Blue XC at Dene Farm Hunter Trial, 6th place
Lately it seems I’ve spent most of my time writing about other horses and riders, so perhaps time to give a little round-up on what I’ve been up to!
Pha Mai Blue, my gorgeous ex-racer who I bought in February, has been nothing short of a little star since his arrival. It’s been so nice to get out competing again, and we’ve so far managed to achieve some pleasing results at an unaffiliated ODE, placed at unaffiliated SJ on a few occasions, and also placed at a hunter trial. He’s done really well and is starting to get a nice little stash of rosettes going on! He has loads of scope and is super brave at all kinds of fences too, I just love riding him and his great attitude to life and anything that’s asked of him. He is doing wonders for my competition nerves as I’ve just felt so at home with him from day 1.
His flatwork (and mine actually) is coming along massively, and now I feel we’re up to speed jumping together, I’d really like to get some dressage tests under our belts. This is my weakest phase, but he’s teaching me to be much more relaxed in the saddle and through my hands and elbows; of course that means taking the tensions out of me has led to a horse without tension! Charlotte Dujardin I am not, and we’re not exactly ready for piaffe and pirouettes, but he feels streets ahead of anything I’ve achieved before and I know my trainer Sharon of Kilminster Equestria
n has been pleased with our progress. It feels like the penny is dropping for me, and it’s coming much more naturally. My aim is to target our 1st BE in July, so hopefully between now and then we can channel our inner dressage diva practicing some prelims at local level. Small steps certainly feel like they’re making a big difference, but we’ll just see if I can apply this in a test situation before I get too excited!
Ruby has unfortunately taken a back seat over the last month or more; she was starting to get sore over her back and withers because the saddle we had made for her was lifting at the back, and moving forward towards her neck. Such a shame as then we ended up with her jumpy about the saddle again, which the Activo-med
had helped us to address.
We tried a saddle on her over the weekend though (I can’t tell you how tricky she is to fit – not helped by her new broodmare look thanks to the spring grass and lack of work!) which seemed to fit well, and she responded well in it too. She was a total angel considering it was the first time I’d ridden her in such a long time, I actually couldn’t believe how well she went! Perhaps the regular sessions with the Activo-Med have helped, but I was very proud of her. Although enthusiastic, she felt very naturally soft and manageable. Let’s hope this continues and she can get back on with her work again, she has been most put out at not being ridden and having a job to do! I’d love to think about some intro’s with her over the coming months, she needs to get out and start competing!
Onwards and upwards, lots to be positive about!
A few pics below of both horses from our recent exploits...
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!
You can also see this post on the Horsemart website, complete with original photographs here.
On 29 July, I was witness to history being made. I was lucky enough to have tickets to see day 2 of the Eventing dressage phase at Greenwich Park, and the day delivered all the excitement and emotion that it promised.
The arena looked immaculate and impressive, with a London Cityscape backdrop that served as a reminder of the work and dedication that went into transforming Greenwich Park into the polished eventing venue that we saw before us.
There was a real buzz in the air, and the atmosphere was electric, almost tangible. When the action got under way, all the spectators did a great job of containing their applause and appreciation until the competitors gave their final salute, and promptly burst into rapturous applause and cheers for the performance they just witnessed. It gave me goosebumps every time!
The home crowd didn’t have to wait long for ‘one of their own’, as Zara Phillips and High Kingdom entered the arena as about the 3rd competitor. You could hear a pin drop as we watched on, and although there was a flying change that didn’t quite go to plan, they produced a solid test to earn a score of 46.1.
I was very much looking forward to seeing the mighty 19 year old Lenamore ridden by Caroline Powell, and he still looked every inch the eventer. The atmosphere may have got to him slightly as his test was not quite what we’ve come to expect from him, but the crowd was appreciative and Lenamore left with an abundance of energy as the applause fired him up.
The next Brit was Tina Cook and Miners Frolic, who had the unfortunate task of riding their test in the middle of a rather large storm! She was not deterred though, and produced a magnificent, polished test to earn them a richly deserved 42. Miners Frolic, or Henry as he is known, was an absolute saint to keep his concentration under such circumstances.
Michael Jung had performed a strong but not mistake free test, but such was the standard of the Ger
man team’s dressage that remarkably his 40.60 would be their discard score! Unsurprisingly, they are top dog in the team standings after the dressage.
