Sunday was quite simply, an experience. I headed off with two friends to our first Dressage Ireland competition of the season. They were keen to qualify for Cavan, I just needed three more scores myself and one wanted to test drive her new lorry so we thought why not and headed off out West to County Clare to compete in the North Munster region.
Now we knew the forecast was ‘wet’ which in Ireland means anything from slight rain to complete deluge. We left a dry yard and arrived to a venue half under water! The organisers were really welcoming and had great spirits in spite of the torrential and constant rain. After man handling tack and riders onto the two horses in a comical amount of mud I went up to help friends warm up. At this point I realised a) my ski boots are no longer waterproof and b) only a total moron doesn’t pack spare socks – oh yes – that would be me. We have been getting some building work done at home which meant I have no lights in the room where I keep my clothes so had to pack in a rush in the morning and to be honest me packing in a rush means I just shove random stuff into a bag and hope for the best. This didnt include spare boots, spare socks or enough clothing. So everytime I put my heel to the ground I heard a delightful squealch as the water hugged my sock urgh urgh urgh. #firstworldproblems
I went and got Sammy tacked up and headed up to the outdoor warm up. He thought it was all great craic until he realised we weren’t going hunting and I actually expected him to do dressage. I headed down to the indoor arena to wait to go in and it was baltic. I hate wearing gloves and mine were hanging off my fingers like wet blocks of ice urgh jesus no wonder I have hands like a ninety year old I can handle gloves. We passed the time chatting to other members who were lovely and to be honest we probably all looked totally mental to anyone non horsey – a group of freezing cold women in make up and used to be white show gear shivering in their diamonte on grumpy looking horses. My test went ok given I could barely feel my hands, bum or face. I felt like an extra from Titanic.
The organisers had a lot of withdrawals (sane people) so they offered to let me just go and do my elementary test outside. I took one look at the warm up, hand walked the horse with an exercise rug on in a roofed corridor and then went straight in to do the test. The test went as well as could be expected and I was just really impressed by Sammys work ethic he went straight in and just did his job. Typically our ‘bad’ leg yield was better than the other because i’d worked on it and the normally good one didn’t fire. The organisers had at this point wisely decided to close the outdoor arena but offered any of us who needed qualification the chance to immediately do it (there were three of us left!) which was really decent of them. I went straight in and honestly it was hilarious! I could not really see the letters, water and sand splashed us every stride and I was soaked to the skin. I’d been worried sick about Sammy being cold but he decided that rather than go into the warm dry lorry and get his rug on he wanted to stay in the rain and eat grass. One track mind!!
We went to check our scores which proved much better than the weather! I needed two novice scores and one elementary score to qualify me for both levels at the National Winter finals and we achieved it 68%, 69% and 70%. In our last novice we got an eight for medium canter which I can only attribute to the water splashing his tummy but hey a gain is a gain. My two friends got three scores and four red rosettes between them so at least our very wet day yielded some good results.
I was afraid to pee before going home as my jods were so stuck to me I wasn’t sure I would get them back up! At this point some friends at home started sending us photos of ‘the snow’ ha ha I thought yes there was snow last year but no joke – it turned out there was snow at home making the roads absolute chaos. With a lorry full of horses and damp riding equipment we set off on what proved to be a 4.5 hour journey home. Given my friend had only driven the truck twice before it was a bit of a baptism of fire.
Everything we owned was in need of a wash or an oil afterwards! Monday was spent trying to make anything look clean or dry again. My breeches were filthy beyond belief but as they are my favourite I couldn’t throw them out so after getting advice online I soaked them in boiling water with milton, punch ultra whitener and vanish powder and then washed them at sixty degrees with a dishwasher tablet in the machine – I’m shocked to say they are clean again! One item of clothing I love are the Aztec Diamond 3D knit leggings. I really really feel the cold so i wear a base layer on my legs competing – I despise the feel of tights so used to stick to leggings or actual base layers until I got these leggings – they are so comfortable. Plus I found an added bonus on Sunday – despite being soaked through unlike most riders I didn’t have pink legs and my under wear was still invisible which is a win!
So that is us qualified for the National Finals in Novice and Elementary. I have a terrible track record at this competition so I will be working hard to try and actually get the best out of us this year!
