Last weekend was a bit of a dream come true for me. After a very hectic Christmas with long days working in the yard and then a rollercoaster return to the day job I was grateful to have a few days off booked to get away from everything, to learn and to plan. While I was looking forward to heading to Jumping Amsterdam for the World Cup Dressage and Show jumping I honestly wasn’t expecting half of what I saw and what I learned. The finale of the dressage was something I will never forget – to see three dressage greats – Isabel Werth, Charlotte Dujardin and Edward Gal celebrate their results passaging side by side to a very excited crowd was emotional to say the least. (And no I wasn’t smoking the naughty stuff and feeling high – it was genuine emotion!).
So what did I learn?
Its not too expensive to go and see your idols in real life up close – our world cup tickets didn’t cost much at all so if you are on the fence about going to a show like this – get online and book it – you only live once. I will be heading to another as soon as I can!
Firstly that no matter what budget you head to a show like this with, its never going to be enough to buy half the things you decide you “need” when you see them. Quite a bit of time was spent practically licking the incredible lorries on sale. Jesus H if I win the lotto I know who to ring!
The camera really does alter perspective and size – Dorothee Schneider’s Sammy Davis Jr is much taller in real life than he appears on the tv! Edward Gal was shorter than I expected (still nearly a foot taller than me mind you!). Charlotte Dujardin’s mount has the nicest ears and the kindest expression she’s a picture to watch and just looks willing to please every step of the way.
The qualification test for the Grand Prix Freestyle is so worth watching. Seeing horse and riders completing a set test rather than their own designed freestyle really highlighted what each partnership excel at and find difficult. Even more interesting was watching which movements seemed universally challenging – notably passage to left canter at E and the canter half pass zig zag.
I’ve never witnessed riders physically work so hard in my life. For the qualification test we were lucky enough to have seats very close to ringside and could see every detail from the muscling on the horses to the riders aids. Glocks Zonik seemed quite hot in the qualification test and the physical strength of Edward Gal honestly shocked me – when that stallion needed him Edward picked him up and put him where he needed to be, every time. You could see the exertion on his face but every step of the way he helped that horse to go through. It was an eye opener and woke me up a lot. It made me realise – do you want to be an athlete, even an amateur athlete? Right, then start acting like one. Watching these riders made me realise its simple – to get better you need to push though, to work harder and to gain a little bit by bit over time.
The music in the arenas is fantastic – while you can hear it on TV the crowd and acoustics live were at a different level. The music choices are so varied but I found I absolutely loved Charlotte Frys higher love / diamonds mix up as it was so punchy and I don’t think I have ever seen a horse so in time to music as her trot work was.
If it kills me I want to learn to ride like a German before I die. I am an Isabel Werth fan and seeing her live with the bonus of her winning both days left me speechless. I am 5’2” and I have thighs so while I admire many riders, I simply cant identify physically with someone over six foot with long slim legs as unfortunately mine will never look or work in that way. Isabel Werth has thighs and my god does she know how to use them. Her half pass change of hand is like a boat gliding on water. Being honest at times she rode so off the seat and leg that the reins seemed like an inconvenience. The confidence that the German riders had in building their marks through steady impulsion, throughness and pure accuracy without relying on flamboyancy was a huge learning curve.
The best riders won. Sitting to watch every test in the qualification test and the freestyle showed that in both cases the riders that ended up at the top did not make mistakes in their tests. Their changes were correct, they at times had to work hard to get something but at all times they delivered the movement in question. This was valuable – its easy to ride a test that might have ‘felt’ good but I know when I’ve gotten bad marks I’ve had to honestly ask myself – was it accurate, did you ride the movement that was asked for where it was asked for and often times the answer was no.
The turnout. I love turnout. I always feel that turning your horse out well is something everyone across the board can afford. Forget the glitzy saddle pads and tack for a minute – the turnout of these horses is pristine. Immaculate clips, gleaming coats, perfect plaits. Embarrassingly while I’ve turned out many other horses well, my own and those I groom need and are getting a makeover very soon! Sammy likes to poo down his tail classy devil that he is – currently he has a poo and shavings tail and unruly feathers that my backman David has told me to clip so that ‘the poor fecker might actually have warm dry legs for five minutes’. Samuels mane could give Tina Turner a run for her money with Oisins not far behind it and Setantas tail is like Rapunzel.
I enjoyed the show jumping much more than I expected. The atmosphere was so electric and the riders were such good sport and the music and compere just gets the whole crowd going.
Tack wise, for show jumping, anything goes! I tried out of curiosity to find consistencies in the tack or brands but nope – everything from Marcus Ehning in a simple snaffle to riders in combination bits that I’d need an instruction manual for. The only thing consistent was the goal – keep the horse forward and in control to the fences. So if your horse goes best in a happy mouth straight bar or a combination hackamore – feck it – you do you – whatever gets you both safely to the otherwise of the jump!
Sometimes lets be honest when jumping we have all had a whinge about a line being ‘too tight’ or an arena ‘too small’. To be blunt, we all need to STFU. These lads are jumping a 1.60m course in an arena smaller than my outdoor – the minimum FEI guidelines for indoor is 25 * 50m. There is no let up or breathing room on the course – every fence affects the line to the next its incredibly testing.
The jump off was nail biting. There’s a special kind of brave required to hit a long one at that height – it must feel like throwing your heart in the air and hoping the rest follows.
How many sports do you know where people have to retire by a certain age? I know a lot. I often wish I was in love with a sport that required inexpensive equipment that wasn’t alive. However our sport is one of few where men and woman compete equally on a level playing field and often into their later years. It’s a sport where riders of all ages can excel and you can be still doing it aged sixty with all your life experience behind you. In 1991 Isabel Werth won team and individual medals – 29 years later shes STILL making history! Marcus Ehning won team gold at the 1993 european young riders. 27 years later he is still competing at the very top. He rode a horse last Sunday and in just a simple snaffle when Marcus said sit and wait – oh it did! So while horses are an expensive life choice, at least if we survive the stress of it we can be doing it for years to come!
If you are lucky enough to have friends, family and / or a partner who enjoys horses with you – celebrate them. It’s a wonderful sport to enjoy and its even better to enjoy with others.