The familiar Wiltshire based Aussie representative Lucinda Fredericks was a popular competitor, and her 40.00 did the Aussie medal chances no harm at all. Husband Clayton wasn’t far behind either, as he and Bendigo notched up a further 40.40 to pile the pressure on. The Aussies will go into the cross country phase handily placed in second.
William Fox-Pitt, incidentally the World Number 1, came much later in proceedings, with all hopes resting on him and the aptly named Lionheart to ensure we enter the next phase with half a chance. His tall, lithe figure was instantly recognisable as he entered the arena, and I held my breath as I watched on. It certainly looked a strong effort, and he was rewarded with a PB of 44.10 on a horse who is competing at his first championships. That will do nicely! He ensured that Team GB will enter the second phase in a respectable bronze medal position; although with 2 phases of the three to go we all know that’s liable to change!
The last rider of the day was the evergreen, once retired from international eventing Mark Todd. The Kiwi didn’t disappoint and nursed NZB Campino around in a near faultless test to finish on an impressive 39.10 -something the New Zealanders desperately needed after disappointing results for both Caroline Powell and Andrew Nicholson; the latter of which created a stir when ‘disgusted’ with organisers who held him back due to a sudden downpour and thunderstorm. Many of you will know that at this level, warm-ups are often honed down to the last second, and Nicholson claimed that the delay had caused his mount Nereo to go flat. He may have had a point, and Nereo’s canter work was disappointing, notably when it came to a flying change that could only score 4’s from the judges. As always though, the safety of horse and rider must come first.
A special mention must go to the surprise hero, Yoshiaki Oiwa who ended up topping the tables for Japan. His magnificent performance earned a 38.1 which could not be matched by the top event riders in the world. Yoshi is an experienced rider having competed at many top level competitions, but even he was shocked with just how well his mare Noonday De Conde went on the day, reporting that she always felt relaxed. He was understandably delighted with the result, and the crowd showed him the respect he deserved after such a fault free demonstration of horsemanship.
During the down time I was able to walk the much talked about cross country course, and if my instincts are right this will be far from a dressage competition! Once again the London cityscape was a breathtaking backdrop, and I was shocked at just how undulating the course is. I was out of breath walking it, and I don’t think the images can really prepare you for just how steep some parts are. One thing is for sure, they will need to be well studded up and in complete control if they are to ride the course without mishap. I think there will be lots of drama, and for all those there watching, you are in for a treat!
The whole day was really something to be proud of; even the frequent downpours couldn’t dampen the spirits! Good luck to all competitors today, and an extra special good luck to the Team GB horses and riders. To anyone who is lucky enough to spectate at the equestrian games, or even be a part of it, I hope you feel as privileged as I do to have been there to witness it.
If you're confused by the title of this article, it relates to a completely ignorant and inaccurate report from Bryony Gordon of the Telegraph; her report was very different to mine and you can see what she says here.
It’s been quite a while since my last update, so here goes!
With Willo we have gone back to basics; sometimes to move forward you need to take a few steps back. In terms of confidence, we were both suffering a little, so we’ve since kept things simple and built upon our successes. With jumping, Willo had become unsettled by me being defensive coming into a fence, so Sharon and I had a few sessions to help re-establish my position, using some exercises that always make me laugh (it feels like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy!) over some poles and building up to some small fences. It worked a treat, and we both felt better for it. Independently I have been practicing at home, and Willo and I are now back to jumping a decent height and some scary fillers with smiles on our faces, hurrah! We also boxed over to Sparsholt for an outing to practice over a course of their jumps which is always extremely beneficial, and it felt great for him to be taking me to the fence again. I’m very keen to get out and compete round some courses, but equally we need to make sure we’re ready or we will back at square one. All good things come to those who wait!
We’ve also been working further on our flatwork, with the help of Sharon. We’ve had some great lessons and on a few occasions recently he’s really given me the wow factor in his work; working deep and round, coming up underneath me, and becoming super light in the hand. Last weekend we ventured out to Altogether Equestrian at Cholderton to do some dressage. We were planning to pick Monty up but he picked up a knock, so we had to go without. Knowing I had entered 2 Prelim tests, I offered Sharon the 2nd ride on Willo; this mean she could still compete, but also that Willo would get the chance to show what he could do with a more established dressage rider. Well, after the hold up with Monty, we arrived late and my warm up was non-existent! Nonetheless, he felt so much improved and we finished the test smiling. Next up was Sharon’s turn and she rode P10 on him, finishing 7th with 66%! Pretty good considering she last sat on him about 7 months ago! Sharon felt excited having ridden him, and feels he’s got an 80% in him...great news. He’s continued well at home, and I popped him in the draw reins the other day to help remind him to get deep and round. With barely a contact on them, he just floated round the arena, and he’s very keen on showing me his medium trot at the minute! He was just awesome, so forward and off the leg...perhaps he’s feeling good for being on the summer paddocks?! If he can perform like that in a test I will be grinning from ear to ear! Yep, dressage making me smile, who’d have thought it?
