2012 has been a pivotal year for me; lots of excitement, lots of changes and plenty of bumps in the road too. The year started with so much hope and lots of rigorously thought-out plans of how the year would progress, but the phrase ‘best laid plans’ springs to mind...
Having won sponsorship for the year with my fantastic trainer Sharon of Kilminster Equestrian Ltd
, we both knew that there would be lots of hard work ahead, and hopefully plenty of success too. However, the first 6 months of the year were really about 1 thing alone; partnership – namely that between me and 4 legged friend Willo. We spent many sessions training, working with him, and making inroads, but it was obvious that Willo just wasn’t the schoolmaster we had hoped he was. We had some really fantastic Eureka sessions, and some brilliant results out competing, but after a year of persevering it was certainly not getting easier – and a very interesting first BE90 together ended up with a fall across country that no doubt knocked my confidence. We had some tough times after that, and after much soul searching we decided that Willo was not the horse for me. We ploughed on until he was continuing to make progress, and getting us both jumping happily again, but we were very sure that it was the right decision for both horse and rider.
I learnt so much from Willo, had some brilliant moments winning both xc and sj in style, and our flat work was always a challenge but there were visible improvements – both seeing our marks creep up, and also from a training perspective. I was keen to keep my eyes on the prize and keep training and competing after he went, despite the circumstances. I was lucky enough to continue having both flat and jump lessons on a friends horse, Jake the lovely warmblood, which has allowed me to continue training with Sharon at a level that Ruby is not quite capable of yet, culminating in comments like ‘I’d be very pleased to see that in a novice test’ and ‘with a bit more elevation that wouldn’t look out of place at elementary.’ As someone who always been a jumper at heart, dressage is still new to me, so to hear those kind of comments has been fantastic – a testament to Sharon’s training. Yep it’s official, I actually enjoy dressage! I’ve also been riding another friends horse Daisy, a tricky character as she can be a handful, but very honest with it and an absolute jumping machine! I’ve enjoyed helping to establish her flatwork better as well as schooling over fences, and in just a few shows we have come away with some rosettes or at worst having just 1 pole down in 3’0” classes, as well as easily jumping round the open xc course at our local uk chasers. Really pleasing results, and something that I would never have had the confidence or skills to do a year ago. Again, a testament to Sharon’s training.
Meanwhile in the background, Ruby has been just ticking over. We still have an issue in her 1 sidedness which we are currently investigating thoroughly thanks to my vets and insurance company, but she has been making steady progress in between physio. In fact, having just Ruby has been a bit of a breakthrough for us both!
Comparing her to the horse she was at the beginning of the year she’s quietly come so far and matured greatly. Her breeding has really started to shine through recently by introducing her to jumping. We took her xc schooling for the first time with Sharon, and she was just unbelievable – jumped everything asked of her with massive enthusiasm and far exceeded everyone’s expectations, even jumping a few elements from the open course! This is no doubt where her talent and heart lies, and ironically when jumping although strong, we have managed to get some really nice balanced, light canter work. Lots of hacking, hill work, and cantering whilst out has helped to develop different muscle and I’m seeing the benefit in her work.
Sharon and I have a sj session planned at home before heading to a local venue to have a play over a course of fences, so watch this space. All being well it may not be all that long before Ruby is out doing some little courses. She has masses of scope so it’s really between the fences that we will need to work on. Sharon has some brilliant clinics coming up too that we’re planning to attend, and a great fun xmas event that will be a great introduction to a competition type environment but without the pressure.
2012 has certainly been challenging; there have been trainer injuries, rider injuries, wonky horses, and mismatched partnerships, but throughout we have kept our focus, and where there’s a will there’s a way; we made the best of what we had and kept the Kilminster Equestrian name out and about. We finish the year with some lessons learned, my confidence soaring, my knowledge broadened, and safe in the knowledge that selling Willo was absolutely the right thing to do, even if it was hard at the time. I’ve since ridden a variety of horses, none of whom could be described as easy, but with some great results, I can work many different horses consistently in an outline, jump happily and confidently, without any of the issues we had together. Sharon told me many times that the problems we were having were not down to me, but as a rider you always tend to think that it must be because of something you’ve done wrong, but as always she was right, and my experiences in the saddle since have evidenced that.
I think it would be fair to say that we are both excited about Ruby’s future, and even despite having her ‘wonky’ issues she is really developing into a lovely horse with a bright future. Some real flashes of ‘wow’ moments on show lately. Sharon and I will continue to work closely together throughout 2013 and beyond, and with her extensive and sound knowledge I am sure there will be lots of exciting things to come as Ruby starts her career and who knows - maybe even a rosette or 2?! Perhaps Ruby will turn out to be the super little eventer I’ve been searching for? Watch this space. ..
Sharon; thanks for giving me such a fabulous opportunity as a sponsored rider, the benefits of which I will continue to see in years to come, being much more accomplished in the saddle. Thanks for your continued support and mentoring, friendship, knowledge, training and endless patience. It means a lot to know you have always kept faith in me throughout even when I doubted myself, and Ruby and I look forward to representing #TeamKilminster in 2013 and beyond. It’s been emotional!
On 22 September, I went to Bricky Horse Trials as ‘an owner,’ to watch my ex racer Monty (King’s Mountain) compete in his first affiliated ODE. Monty has been on full loan to Amber Mael in Wimbourne since about June of this year, and has been training and competing at unaffiliated shows with this as his end goal. Amber is a professional freelance rider and instructor in her own right, and has a preference for Thoroughbreds, so she was the perfect match for Monty.