Positive position changes! Before (below) and after (above)
Fresh after our Roland Tong clinic on Friday a couple of weeks back, Sammy was rather intrigued at being put back into the horsebox on Saturday. “Jumps Sammy” I promised as I bribed him up the ramp with a haylage net. We set off for Killossery for the Sarah Ennis eventing clinic but ground to a halt at the M50 on ramp which pretty much resembled a car park. I rang the venue who rather than saying oh well go home, said take your time we will make it work in another session which was really accommodating of them. We arrived an hour later to find the clinic had it’s own delays but we were ready to join a group of four other riders and get going in the indoor.
The indoor had a range of brilliant XC fences set up ranging from nice and welcoming rollers to corners created from poles to challenging enough brush topped skinnies. There was an imposing looking dark hedge set just 2-3 strides away from the viewing gallery and two wooden ‘T’ with flag either size which I can only call a starving skinny as there was nothing to them.
We started with a talk from Sarah on rider position. She explained her own journey with coach Chris Bartle and how she has embraced his system and philosophies. Her advice was clear and concise – get your bum back in row 24 and keep yourself off the floor. Feet in front of you on the dashboard, backside and shoulders behind you, hands low at the breastplate strap and look up and never ever look at the base of the fence. We were advised that you need three quarters of the horse in front of you to jump and that you never try and tell your horse what stride to jump – keep him in front of you and let him figure it out as he has eyes and a brain and needs to use them. Now anyone who knows me will know I am useless at two things 1) sitting up. Jesus I am wonderful at tipping forwards but sadly I haven’t found a sport its useful for yet and 2) riding short. I am terrified of riding short as it helps me tip forward. I am not going to mention riding with even stirrups as my crookedness drives me mad. My mantra going into this clinic was – this lady is not much taller than you and won a silver medal in WEG so if she says do something, you are going to do it.
So, having put my stirrups up I learned another chapter – turning with the outside rein and outside flexion to control the shoulder into a jump. I love dressage and this made perfect sense as inside leg to outside rein is the goal there. I was glad to hear this myself as when I teach I try always to teach that outside rein is god and that no one ever did more than turn a head or bend a neck trying to use the inside rein to turn. When you like me are teaching at a lower level its nice to get that confidence in what you are doing. This tied nicely in to the work I have been doing in my show jumping lessons with my coach too around turning and using outside rein and flexion. Bridging the reins was a new thing for me and of course I was the only person with two sets of reins as I ride XC In a Cheltenham gag so learning to bridge was a co ordination challenge!
We started off jumping a roller focusing on position and then rode some lines with corners and cottages with the theme of ride your line and look up. I did my usual clinic strategy of going first as nothing scares the hell out of me more than seeing someone else go first and having an issue as my brain starts turning the hamster wheel too fast and I over think. Sarah asked us what else did we want to jump so I said the brush skinny. She told me to go and jump the wide brush first. I set off down the line and every time I was tempted to check I just reminded myself to keep the horse in front of me – we hit the hedge on a long one and not only did he sail it – I was actually looking up! We jumped the skinny on first attempt but were too quick on the way in with Sammy showing his most challenging habit of locking his jaw and ignoring me which is my biggest issue XC – nothing worse than coming into a fence with a horse pulling down on your hand.
Sarah told me to stop shortening my reins and not to tolerate him being rude and bullish. I do it to try and get control but she explained it only shortens his neck and then he pulls me more. I asked her advice on how to get him back with a longer rein – did I need to pull back my elbows or something and her answer was wonderfully simple – rattle the bit in his mouth with your hand and simply get him off the lean. I tried this and as he knew where he was going Sammy got gobby as hell on the way in trying to speed up and pull down which is exactly how I nearly ended up eating a roller in annaharvey last year. I did as instructed and Sammy yielded his jaw, backed off and got off my hand! She said he looked shocked – he probably was as I have never been that bullish back to him before. Myself and another rider were then advised to jump the roller, jump the corner at an angle and jump the starving skinny. I let the other rider go first while I tried to co ordinate what I needed to do – riding bending lines and angles mentally is something I find hard and is what put me off trying pre novice Eventing Ireland yet. I walked the lines and decided where to aim for and off we went. Sammy pinged it. I can honestly say it’s the best he and I have ever felt over XC fences and the angle and the narrow fence just were not an issue as he locked on and just went. I even managed to sit back and look up.
