Trakheners don’t do gymkhana…

Aside

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.

Image

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 

Caveat emptor

For all those selling horses, I know that the following may not be true in every instance. But… from personal experience, my advice to those buying, is to question every aspect of an advertisement, not to be difficult, but to ensure that you purchase a horse that you can enjoy. That said, the following is a bit of fun, and written with a fair bit of tongue in cheek. Ultimately the horse you buy is your decision. My decision was flashy but a bit nuts, but I don’t regret it…

  • Not novice ride – avoid at all costs.
  • Lack of time forces sale – issues that current rider unable to solve.
  • Change in circumstances forces sale / very sad sale – spent all my money trying to sort out this horse, including lots of lessons, a spell with a horse whisperer, a variety of training aids, bits and tack and now have no money left to pay for livery / field rent.
  • Perfect gentleman to handle – bastard to ride.
  • Never strong – lazy and may have problems getting off the yard.
  • Forward going but safe – unstoppable, but doesn’t buck, rear or nap.
  • Perfect mother daughter combo – needs fearless pc daughter, and well off mother to pay for horse, lessons, competition fees, lorry etc.
  • Hunted last two seasons in Ireland by 13-year-old girl/boy – suit rider with no fear or issues about personal safety.
  • Loves XC – knocks down every SJ pole and does rubbish dressage test.
  • Bold XC never stops – says it all…
  • Star quality could go right to the top with right owner – homebred out of quality unrideable mare.
  • Wasted in current home – current home over horsed and unable to deal with quality ride, likely to come with issues.
  • produced over 3 top quality foals – unrideable (which is why she was a broodmare in the first place) and past her progeny producing best.
  • Never marish – consistently difficult.
  • Schoolmaster – lovely horse, who’s worked hard for their keep, now coming to the end of its competitive life.
  • Competition horse – completely nuts unless ridden by a pro without a full time job.
  • Could make it to the top in any sphere – homebred.
  • Ideal pony club horse – ideal for fearless 10 year old pony clubber, likes to go first hunting / hacking / and everything else.
  • Talented horse but low mileage due to work commitments – too difficult for current owner to compete with, likely to have mastered evasion tactics.
  • Lack of time forces sale of this special horse – even riding this horse three times a day hasn’t solved his/her problems.
  • A sought hard to find – lovely but grossly overpriced.
  • Anyone’s ride – anyone who doesn’t ask for anything.
  • Bombproof – even legs of iron and riding with two schooling whips won’t get this horse off the leg.
  • Absolute bargain, reduced as owner moving abroad – don’t even think about taking me to court as you won’t find me.
  • One not to be missed – worth a look, but more than likely jockey off to university, so be prepared for a horse that has been ridden by a fearless pony clubber coming off ponies.
  • Done it all – done being the past tense, probably a genuine horse in its day, now showing early signs of arthritis or other age related issues.
  • Good doer – just has to look at a blade of grass and you’ll be calling the vet for suspected laminitis
  • Would suit competitive amateur or professional – talented but likely to have dumped the competitive amateur before they even got into the SJ ring or first jump at XC, amateurs avoid at all costs,
  • Will excel in any sphere – homebred done next to nothing but quality breeding.
  • Owner retiring – you may not fancy the horse, but may be a good deal going on lorry, rugs, saddles, etc….
  • Real confidence giver – no mouth, not responsive to aids, but its own sense of self-preservation will get you through
  • A real eyecatcher – flashy, catches the judges eye,  especially when entering the ring on two legs.
  • Quirky – good-looking horse (probably chestnut) on for about a quarter of what they’d be worth minus the quirks.
  • A real character – similar to quirky, i.e. talented, loveable, but highly unpredictable.
  • A favourite on the yard – loved by all who don’t have to ride it.
  • Great BYEH prospect – lovely horse priced at the ‘money to burn’ market.
  • Safe, irish hunter – quiet mare worth about 5k and on for 8k.
  • Currently excelling in dressage, with scopey jump – buy for dressage, as if jump were as good as it sounds it would be on for top class event prospect.
  • 5yo BE affiliated at BE 100 – great prospect if you are a consistently competing at novice or above.
  • Genuine horse, happy at BE 100 or below – this is the type I want to buy, but they seem to be rather short on the ground. D x

Anyone for Dressage?

Hello, its been a while (since June to be precise) and its now the end of the summer, with long nights and bad weather to look forward to…

Its been a long, drawn out difficult summer for me, my friends, family and work colleagues, who have all been bored to absolute rigidity regarding my ‘to sell or not to sell’ dilemma. This ongoing saga, peppered with a few disappointing and demoralising views of potential steeds has dominated, what should have been a wonderful summer.

