After the excitement of Tweseldown, I gave Willo Monday off to recover...because if his muscles ached a fraction of what mine did, he would be grateful for it! Back to training as usual on Tuesday though, and throughout the week we just continued with a mixture of hacking, flatwork in the school and a bit of jumping too. I wasn’t sure how the jumping would go considering how we
left things on Sunday, but he was actually very good! We didn’t break any world records height wise, but I just wanted to make sure that he was confident and happy, and he was taking me to the fences with no signs of stopping which was
just what I wanted.
On Sunday we then went to our local XC course ‘Dene Farm,’ which luckily for us is only hacking distance away! My sponsor Sharon Kilminster was holding a clinic there, so we went along to the afternoon session with 1 other – a beautiful 5y/o dapple grey mare called Jasmine. After having my bingo wings ripped apart by Willo at Tweseldown, I had realised the hanging cheek KK with the lozenge was just not going to cut it jumping wise, and changed to a Waterford. It was going to go 1 of 2 ways...after
a 10 minute hack to the venue, Willo was very moist in the mouth, and was testing it out. I think he got a bit peeved at the fact that I could ‘get hold of him’ in it if needed, and just as Sharon asked us to go for a canter and warm up, Willo had a meltdown! 10 minutes of napping followed, and he performed his Lipizzaner type leaps, half reared, bucked and walked backwards, which was delightful! After pulling ourselves together, things eventually got under way! Bless him, he does like to have an opinion about everything!
After having 1 naughty stop with no excuses, Sharon said Willo was taking the mick, and I’d have to start riding more aggressively. Whilst I really admire a quiet rider, I think Willo does not tolerate a passenger and needs lots of leg and riding forward to get the best from him. This was a turning point, and from here on, he jumped every fence on the open
course with plenty of room to spare, and seemed to really enjoy himself. In fact on a number of occcasions he put in absolute flyers, and was jumping everything with real gusto. I wouldn't use the waterford all the time, but I did really like how it allowed me to be soft and give, and take a pull when I needed - unlike the hanging cheek which seemed to have no effect whatsoever. I think I'll continue to play but next time out I'll certainly try this; he became really light and changeable at time which was ace for combinations and more technical fences.
My favourite picture I have included below; we'd been playing in the water with different combinations of jumping in and out. Willo was quite happy about the whole thing, so we pushed him a bit more and took him to the largest drop in that we could find. He paused on the edge, seemingly in 2 minds as it was quite a way down, and then without warning took an enormous leap off the edge and landed halfway across! I slipped my reins and managed to sort myself out just time for him to jump out, but it did give us all a laugh. Thanks again to Martin for taking some very well timed photo's!
The rest of the week has been hacking, flatwork, and lunging with my new favourite toy- the equiami! More on that another time...
This weekend, Willo and I went to Tweseldown for our 1st BE90 together. Willo has competed BE once before and came a fairly respectable 16th, but for me it was all new. I went with no expectations, other than the fact that we would learn lots from it, but really and truly it would just be nice to get the first one under our belt...everything since I bought Willo has been building up to it and it kind of feels like the holy grail!
All our prep went well, with a great mixture of showjump training, xc schooling, fitness work on the gallops, and even our flatwork seemed to have come good just at the right time – now that I did NOT see coming! After a eureka moment with our training, Willo is now working soft and round every time, not only in flatwork but jumping which is a massive leap forward. With that progressing, I did feel positive going into the event, knowing that we have never been better placed to start out BE.
The day came, and first up was dressage. Willo warmed up ok...but not to the same standard we’d been achieving at home, and was bouncing on and off the contact, dropping me and coming hollow at times. We were called forward and went to our test, which was a complete disaster! All of a sudden, the bay giraffe had made a reappearance, chomping and mouthing with his nose in the air, and flicking the proverbial V’s. We ended up with a shocking score of 46 which I was mortified at, but was fair given the performance...the most annoying part was our downward transition to trot in prep to do a ½ 20m circle. I was half halting for all my life was worth and Willo got slower and slower but refused to trot, so we were essentially cantering without going anywhere. Not our finest hr! Although it has to be said that I think I was a little thrown by his antics warming up and let him get the upper hand, as looking at the pics my reins weren't short enough and I don't look like I'm riding with the same confidence.
I hopped off and went to check out the SJ course. It definitely looked up to height, and there were a few good colourful ones there too. We warmed up and he flew a large oxer like Pegasus! Height would not be an issue. We were called forward, so off we went. We weren’t as balanced and rhythmical as I’d have liked as he was proving strong and quick (although he always feels faster than he looks!), but I was happy that he was taking me to the fences. We came to the last, a very bright and colourful double, almost home clear, and Willo changed his mind at the last millisecond, leaving us stranded amongst the wings and poles, and his bottom somewhere on the floor. Somehow I stayed on, (superglue, according to the commentator!) and thankfully Willo was unhurt. The fence was rebuilt and we took the last 2 again, clear this time – that really pleased me as it could’ve put him off completely and caused him to throw his toys out the pram. 4 faults, not too bad.
