Nerves, nerves, nerves

pre-competition nerves starting to hit right now

We plan on leaving the yard at 11.30 tomorrow morning. Our times are:

  • Dressage = 15.16
  • Show-jumping = 16.30
  • Cross-country = 17.10

I went down there this afternoon to walk the cross-country and have a good look around at the layout.

I’m starting to wind myself up over the show-jumping, I don’t know why it’s so critical in my head, but the show-jumping is scarier than the cross-country.

The cross-country course is nice, it flows evenly from start to finish, the fences are well-built, the track follows a simple outwards/homewards pattern and the going underfoot is just perfect.

I reckon that the optimum time is going to be somewhere in the 5m 10s – 5m 20s range; it is quite a long course, we might have to push and really motor around to get close to that.

I’ve taken photos of every fence. Where there are big spreads, drops and ditches, I have taken side-views too. This helps me to remember the route, the overall compass of the track (where it twists, turns and doubles back) and also, to help me remember which fences I might need to ask Tom for a little more effort.

There were several falls while I was walking the cross-country today. If we return home smiling and unscathed tomorrow I’ll reduce the size of the photographs of the fences, and post them online.

I’ve spent ages this evening revisiting the route down to Larkhill. Eventually, and after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to reject the route that Google Maps wanted me to drive.

If I was in a car, sure, I’d go their way.

But would I attempt those twisty roads in a 10-T lorry with two horses onboard?

No way.

It’s a bit of a yard outing tomorrow. Laura, Camille and I are taking one horse each round. Owen is competing three – maybe four.

Time for bed. Hope I sleep.

In the studio/out and about

This Reality Podcast show #110 – which includes a live phone call with singer/songwriter Jessie Grace, a pre-recorded interview with singer/songwriter Ben Walker, four tracks of musical goodness and a bit of rabbiting about any old thing – hit the world last night.

It’s funny how everything seems so fast and frenetic (and just a little bit frantic?) in the studio, yet suddenly, a whole hour has gone by. Weird.

Anyway, it’s 7.30am Saturday, the sky is blue and clear, the sun has been doing its best to warm the planet for an hour.

This afternoon I’ll drive down to Larkhill, on Salisbury Plain, to walk the cross-country course (twice!) for tomorrow’s BE one-day Event.

And drink hot chocolate. And eat a home-made chocolate brownie.

I believe that walking the cross-country course twice is more than equal to a hot chocolate and a home-made chocolate brownie.

They must, surely, balance each other out?

Before I head southwards I’ll ride Tom this morning. I also need to check the lorry over, make sure that everything I need is stored away in its proper place, and rinse out and refill the water containers

I’m taking a proper groom with me tomorrow. This will be the first time I’ve ever used help in this way.

This could be an interesting experience, having professional help, but I hope that having someone there – to do the grooming, tacking-up, studding-up, lunging, tack-changing between the phases and wash-down afterwards – will reduce my stress levels and allow me to concentrate on the riding.

I just hope that Tom concentrates as much as I will!

Mud, mud, glorious mud

really long post…

Saturday’s BE went according to plan. Except for the dressage, the show-jumping and the cross-country.

The weather broke on Friday and the sky began throwing heavy rain down while I was walking the show-jumping and cross-country tracks in the afternoon.

The rain continued overnight and in to Saturday morning.

We arrived at the venue at 6.20am, I got changed in to dressage clothes, went off to find the secretary to get my hat tagged and pick up my numbers. Then, in the still pouring rain, I unloaded Tom, tacked up, put studs in his hind shoes, mounted up and hacked over to the dressage ‘working in’ area.

We warmed up for an hour in the pouring rain, Tom became more fractious with every minute, but I don’t think that was weather-related.

By the time we were called in for our test it felt as if I was sitting on a bomb.

‘Argumentative’ would be a good word to describe how things went. Tom gawped at everything, lacked attention, offered the movements no significant or consistent concentration and, as a result, we failed to achieve any of the softness and suppleness we have built up over the last four or five months.

