Thursday, 29 January 2015

Happy Things

I do love a bit of good news, and the last few days seem to have been full of it! Maybe it is from being at home on enforced box rest with poorly children all last week, but this week I have been full of oomph and good intentions (hence actually writing a blog post ;D )

Happy things this week:

* The children are better and back at school (yay!)

* I have started riding a lovely little skewbald mare for a friend - I love young horses!

* I have had the amazing news that I am a runner up in the Twitter Eventing ran 'Fit to Ride' coaching course competition. This means I get a whopping 50% off the course price.

* I am considering becoming a freelance groom again, and where once this would have filled me with fear, I am now full of excitement.

* EQ Life magazine have done an article on our Team Chasing team and there is a fab pic of myself and A the wonder pony in it (fame at last?)

* I have had some lovely rides on my little mare A this week, really looking forward to our jumping clinic on Sunday.

Would love to hear anyone else's good news from this week.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Throwback Thursday - Pony Books!

Other than horses and riding, another of my absolute favourite pastimes is reading about horses and riding. I know, surprising isn't it? More to the point, I like reading vintage pony books. These are what made me quite as pony mad as I am today. Yes I was lucky enough to have ponies, but what fuelled my imagination and passion for riding was reading about all the adventures these fictional characters had with their ponies in the days before health and safety came along. Days when gymkhanas and hunting were the highlight of horse ownership, when ponies got fed oats and hay, and had lots of work. When parents would let you take your horses on holiday with you and you would meet fellow pony mad cousins or friends for wild adventures.

I recently got a load of books back from a cousin who had had them for the last 10 years and I am enjoying re-reading them all. There is something rather comforting about snuggling up with an old book (which smell amazing by the way!) and revisiting old friends such as David and Pat (The First Rosette) Jan and the rather dotty Jervis family (Jumping Jan) and the fat highland ponies Mouse and Shadow as they attempt hunting in the highlands of Scotland (Ponies in the Heather)

So, in a completely selfless, doing this for my blog only kind of way, my version of Throwback Thursday's will be a review of all these wonderful books.

The biggest challenge will be deciding which book to start with! Any suggestions?

Monday, 23 June 2014

Another ODE!

On Sunday we competed in a team competition at our Riding Club Area Horse Trials.

We had a dressage time of 9.30am, and with a 1.5hr journey time meant it was an early start!

I packed an enormous picnic (one of my biggest fears is running out of food!) the horse and a whole boot full of necessary gear, add one husband and two small people and we were on our way.

We managed to get there in plenty of time, so found the loos, Secretary tent, burger and ice cream vans, then set about plaiting the horse.

The dressage warm up was huge which was rather nice, especially if you do a proper warm up. Myself I usually just have a good canter round then walk around aimlessly getting in people's way! (not intentionally, everyone else just seems so focused and very few of them actually look where they're going)

Our test went well. It was nothing special, a bit flat and quiet, but as I have been trying hard to keep everything quiet and relaxed, it was just what we needed. We managed a score of 39.5 which I was delighted with, especially seeing as my aim was to get below 40. We got straight 6's except for my riding which I got a 7 for.

We went back to the trailer for a short breather and a change of tack, this is when I realised I had only brought 3 brushing boots with me, which was rather clever. Thankfully little mare only has front shoes on, so we just put front boots on, and didn't worry too much about it.

Little horse seemed a bit warm and flat, until she saw a jump! Then suddenly perked up. We produced a fantastic round, the best she has ever done and the best I have ever ridden. Huge smiles all round.

It was starting to get very hot by the time we went xc, so we kept the warm up brief. She stood in the start box snoozing and giving cuddles to the starter who thought she was very cute. 

As soon as we got going she was flying. This horse really loves her jumping. We jumped lots of things we've never seen before, and due to navigational error managed to approach a fence from the side. Thankfully my mare is a saint and thought nothing of jumping this fence from less than a stride away. We decided to go the trickier route at the water which meant we ended up with a stop, but I still think it was the right decision, because we need to see different types of jumps, and she is good enough to go once she's figured it out, which she did. We then stormed home, with a total of 40 faults - 20 for our stop and 20 time faults.

