Back in the game

I know I have been quiet! Life gets in the way sometimes and I haven’t had the chance to write a blog for a while. Juggling my own business, family and the horse, has left me pulled in all directions, so something just had to give.

I must admit I have been hibernating over the winter. It’s been coat-zipped, hood-up, gloves-on, head-down, rubbish weather, and it’s only recently that it has felt like we have turned the corner into Spring.

I have kept Rupert ticking over through the winter months, schooling, hacking and having lessons. But we ventured out for Spring camp last weekend and it felt so good to be out and about again. We had some amazing lessons with Jill Day, who focused on getting Rupert more reactive to the aids and less reactive to his surroundings!

We did two tests over the weekend, which was a great way to get back into the mindset of competing. The first test was tense and spooky, but it must have looked better than it felt for 70%. In the second test, Rupert was much more rideable and I felt like he tried really hard, so I was delighted with another good score of 69%.

Just before camp, I was lucky to go on a visit to Carl Hester’s yard, which was truly inspiring. We were treated to an amazing demo of horses at different levels and given tips that we could apply to our own training.

So, I’m feeling fired up and ready to get out competing again. Rupert is on fire – hot but fun. Time to take a look at the BD schedules to see what we can do next….

 

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Stepping into freestyle.

I’ve always wanted to try dressage to music, right from a young age after watching Jennie Loriston-Clarke give a music masterclass at Goodwood. There is something about a horse moving in time to music that is particularly magical. It gives me goose bumps!

Rather than just being reserved for people who reach the top level of the sport, dressage to music has become increasingly popular and it’s now open to all levels from Prelim, so everyone can give it a go. Many more venues are offering freestyle classes, at unaffiliated and affiliated competitions, so it’s much easier to get involved. Plus, there’s a new British Dressage music championship to aim for in 2018.

Even though my horse has only just started out at Novice level, I thought it would be fun to give music a go. It’s something different to do and it can help relax nervous horses (and riders!) if they are a bit tense and spooky. So, I’m on a steep learning curve as I explore the world of floor plans, compulsory movements and beats per minute!!

How do you go about it?

It is possible to create the floor plan and music yourself, if you know what you are doing and have some music editing software. But if, like me, you don’t know where to start, you might want to enlist the help of a professional who can guide you through the process and create the right freestyle for you and your horse. You can send a video of your horse’s paces to a professional, or attend a music clinic so you get to try out different types of music. I opted to develop a floor plan with my trainer, as she knows my horse’s strong points, alongside a music expert, and was lucky to be able to arrange a session with them both at the same time so we could build it together.

Whatever way you choose to do it, here are some key points that I’ve learnt so far:

  • Getting the basics in place: Each level has a set of compulsory movements which are available on the BD website. Obviously it’s vital to get those basics in place and develop the rest of the floor plan around those movements, so that you have a nice flowing test.
  • Playing to your strengths: You want to show your horse off to the best of its ability, so it’s a good idea to get advice so that your floor plan plays to your strengths. For example, if you know your horse has a better canter than trot, bring the canter in early and use as much of the time as possible to show that off. Or, if your horse is weaker on one rein, start with the other rein so they are more relaxed and supple by the time you get to the same movement on the other side. The great thing about freestyle is that it’s your opportunity to create a test that works best for you and your horse.
  • Matching the horse’s paces to the music: The starting point to choosing music is knowing the beats per minute of your horse’s paces. This means counting how many times one foreleg hits the ground within one minute, in walk, trot and canter. A good tip is to use a white bandage/boot on that leg so it makes it easier to spot. You can ask someone to video this for you and count it out at home, or ask a professional to do this.
  • Choosing the music: Once you have the beats per minute, you can start searching for music which fits your horse. You are going to have to listen to it a lot, so choose something that you really like! It’s good to be creative but the most important thing is that it suits your horse – not only in terms of tempo but their personality too. I really liked the sound of an Ibiza club mix, but it just didn’t suit my horse at all!! You can choose something with vocals but they shouldn’t be distracting, so most people opt for instrumental versions. It’s good to have a theme which links the music in each pace – such as songs from a particular artist, musical, film or TV programme.
  • Perfecting your freestyle: Once you have your music and floor plan sorted, you’ll need to practise it to make sure the music fits. You’ll find that some days you’ll ride it quicker than others, depending on your horse’s mood, the surface of the arena or the CD player! That’s why you need to know the music inside out, so you know when to get a wriggle on if you need to make up time, or pop in an extra circle if you are ahead of the game.
  • The official bit: You need to have a license to play music in public, which you can do through British Dressage. They will send you some stickers which need to be placed on your CDs (or CD covers to avoid them interfering with the CD player). To compete in BD music classes, you will need to be at least a Club member – for more details visit  www.britishdressage.co.uk/membership