Not that I haven’t had a good time, I’ve just not done it on horseback (as they say), this summer I’ve had more success riding my surfboard than my horse.  So there is to be no post summer round-up, highlighting the thrills and spills of middle-aged show jumping.  In fact last week, I contemplated giving up horses completely, this week however, I am contemplating a winter of dressage…

Jayonthebit

Its odd, but I never thought that I’d be ending the summer having spent three months trying to work out exactly what I want from my riding and whether my drive to compete is greater than my desire to enjoy and pursue other activities, such as cycling, surfing and maybe even having a bash at Kite Surfing (another tick on the bucket list).

All this soul-searching is important, as a new horse is a significant financial investment, which once in my hands is only going to depreciate. Young, (slightly) cheaper greenies, need to be ridden everyday, and whilst older schoolmaster types may seem the answer, how long has one got before arthritis and any number of age related problems start to take hold? and don’t get me started on the whole minefield of reading between the lines regarding over optimistic adverts.  I may do a separate post on what those familiar phrases really mean!

So for now, Jay is staying, yes, he can be a tinker, but sometimes ‘better the tinker you know’.  As to my future plans, well, I might try a winter of dressage, he works nicely on the flat and I’ve never explored his (or my) potential in this area.  Maybe I need to stop acting like such a diva and realise that I’m lucky to have a horse at all.  If the show jumping isn’t quite working out at the moment, taking the pressure off myself and Jay might be just the ticket. Training for dressage is much more convenient and competing doesn’t reduce me to a quivering jelly of nerves.

I just need to get over this little niggle in the back of my mind which keeps telling me I’ve failed, and allow myself to cut myself some slack.  Riding is a hobby and I need to start enjoying it all again. After all, who knows, if I can brush up Jay’s canter on the flat and produce a softer, more responsive horse, that surely has to help our jumping.

I guess, if I’m honest I worry that a brief sojourn from jumping, may end up as a permanent break, but I think I’ll park that thought and deal with it at a later date.   After all, following some rather hairy hacks with Jay, I was wondering whether my days of barreling up and down the beach were over, but a fantastic ride on Putsborough beach a couple of weeks ago put paid to that particular theory. (See photo, this was taken last year, and it was much sunnier for the ride).  Thanks to Big Lilly, the lovely 19 year old thoroughbred/warmblood cross. She’d done advanced dressage in her time, but sadly there was no room in Tony’s van to take her home.

Puttsborough looking towards Woolacombe

I suppose this is the reality of all sports, things don’t always go to plan, and rather than being down and beating myself up, I should be grateful that I can simply swap disciplines and dip my toe into the world of dressage. After all, Pammy Hutton said that our flatwork yesterday was the best she’d seen us, so it has to be worth a shot.

Anyone selling a MW second-hand dressage saddle?!

a bit of a dilemma (AKA sandy knickers)

Readers, I planned to write this blog in some sort of chronological order. But then as they say, best laid plans of mice and men… I will return to my original plan, but am just compelled to write about recent events.

Recent events that may, i’m afraid shatter the illusion that riding is all about hard work and determination.  That definitely plays a large part, but also, especially as a hobby rider,  having a ‘tool’ that works with you and you can work with, is as important as all the hours spent training, riding and competing.

Now the next bit ( no pun intended) may seem a bit horsey, but please stay with me, as with anything in life, the quick fix, the free lunch, and any other relevant platitude, does not always, in the long term yield the desired results.

Here, as they say, is the technical bit… for about seven days i’d been riding Jay in a KK ultra universal bit, commonly known as a ‘gag’ but doesn’t universal bit sound so much nicer? He’d been going like a dream in it on the flat, and by that, for the non horsey readers, I mean that I can get him looking really smart and really soft, with no more than a little bit of leg action and the odd twiddle of the reins.  This seemed like a revelation compared to my previous bit, which felt like I had to go ten rounds with the equivalent of a 650kg Mike Tyson, and that’s, surely enough to make anyone’s eyes water.

So far so good. I decided to try the new (and expensive) bit out in my jumping lesson.  The jumping was going well, and I was still thinking that I couldn’t believe that it had taken me over three years to discover this ‘wonder’ gadget. .

But pride, always comes before a fall, and in my case two falls… having jumped nicely round a course of I suppose a metre plus jumps, the anti was upped. And it was upped to my ‘waterloo’ which is trying to jump a straight line through two jumps at angles that my brain just can’t seem to compute a straight line through.

It reminded me of a similar ‘waterloo’ i’d encountered climbing, although since riding I realise that rock climbing is ‘easier’ in the sense that you only have one mind and body to control. But the ‘block’ was similar in that no matter how much my knowledge of physics told me that a rock boot with sticky rubber sole could hold my bodyweight at a certain angle on a sheer piece of rock, ( a move called smearing) my brain found it hard to accept..