The rest of the team also did well and everyone felt pleased with their results. Unfortunately we didn't really get placed (6th out of 6 isn't really a place) but everyone felt they had achieved something which matters more.

Sadly, I really am bitten by the eventing bug, but just can't justify affiliated prices. So desperately on the hunt for some unaffiliated One Day Events in the area. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Sunny evening riding lessons, a picnic tea and impromptu ballet lesson.

I had booked a riding lesson for Wednesday evening. I can't really afford lessons weekly, but try to budget in some kind of training each month.

A friend of mine has started riding our gelding, and I thought us both having a lesson would be beneficial.

As is always the way, my poor husband had had to swap on call duties so ended up being on call that evening. But a picnic tea and a warm, sunny evening meant the children were quite happy sat outside the school while we rode. I had only occasionally to answer to "Mummy!" Or to  bellow across the school at them to quiet down or get out of the long grass as the horses (well, the gelding) thought they were monsters. They had a wonderful evening staying up late and running around. At one point my daughter was giving her brother and two other liveries a ballet lesson.

The lesson itself went well too. The mare and I are continuing to make progress with our flatwork, and my friend and the gelding seemed to achieve a lot too. Poor thing was made to do sitting trot though, and when asked how she was feeling the next day, said she woke up wondering if she was in labour, or whether it was the sitting trot! (Decided it was the sitting trot, mostly due to her not actually being pregnant)

The kids are a little more tired and ratty than usual from their late night, but mostly coped very well. It's always nice when things work out better than expected!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Finally pulling it all back together.

Today is Sunday. The day of rest supposedly. Unfortunately for us things had been slipping for a while, culminating in a messy house, huge mountain of laundry, no actual food in the house and a slight feeling of despair!

I was feeling a bit flat after an amazing eventing training session on Friday which was a very long day, and the fact my little mare had gone lame the very next day. Takes the wind out of your sails a bit.

Top priorities today:

1. Laundry, before the mountain takes over and we have to resort to clothes made out of feed sacks in a post apocalyptic type scenario.

2. Food shopping. Because, you know we like to eat, and when you end up feeding your darling children dry cheerios and chocolate cake for breakfast you know things are getting rather desperate!

3. Horses (obviously)

4. Bath children, yes even though it is the school holidays!

5. Cook the family a proper meal to ward off scurvy, rickets and general malnutrition.

6. Claw back some kind of order in the house any way possible.

It is now nearly 10pm and I have achieved the following:
- Horses (mare looks a bit sounder)
- Clean children
- Food shop
- Cook nourishing meal for the family (roast chicken, mash potato, carrots and spring greens, gravy)
- 2x of laundry (still about 10 to go)
- Cleared kitchen side, all dinner stuff away or in dishwasher
- Kids in bed
- Slightly questionable rock buns made for our walk tomorrow.

That will do nicely.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Training Day

A couple of months back my friend sent me a link to a British Eventing (BE) training day coming up. It included flatwork, showjumping, and cross-country tuition from Olympic event rider Sharon Hunt, information from BE, a goody bag, training ticket to allow you to enter a BE80 event, and information in how to go about it. All for only £40! it was also based in our area (well, nearly 2 hours away, but in East Anglia still) I booked in immediately!

I had been really looking forward to it. I had planned how I would do child care, I had looked up the distance on the map, and it was very exciting.

Things never really run smoothly though do they?

Childcare had to be rearranged due to a school inset day. There were various road works on the route, and we had had a setback and knock to our confidence only a week before when I had taken the mare to the riding club for some team training, where we proceeded to demolish the showjumps. I had misunderstood the session, thinking it was just flatwork, so left behind our jumping bit and hunting breastplate, which apparently makes more difference than I realised!

The horse has also gorged herself this week and appears to have turned into a hippo. Sadly she is a bugger for jumping the electric fencing, so keeping her to one section is nigh on impossible.

Anyway, Friday morning my alarm went off at 4.30am, I picked up my gear and got to the yard for about 5.20am. Thankfully the mare had stayed clean over night (we nearly fell out over the state of her on Thursday evening!) We were on the road for 6.30am. Sadly I seem incapable of correctly following a sat nav, so we had a few detours, and at one point I honestly thought it was wrong and we were going to be lost in deepest, darkest Norfolk for days!
However, we managed to get there somehow, still with plenty of time.