In fact we bronked our way around the arena in the pouring rain, it was very exciting. I thought our first canter transition was going to be acceptable, based on the previous movement, but Tom had other ideas. On the canter transition he fired in a really big buck and pinged me so far in to the air that when I looked down I could see his whole shape beneath me – I must have been a good two feet out of the saddle.

And that sums up our dressage test, it was all pretty much like that. Argumentative.

Back at the lorry I switched Tom’s saddle from dressage to jumping, changed his Bit, put his martingale, brushing and over-reach boots on and hacked up to the show-jumping warming up.

Actually, we worked in nicely; I didn’t over-jump him, it was still pouring with rain and although the ground in the show-jumping warming up was holding up, I didn’t want to risk slipping or skidding. We jumped just enough to make sure that we were forward-going, had a nice jumping rhythm and a set of brakes.

The minute we rode in to the arena though, all this changed.

Tom wouldn’t go near the sponsor’s banner that we had to pass, so I leg-yielded him forward until we were clear and he would go in a straight line.

We transitioned to canter, pushed on forwards and turned to fence 1.

Tom stopped.

Three strides out he started slowing to a halt and that was us with a refusal at the first fence. He stopped because he just wasn’t looking, didn’t have his mind on the job at all and was gawping at the fences, the decorations and the flags.

I wheeled him away, represented and we zipped over and then we hit our stride. Our ‘stride’ though, felt much too quick, Tom was in the driving seat and he wouldn’t give me the soft bouncing show-jumping canter that we’ve achieved in recent months. No matter how much weight I put in to the saddle and tried to collect his front end, he wouldn’t hear of it.

After fence 8 we had another issue where he spooked and stopped because we had to pass close to a petrol generator that one of the catering tradestands was using. I was able to re-collect, get our pace together again and we flew over 9 and 10.

Unfortunately I was defensive at fence 10 because a) it was an enormous spread and b) we were flying at it. But we finished the show-jumping with 10 time and 12 show-jumping penalties.

The time penalties were to be expected after the refusal at fence 1 and the dicking around after fence 8. The jumping penalties we picked up were because he wouldn’t give me the show-jumping canter, so instead, we flew over everything too fast and too flat and, inevitably when going like that, we hit a few fences down.

Back at the lorry I changed out of my soaking show-jumping jacket and in to cross-country colours.

The cross-country working-in area was wet and boggy. We were held in the collecting ring for 45 minutes while we waited for the Air Ambulance to arrive, pick up a poor, unfortunate casualty and medevac them to hospital.

Because of the ‘hold’ on the course our start times didn’t apply so we had to rely on the good will of the cross-country stewards to let us go asap. Unfortunately asap didn’t happen and we were told that we could go ‘in 4 horses time’.

We were told that three times, with five minutes between each telling. I’m not whining about this. The accident happened and, as a result, the organised system of times gets thrown out.

But, unfortunately, when we were called out to the start box the persistent rain and the seeping cold had even worked their way through my body protector and Tom had gone off the boil.

I hadn’t wanted to keep working in over the cross-country practice fences because the take-off and landing surfaces had, by now, been well dug up!

When the starter said ‘Go’ we rode out of the start box but Tom didn’t have the customary forward-doing keenness about him, showed a hitherto unexplored ability to go sideways and he refused at fence 1.

We represented and cleared it and went on to fence 2 where, despite me riding him quite hard, he stopped again. We represented and cleared it but as soon as we rode down the long, steep hill to fence 3 I could feel him backing off again.

So I took the pragmatic approach, I called it a day and we retired from the competition at that point.

Yesterday, over tea and biscuits in the tack-room, we had an inquest over the performances of all four of the horses from our yard that had competed on Saturday. The fifth horse had been due to compete on Sunday, but the organisers had abandoned the event due to flooding on Saturday evening which had made the course unsafe.

Our dressage sheet will make interesting reading when it arrives, but it won’t tell me anything that I don’t already know: Tom went in to hyperdrive, wouldn’t listen and was disobedient for almost the entire test.

The show-jumping could have been better, but we have a cunning plan to help sharpen Tom’s concentration. We’re going to adopt French Blinkers, a device that Tom’s previous owner, James, used. Hopefully the French Blinkers will sharpen Tom’s concentration on what’s in front of him and reduce the opportunity for him to spook at things.

