A bank holiday weekend stretches before us

It’s 8.30pm on (Good) Friday evening and the chocolate remains untouched.

I know! Are we mad or just bonkers? But pizza has been eaten so we’re not completely off our game.

This weekend’s entertainment show that is known as This Reality Podcast has been flung outwards and is nestling on a branch of the tree of iTunes, waiting for you to pluck and devour and enjoy. Or you could go to the website and stream it online. Or download it from there if you choose.

The content this week includes free chocolate*, five free tracks of musical excellence, a free CD give-away, a free T-Shirt give-away, a free review of the film ‘Kick-Ass’ (don’t tell The Daily Mail) and more.

In other news.

I had a day off horses today; yesterday we took Tom show-jumping at a private yard which had a course of the very scariest fillers and fences ever. He jumped like a star.

Next weekend Tom and I are competing at a one-day event at Larkhill down on Salisbury Plain; hope the weather dries up!

We might go cross-country schooling tomorrow but this too is dependent on the weather. We’ll be flat-work schooling indoors if the rain continues to come down sideways.

The plan for the rest of the weekend (outside of horsey-time) is to have lots of bed, lots of films, lots of reading and lots of Easter Eggs.

What about you, what will you be up to?

* Sorry, the free chocolate has gone already!

Sunday, brilliant Sunday

Up early because of the time difference; Tea and toast were taken back to bed and the Melbourne Grand Prix was (mostly) watched.

Dozeage may have occurred.

Ablutions and a second breakfast were satisfactorily completed, a trip to Gatcombe Horse Trials followed.

Hot chocolate was partaken, a brisk walk around the mile-and-a-quarter Intermediate cross-country course followed.

A fried egg bap with lashings of brown sauce may have occurred.

Another hot chocolate and a chocolate fudge brownie vanished from one of the trade stands.

Show-jumping was watched from the ring-side seat of the car.

Satisfied, slightly tired and a little drowsy we headed home where I changed and made for the yard.

Tom was quickly groomed, tacked up and heading up the track where we rode the gallops twice.

While Tom cooled off I had a brief chat with Sammi to plan our erm, plan of action (cross-country tomorrow, schooling Tuesday and Wednesday, show-jumping at Cooksons on Thursday, schooling Friday and Saturday, show-jumping at Allenshill on Sunday, cross-country on Monday).

Groomed Tom, rugged him up and let him have tea.

Home.

The evening stretches before us with perhaps a film or a couple of episodes of Buffy and a bite to eat on the menu.

Brilliant.

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…

published…

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

Dumped!

How was your show-jumping session with Owen today?

Well friend, I’m not terribly glad that you asked.

We worked in the outdoor arena. The session started with Tom spooking at a flock of killer equine-dissolving vampire pigeons (the kind that can come out in daylight) that were lurking with murderous intent beneath one of the boundary trees.

It took almost 20 minutes of working-in before Tom had forgotten them, had jammed his eyes back in to his head and his pulse had dropped back to somewhere near normal. But I couldn’t get his canter back; he was on his forehand and keen to gallop strongly, not particularly interested in achieving the collected, bouncy, off-the-forehand show-jumping canter I was asking for.

Anyway, we worked through it and, with some fine-tuning from Owen, we jumped a challenging track that he’d built to test us in preparation for Saturday.

However, on a pass over an altered track (because Owen does like to keep us on our toes), we were in the air over a skinny (a very narrow fence) which we’d reached off a very nicely collected, forward-going canter, when a person with two dogs on leads walked around the corner a couple of metres in front of where we were going to land (but they were outside the arena, obv).

Tom has obviously not seen people and/or dogs before. He did a massive spook.

Except we were in mid-air.

So as his left forefoot touched the ground, he wheeled around (yes, he actually did a 180-degree turn with just one foot on the ground. Owen later said he’d never seen that done before!), and then flashed off in the opposite direction.

Unfortunately I was still in the air and, equally unfortunately, unlike Tom, I was still subject to the immutable laws of gravity and physics.

So as Tom vanished from underneath me I found myself rapidly approaching the ground at a speed of around 25 mph and from a height of around 17-hands – plus the 4’3″ we were off the ground.

And believe me, that’s not only a long way to fall, it’s a fair old speed to be doing the falling at.

Anyway, it took four or five minutes before I’d got my breath back, I hopped back on and we rode the track three times. Owen changed it once more and we rode that once before calling it a day.

So now I’m back home.

The stiffness from the fall is beginning to set in; back, shoulders, neck, head, arms – all of these have been compromised in some way and suffering reduced mobility and a fair old amount of pain. I also had a biggish nose-bleed and bit my tongue, in to the bargain.

Tom, it must be said, was a total star. We jumped his little (big!) brown bottom off today; Owen threw everything at us – incorrectly-distanced related fences, spooky fillers, skinnies, severe angles and sharp corners.