The plan for the day was as follows:

9-9.30am flatwork riders A + B
9.30 -10 flatwork riders C + D
10 - 10.30 flatwork riders E + F
10.30 - 11 flatwork riders G + H

11 - 12 showjumping riders A, B, C, D.
12 - 1 showjumping riders E, F, G, H

1 - 2 lunch and a chance to ask Sharon questions.

2 - 3.30 xc for riders A, B, C, D
3.30 - 5 xc for riders E, F, G, H

Let's say I was rider A.

The flatwork was kind of as I expected, general riding and Sharon picking up on little things. In my case my tendency to turn my right hand in, and raise my right heel. She also encouraged me to ask for more from the canter, and had us cantering 15m circles in an effort to improve my riding of the mare rather than just letting it happen. So pretty happy with that. It's always nice to know you are at least vaguely on the right track.

The showjumping I was a bit worried about. I was concerned there would be a huge course of smart, brightly coloured showjumps set at 3ft and us expected to be able to jump them effortlessly. As it turned out there was a set of rather tired looking jumps in a field with slightly too long grass, I immediately felt more at home! Sharon had us all cantering over 4 poles spread around the field, trying to establish a decent canter and keeping it. Then a tiny x pole was introduced to this layout, then we had to jump two small uprights on a related distance. Then a small course. No jump was any bigger than 2'6" which was perfect. I tried hard to get a bigger canter and keep it consistent and actually ended up jumping quite a flowing round. This is quite an achievement for us as we tend to lose momentum on the turns and go full pelt at the jumps. I have to work very hard on aiming slightly right of the jumps as I constantly drift left. I think we managed all but one jump on the right stride, and that one wasn't too bad, just missed the stride a bit and muddled through. But it was a huge confidence boost for us both.

The other horses in the group were a mix of young and old and the riders were similar ability, but with a range of experience. It was a good group.

Over lunch we had the chance to speak to Sharon about eventing in general. She really knows her stuff and was happy to share her tips and experience. We talked about making the step up to BE events, and what is different about them. The level of fitness needed, and where to go for a good first time outing.

The afternoon was so much fun! We went out onto the XC course and started off with a canter, then popping over a dinky little hedge, everyone managed this fine, though one of the horses, a 5yr old, was quite suspicious to start with, even though he could step over it! We moved on to a ditch, which I took my time over, letting the mare take a look if needed, but she was quite happy with it. We ended up giving the 5yr old a lead over and over the ditch which was hugely beneficial to us too, as it made ditches rather dull, rather than something that we 'might' have a look at. There was a rail one stride after the ditch, so we progressed onto ditch and rail, then brush, ditch, rail, which went really smoothly for us. Unfortunately two of our group fell off at the rail, one taking her bridle off with her, which caused a bit of excitement! Thankfully everyone was ok. So we moved on to a row of small jumps. The mare was having a wonderful time at this point and flew. She didn't fight me at all, it was really enjoyable. We nannied the baby horse over these too, then popped down and up a step, then did step then rail. Then linked about 5 jumps together and popped those.

Some of our group started having some problems with the next jump. It was a beehive type jump, but with spooky cut outs in the front, and some horses really don't like those. The mare would have jumped the moon if I had asked her at this point, so jumped this little jump beautifully. The others mostly popped this ok, though one horse took a huge dislike to it. It took a lot of Sharon's different tactics to get the horse over it, the horse was actually being quite naughty, and so we did some more leading. Eventually it jumped it twice, to the huge relief of the rider!

Next up we headed to the water. This was also not very straight forward! All went in fine. We walked through, trotted through, stepped down into it, stepped up out of it, then popped a 90cm skinny table/roll top type thing with flowers afterwards which I really enjoyed doing because my mare, Alice was just being a dream to ride. Unfortunately the baby horse had a bad time at the skinny, having decided at the last minute to bank it! Both horse and rider tumbled but thankfully got up unscathed. We then led them over some little uncomplicated jumps to get their confidence back.

We finished up doing a 90cm ditch, stride, roll top combination, which although not quite right we jumped ok.