The cross-country was nothing more than unfortunate. Being held in the collecting ring for such a long period of time could not have been avoided, and the very soft going that made me not want to risk jumping the cross-country practice fences too much, was just one of those things.

However, the use of French Blinkers for the cross-country phase will also help sharpen Tom’s concentration and focus his mind on the job in hand.

We’re also going to change Tom’s feed. Normally I can get inside his head without any difficulty, but on Saturday the atmosphere at the One Day Event scrambled his brain and all I could get from him was static. Reducing some of the more ‘active’ components in his feed will hopefully help him to calm down.

And we’re considering swapping his nosesband from a ‘flash’ to a ‘grackle’.

Yes, I’m disappointed at our performance. The dressage was dire (50.5 penalties, when I’d been expecting – based on our recent performances – something in the 29-33 range).

The show-jumping could be improved, but there actually weren’t too many things wrong with how we went.

The cross-country was the biggest disappointment, knowing Tom’s enjoyment for cross-country fences.

I could say all kinds of things in mitigation: our first One Day Event together, the first One Day Event of the season, the weather was awful, the ground was unpleasant, we were cold, we were wet…

But the truth is I do have higher expectations of us than the performance we turned in on Saturday.

In a few weeks time we go all the way down to Wiltshire to do it all over again.

Here’s hoping it won’t be as bad as this!:

The times they are a…


Saturday’s pony party British Eventing One Day Event calls us for:

Dressage 08.18
Show jumping 09.09
Cross country 09.58

This means a horribly early start.

  • Allow an hour for travel to the ODE = 07.18
  • Allow another hour for working-in = 06.18
  • Allow another hour for putting travel boots/bandages on, loading up. And then at the other end, checking in, tacking up, getting changed = 05.30 leave the yard.
  • Allow another 45 minutes to get up, eat, shower, dress and drive to the yard = 04.45.

So that’s a 4am alarm then.

I’ve told Soph that she can stay in bed, I wouldn’t expect her to turn out for all that – although she has said she’d like to be there for all three phases.

Memo to self: get the camera tripod out and put it with the video camera.

Today we schooled on grass – for the first time this year – and schooled around white dressage markers, to simulate the first phase.

Tomorrow morning we’ll pop around an eight-element show-jumping track in the outdoor arena and then go for a hack.

In the afternoon Tom’s being prettied up (again!) and having his mane plaited.

While that’s going on I will drive up to the Event venue to walk the show-jumping and cross-country tracks; as you can see from my times, I won’t have time to do these things on Saturday!

What fun!

Dressage 08.18
Show jumping 09.09
Cross country 09.58

An early lunch

I’m on my way to London’s Glittering West End (when was it ever that?) for a working lunch with an Ad Agency.

I love Ad Agency lunches, they’re either ‘M&S sandwiches in the conference room while half-a-dozen creatives workshop the concept to death’ or ‘all expenses paid slap-up feeding-trough fests’.

Sadly today will be the former, it’s a music-related thing.

And then straight to the yard afterwards, to sit on an equine or two.

I got a deliciously curt text from Owen yesterday that, in a nutshell, said: ‘Lesson. Sunday morning’, to which I could only respond ‘Yes please!’.

I feel sorry for the professionals at this time of the year. They’re getting their (or their owners) horses going, they’re focussing their four-star horses on Badminton Horse Trials (which comes very early in the season this year – end of March!) whilst bringing their less-experienced equines in to lower-level competitions, which have already started.

I think Owen is aiming two of his rides at this year’s Badminton and he’s got eight others at various lower levels.

So that makes him a busy guy.

And then there’s amateurs like me who are desperate for 45 minutes of his time to rub some more rough edges off, and hopefully apply a thin veneer of polish which we hope everyone else won’t be able to see through.

There is just over a week to go to our (Tom and me) first One Day Event, it’s swung around so quickly it’s frightening!

There are five horses based at our yard who are competing at the same Event (out of a field of 499 entries), and Owen is riding two of them. Not at the same time, obv.

