Friday, 28 October 2011

Dark nights and drunken loops

Amalie who has possibly the biggest floppiest ears ever!  I seem to have a landing strip on my head :)
So the nights are drawing in - boo hiss - I always struggle to adjust to riding under the lights at night. I have been subtly trilling like a bad Janis Joplin whenever my husband is in earshot, 'Oh lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz' transposing the words 'an indoor school' for the make of car. No luck though, he appears to be quite deaf to my tuneless pleas. In the summer I think nothing of doing a days work, getting tea for the kids then riding until 10pm but there is something about dark, chilly, Scottish nights that saps my enthusiasm somewhat! Oh well I will soon get over this -  I will just have to hope for gorgeous, sunny autumn mornings so I can ride before work.

 The horses and I have been busy doing all sorts of things recently. I had some productive jumping sessions with Ernest Dillon, Garth and I are still working on our corners in the ring - something I fear we may be doing for evermore. I have a tendency to land and not sit up as quickly as I should which allows him to run on a bit and as he loves to think he is in control of which point of the compass we are heading for, this leads to corner cutting. We are really improving though and I was delighted at our last show when we jumped a twisty 1.15m nearly perfectly. I have also been helped by a trick that a young trainer friend of mine, David Harland, has taught me, which works a treat on my intelligent grey and that is to go a little further around the corner than normal, then do a square turn back to the fence. This has a twofold effect on Garth, it fools him into not anticipating the turn as he thinks he is going somewhere else, I have to sit up more to make a tighter turn which sits him back on his hocks more. So rather than rolling around the corner like a bowling ball we make a much more balanced turn.
Ernest was also pleased with Amalies progress and declared us ready to do a bit more jumping. He said that now her balance is improving she is ready to 'learn to take me to a fence'. With that in mind we trotted over a pole to an upright then practised cantering on five even strides to a double. I had to make minimal adjustments, if any at all, as he wants her to learn to look after herself on the way to and over, the fences. I always find it quite difficult to sit absolutely still - I confess to an urge to fiddle on the way in, so I had to be really strict with myself and, apart from keeping her straight, not do much else. By the end she had slowed herself down to make the five strides easily and had stopped making up too much distance and was giving herself time to jump into and out of the double.

Flatwork for the rusty
I then had a great training day at home with Eric Mackechnie, a super flatwork teacher. I first met Eric years ago when he was training at Gleneagles as a student. He stood out among the his peers as a rider with feel and ability and a wicked sense of humour. He went on to do wow the dressage world riding a Highland pony stallion, Kincardine Ben Macdhui where he was an unusual sight amidst a sea of warmbloods.
It is ages since I really concentrated on some flatwork lessons and I'd forgotten just how hard a good dressage trainer makes you work during a session.
First up was Garth whom I thought was going really well on the flat - Eric had other ideas and, after watching me 'pootle' around, proceeded to make us work. So what I thought was an extended trot turned out to be only just worthy of a good 'novice test trot'. And my best effort at a medium canter was only just a 'decent working canter'. Phew - one hour later Garth was really trying hard and my cheeks were glowing with effort.

Tara - ok mum, I did all that work, where's the polos?

Quick tack up and then onto project horse Tara, in her first ever lesson with me. Eric asked me her history as I walked around to settle her. When I told him she was by Jazz and that she is a hot ride he said that many of the stallion's offspring are like this. Eric noticed her slightly unusually shaped hind end and I explained she is a shiverer, as he watched her work he said that this had obviously affected the musculature on her hind end as it is very tight at the moment. He put us to work on a diamond shape, rather than a circle, explaining that the turns onto a new straight line would make her use her backend and help build up her strength. He is confident that if I do correct school work alongside hillwork in our fields, that in time, I will both strengthen and at the same time relax the large, tight hindquarter muscles. At the end of the day I know that shivering is a nerve condition and there are no guarantees that work will help but I don't think that it is going to hurt.
 I was thrilled with her as she settled and concentrated beautifully. The thing that she finds most difficult is working on her own. It worries her to be away from her friends which means she can start work quite tense but she is an intelligent mare I get the feeling that she is enjoying being asked questions.
As she would walk over hot coals for food she really appreciates the handful of horse nuts she gets after each training session. No different to me looking forward to a custard cream with my coffee then.

Schooling on Champagne
Last up was Ams and Eric spotted immediately that a problem with her, due to her length and size, comes when she blocks me with her head and neck which stiffens her back and loses the connection from the back to the front. He then came up with a genius exercise for us which involves us weaving around the school in loops as if I had downed a few bottle of Champagne. The constant change of bend and from one set of outside aids to the other soon had her stepping under with a lovely free back. All my transitions also had to be made on a loop so that she couldn't block. He told me though to do all my cantering on straight lines but all my downward transitions were to immediately take me back onto the bend of a loop. Changes of the rein were all made on drunken lines, weaving from one side to the other. Anyone watching would have been getting me breathalyzed! It worked a treat though and continuing the work this week the mare has found it easier and easier to do correctly. I am really looking forward to his next visit to take this work forward it will help me get fitter too if he makes me work like that every time.

Travelling a shiverer
One thing that is worrying me with Tara is that a journey in the horsebox last week really exacerbated her shivering symptoms for a day or so. I would love any comments from anyone else who has a shiverer - did you find that journeys made the condition worse? Did you keep journey times to a minimum or was there anything you did that helped. Any comments here would be welcome. 

Weekend plans
This weekend I have some jumping lessons and then am off to cheer my son on at a rugby match. Next weekend I aim to go jumping somewhere but before that Garth will need to be transformed from a mud monster into a gleaming grey!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Moving on....