I took Rupert for his very first freestyle outing a few weeks ago, armed with my fabulous Bake-Off music designed by Ros Kay. I was a bit distracted because he was very spooky down one side of the arena, which meant I missed a movement on one rein and ended up with loads of spare trot music. Rather than styling it out like I should have done, I just hung around A for what seemed like forever until the canter music kicked in! This was a great learning experience. I know I have to practise it a lot more before the next outing and listen to the music at home, visualising exactly where I want to be – just to make absolutely sure I know where I am going and that I don’t get knocked off course if something goes wrong.

Most of all, we are aiming to have fun with our music outings. It feels a bit less pressurised somehow and it helps me relax as I’ve got something else to think about! So why not give dressage to music a go? Even if you can’t get out competing, you can still use music at home by playing it while you are schooling. It’s fun to do something different and a great way to practise keeping in a consistent rhythm.

equestrian shop Lancashire

A brew with your brushing boots? Guest blog from Lofthouse Equestrian

An equestrian shop where you get advice, a biscuit and a brew – sounds perfect! That’s the sort of service you receive when you shop at Lofthouse Equestrian. I am delighted to feature a guest blog from owner, Sam, who tells us more about why she set up her business, her plans for the future and what’s next for her horses – the ‘troublesome trio’!

When did you set up Lofthouse Equestrian?
My husband and I started Lofthouse Equestrian, online initially, in January 2015. It was a steep learning curve as neither of us have a ‘tech’ background so setting up and designing a website came with some difficulties. It’s had quite few re-vamps over the years but we have finally settled on a style we like!

Why did you decide to open a boutique?
I’m really passionate about customer service, but it’s quite difficult to achieve the level I want when you’re just online. You can’t get to know your customers as easily. I felt the boutique would open this door for me and step things up to the next level. I also felt there was a local demand for a small shop in the North West to provide that ‘something different’. I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of quality, affordable yet ‘different’ items out there.

When did you open?
We opened the boutique in June this year with a Prosecco opening evening! I have to say it went down well! I found the little shop in November 2016 and after some negotiations collected the keys on Friday 13th January 2017, the day before our wedding! Everybody thought I was bonkers but I couldn’t wait to get the keys! Our wedding marked a massive change in our lives. It actually took us 6 months to renovate as it had been a florist for 15 years! It had no central heating, non-slip floors and required a kitchen ripping out to make way for a changing room! Thankfully I know some very handy people who only required food and alcohol for their labour!

equestrian shop Lancashire

What is your main ambition for the business?
I want to do so many things! I think my main one is to become a real social hub for people. I pride myself on customer service and would like to think, no matter what the issue, I can help in some way (the curse of being a veterinary nurse). I’d like to be the place that people know they can come for help, advice, a biscuit and a brew! I really believe it’s the little things that set us apart from others.

How do you plan on growing the business?
I think with regards to the boutique we will always remain fairly small. I’d like to get upstairs open early next year but I really want it to keep that ’boutique-like’ feel and remain personal. I would like to expand our events side both at agricultural and horse shows. Plus I’d like to hold more of our own events too (I have quite a list of ideas)! We are slowly expanding and soon I hope to be able to provide additional services such as hat and boot fittings. My husband has to remind me to take baby steps! I’m learning… slowly!