Next Friday will be phenomenally busy at the yard. The five competing horses will be bathed and groomed and trimmed and generally tarted up to within an inch of their lives.

Elsewhere, the tack will be broken down, cleaned, oiled, reassembled and put carefully ready for the following day.

I’ll take the lorry out, fill it up with diesel, polish my boots, make sure the required clothing is laid out in the living accommodation, and try to fit in a double lap of the gallops with Tom – probably while they’re working on the other horses.

As I said, it’s come around frighteningly fast.

I shall make use of the rest of the journey in to London to learn, once again, the dressage test.

Testing times

I was trying to explain, to a person whose knowledge of horses is limited to ‘big, bites and kicks’, what is involved in learning and riding a dressage test.

I failed in my attempted explanation.

This evening I’m sitting on the couch trying to familiarise myself with the dressage that will be the first phase of Tom’s and my first one-day-event in four weeks time.

So bearing in mind I couldn’t describe what’s involved to someone in person earlier, how do I write down here what’s involved?


Here are the primary components:

  • The test (BE 90 Dressage Test 91) takes part in a 20 x 40m arena
  • The test should take approximately 6 minutes
  • The test comprises 15 ridden movements that are marked, and four non-ridden marks
  • Each movement will be marked out of a maximum of 10 points, to a total of 200
  • The layout and markings of the 20×40 arena look like this:

And if you’re interested in the exact movements, they’re here:


So, we’re clear now?

On riding a dressage test

After some questions from a bunch of folk about how the dressage test section of the Eventers Challenge went, I thought I’d put the full, gory story out, complete with abbreviations:

BE 90, Test 92

A: Enter at working trot.
Proceed down the centre line without halting.
Track right
6 – Drifting

B: Circle right 20m diameter
6 – Falling off leg, could be rounder

Between F & A: Transition to walk 3-7 steps. Then proceed in working trot
6 – Losing o/l in upwards trans

KXM: Change the rein in working trot
6- Falling off leg, above bit

Between M & C: Working canter left
6 – [unreadable]

C: Circle left 20m diameter
5 – Downhill, needs more inside flex

CHEK: Working canter left. K: Working trot
5 – 1/4s in, above bit

B: Circle left 20m diameter
6 – Above bit, falling off leg

Between M & C: Transition to walk 3-7 steps, then proceed in working trot
6 – Head could be steadier

HXF: Change the rein in working trot
6 – Needs to stay softer [unreadable]

Between F & A: Working canter right
7 [no comment]

A: Circle right 20 diameter
6 – Above bit and downhill

AKEH: Working canter right. H: Working trot. C: Medium walk
5 – Above bit. Unbalanced in downd trans

MXK: Free walk on a long rein
6 – Needs to open frame and take contact fwd and down

K: Medium walk
A: Down the centre line
6 – Not on c/l at start

X: Halt, immobility, salute
7 – Pleasing halt

Paces (freedom and regularity)

Impulsion (desire to move forward, elasticity of the steps, suppleness of the back)

Submission (attention and confidence, harmony, lightness and ease of the movements, acceptance of the bridle and lightness of the forehand)

Position and seat of the rider, correct use of the aids

A very handsome horse, just needs to stay in front of your leg and remain soft and [unreadable] to the hand.

40.5 penalties

Stream of unconscious

1. I ache still, every joint. I might resort to painkillers today.

2. We did the studio thing again last night and recorded the 100th show of This Reality Podcast. Old age might be creeping up on it because there’s no swearing, neither of us killed anyone this week and the ranting is kept to a minimum. But we do bring you some top work from very talented musicians. You can sample the listening experience on the website here or pick it up in iTunes here:

3. I took Tom to Allenshill yesterday and we came joint 4th in our class. We got 40.5 for the dressage which I’m unhappy with (I thought we should have been in the low-to-mid 30s), we were clear in the show-jumping but had issues in the simulated cross-country section. Tom stopped at fence 1 and 4a and if I’m honest I had relaxed after the show-jumping and eased back to riding him 60% instead of 100%. Ironically, I was so bloody furious at the stops that I really got on the case and fired him round the rest of the track; the three problem fences that I thought we’d have real issues with (the water tray, the corner and the skinny) we flew over. So it was good but also not good because it should have been so much better. Also, the weather was complete and utter piss. By the end of the day I couldn’t have got any wetter if I’d stood, fully clothed, in the shower at home for two hours. I had puddles inside my riding boots, no shit.