It's been a while since my last post. I felt so flat after losing my gorgeous mare Modetia that I haven't really felt much like posting, however life, as they say, goes on and so the blog goes on.

Brilliant Blair
I had a fantastic trip to Blair Castle Horse Trials with Garth (Kilmeadan is his jumping name) and the boys. My truck the Green Goddess was loaded fit to burst with horses - mine and Gill's and everything that two small boys and a not so small mum might need for three nights in deepest darkest Perthshire at the end of summer when you don't know if you are going to be bathed in late sunshine or sloshing around in the mud. My husband was muttering darkly when I left, about women who pack as if they are setting off for a month. In the end I was vindicated as it turned out we needed everything from wellies to sunscreen.
Blair is a fantastic event and if you have never been then go - it is well worth it. Set in the stunning estate of Blair Castle at Blair Atholl it is a great mix of top class eventing, showjumping, native ponies and shopping. Eventers have to be really fit as the course is surely the steepest in the UK.

Ears pricked and enjoying himself - Garth in the 1.10 at Blair.

This was the first time that I had jumped Garth on grass for well over a year and I was a little nervous about how he would go. He is a strong horse out in big green spaces so I also packed half of my bit box. In the end he jumped very well. Predictably strong on the first day - by day three he settled and was totally rideable. We were placed a couple of times and the worst we had was four faults. He qualified for the 1.10 final on the last day and just had an unlucky one fence down in that.

Gill keeps a few horses at my yard and at Blair her lovely youngster George, with David Harland riding, belied his years by winning a class and jumping some fantastic rounds - he is a very talented and his laid back temperament left him unfazed by crowds, marquees and the general bustle that you get around the rings here.

The organisers all worked hard to make the event run smoothly and my only grouch is that the collecting rings got like ploughed fields. On the Saturday a make-shift collecting ring for one arena was hastily roped off in the lorry park. While the warm up area for the other arena fared slightly better, neither was ideal and on the Sunday I only jumped one class even though I had entered two, as I felt that my horse had done enough work in that sort of ground. Competing at Blair is expensive and I do wonder if perhaps some sand or something could be spread and left so that the rings don't suffer from the rain as much.
Happy times at Blair

This was the first time that I have gone away to a show and taken the boys with me and it was brilliant having them there. They had a ball and apart from the battery smoking when I tried to hook up the TV (Yes I put the red to the black) all went smoothly and we will definitely do it all again next year. Staying in the truck, rudimentary though it was, was a great laugh and Pam and Julie from the yard were staying on the campsite - Pam was a brilliant chef and there was much hilarity around the BBQ in the evenings and I must thank Julie for doing all my warm-up fences for me over the three days.

Back at the yard..
Back at they yard my youngster Amelie is coming on a treat. I had a very constructive lesson with Ernest Dillon a while back who told me to spend a month just picking up a contact but making sure that I kept my hands very still and quiet and letting her get used to the fact that it was going to be there no matter what. It worked she has stopped fussing with her mouth every few strides now and I can now work her with a longer, softer neck and can even get her to really stretch down so that at last I can either work or relax her topline muscles.

The grain fields around us are now cut - so I have also been really enjoying taking her for a canter around the stubble. She has some stride once you let her move on. Fergus my lazy lurcher gives up trying to keep up and just plants his backside down when he's had enough and waits for us to come around again - I can see why the rabbits around us feel particularly safe!
A great read with some fab photos!
I am going to sneak in here a quick mention Ernest's brilliant new book which is out now - The Complete Showjumper.  I agreed over a few glasses of the red stuff to help with the images and so I spent many hours of summer evenings photoshopping the montage images together for it. Garth and I even make an appearance on one page - see if you can spot us! If you are interested in show jumping it is a brilliant handbook to have, full of practical information and tips. You can get a copy from Amazon or get a signed copy direct from Ernest's website.

Fergus causes chaos...
Talking of Fergus he gave my lovey project horse Tara, the fright of her life a few weeks ago by leaping out in front of her in the school. She hadn't seen him lying lurking in the long grass and to be fair neither had I. Being a hot-headed chestnut mare she needed no excuse and shot off at a rate of knots and unseated me, a couple of big bucks to follow saw me planted in the sand. Ho hum, meanwhile Fergus had calmly laid back down in the long grass waiting for his next opportunity to cause chaos. No harm done and Tara is getting used to him, as all the other horses have. It's funny but once new horses are used to the snowy white blob that bounces around the school with us they are much less spooky in general. Discretion is the better part of valour though and I have ditched my dressage saddle and gone back to riding her in a jumping saddle so that I can get my stirrups up and jam my heels down as there isn't much in front of you when she spooks. She is proving to be a really intelligent little mare and her paces are fabulous. She naturally comes through from behind and pushes from her hindleg, although at the moment that means she then falls on her nose so we are doing lots of work within paces and transitions to enable her to balance through her own exuberance.

Strictly Come dressaging...
I have been nipping down on the odd occasion with Amelie and Garth to do the odd dressage test. Garth has done well in some unaffliliated novice and elementary tests, managing to keep calm and Amelie behaved brilliantly at her first ever show and her first time indoors. Apart from gazing up at the roof like a tourist at the Sistine Chapel she behaved brilliantly. However too many years of jumping have left me with lots of small positional faults so I am looking forward to some lessons with a super trainer Eric MacKechnie, who is coming over to put me through my flatwork paces - he might have his work cut out for him!