It was a rather early start for all involved, and pretty chilly too! They were taking part in the BE90 class, and their dressage was due to start just 8.30, so it was nice and quiet for him. Monty is a typical TB and can get quite hot in certain environments, but he looked nice and calm as he warmed up; not sweaty, just focussed and balanced, but he didn’t fancy standing still for too long. They produced what was, to my mind, a pleasing test in which Monty looked as though he was much less tense than he has been in the past – just with the odd wobble when he had a look at some of the white boards as he passed, but Amber quickly corrected him. We were all pleased with the performance.
After an hour or so back at the lorry and a change of tack and clothing, they went to pop a few fences before the SJ. I was struck by how quiet and relaxed the environment was – much more horse friendly than some I’ve been to, and not jam packed full of people and horses which can be really distracting. He warmed up nicely, and other than 1 Monty classic (if in doubt, take one out!) he jumped in a lovely rhythm, and he ended with a large oxer which really allowed him to use his back and make a nice shape. He flew it beautifully so they left it at that, and went through to the arena to start their round. He completed the course with an easy clear, but we were slightly disappointed to hear that his dressage score was 47.5. I think we’d all expected better than that given the performance, but it sounded as though there were quite a few 40+ scores given so not a disaster.
Another change of clothing before the final xc phase. This mostly involved me running round like a headless chicken; Amber’s dad kindly pointed out where I could watch some of the course, but because I’d not walked the course, once that bit was done I trotted off to see if I could find where they would be going next! I managed to see 3 or 4 different sections of the course which was great, and Monty looked controlled and rhythmical throughout. Amber had been playing round with different bitting solutions as Monty has proved pretty keen across country and thankfully the Tom Thumb seemed to do the trick. They finished clear but with a few time penalties to add making it a double clear that would earn them 15th place, and a Foundation Point – a super effort for his BE debut!
I felt really proud of Monty, and pleased too because I’d always felt he would be an amazing eventer – and this was by all accounts a great start. His jumping is so bold and exuberant that he has plenty of scope to move up the levels, and having spent a year on loan with Sharon Kilminster doing pure dressage meant he now had the flatwork in place too. His main issue would be getting him out competing on a regular basis; having not had the transport, he had very limited outings so sometimes he found the competition environment quite exciting! Having had him out most weekends since she had him, Amber had Monty looking like an old pro and it was a delight to see him so relaxed and taking it all in his stride.
Not only that but I could see an improvement in his SJ too – a testament to the work put in at home. I felt like a very proud mum and was also pleased to see that Amber and Monty had formed a really great partnership. It was an interesting experience spectating; when competing myself I usually end up with my stomach in knots from being excited and nervous too, but I felt completely relaxed throughout; perhaps also a reflection of being around people who compete so regularly that it’s all a very well planned affair! Amber also had a very good groom in her Dad, who was on hand to help; glad I’m not the only one with a superstar unpaid groom or 2!
Bricky was a lovely venue, Monty was as gorgeous as ever, and the result was a good one. Having made his debut and performed comfortably, they will now head to Larkhill to do the BE100. The height of the fences shouldn’t be an issue for him, and Amber actually felt the dressage was a bit easy for him, so a step up would require more concentration for hopefully a better dressage.
My first experience as an ‘owner’ was a good one, and I quite enjoyed running round with my camera in my hand without the stress of competing! I can’t wait to watch Amber and Monty at Larkhill which is my local event, and will look forward to their progress over the winter months as they prepare for the 2013 eventing season. Having said that, I’m certainly not ready to remain a spectator completely, and I can’t wait to get my butt in the saddle and out competing myself. Nothing can give you quite the same buzz as doing it yourself after all!
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!
On 14 Feb, we went to Wellington for some BE Jump Training - excited to be getting out and about again, but apprehensive for not having enough jumping practice because of the frozen ground. Although Willo warmed up nicely, about half way round the course he started throwing in some stops - 1 of which resulted in me performing the perfect flying dismount and landing on my feet, much to my dismay! *Cringe!*
After some bucks and dummy spitting (Willo not me!), David the trainer told me to canter him away - which definitely did the trick as we then jumped clear round the whole course! We were both ring rusty and in racing speak 'needed the run,' but benefitted hugely from the outing and if I'm looking on the bright side, he never touched a pole! All is well that ends well. He had also been really upset in the trailer which is unlike him - maybe the excitement of going to a party for the first time in a while had got to him, but also last time he travelled was when we moved yards. Who knows, just not our day! Huge thanks to Sharon Kilminster, my lovely trainer and sponsor, who gave up her whole day to chauffeur us and give moral support.
Since then we've been doing more jump training and flatwork at home, and tested out the local gallops which will be crucial for his fitness. We've also taken Ruby and Willo to one of Sharon's dressage clinics, with some pleasing results, although my inner thighs were less pleased after all those half halts, and having to ride without stirrups. Ouch!
Finally, this Sunday we went to Tweseldown for some XC schooling with Robert Stevens Eventing. We jumped everything, and minus the blip where he decided a ditch was full of monsters, I felt some of his confidence returning, and on a couple of occasions really took on the fences which was lovely. He's a sensitive chap and is very particular about the way he's ridden, so I'm trying hard to keep him happy so that we can get that partnership back that we developed at the back end of last year - the one that landed us in the ribbons! It's not quite there yet, but we're well on the way to picking up where we left off, and hopefully with some more targeted training things will become more fun and less thinking!