I hot footed it to walk the xc course, (should’ve taken trainers, riding boots are not designed for walking, ouch!) and then took Willo to warm up. There were a few that I was wary of, but would just heed some very good advice; heels down, eyes up, and hopefully we’d be ok! We set off, and came to the 1st fence...a few smacks down his shoulder as he had a wobble, but took it on with encouragement. He was flying round and felt confident, ears pricked, and seemed to be enjoying it. My only concern was brakes – or lack of them. He was hurtling along! A few of the more technical fences required some collection, and I had a job to contain him to make the turns, but we were certainly doing ok. We were coming down a hill towards a hanging log, with the 2nd part of it immediately right and up a short hill. I’d really have to get him back if we were going to make the 2nd element, but thankfully I got hold of him just at the right moment; he popped the first, made the turn and up to the 2nd...at which point he made to jump the fence, and immediately pulled back again, leaving me over his head and on the ground. Elimination for a fall, and unable to carry on. How very disappointing! Such an easy fence, and I genuinely have no reason for why he objected, as we got a great shot at it. Thankfully we were both unhurt, (bar a spot of concussion and fat top lip for me), but I was so disappointed...he is ace at xc usually, an absolute machine and if we could’ve gone clear I would’ve been happy with that as a first time effort. Unfortunately nobody was there to see the fall to say it was me, it was Willo, wrong stride etc so I’m not too sure what to work on...I don’t think it was nerves as by this point the adrenaline was pumping, I was ‘in the zone’ and enjoying it, but who knows. Maybe his confidence was low after the SJ mishap?
In any case, next weekend we have xc clinic with my trainer Sharon, so hopefully we can get our flow back in a safe and familiar environment. Willo will have today off, and I will have him looked at by a physio to make sure he’s physically ok, but then it’s back to the training as before. Next BE is Larkhill in April, so a nice break to regroup, reflect and prepare again. The first one is always going to be the hardest, but fingers crossed by Larkhill we can find our mojo again and learn from the experience. I must be a glutton for punishment because I can’t wait to go again, and try to make amends for a performance that I don’t think is a reflection of our capabilities. I’m not expecting miracles, but certainly an improvement.
Lastly, a million thank you’s to Sharon Kilminster, my trainer, sponsor, friend, mentor, driver and groom for the day for all her help – both in training and on the day. I hope next time we can are able to put in a performance more befitting of the level of training she is giving us.
Positives: meeting some lovely fellow eventers, with some great advice. Experience!
Learnings: take trainers to walk the course. Need to find a more suitable xc bit. More superglue required. Sit up and kick! And for the love of God smile and stop looking so terrified!
This week has been a bit of a revelation...I never thought I'd say this but...flatwork is the key to everything. My instructor has been telling me this for quite some time, but until you truly experience how it should be done, you can never really grasp to what extent that is true. Well done Sharon Kilminster
, I am a convert! So, to give you some context...
I bought Willo about 8 months ago. He was a showjumper, reschooled for eventing. The plan was to find a horse that I could start my first year of British Eventing with, and Willo seemed to tick all the boxes. However, he's an exceptionally smart boy, and clearly sensed that dressage was new to me (I'm a sj and xc junkie by heart!) and he was not going to do anything he didn't have to. We have spent approximately the last 8 months gently cajoling and encouraging, trying to get Willo to work correctly (which we knew he could do) and more importantly teaching me how to achieve that - but also struggling with the fact that he is very fussy in his mouth, and he can object quite strongly to a firm contact - often with huge bucks and lipzzaner leaps!
The trick has been trying to establish an elastic contact that he didn't object to, not hanging on his mouth, but also not leaving him without support and dropping him on his nose. Having not had a lesson for a while had given my trainer Sharon Kilminster time to reflect, and she concluded that Willo has had things his own way for far too long! He had ample opportunity to comply, so now it was time to get tough - no more asking, now we were insisting. Oh and just to warn you, says Sharon, you might need to sit up in case he starts to object! *Gulp*
So what was the end result? Well, win number 1 was no objections from Willo. No chomping furiously on the bit, no nose poking, no grunting, no bucking or leaping - and actually not angry at all! Result. No flying dismounts required, happy Willo and happy me. Win number 2 - an entire lesson working correctly in an outline, hocks underneath him and working over his back. Oh, and not just a token gesture, a few steps then drop you and hollow, or a slight softening, I mean the full monty walk trot and canter on both reins, even maintaining through transitions and changing the rein! Wow, what a feeling.
I know this is just the start and there is heaps more to work on, but without having achieved this correct way of working our progress has been slow in this area and our scores poor, so now we can really build and hopefully progress through the scales of training. To a dressage diva I'm sure this would have been easily achievable, but there is no learning in having someone else hop on your horse and showing you how it's done!
That was revelation part 1. Part 2 came the next day when I followed up with a jumping lesson. I hopped on, and to my astonishment, there he was, immediately soft and round and easy - exactly the same as the previous evening, proof that it wasn't just a fluke! It's like the penny has dropped. Sharon said I was looking a little bit Cheshire Cat up there I was smiling so much. It got even better though, we cantered round the school on both reins, flying changes where they needed to be, and every fence he really popped in a way that I've not felt before. For the first time I felt like I was sat on that talented showjumper I bought, his performance was 100% better, and he was really pinging - all because he had been working correctly! This was all the proof I needed, flatwork definitely is the key to everything, and maintaining this new way of working is a priority.
Here is a taster of the pre-revelation bay giraffe I used to own warming up for our 1st ever dressage test. The professional pictures were so awful I couldn't even bear to look at them! The one on the right is the 'new Willo' who is hopefully here to stay!
After...and this was just warming up for some SJ!