I really feel we’ve turned a corner lately; having to step back from the situation has allowed me to see that Willo is just a very sensitive chap, and we were dealing with him in the wrong way. He takes confidence from his rider, and is unsure if you are; if you punish him for it and get after him, things can quickly spiral, but if you reassure him and work with him he tries his heart out for you! I think my changed mindset has helped, and I’m really keen to see if we can continue to make good progress. Ok, he will never be the schoolmaster I was originally looking for, but now that my understanding of him has deepened, we are working together as a team. It helps that he is just a nice person to be round too! If the right person comes along to buy him, I will sell him, but certainly in the mean time I’m happy that we have plenty to work with and build upon, and of course we will continue to compete. Partnerships can take a long time to develop, and part of me is now wondering if 9 months was long enough for me and him?? Definite wobbling!
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!
Since 2012 marks the beginning of my sponsorship from Kilminster Equestrian Ltd
I thought it was wise to start a blog to keep a record of our progress. The 14th January marked our 1st outing of the year, so this has to be a good place to start!
A game of 2 halves...
After a quiet December competition wise, we have been getting to grips with flatwork and trying to remain consistent in the bad weather. 2 lessons a week has been helping us to keep on the straight and narrow. Willo and Ruby have both been going very well. The only time we had a bit of a rubbish session was immediately followed up by a huge improvement, so it just goes to show that when you think it’s not making a difference, it is still going in!
We then seemed to make a real breakthrough, and my once hollow Willo was suddenly soft, supple, and working in a beautiful shape, the only thing we had to keep an eye on was too much right bend. Once was maybe a fluke, but this happened in 3-4 consecutive sessions, so both Sharon & I were thrilled with the progress – which has been as much about me learning to ride better from the leg as it has been about Willo accepting the contact. Both Willo & Ruby were due for a physio visit, so we asked the lovely Pip Stacey to come and give them a treatment. I think this was too close to the competition really, as this Saturday we went to Sparsholt to do some dressage and he didn’t seem very comfortable, and had gone back to his head tossing and hollowness a little bit.
This was rather disappointing as he’d been so much better, but hopefully just down to being a bit tight and sore in places after treatment. The 1st test was one to be forgotten – a terrible 51% which owed plenty to being hollow, and the fact that my non spooky horse was inexplicably leaping over the boards and spooking at the letters! Very out of character and to be honest I was quite pleased nobody was there to video that one! The second one was much better, and we came out with 58%. In the grand scheme of things, many would sneer at such a score, but having only started dressage 6 months ago, and had nearly 3 tests where we were stuck on the same old 55%, this was a bit of a Eureka moment to be honest with you! Proof that things are heading in the right direction. There is still much to improve upon, and I’m hoping that after a few sessions we can pick up where we left off with our home schooling so that we can start to translate this to the dressage arena in a competition environment before long. He was still over the bit and hollow but this shows to me that we are making small improvements in other areas, which gives me great hope that once we manage to get this outline and way of going re-established, we might actually achieve this reasonable score we are in search of. 1 step at a time though – next target would be early 60’s. We are hoping to go and do some test riding at other venues to help hone our warm ups, and ride some tests without the pressure of the competition aspect.
With Sharon’s help and support, and consistent reminders of ‘leg!’ and yep you guessed it ‘more leg!’ we are slowly getting there. I know at least 1 improvement is not riding my transitions ‘like Frankie Detorri riding a finish’ and we’re beginning to move away from ‘a showjumper trying to do dressage.’ So I would say that Sparsholt was definitely a game of 2 halves...and whilst initially horrified at the idea of having to ride 2 x Prelim tests, I’m now very glad I did, or we would not have seen the improvement that we knew was in there somewhere. Oh, and for the record – Sharon was right once again about the scores we would be looking at! Permission to feel smug granted Mrs K!