I went into the clinic not expecting a huge amount as I rode three intros in 2017 and did very little last year and I went home feeling like I wanted to take on a pre novice this year. I would recommend Sarah’s clinics to anyone – I loved her style as there was no fluffiness or indecisiveness – everything was clear, concise and methodical which is how I learn best. I have many times been told to sit up or sit back XC but no one had ever made it click before or given me a clear physical instruction of body position. All going well I’d love to gift myself a private session to set us up to event this year without me or the horse leaning forward or on each other. I had a show jumping lesson a few days after this clinic and I am delighted to say my position looked a lot better!
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On Friday I took Sammy and Merlot to Leinster Dressage training with Roland Tong. I had Sammy at a session with Roland once before and also took Samuel last year. The thing with Roland is he fixes problems without me realising. One moment your lamenting the fact that you cannot keep the horse on a 20m circle without it falling out and the next you are somehow on a 10m circle without issues and unsure how you got there!
I love training with Roland for a number of reasons mainly that he makes me laugh, fixes issues and isn’t afraid to tell you how it is. Maybe its just me but there is nothing worse than someone blowing smoke up your ass in training and tell you it’s great when it isn’t.
Sammy went first mainly because having spent three days in the UK I trust him more when he is fresh and I didn’t fancy giving Merlot the opportunity to crack me into a mirror. I have spent a long time working on medium dressage movements and through jumping keeping him in a higher more uphill frame. The good news is I was told he is looking better, he no longer has tourettes and actually going sideways isn’t a problem. However, as I found out last week attempting to do a long and low circle in trot in a test and feeling like I was on a kangaroo, he now needs to be rounder and hold a lower frame in half pass. Basically he can go sideways but now has to do it with manners. On that note, he was described as ‘a bit rude’ which wouldn’t be unusual to be honest.
One theme that shone through this weekend of education was that I ride with my elbows out like a chicken which really offends Roland (sorry!) and that I give the rein at the wrong time – to be honest I’ll admit sometimes I give the rein just to get out of dodge which of course the horse is delighted about. Homework includes working on a rounder lower outline, riding straight lines off the track in trot and canter with maintained inside bend and being really disciplined about not allowing the contact until the horse does as asked. We also did a great exercise of canter straight with bend, a few strides of half pass and back to straight with bend which will help me to control the shoulder a lot more.
Merlot was up next and thankfully I had time to lunge her before I sat up. Merlot is the epitome of “street angel, house devil”. At home she is an opinionated little diva with no patience but put her in front of a trainer and butter wouldn’t melt.
Roland assessment of her was fair and constructive – she is a very weak rising five year old who probably will take another six months at least to mature into herself. She isn’t an easy animal to feed as hard feed sends her bananas so I have been using equerry mash, oils and fenugreek to build her but – she has also grown an inch in the last while so I think like her mum she will take time to grow into herself. I was very happy with her behaviour and work ethic.
My take homes with her were to use lateral to help regulate the rhythm and keep the forward motion. We worked on taking a twenty metre circle down to ten metres and leg yielding it back out again. It exposed her weakness a bit but no harm as it will strengthen her with practice. I was to ride with a wider hand and as with Sammy – only give the contact when the right answer is given. I do find this hard on this mare as she can argue with the contact and I submit instead of her for the sake of not having a stand off but when I took clarity in inside bend, make her rounder and only allow her down we both got on a lot better. We also went from wonky donkey on the left rein to cantering a ten metre circle. I am not sure how that happened but sure isn’t that the best part of a good session.
Huge thanks to Marguerite who not only organised the training, allowed us the use of her beautiful indoor (a gods end in this weather!!) but also allowed me to use her outdoor school for lunging and offered a coffee on the way home. It was such an enjoyable Friday afternoon on a sunny Winters day and a brilliant mental break having spent three days abroad working hard mentally on problem solving in work.
Scroll through Facebook or Instagram and it is on many ‘inspiring’ quote or hastag #livingmybestlife but you’re not, your horse is. Horse ownership should come with a disclaimer that explains its most about being covered in hair / mud / poo and paying vet bills or replacing expensive broken things. If you don’t agree let’s look at just a few reasons why your horse is living a better life than you right now
New shoes! Your horse gets a shiny new pair of custom made shoes every 6-8 weeks. There is no ‘thanks Penneys’ for Bob the cob is there? Your own boots worn every day in the yard and on the horse will be worn to death or at least until they are letting in water or fall off your feet.