Tell us more about your own horses
Ah! The troublesome trio! Well those that read my blogs will probably feel like they know them quite well by now! I have two Dutch Warmbloods (Erik & Crunchie) and an Irish Draught x Thoroughbred (Mea). They are all completely different with their own quirks but it’s great that I get to ride such a variety! I mainly compete at affiliated dressage but we’ve had a couple of years away from competitions due to health reasons- no not mine! Mea is semi-retired now and Crunchie is quite quirky and needed some time to mature in a field before we pursued his career any further! Erik has recently recovered from a fractured pelvis after a nasty fall on concrete (thankfully no-one was riding him at the time). So after a lot of physio, vets bills and a lot of team work, they are all now fully fit and we are cracking on with training! Sam and horse Lofthouse Equestrian

 

What are your plans with your horses this year?
As the summer is now drawing to a close, I am focusing on training over the winter, getting them (and myself) fit and then to hopefully begin collecting our points for the Summer Regionals from December. I’d also quite like to take them on some fun rides like Somerford Park’s Farm ride or Crow Wood’s gallops as I think it’s really important to take the pressure off them and enjoy the ride. After all that’s what it’s all about! Enjoying it!

How do you juggle your business and your hobby?
I’m not going to lie, it’s difficult! Since we opened I’ve had to get into a totally new routine, which sadly means earlier mornings! I get to the yard first thing, get two of them ridden and all mucked out, then it’s back home and to the shop. Thankfully my sister can finish them off at night and do them at the weekend. I’ve actually got a bit more time at home in the evenings now….not sure if my husband is happy about that or not!!

To find out more about Lofthouse Equestrian, and to read Sam’s blog visit

www.lofthouse-equestrian.co.uk

Fake it ’til you make it

I’m delighted to have a guest blog published with Lofthouse Equestrian about dealing with nerves. You can read it by visiting their blog page.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely Sam at Lofthouse Equestrian last week, so am looking forward to sharing a blog soon about her business, horses and plans for the future.

Your centre line face

Beaming smiles, frustrated frowns and visible sighs of relief – you’d be surprised what your final centre line reveals about you and your horse.

Having recently spent some time writing for a dressage judge, I was fascinated by people’s facial expressions after they performed their final halt and salute. The judging may be over by that point but those few seconds at the end of the test give so much away about the weeks/months/years leading up to that moment and the relationship you have with your horse.

Most of the time it is easy to tell whether the rider is relieved, upset, delighted, disappointed or furious. When I was writing, I felt those emotions through the glass of the judge’s box and I desperately wanted to acknowledge that I understood how they felt. Having ridden countless centre lines on a range of horses from lazy ponies to ticking time bombs, that final halt can be an emotional experience! In that split moment you can either feel like all the years of hard work have been worth it, or that you’ve had enough of the humiliation and are going to take up basket weaving instead.

Of course, the judge can only score what they see in front of them at the time, but how often have you wished you could give some extra context to your test? At the last outing with my horse, I wanted to say to the judge “Think that was bad? You should have seen my last test!” I’m not sure what my face looked like at the end but I tried to telepathically communicate with the judge that I was delighted with the improvement.

So, it got me wondering what else our facial expressions might say about us when we perform that final centre line. Here is my top ten:

 

  1. The ear to ear grin: Yes! We smashed it. Next stop, the Olympics.
  2. The sigh of relief: Hoorah – we stayed in the arena for the first time in months AND I remembered the test. Result.
  3. The confused expression: We’ve practised those transitions for months and suddenly he’s forgotten how to walk.
  4. The grimace: What a total arse. That is all.
  5. The wry smile: Yes, I know flying changes weren’t required – but wow what potential!
  6. The knowing look: Hit me with your lowest scores, I’m ready.
  7. The apologetic exchange: Mouthing the word S-O-R-R-Y to the judge.
  8. The quivering lip: You have no idea what we have been through to get here. I’m so proud, I love my horse (sob)!
  9. The final frown: That’s it I’m throwing the towel in and trading the lorry for a campervan.
  10. The nod to the stars: I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive!

Undoubtedly, there are many other stories being told as you reach that final halt. I’d love to hear what your centre line face says about you!

Flower pot monsters – and learning to deal with them

It’s been nearly a week since we ventured out to do our first Novice tests last weekend – I’m not sure where the time has gone! Here’s a quick run through of how it went:

I had a very civilised start time, so I was quite organised for once and arrived with plenty of time to spare. It was a very hot day but I wanted to give Rupert enough time to settle, so he would be nice and relaxed for the tests. But in the boiling hot indoor arena, it felt like we were warming up for ages and Rupert started to feel like he was flagging.

