Firstly, apologies for the lack of activity lately; I’ve been in a state of flux really, trying to figure out the best way forward. Now that has been established, and I’m happy with my decision, it’s probably time to share! If you aren’t already aware, after much deliberation I’ve decided to sell Willo. When I was looking to buy a horse, I was advertising for a Schoolmaster type, been there done it kind of horse to help me get started with the lower levels of British Eventing and British Showjumping. Along came Willo, with an enviable record showjumping and a great first effort at BE90.
He seemed the perfect horse, but as I’ve always said, very different to any horse I’ve had before! I’d had whizzy, sharp, spooky, nappy, strong, and Willo is none of those things. What he is though, is quite a sensitive, complex character, and he looks to his rider for confidence and support. We’ve had a few issues along the way but always managed to work through them with the help of my extremely patient trainer Sharon, and with some fantastic results because of it.
What has happened recently though, is that I’ve lost confidence with Willo after taking a tumble. It started with an honest stop, but because I ended up on the floor, since then my whole style of riding has changed. I hadn’t realised until I watched the video’s back, but when jumping I’m so worried that he might stop that I’m really sitting up and not allowing him to stretch over the fence. Willo being the sensitive soul he is, has picked up on this and now lost confidence in me. Whilst I am quite sure we could overcome that in the short term, and have just gone back to basics with it to build us back up again, it’s given us the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and reflect.
Having consulted with Sharon, and a local professional eventer, we have taken the decision that actually Willo and I probably aren’t the best match in the world. He’s not nasty, or dangerous, and in most ways he really is a delight to handle, but he isn’t that straightforward schoolmaster that I originally set out to buy. After much agonising, and knowing that I’ll probably never have a horse who can match Willo for ability, I have taken the decision that we need to go our separate ways because we are simply not getting the best from one another.
I will be extremely sorry to see him go; one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life would be when he jumped clear round the BE 90 course for a HT at Larkhill, and was just an absolute machine! Oh, and not to mention the feeling that he’s giving me with his flatwork lately...all that training has really paid off because he just feels fantastic, the giraffe that we were working with at the start is a distant memory!
All that aside, I am now sure that this is the best option for us both, so hopefully soon Willo will find a new home where he will be a superstar again, and I will be actively looking for a new best buddy to go out and compete with. I think sometimes it’s almost harder to know when things aren’t quite right because your personal attachment to the horse and the situation can cloud your judgement, and it’s been far from disastrous so it was never a straightforward decision; just one that I’m sure will benefit us both in the long term. Phew! Actually feels good to commit some of this to paper...or virtual paper anyway ;-)
So, in the mean time, Willo is advertised for sale and has a few viewings arranged; if they aren’t quite right for one another then I will continue to ride, train and hopefully get to a few dressage competitions to see if we can get that elusive score we have been striving for. Once his sale is complete I will look into buying another – typically I’m sure the ones I like will be double what I have to spend, but I think that’s par for the course really! My main priority will be finding Willo a lovely new home where he will be happy, and trying to get back on track with my ambitions before we lose the eventing season. The little taster I had has left me wanting more, and I’m as ambitious and determined as ever – so watch this space!
Having been to more shows of late, I've noticed just what a hazard the warm up arena can be! I wrote a blog about etiquette whilst warming up for Horsemart which I have included below. The original version you can see on their website here.
Recently at a local dressage competition I found a corner of the warm up arena to work in and play about with some chages of the rein and a few 20m circles. We first went and had a stretch, wamring up slowly, before making our way back to 'our corner' and begun some circles. Myself and another rider were just passing each other, and the next thing you know, a 3rd person comes up behind unannounced and tried to squeeze between us. This big chestnut then pushes past in front of us and lets out an enormous kick (it definitely meant that!) which sent it's back legs towards us, narrowly avoiding my horse Willo and going just above my head. No red ribbon in tail, the rider quickly mutters something about getting in too close and trots away.
Ok we came away unscathed, but my horse Willo is now very nervous passing other horses in the warm up arena, and only a few inches saved us both from being injured. The annoying part is this is all completely avoidable! I have recently heard some awful stories from friends about similar behaviour whilst warming up, and some have even been injured because of it. I would hate to be that person who caused an accident, so have taken the time to familiarise myself with some warm up arena etiquette before the next competition.
When competing, you can usually avoid a lot of trouble by simply remembering to pass left to left; always remember that your left hand, or the horses left shoulder should be closest to the other persons left. If everybody sticks to this, there should in theory never be any head on collisions. Remember too that you should leave plenty of room if you are following another; just like when driving a car you need to be aware of stopping distances, but also to avoid any flailing hind legs.
Do you know your ribbons and what they mean? For instance, if you are on a young horse, you can indicate with a green ribbon, whereas a red should tell other riders that your horse may kick.