Clothing – Your horses Winter wardrobe does not consist of a Winter coat bought in the sale and a waterproof jacket that’s questionably waterproof at the seams. Let’s be honest your horse has at the very least a plush travelling blanket, a summer sheet, a lightweight rug, a middle weight rug (worn for about thirty seconds between Irish Summer and Irish Winter just in case he might be too hot or too cold), two plus heavyweight rugs and an assortment of coolers plus a rain sheet. Each of these has been carefully selected to fit perfectly and will be repaired or replaced immediately after the horse shows its gratitude by sticking a hoof through it or ripping it to shreds. Your horse does not just suck it up if something does not fit perfectly – oh no – a new more expensive version must be acquired to keep the peace.
Diet – Your horse does not forget to eat. Your horse does not forgo dinner and shove whatever was closest to the petrol station counter down its neck in order to keep going on a 14 hour day. Your horse does not stress eat a takeaway and say it doesn’t matter because you are not at home or are in a different area code. Your horse does not substitute eating empty carbs by mainlining Berocca. Your horse does not even eat ten minutes later than routine because if dinner is late that stable door is coming off the hinges and someone is going to die. Your horse eats a balanced diet supplemented with every expensive substance known to Man that might help his performance or help him to feel even a fraction more good in himself. Your horses weight and energy levels are carefully monitored and diet adjusted immediately to counter act any undesirable fluctuations.
Healthcare – We live in Ireland. There is no NHS. A doctor costs at least €60 and you might as well sell your soul to go to hospital. If an Irish rider goes to a doctor it is safe to say we might be dying. It means we have already tried our two traditional medical remedies (Sudocreme and dry seven up) and are still in a heap. We do use physios and osteos but only at the point where we cannot walk properly or something moves when it shouldn’t, feels squishy or hasn’t rectified itself after weeks of ignoring it and hoping it goes away. Being honest it also physically hurts us a little bit to pay for treatment as we could have gotten two saddle pads in the Le Meiux sale for the price of spinal realignment and that blingy black number was definitely going to improve our dressage scores. Our horses by contrast see the physio at the slightest sign of discomfort and enjoy a day off afterwards to recover at leisure. The vet is on speed dial and owns one of our kidneys.
Dentistry – Now I don’t know about you but if I actually visit a dentist and pay to be tortured it’s because even difene can’t make a dent in the agonising pain in my jaw. My horse sees the dentist annually. I paid for wolf teeth to be extracted without even questioning the price. Personally I have been walking about with a tooth that needs a root canal for the last six month as I am terrified of the pain and even more terrified of the price.
Haircare – You horse will be clipped as soon as it’s coat looks fluffy, extra care and time will be taken to ensure that the lines are perfectly straight and the clip is even and makes them look like a freshly washed shiny seal. The horse will then wear one of a selection of rugs which have been dry cleaned after the last use. Your own hair gets chopped once a year when you can’t handle the straggly ends anymore and your go to colour is balyage as it looks like your roots were on purpose. You have on at least one occasion in life trimmed your own hair with a scissors or clippers.
Work Life Balance – Your horse works on average for one hour a day. Let that sink in!! The rest of the day is spent eating, drinking, socialising and sleeping. Is it any wonder they look fantastic? You on the other hand are working 12-14 hours a day to fund it!
Alcohol – Your horse does it’s own version of self harming which creates the vets bills and necessitates the long days at work. However your horse doesn’t work long hours and then go out ‘for one’ ending up going ‘out out’ and doing shots at 3am and waking up with one shoe and half a clue what happened. Your horse doesn’t get the fear or get up after four hours sleep and play pretend at being an amateur athlete. There is a lesson in here somewhere but to be honest if you can own horses and not need a drink sometimes I salute you.
Home care – our horse’s palace is cleaned out at least once a day, fresh bedding put down and everything tidied and checked. Your horse’s equipment is cleaned, oiled and well maintained. Your house is crying. There is some order to it in the form of various piles – things that need to be washed, stuff from competition not yet put away, stuff the horse broke needing repair, paperwork being ignored but not going away.
General Appearance – now – I know there are a few humans out there that manage to have their shit together and look perfectly put together every day. If you can get past finding matching shoes on a Monday morning you are a higher functioning adult than me and I find it hard to relate. My horses look brilliant – their hair even gets brushed every day?! I genuinely cannot get a brush through mine (the joys of living in the bog with hard water). The only time I look polished or put together is at a show when I have removed the layer of dust / mud / horse hair and covered myself in diamonte. Most clothing I buy is black as black goes with black!
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“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!