I don't think I've ever felt so proud of my little horse as I did that day. She seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, and I am almost considering a BE80 attempt.

After a bit of grass and a good wash off we headed home. Alice got turned out into the field with her well deserved feed and lots of grass, and I headed home, picking up my children on the way. We got home at 7.30pm and only slightly late for the children's bedtime. I bribed them with stickers to get ready without fuss, read them Hairy Mclarey and gave them snuggles, before collapsing in a heap on the sofa still wearing my breeches. What a fab day!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A long time coming,

But we finally we made it to a One Day Event!

Bright and early Sunday morning I was loading up the car with an extortionate amount of gear, dragging fat sleepy ponies in from the field, and armed with a new bag of plaiting bands I set to plaiting the Mare's mane.

We had a short journey up the road and managed to get there at 8am, ready for dressage at 8.57am.

The dressage warm up was lovely and big, but full of horses! There were 3 arenas currently on the go, so 3 x the amount of horses I'd expected! Being grass it wasn't flat, and round the outside were some lovely dips and slopes, which was ideal to get the Mare paying attention to what we were doing. She was lovely and calm too. The test itself was a bit of a dog's dinner. When under pressure I tend to ride a bit with the handbrake on, so the test was a bit stilted, no real flow to it at all, and I didn't feel particularly in control during the canters. However, we got a score of 40.42 which put us about middle after the dressage.

Quick swap of bits, front boots and hunting breastplate on and we went to the showjumping warm up. We had a bit of a trot around, jumped all of the warm up jumps then came out for a wander around the lorry park. My husband and kids arrived at this point and settled themselves by the showjumping ring to watch.

The showjumping was causing quite a few problems. It was in a large ring, but was a very twisty and tight course with very little room to turn. Competitors were getting eliminated and knocking up huge cricket scores.

I had another trot around the warm up, jumped the upright from the other rein and then waited for the one in front of me to finish.

Our round was very messy. I think we got every jump on a bad stride, coming back to trot between for the turns. But despite hitting the planks pretty hard, we finished clear with just one time fault. More luck than judgement I feel!

Back to the trailer for a drink and clothing change. I was shaking at this point, whether from nerves, adrenaline or lack of food I have no idea, but it was unnerving.

Off we went to the xc warm up (sporting a lime green shirt - no blending in for me!) Getting there I was told I could go whenever I was ready. The warm up was blissfully empty so I had a good canter round letting her stretch and encouraging longer strides, then popped a xc warm up fence and I felt ready to go. We were only doing the 2'6" so the first few jumps were very small. 

The first half of the course she was a bit green, looking at things, jumping awkwardly, a bit unsure of things. By the time we got to the ditch the far side of the course I was unsure how it was going to be honest, would she settle and enjoy herself, or was I going to have to baby her round the whole way?  

We had a bit of a fight going into the ditch. She was trying to lock onto the rail, while I was busy trying to get her back to trot to go round the rail (that was for the next class) She stopped at the ditch unsure of what to do about it. I let her look, gave her a pat and made encouraging noises while she dithered. Still nothing, so I gave her a smack behind my leg. This seemed to make her switch her brain on, she pricked her ears and hopped over it and the little roll top a few strides after. After that it was like riding a different horse! The strides got longer and more powerful, the jumps less hesitant and she powered home. The water, skinny brush and corner were all fine. So despite our hesitation at the ditch we were clear, and without time penalties. Such a clever pony! 

We had a rather leisurely lunch sat on the trailer ramp at 11am, while the sun shone and the Mare nibbled hay and dozed.  It had been a lovely day. 

Took the Mare home for a well deserved dinner and turnout, got everything unloaded and put away and returned to the showground for the results. 

7th! Out of 27 competitors! So pleased. Our dressage sheet was detailed too which I like. We had got 7's for our canter work and free walk, but 5's for the tense and hollow transitions. Very fair and something I feel I can improve for next time. 

So plans include working on the flatwork to aim for a dressage score in the 30's next time, working on maintaining the canter through the sj to get a better jump and hopefully no time faults, and getting the Mare switched on a bit sooner during the xc. All things that are perfectly achievable. I have put our name down for the Riding Club Horse Trials team too - fingers crossed!