riding to music and the wrist band is a great accessible idea.
Wether you want to worship at the matching alter of Le Mieux, to create your custom bling stock pin, browband and fly veil or to match your saddle pad to your polo wraps, the websites below will feed your addiction – warning, may induce credit card spending!!
Mitchell Moor offer high quality innovative brands incorporating a range of products from bridles to saddle pads. The company bring exclusive brands to the market and always showcasing the latest in showjumping trends. I have the Caveletti flash bridle which I love – the finish is luxurious but the bridle is extremely light and is shaped to contour the horses head for comfort. The flash strap and it’s keeper are removable leaving you the option of switching to a cavesson noseband without the unsightly empty flash keeper remaining
Cavaletti Flash Bridle, Mitchell Moor
Best for Breeches / Riding Leggings
I reviewed Aztec Diamond a while back and would recommend the brand for riding leggings as their product is very well designed, durable and very comfortable.
Decathlon Kipwarm breeches are the staple I live in in Winter. I have recommended these so many times to friends who are now raving about them. Water proof, fleece lined and comfortable these are the ultimate winter breech – the price is very competitive too!
The Camelot awards were not born of a sudden invention. The idea came, as many do, quietly like a cat who pads across the room to sit on your lap. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to have our own regional awards instead of just national awards” we said one day as we chatted over the phone. We did a lot of chatting in those days myself, Caroline Broadley, Susanne McCarthy and Linda Moore. We were part of the regional committee and while I expected the committee to be hard work I was pleasantly surprised at how it formed friendships. We did a lot of chatting because Linda, who I didn’t know long, was sick. I first met Linda at a regional meeting that year and her infectious enthusiasm and her friendly approach meant that within a week you felt like you had known her forever. So the awards night, sparked by a throwaway comment one evening grew arms and legs and turned into the Camelot awards you know today.
We started the awards because we wanted to celebrate our own regional members, horses, riders and achievements. We called it the Camelots as a humorous nod to the Lancelots, the AIRCs national awards. Everyone horsey has fancy clothes at home with not enough occasions to wear them we thought so why not make it glam, a ball, a black tie type affair so that we can all see what we look like without a coating of rain and dirt and horse hair. This too grew legs. We thought “why not have a red carpet”, “let’s make the awards Oscar statues”, “let’s get a huge room in a hotel” and so we did.
We needed to grab the attention of club members and secretaries so Caroline managed to create an old style document in language of the time. Suzanne used a seal and wax to put the official finish on to the posted invitations. No matter how ill Linda was, when she talked about the awards she lit up and so it became hers – her project and her goal. We didn’t know then that Linda wouldn’t be there. On the 2nd December, she left us and nothing was quite the same. We didn’t know what to do but it was Linda’s husband John who supported us in putting on the first ever Camelot awards the at the Killashee house hotel in January. The awards were everything she would have wanted from the glamour to the red carpet to the Oscar statues. We had a special presentation about Linda in honour of her and John announced the Linda Moore award which would be awarded each year to someone deemed eligible and the Linda Moore show-jumping league which would run in the Spring and Autumn in the region in memory of Linda’s participating in it on board her bay gelding Sam.
The first Camelot award winners.
The Camelot awards continued in the region each year. In 2017 Moyglare riding club, the club Linda belonged to, took the reins with the aim of making the night bigger and better than ever. Zohra Smyth and Niamh Daly O’Rourke last Saturday hosted the biggest celebration the region had ever seen at the Westgrove hotel where approximately 200 people filled the room to celebrate West Leinster. From the spot prize, to the candy cart to the raffle in aid of charity to the band and DJ everything had the simple aim of providing a great night out. As Trish Buckley was awarded the Linda Moore trophy for 2017 I think a little bit of Linda really was with us there in the room – she would have loved it. In that moment I thought this, this is her legacy, the result of hours of planning years ago, hours sat around Caroline’s table cropping photos for a slide show and trying not to burn ourselves with wax, the result of a group of friends many years ago just wanting to do something new to celebrate the region and its members.
Niamh Daly O’Rourke & Zohra Smyth
I met Zohra at the bar at about past midnight on Saturday night where I was dishevelled from dancing and in need of the inevitable “just one more drink”. Her only concern was if I was having a good time, if everyone was happy, if they had done a good job. I think I told her that when you have a jam packed dancefloor and 200 people in a room dancing, singing and smiling – you have done a pretty amazing job! So well done Niamh and Zohra and the regional committee for the huge effort that must have gone in to making that brilliant night a reality and celebrating the friendships and achievements that amateur horse riding is really all about. Carry on Camelots – for many more years I hope.
Problem: I’ve washed a horse to clip him but it isn’t dry!