I feel we’re just about perfectly prepared for Saturday’s one-day event. I’m under strict instructions to work Tom to the same high standard as one of Owen’s lessons, every day for the rest of the week – which could be tricky if I’m as stiff as an ironing-board for the next few days.

But that’s my problem, not his.

It might have been me…

Allegedly I swore at Soph at 4.15am. This doesn’t sound like me at all, does it?

DOES IT??

Good, I knew we’d get the right answer eventually.

I spent all day standing on top of a very high hill on a common in Hampshire, eyeing up clever horses.

It is Tweseldown Horse Trials this weekend (it runs from Thursday to Sunday), and Sammi was competing today.

The girl did good. Actually, she did very good. The show-jumping was a bit of a mire after persistent rain and the cross-country was a little ‘deep’ in places, but she rode very tactfully and kept the lid on a supercharged horse with great skill.

A week tomorrow it’s our turn at OX15 5EX.

We’re going cross-country schooling tomorrow afternoon; Owen’s taking two, Sam is taking hers and there’ll be me and Tom.

The next day I have a show-jumping session with Owen. And another show-jumping session with him on Tuesday.

Monday we’ll school flatwork.

I could do with another cross-country session towards the end of the week but I have to be in Leeds on Wednesday and in Oxford on Thursday, and that wipes those two days out for travelling to another track.

Maybe go cross-country schooling at home on Thursday, if I can squeeze in the time?

Friday I’ll pop Tom around the gallops for a couple of laps.

And that brings us to Saturday, when we do it for real.

I’ve seen the section lists and thankfully none of the five horses from my yard are in the same sections, but it does seem as if most of us will have early start times.

Bummer.

This means that we could all, in theory, be doing our dressage, show-jumping and cross-country at more-or-less the same time.

Oh well.

In other news…

We bumbled our way through another podcast this evening.

Soph makes an unfounded malicious accusation that I swore at her at 4.15 this morning.

And we sing.

It is very bad, this singing.

I’d like to apologise for it right now.

I’m sorry.

There, that’s alright now.

Isn’t it?

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.

Weekending with Tom and smiles

Today, for the first time in months, the sun shone, the sky was blue and there were hardly any clouds in the sky.

To celebrate this rare event I cut things short at 1.30 and headed up to the yard.

A short while later Tom and I were hacking up the track, and across the lane and on to… the racing gallops.

I love those gallops.

White post-and-rail and a daily-harrowed sandbed to ride on make the experience almost too good to describe.

We jogged in through the start bend, settled in to an easy canter and held it for the first 1/4 mile.

And then I took a short, forward seat, gave away a little more contact and asked Tom if he had any more.

Lots!, was his reply.

We slipped effortlessly from a working canter to a fast hunting canter, and within a further two dozen strides Tom relaxed some more, opened up his chest and showed just how easy it was for him to change up to a gallop.

He held his easy, large-striding, ground-covering gallop until I asked him to ease back to a slower pace as we passed the first set of white posts.

Half-a-mile of easy-moving, big-smilingly, blisteringly fast canter passed beneath us as we transited back to a working canter for the last 1/4 mile.

We hacked back to the yard the long way – a 2-1/2 mile stroll around the headlands of a few fields, the sun on our backs and (I like to think) a smile on both our faces.

That was, without doubt, the fastest that Tom and I have ever been. I’m still smiling.

If I’d put a full set of boots on Tom before we’d left the yard, we could have *cough* hacked back to the yard via the cross-country course.

I’d feel happier if we could get out and practice our cross-country and show-jumping more, our first one-day event is in two weeks and I still feel slightly under-prepared.

If I could find a show-jumping arena on grass, I’d be there like a shot!

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?

Hmmm.

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:

BE90_-_DRESSAGE_TEST_91_(2009)(1)

So, we’re clear now?

We’re going out. No we’re not…

We were going to the cinema to see The Lovely Bones this evening.

But Soph, who wants to see the film, has decided she’d like to have a Saturday evening in, instead.

3.30 The Mummy Returns erm… bed
5.30 Total Wipeout
6.30 You’ve Been Framed!
7.30 TV Burp

What’s not to like here?

Add a Chinese takeaway to the mix and you have a Jones Night In par excellence.

Anyway.

How did today’s cross-country clinic go?

Absofuckinlutely topmost brilliant!

We had a distinct lack of brakes throughout and Tom was slightly nappy towards the other horse for the first 10 minutes.

But having overcome the latter, we flew over even the scariest, most frighteningly-designed fences as confidently as we cleared the walls, ditches, coffins, steps and trakeheners – and even jumped related fences at some very testing, ungenerous angles.

Yes it was a little too quick.

But how lovely it was to sit on a flying horse and feel oh so confident about pushing him in to a bigger stride at a seriously challenging fence?

Lovely beyond words.

So there’s a change of plan.

Tom and I are going off with Owen and two of his horses, Sam and her horse, Sammi and two of hers and Milly and another of Sammi’s – cross-country schooling at Swalcliffe Park…

Erm…

Tomorrow.