Eventually we were called for our test. I  did a little dance inside when he walked through the barriers and past the giant champagne bottles, bins and other ringside gremlins which have been an issue in the past. But I wasn’t prepared for the new monsters which had suddenly appeared in the form of FLOWERS which were neatly dotted around the arenas. Because there is very little room around the edge at Keysoe, we spent a very embarrassing few minutes (seemed like hours) reversing into white boards and demolishing the arena as I tried to persuade Rupert that the horse-eating blooms were nothing to worry about!

Eventually, with a change of direction, some swift repairs to the arena, and a huge pony club kick, we somehow made it down the centre line. But his mind was not on me at all and he spooked his way around the test. If swerving were a real movement, we’d have got 10s!

In the lead up to this outing, my main worry was how difficult the second test was. I soon forgot about that as I was faced with a much more basic problem of actually getting in the arena and going anywhere near the outside track! I wasn’t really looking forward to going back in and Rupert felt very flat in the warm up. But I was relieved when a kind lady agreed to read the test for me, as it was one less thing to worry about if we had navigation problems!

Surprisingly, Rupert was a lot braver about the flowers this time. They were still terrifying but we had more space to get round them in the second arena, so he didn’t panic. The test felt 100 times better than the first, still spooky and behind my leg but I was absolutely delighted with the improvement. I did ask for medium trot and canter but there wasn’t much gas left in the tank by then, so the marks reflected that. I didn’t dare let go for long in the give and retake the reins, as the flower pots were looming up ahead, but the counter canter was easier in the big arena than at home.

All in all, I felt it was a massive learning experience for us both. I warmed him up for too long because, although he was nice and relaxed in the warm up, that all went to pot (literally) when we went to the test arena. He was then behind my leg and not really listening.  I was pleased with how Rupert improved for the second test, as he started to accept my reassurance that the flowers were not out to get him – something to practise at home I feel.

The first test was a bit of a disaster but the judge’s comments were really supportive and encouraging, particularly on how I had ‘coped with the situation’! The second test was better for 62.8% but I felt a little disappointed with the marks and comments. I guess, to me the difference between the two tests was so immense I was expecting an award for actually doing a 20m circle! But it was a different judge and they have to mark what they see in front of them – there are no prizes for lack of swerving. I felt a little better seeing other people having similar issues getting into the arenas and riders exchanging supportive tales of woe – it meant we weren’t the only ones overreacting to the decorations!

With a qualifying score for the Petplan Area Festivals, I have been debating whether to rush out again in the next few weeks to try and get another two sheets before the deadline. But I’ve decided to take the pressure off a bit. It’s not so much the qualifying, but the Area Festival is the week after the Regionals and my husband will be away for both – making it more tricky with home, the kids, work and everything else. So, I’m just going to focus on the Regionals for now and plan ahead a bit more for our next Novice outings. Sometimes you have to think about the bigger picture, and I never even dreamed we would qualify for anything this summer. I’m delighted that we’ve come such a long way since our first competition back in April and thankful that all the things I worried about then, are not as much of an issue now. Onwards and upwards as they say…..

Bitten off more than I can chew?

Still experiencing the euphoria of Glastonbury, I decided to enter our first two novice tests next weekend. The reality of the situation hit home today when I practised the tests. Rupert has had nearly two weeks off so he doesn’t quite know what has hit him. Novice 37 is a bit of a slap around the face after the relative ease of Prelims – with a quick succession of movements, including counter canter, give and retake the reins, medium trot and canter, three halts, square serpentine and 10m circles. I know Rupert can do it but it’s a real step up and it will be a miracle if I can remember the test as well as Novice 23, which is a lot kinder!

Instead of stressing about how crap it might be, I am trying to take a more practical approach. I think I’m still tired after Glastonbury, as I am not panicking yet. Maybe that’s the answer – more festivals?!! Anyway, I’ve got a lesson tomorrow with the wonderful Tahley, who I’m sure will whip me into shape and I will practise as much as I can, on and off the horse. You Tube will be my friend this week!