Solution: Hair dryer! If despite a good cooler / sweat rug your horse is still damp, plug in your hair dryer and finish the job. If they don’t mind being clipped they rarely mind this as the noise is similar and most quite enjoy the warm air on their skin! Also, if you are washing a thick coated horse adding some methylated spirits to the rinsing water will help to evaporate the water from the coat quicker.
Problem: I need to wash the horse before clipping but how do I get all this scruff out of the coat?
Solution: Mix a capful of Dettol and some strong lathering shampoo (Wahl Dirty Beastie or head and shoulders shampoo work well) into hot water and wash the horse making sure to really scrub the mixture into the coat with your hands or a sponge. Rinse and repeat if necessary to really get the coat clean.
Problem: I know I should but I don’t have time to wash the coat before clipping?
Solution: Get yourself a good rubber curry comb and run it in circles all through the coat brushing away the raised dirt vigorously with a good dandy brush. Spray a silicone based coat shine product into the coat and brush through thoroughly with a body brush. The silicone coats the hair and makes it easier for the blades to go through.
Problem: I can’t clip lines – help!
Solution: Err on the side of caution (you can take more hair off you cannot put it back on!) and draw your lines on with chalk, make up or a non-permanent marker so give yourself a line to clip along. Remember also why you are doing lines – to neatly finish your clip by hugging the horse’s muscles at the top of the legs – if you look at the muscle line it is much easier to see where to clip. On the face, you clip a half face to the edge of the bridle line or the cheek bone to blend it in.
Problem: I’ve clipped my horse but his coat is full of scruff and dry skin
Solution: Firstly, use baby wipes placed flat on your palm to remove the surface scruff. Secondly add a few drops of oil (baby oil and tea tree is great) to a bucket of hot water and hot towel the horse using a small towel that is dipped in and wrung out.
Problem: My horse’s coat is really thick how do I get an even and close clip?
Solution: Roughly remove the heavy hair from the coat and clip your lines. Brush the coat out thoroughly to remove the loose hair and scruff. Now clip the coat closely using firm and even strokes keeping the machine parallel to the horse’s skin.
Problem: I am afraid I will either clip too close to my horse’s mane or too far from it and end up leaving a ridge?
Solution: Use plaiting bands to tie your horse’s mane straight up tightly into sections. This will stand the mane up and make it clearer on the crest for you to see what is mane and what is neck hair. Clip the mane line slowly and carefully keeping the machine parallel to the mane. If the horse is likely to move or shake its head, have a helper hold the head to prevent this. Some horses have whorls along the crest line which may mean that you need to clip towards the withers to get this hair off. Pay closest attention to the side on which your horse’s mane doesn’t like as this will be most visible.
Problem: How do I clip a whorl?
Solution: Clip the whorls by going against the direction of the hair. This may involve clipping from a few different angles. Look at the direction of the whorl hair to work out which way to go.
Problem: Lines on the coat after clipping
Solution: Always double clip! Clip the hair off the horse going against the growth of the coat and then give the coat a good brush and wipe to remove the loose hair and surface dirt. Now clip the horse again this time using a multi directional approach so clipping with the grain and diagonally which helps to remove lines.
To get the best use from my blades and a perfect finish I clip all over using a 3mm blade. I then brush away all the excess and re clip everywhere except the legs / face / between the front legs with 1mm blades in a four way direction. You would be amazed how much extra hair this removes.
Problem: Horse is nervous / jumpy about the feel of the clippers and it being moved around to new areas
Solution: First use your spare hand by giving it a job – firmly rub the area you will clip next while you are clipping. If you can get into a rhythm of this, the horse is never surprised at the clippers appearing in this area as your hand has been there first. Firmly rubbing the area can help desensitise ticklish areas. For sensitive areas such as the belly your spare hand can also work as a distraction for example I will often put this hand up and tap on the horses back while clipping the belly – it divides the horses attention and takes it away from the area it doesn’t like.
Finally, if the horse hates the on and off movement of the clippers on the coat – don’t take it off! I have clipped a few animals of this persuasion where moving the clippers over and back on the coat while keeping the clippers in constant contact with the coat has greatly reduced the anxiety levels.
Problem: Horse hates the noise of the clippers
Solution: Stabling the horse beside the clipping area can help a lot as they become used to the noise in close proximity. We have a three year old here who was easy to clip for the first time as she is stabled next to the wash bay and had already watched about ten others being done. Secondly use a quiet clippers or a smaller clippers rather than a bigger louder machine. Choosing a machine that doesn’t over heat helps too as you don’t have to switch on and off so often.
If the animal settles and then reacts every time the machine is switched on and you have to switch machines – switch the second machine on before you turn off the first – this means there is no break in sound and you avoid the restart jump reaction.
All content produced on this site is my own original content. please do not reproduce in any form without my prior permission. Thanks