When going jumping, you certainly won't be very popular if you are hogging the practice jump, and similarly your practice fence should be appropriate for the class you're jumping in; if you are jumping the 2'6" class, nobody will thank you for putting up a 4' spread.
Always observe the flags too; the fences should be set up with a white flag to the left and a red flag on the right, so you should only be jumping from one way, and be careful to ensure that you are not too close behind another horse in case they have trouble at the fence. If you have someone putting fences up for you, ensure they are clued up too.
Before now I've been approaching a fence to jump when a very helpful person has walked in front of it to mess about with the jump! Similarly if it's particularly busy, it can be helpful to shout 'jumping' if you are about to approach so people know to stand clear and not obstruct your path. Awareness is key; if you need to stop to adjust tack, or take a breather, don't stop on the track where you could potentially be in the way.
Every horse will require a different length of warm up, but you don't want to stay in there for excessive amounts of time. Basic common sense will tell you that it is not acceptable to lunge in the warm up arena as it will interfere with others, and also that galloping around will soon land you in trouble with other competitors and the stewards alike.
Lorraine Jennings, groom, rider, instructor and writer (www.schoolyourhorse.com) says; "One massive piece of advice for everyone is LOOK UP!! When you're nervous it's easy to stare at the floor. You probably don't know you're doing it but what it does mean is you don't see what's going on around you. Get in other people's way once and they'll forgive you but make a habit of it and it can make you unpopular!"
A lot of the problem stems from people who don't necessarily know the rules, rather than those who are deliberately being awkward (with the exception of a few maybe), and I think that more can be done at showgrounds to help make people aware of this etiquette. Having said that, I also believe that as riders we have a responsibility to make sure we are getting it right! The general rule of thumb as I see it, is to use your common sense and respect the other horses and riders around you. With this mentality, you can't go too far wrong!
For further tips on making the most of your warm up, have a look at this great blog post by Lorraine Jennings on her School your horse website; http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/2012/03/03/show-schedule/
It's been a bit of a quiet week really; little Ruby, my 4y/o has a virus so is only in very light work at the moment until she’s over it, and is also awaiting physio to determine her ongoing balance issues. Willo has had his physio so after a few days off he is now back in light work again, and will be back to schooling from tomorrow.
I mentioned to my trainer Sharon that I was available if she wanted to get Monty doing a bit of jumping. For those unaware, Monty is my 17h ex racer, who has been on full loan to Sharon since July last year. He is everybody’s favourite horse with the biggest character you could imagine. I bought him in roughly 2006 when he was still doing P2P, on the merit of his jumping ability. This horse has the most unbelievable scope! Last year I eventually came to the decision to put him out on full loan, as he is the kind of horse who thrives on a 1-1 relationship, and trying to juggle 3 horses was proving a struggle. At the time he was very green in his flatwork, as he had just not had the training, so when Sharon wanted to take him on, I knew that he would come on leaps and bounds with her expertise and consistent schooling.
Today was the first time I’d ridden him since, and boy what a difference! He felt fantastic, and was a credit to all the hours Sharon has put in since she’s had him. Sharon very much focuses on dressage and flatwork and wanted him to do some jumping; of course I was more than happy to oblige being the jumping fiend that I am! Monty set about the jumping in his usual exuberant style; instead of trotting over the trot poles we would instead jump them (all four of them at the same time!), and instead of take 1 long jumping stride between fences he would bounce them – why waste energy taking another stride! He was fabulous, and just made the fences feel small. The gridwork is great to get him thinking, and we ended up with 2 high crosses, and an upright of about 3’9” on the end; in true Monty style he made light work of it.
This horse is so honest and has the biggest heart; he never feels as though he is going to stop, and he would jump any fence height you pointed him at. I think he’d give Badminton a good crack given the chance! The downside is, due to his unique style, the photo’s and videos don’t ever tend to show the rider in the best light; we’re mostly assuming hunting position! Getting left behind and having to slip your reins is a common occurrence when your horse sees his stride from 6ft off, and in the past he's unseated more than one person who wasn't expecting it.
It gave me such a thrill to ride him and jump him again. His canter was just unrecognisable; he was previously very long and unbalanced in his pace, but now he has the muscle and technique to carry himself, so you get all the power underneath you but with the collection and self carriage to go along with it. I can’t say I’ve ever quite sat on a canter like that before! He felt fabulous and he behaved impeccably too; when you consider he’s not jumped for so long he could have been over excited but he kept his cool and just got on with it. He was always been and always will be razor sharp, so you just can’t afford to go to sleep for a second! I love that about him, but it was also nice to see that he could contain it too.
Anyway, enough about how lovely he is or I'm in danger of writing an essay instead of a blog. I've included some pictures from over the years so you can judge for yourself...you will see what I mean about his jumping style!