I encountered a similar ‘block’ on my little Honda NSR (at that time a half power GP motorbike), when I realised that the weight of me, my bike, and in reality my whole existence, relied on a bit of rubber about the size of the palm of my hand, that was in contact with the road.

But in reality, smearing in rock climbing and banking on a bike are similar as they both rely on the physics, namely the angle of dangle and stickiness/softness of rubber.

But none of this prior knowledge helps me in my showjumping quest and the point of this post, which is,  I suppose that there are no shortcuts in life. I know this, and am irritated by the fact that for one or two glorious moments I thought I might be wrong.

Why did I think I was wrong? well, with the loveliest collected canter comes great responsibility. That beautiful canter generated by a stronger bit, means that tightening in panic, when faced with a difficult line is simply not an option. Otherwise you’re very likely to end up where I did tonight, which is on the floor,(twice) with sand in my knickers, eyes, teeth and bra.

So I’m back to the good old snaffle. which is disappointing, as I had a taste of feeling like a proper rider, which I admit was amazing, if short lived.

And you know what the real joke is? it’s this, that I can get Jay to go fantastically on the flat in the aforementioned universal  bit, but this is not dressage legal.

As I said in a previous post, I am not an advocate of authority and think there should be an ‘underclass’ of dressage that allows any type of bit, to allow the less than perfect rider some sense of achievement.

So, how does this post resonate with non riders, well, gadgets and quick fixes, whilst an attractive diversion, can never really hide the real issues.

Its a bit like the dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, you block one hole and another couple or more burst through, impromptu.

pony tails – the beginning

063I thought writing a blog would be easy, just like three and half years ago I thought that learning to showjump just shy of forty years old would be easy.  As it turns out, I appear to be wrong on both accounts. So I hope you’ll stay with me for the ride as I blunder my way through modern technology, overcome the fear of putting fingers to the key board to keep you updated on battling the terror of entering a showjumping ring, surrounded by pony club belles, impossibly turned out on delightfully well behaved ponies. There’s no denying that the focus of this blog is undoubtedly ‘horse’, but  I hope that it resonates with anyone whose passion for their passion outstrips any natural ability. It is fair to say that riding has taken over my life and my bank balance. Occasionally, I find myself leafing longingly through the pages of the Boden catalogue, remembering a time when my money was spent on pretty tea dresses, linen trousers and funky footwear. The bulk of my money is still spent on shoes, but for Jay, my 16.3, three quarter Trakhener (German warmblood), copper coloured bundle of joy.  In fact approximately 800 of my hard earned pounds are spent each year on Jay’s footwear, which means that after three years of ownership I could be the proud owner of at least 6 new pairs of Jimmy Choo’s.  I probably would not have had such a large amount of ‘fun’ though.  As apparently, I ride for ‘fun’ and if the definition of fun is a perpetual roller coaster of ecstasy and depression, then yes, I guess it’s fun. So to the beginning of this madness.  I admit it, I made all the mistakes of a born again rider.  Following a stint riding a selection of wholly unsuitable nags, I had an insatiable desire to own another horse (it had been five years since I’d had to give up my other two).  The money was burning a hole in my pocket.  I scanned the horse and hound website daily, with no real idea what I was looking for, vaguely aware that I was choosing a horse, like I used to choose a man, looks first, temperament second, big bump back down to earth third. I wanted a warmblood about 16.1 hands high, that looked good, and I thought I’d found him up near Worcester.  In my mind I had purchased this horse, which was the first I’d viewed before I’d even got on his back.  He spooked his way round a small hack, seemed a little odd on the left rein, but more importantly was a shiny as a conker, had a pedigree as long as the M1 and looked great.  The deal was done, until the vets report who marked him down as 5/10 lame following a flexion test. Sense finally kicked in, and that was the end of my short relationship with Ben the Danish Warmblood. Back to the website, back to the chestnut described as ¾ Trakhener, ¼ thouroughbred, amusingly, it was the thoroughbred bit that put me off (I’d not heard of ‘tricky’ Trakheners at that time). Still, he was striking and close, so worth a visit.  Once again, he came out of the stable and I was sold, I was told that he bucked on hacks, told that he’d turned himself inside out leaving the warm up ring whilst eventing, but also told that he would show jump all day. I watched him clear 1.30m with ease, rode him in the longest canter you’ve ever seen in your life, tripped over cross pole and said ‘yes’. Got £500 knocked off the asking price and a very good deal on the saddle, which struck me as slightly odd as I’m far to British to be any good at bartering. Jay passed the vetting and arrived the next week.