Now look if they are totally wonky with more than a hole in the difference of course we know but if you are doing the ‘are my stirrups even’ bum shuffle while listing your saddle from side to side like a drunk on a boat then no, we don’t know if stirrup A is 0.25cm shorter or longer than stirrup B! Plus if you have insisted on turning in eleventy million times in one session to ponder this great life mystery, at that point we don’t care.
I have a fool proof cure for the stirrup conundrum that hasn’t failed me yet. Turn in and halt. Ensure saddle sits correctly and centred on the horse (get off and fix if it isn’t). Remove feet from stirrups. Bring each knee up as high as you can and then your legs out as far as you can and repeat. Now that you are sat in the middle of the saddle, without wiggling or shuffling just put your feet into the stirrups and you will know which is longer. Fix that one and away you go. Your welcome.
2)We love people who bring us tea
In Ireland unless we are blessed enough to have a roof (I don’t, so if you do sorry but I hate you), riding instructors spend a lot of time out in the cold, the wet and the windy weather. Bringing a hot cup of tea to an instructor moored for hours in a baltic arena is a life line. You will be instantly in our good books – bonus points for supplying a biscuit on the side.
3)Size isn’t everything
Having a fixation about the height of a fence is a dangerous philosophy. The truth is if you set up a single fence in a straight line and gradually raise it anyone bar the really incompetent can reach a decent height. The truth is this leads to cases of “1.20 syndrome” where people then go around telling everyone they know “I can jump 1.20”. There is a great difference between jumping one fence in a straight line and jumping a course competently. Many exercises are based around technicality and the essence of the lesson is around improving the ability to successfully ride different lines and distances – not just about height. Obviously if you are in the competition sphere we will know this and we will tailor lessons to suit and to maximise your ability to perform at your level. Being able to jump a one ten oxer in a straight line is not an advantage when you are competing at 90cm and looking for clear rounds.
4)Let the horse stand and poo
We completely understand the philosophy of “he can move and poo” but when you have to painstakingly pick up every particle of poo in an arena its soul destroying to have to follow a mile long trail of poo nuggets while shrieking at others not to ride through it!
5) We can’t work miracles
If you have smart goals it’s a pleasure to help you work towards them. On the flip side if you are struggling at the lower levels but trying to turn yourself or your horse into Olympians overnight we simply can’t make that happen.
6) We love making you smile
Honestly this is why we do the job. We love to see smiling clients, we love when you set and achieve goals. We love getting the test that you enjoyed your lesson or had an amazing day out competing. Sometimes we have a bad day ourselves but when we are teaching we forget about our problems and focus on you instead and we love when we both go home smiling.
7) We know how cold it is.
Understandably being Irish we are morally obligated to talk about the weather as the first topic of all and any conversations. We understand that. However sometimes riders insist on reminding us that it is very cold or wet while they are riding. Trust us – it is much colder when you are on the ground not riding which is why if you see us hopping from foot to foot or doing jumping jacks we are not lame or insane – just trying to warm up. It is also why most riding instructors look like a failed model from the Aldi or Lidl ski wear department.
8) We are awful at taking our own advice
It is easy to be on the ground giving book perfect advice on aids and techniques and preaching about the danger of bad riding or horse habits. It’s much harder to put it into practice. You know that, we know that. This is why whilst we can calmly tell you to sit up and ride forward confidently through a dramatic spook and to sit up, squeeze your leg and wait for a fence you will find us on our own horse battling the same issues and trying to work out the answer. It is also why we ourselves get lessons!
9) Fill the silence!
Sometimes being a riding instructor is like being a cheer leader. It’s a dark, wet evening and clients have driven to the yard from work. The riding instructor bounds into the arena like an excited Labrador who has just caught a ball shouting loud chants about leg and riding forward desperate to bring an element of positivity to the evening and to fire up participants. Sometimes it takes an enormous amount of energy on our part to inspire the use of leg and the interest in exercises. Please talk back to us otherwise we feel like a clown at a kids party who isn’t funny and who has burst all her balloons trying to make a dog.
10) We are not a reality tv show.
We love when you stay to watch friends, family and your children. We love when you clap and shout encouragement. We love positive and constructive feedback.
We don’t love backseat instructors. If you would like to teach one of the clients in the lesson its best to head off and do so in your own time as it is really hard for that client to grasp what we are on about if you are shouting conflicting advice from the side lines. If you genuinely don’t know which end of the horse eats and what a saddle is it is really best to stick to cheering on rather than advising.
