Trakheners don’t do gymkhana…


Its been a funny old year, as they say, horse wise.  But as I am ending the year ‘in print’ I’ve been compelled, nay, make that ‘cajoled’ (you know who you are!) into writing what will be my last blog post of the year.

Its funny, as I am a shocking exhibitionist at times, yet at others chronically modest and self-effacing (lets just say there may be a moderate to strong correlation with alcohol!). But I suppose the point I’m making is that whilst I’m delighted to be in print, and was standing in Countrywide today, clutching the last three copies of Horse magazine, I am also mortified in equal measures! photo

For someone, who in my last post but one, had resigned myself to a winter of dressage, I’ve done rather more jumping than was intended, and my wonderful, comfortable dressage saddle has had about five outings since its purchase in September.

Why? well I guess however much I hurt myself and lose confidence in Jay, I always seem to want to get back on and give it another go.  I suppose I’m just not ready to let this show jumping malarkey get the better of me… yet.

Life works in mysterious ways, and to cut a long story short, I’d applied for a masterclass with Horse magazine, when Jay and I were going well. If I’m honest, I’d pictured us, for ever captured in print sailing over 1.10 plus and had thought ‘that’d be rather impressive for the blog!’. But for various reasons the lesson kept being delayed, and in the meantime I had a couple of well documented disasters and went back to show jumping square one, also known as ‘a winter of dressage’.   I really thought that the class was now off the cards and was almost dismayed, when an email popped up in October, offering me the chance to attend a masterclass with ‘the hard man of horse’ Rodney Powell.


I didn’t really fancy telling Rodney that I’d given up and gone to dressage, so I bit the bullet and decided to give it a go. Its amazing I’ve got any teeth left all all, the number of bullets i’ve bitten this year.  OK the jumps are not the biggest we’ve done, and I know size isn’t suppose to matter, but it does to me.  Anyway it was an incredible experience for me, probably slightly less so for Rodney, I’m just not sure he’s used to such a verbose student.

On arrival, I was relatively calm, although I knew there was going to be another lady with me, and in true style had googled her name and freaked myself out by viewing her (extensive) BE results (life was so much simpler pre web). Yes, I would definitely be the more ‘challenged’ pupil.  I was doing my best to stay positive, but the clues were there, as the school had a surprising lack of jumps in it.

When Mr Powell announced that we might as well go to the enormous field, liberally sprinkled with not only show jumps but our ‘bete noire’ the cross county solid, I began to lose my nerve.

Those of you that know me, and Jay, and what has happened every time I’ve ridden Jay, in a large field with jumps with other horses, will understand my concern.  For those that don’t, the short version goes something like this, ‘big space, huge excitement, bronco one, bronco two with twist, Di dumped, riderless victory gallop round field’.   I was also gutted as I look ‘dumpy’ enough in the pictures, without the added bulk of a body protector, but drawing on experience, I grudgingly put safety over style.

For whatever reason, Jay seemed calm, and the lesson progressed well.  I know that a huge bronco buck would have looked rather spectacular in the pages of Horse magazine, but I was happy to oblige editorial with a couple of well-timed refusals!

One amusing snippet, was, as I was saying to the lady who organised the shoot that I was a little nervous of the mega field situation, Rodney strode over, asked me what the matter was, I told him, he replied with ‘are you here to learn or not?’ I said ‘yes, of course, but I’m just letting you know i may get bucked off’.  I do rather like having the last word (or fifty). Rodney did later comment that if there was a master’s degree in talking, then I must have it.

Being less flippant, the experience was tremendous, and the fact it coincided with a real low regarding my riding and my ability to ride Jay, was in the end a blessing.  Every exercise we did, was a real test for me, namely coming into every jump three of four strides out, being told to sit out of the saddle and just let Jay take me in, which he did, although alarmingly fast the first few times. The point being, I suppose that Jay had to think for himself and managed to sort out those long legs of his in time, without me pulling and kicking and fiddling around on top!

And as for the saucepan grip, well, I’ve not been able to hold a pan since, without remembering the fear of coming into a jump, with minimal rein contact, but again it worked, and there have been many times since (although mainly on the flat) where I have adopted this method with both hands.  It definitely allows me to give a more equal left and right rein contact and stops me engaging my man-sized biceps in an attempt to manhandle Jay around the arena.

One bit of instruction that I struggled with (see photographic evidence) was holding onto the mane a couple of strides out. Is this the mane? Either my sense of proprioception (look that one up if you’re not sure what it means, it’s a great show-off word) is way off, or I really think that Jay’s mane resides somewhere near his right shoulder…. but again, even though I never really managed the mane grab, there was no chance that my rigid hands were impeding Jay’s jump.

Since that lesson and also another excellent ‘prize’ lesson, I have found myself back in the old jumping saddle.  Having been adamant that I was going to keep the jumps small and ride with style rather than panic, I have in training done the odd course of 1.05m plus.

The lesson with Rodney was the most amazing boost, and it got my blood up again for leaving the ground, but really, that would all be wasted without the help, time and effort of my local trainers and I am very lucky to have such good instructors embarrassingly close to home.

As for my career with Jay? well who knows, I would desperately love a horse that gives me a little more confidence, but part of the reason I love and at times feel something other than love towards Jay is his sensitivity.  Sensitivity makes him him, but unfortunately sensitivity makes me me, which is why I feel we’re not the most stable competition partnership.  But at least I’ve learnt something this year… Trakheners don’t do gymkhana!

Wishing all my readers, exceptionally long suffering horsey friends and trainers a very merry Christmas, thanks for the support during 2013, I couldn’t do it without you. 

Horses are one of life’s humblers, and obviously I’m not yet humble enough.

See you all in 2014. x