4. It’s 1pm and neither of us are up yet, in the accepted definition of being up (showered, shaved – me, obv, dressed). We were up really early but we went back to bed with mugs of tea and fell asleep.

5. As soon as we’re up we’re going out, otherwise we won’t get any fresh air today. I’m taking Soph to a place as a surprise. And later we’ll have a bite to eat somewhere. And maybe a visit to the cinema? Up in the Air is on in Witney and there’s an 18.30 showing. We’re so rock-n-roll.

6. I see that Microsoft have released yet another security patch for Internet Explorer v6 because that’s how various cyber attacks against Google, Adobe and other organisations were carried out. Microsoft advises its users to download the patch to close the security vulnerability. I can think of another way of closing the vulnerability – use Firefox or Safari.

On learning a dressage test

BE 90, Test 92

A: Enter at working trot. Proceed down the centre line without halting. Track right
yep, we can do that

B: Circle right 20m diameter
uh-huh, with you so far, chicken

Between F & A: Transition to walk 3-7 steps, then proceed in working trot
omg, don’t these people know how huuuge Tom is? And there’s a corner coming up at K!!!

KXM: Change the rein in working trot
phew, we can navigate our way around that, but getting in to the corner to start the movement might be tricky so soon after the transition

Between M & C: Working canter left
yep, that’s a nice transition point for that movement

C: Circle left 20m diameter
remember this you drongo: start the fucking circle straight away you’ve got the canter, because Tom’s so huge you’d be halfway down the arena before you got him on to a left-handed circle!

CHEK: Working canter left
oh-oh, holding him in canter for a 20m circle and then around to K might be fun!

K: Working trot
thank goodness, breather time

B: Circle left 20m diameter
note to self, need to remember that, it’s a long way from K-B and we don’t stop for a fag en route!

Between M & C: Transition to walk 3-7 steps, then proceed in working trot
i still don’t like that, they haven’t given big, rangy horses like Tom enough room before the H corner creeps up!

HXF: Change the rein in working trot
yep, we can do that, no bother

Between F & A: Working canter right
that’s another nice transition point for that movement

A: Circle right 20 diameter
shit shit shit shit, remember this: start the right-handed circle as soon as the canter has been achieved otherwise you’ll end up with an egg-shaped circle

AKEH: Working canter right
just need to hold him up with the inside leg to stop him leaning on me, otherwise that’s a nice movement

H: Working trot
and another breather

C: Medium walk
a fag break even

MXK: Free walk on a long rein
this is tricky for a chap who doesn’t want to take the contact down and forwards, but we’ve been rehearsing so we’ll give it a fair crack

K: Medium walk

A: Down the centre line
keeping straight!

X: Halt, immobility, salute
and off to change Tom’s tack for the fun part!

Must. Learn. Dressage. Test

The day after tomorrow Tom and I are supposed to be competing at Allenshill in the Eventer Challenge 90cm class.

That’s British Eventing’s dressage test #92 and approximately 19 simulated cross-country fences at 90cm height.

Except I feel that taking part in something as adrenaline-busting as Soph’s big book read (below) is marginally beyond my reach, performing the work necessary to compete with Tom is currently beyond the dark side of the moon.

Yes, sadly I’m still not 100% fit.

But I’m committed to going, on Friday, for more than one reason.

There are so many horses going to Allenshill from our yard on Friday that my lorry has been pressed in to service as a horse-taxi.

I’m taking three horses in my lorry and Owen is taking three horses in his.

I’ve decided that I’m still going to have a go at competing. After all, I can always retire if it’s too much for me.

The bad news is that I still have to learn the dressage test, and my brain is refusing to co-operate with anything associated with working.


The good news is that I’ve been offered a private cross-country training session with JP Sheffield on Thursday next week.