We don’t like being filmed the whole time. By all means take a photo of your child or relative on board and enjoying themselves or a snap them over a jump but being filmed for an hour without being asked for consent first is daunting and makes us self-conscious. We are not a performing animal or a Kardashian.
11) We really appreciate you being on time
If we haven’t said it lately – thank you! Riding instructors often work long hours in the evening and at weekends so a punctual client is the difference between getting home at reasonable hour to relax or getting home late and having no time to ourselves. We often have to book lessons back to back so punctual clients let us make the best use of our time.
12) We need you to relax and enjoy learning
Often clients get concerned and worried about things outside of themselves – what someone else is doing or achieving, what level others are at versus them, where they rank in a class, what others have. Everyone learns at their own pace and its natural to go through learning curves as you improve anything. Focusing on your own learning and progress is far more beneficial than looking at what someone else is doing. Plus, by engaging in your own journey you will enjoy it more and after all thats why you are doing it!
13) We love determination and committment
I have some clients who I look forward to teaching. Why? its simple – I don’t have to bring all the positive energy – they also bring their own. They want to learn and are committed to achieving goals. I can speak honestly to them without having to pause and check each phrase is 100% politically correct / unlikely to cause offense / carefully phrased to remove any negative slant because they want and value an honest opinion. I can tell them what needs work and improvement without generating an offense or a complaint. I can push them to work through a problem and repeat things with invested physical and mental effort without having to listen to excuses. They see and understand the small but very valuable gains and achievements earned through hard work that will all add up to achieving larger goals. They go off and practice their homework and come back with experience from doing so. As instructors we can only teach, it is the clients who chose to learn that will come out on top.
14) We are not just doing this for the money
All teaching is a form of vocation. Only the insane would choose to work with both animals and children outdoors for money. We do this because we have a passion for it.
All content produced on this site is my own original content. Please like and share if you enjoy it but please dont reproduce in any format without my prior permission. Thanks, L
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
Will encouragingly watch you slip, slide and groan as you lug heavy buckets of water that you have slowly and painstakingly dragged from the nearest tap or water source that isn’t frozen solid. Will wait until you arrive before promptly knocking the bucket over looking absolutely delighted
When forced to endure being stabled for a whole day, will take great pleasure in showing you the vast range of acoustics the average hoof can create using just a stable door.
Happy to hide in the darkest corner of their stable while eating their body weight daily in food. Would be quite happy to stay there and never see a human again once the food supply doesn’t run out
Literally just cannot maintain any balance or composure at the slightest dusting of snow. Mild hysteria at the sight of slush or ice. Absolute torture to try and slide to the paddock for turnout as they will do the splits about six times.
Doesn’t want to come in
While turned out for a stretch in the snow will roll, buck and canter around in delight and then decide they are not coming back in without a bribe. Usually changes their mind upon realising that every other animal has been brought in without them.
So ridiculously spooky that everything is now doubly terrifying as it is covered in snow. Eventually calms down as they realise that everything is terrifyingly white and fluffy and there is no escape.
What looks worse than a yard full of half melted snow? A yard that houdini broke out into and trampled through the snow and into the mud beneath creating a carpet of destruction of slushy mucky hoof prints.
Transformed from sane sensible middle aged horse to wild eyed snorting prancing lunatic at the sight of snow
The Ski Experience
Nightmare to lead out in snow as they will put their head down, set a trajectory and carry on regardless while you ski along behind them across snow and ice trying to keep hold of the end of the leadrope.
When turned out in the snow after being stood in for a day shows an impressive yet terrifying display of airs above the ground to the point where the rider makes a mental note to lunge the legs off them for several day before climbing on board again
When living out with others will do so very independently with absolutely no care about where the other horses are or what they are doing. Will usually hide out in the farthest corner of the field to ensure humans have to go through the deepest patches of snow to check on them.
Practically breaks out in pneumonia at the first whiff of cold weather. Needs about five layered rugs to be warm enough to cope with snow flakes.
The Toilet of Nightmares
The horse you dread mucking out after they have stood in for a day as their stable is carnage. The mixture of droppings, wet patches and trampled in hay that these horses can create is both fascinating and sweat inducing. The volume of droppings always seems inexplicably to be at least double the volume of what was ingested
all content published on equestrian reality is my own original content. Please like and share if you enjoy it but please don’t reproduce in any other form without my express prior permission. Thank you