Category Archives: Dressage
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.
Well last week was full of ups and downs! On Wednesday I learned to play with balls while riding and it was not as erotic as that sounds!! 😃 . I will be the first to admit that when I first heard of Franklin Balls – rubber air filled balls that look like some kind of deformed sex toy I was sceptical. That said when you are wonky as a donkey you will give anything a try so I ended up cantering along with one of these giving me what felt like a Brazillian bum lift in the saddle. I was laughing so much I was afraid I would fall off. Sammy seemed quite happy with me in this position which was very interesting. I didn’t feel the effects until I removed the ball – apparently that’s what is meant to happen – you suddenly feel like you are sitting really really deep down in your saddle. I had physio on Tuesday and could feel the muscles that the physio stimulated (The multifidus on my left side) working when I used these so that’s piqued my interest. I rode briefly with a ball under each arm pit and the difference this made … was weird. I suffer from contraction of the muscle under my right armpit in particular and this is often worked on in osteo treatment – I also struggle to keep my right shoulder back. I swear these balls did something to get my brain to pay more attention and as I rode further on in the week I was more aware of how to open my shoulders and work my elbows. Its very odd but worth saving up for a set for myself I think.
I had a few people asking where to buy the balls – they are available on Amazon:
Full rider set – https://amzn.to/31lbH9b
Ball pictures above that goes between the rider and the saddle – https://amzn.to/2UNLnll
Set of two balls that go under the riders arms – https://amzn.to/2LF00mZ
The balls can all be used off the horse also in core strength and pilates training
On Friday Hugo and I had a dressage lesson with Sorrell (without the Franklin balls as he is 17.2hh which is high enough without lifting me!) which was brilliant as we really got him swinging along and I was a lot less shocking at sitting into his canter. I am actually enjoying riding him in sitting trot which is something I never ever thought I would say about riding any horse in it!
Sammy and I then had our first in hand lesson. Rather predictably he made a liar out of me. His phobia of things touching his leg doesn’t apply to people he likes and he decided Sorrell was his new favourite person and was doing shoulder in and leg yield in hand and picking up his hind legs on command. He took the p*ss out of me when I had a go but we realised that he was taking advantage of my shorter height and getting his nose past my elbow so I have a few tricks to practice now. I have never really done in hand work before and wanted to try it as I think its great bonding with the horse as well as training. It also was very beneficial for me to watch him being worked on the ground as there are a number of behaviours under saddle that present on the ground too.
Saturday we headed to Spruce Lodge. Hugo was very excited to be out and about after a break and piaffed his way to the warm up where I had to trot for a while to chill him out enough o walk and relax. I started warming up and he felt fantastic which was all great except we hit the pinnacle of adrenaline versus fitness at this point and it didn’t last until our test. In that test Hugo decided to show the judge his great his canter is – in the trot work. As the judge said … what a pity. I also forgot I had a right shoulder let alone how to use it so I rode like a bag of spanners. Our second test went a lot better. We placed third but missed out on our last score for Cavan by ….. ONE MARK. Oh yes how close can you get to 64% and not get it? 63.75% that’s how close. Seriously how do I do this? I got 63.86 last year it’s a skill at this stage. On the plus side everyone except me qualified so rather than having a whinge I want to say congrats to Clara, Genna and Niamh! I have a last shot next Saturday at Marlton so lets hope luck is on my side.
Sammy loved Saturday as Emma forgot he wasn’t coming to spruce lodge and gave him an early breakfast so he was fed early and didn’t have to do dressage which was a win in his eyes. Sammy got to go to Redhills for a well needed show jumping lesson yesterday. When it comes to show jumping you cant beat Tom Walsh. He makes it simple, has a system that works and isn’t afraid to tell me to shut up and jump and put manners on my animal. Before I got lessons with Tom I didn’t really have one system I embraced for riding or teaching jumping – I do now as what he teaches just works and doesn’t get over technical. Last time I went to Redhills I saw a duff stride and hit the deck while my confused horse jumped over me so I am pleased to report that yesterday I managed to keep my bum in the saddle and despite a few ropey strides we jumped a track that was bigger than what I jumped in a while. Chica was horrified that I had gone to Spruce lodge with Lottie Emma’s jack Russell and spent yesterday evening following me around the yard, stealing coarse mix and demanding her own adventure so myself and Kia brought her for a stroll on the Curragh!
The most insignificant achievement of the week was a big one for me – I went for my first solo hack on Chanel. Chanel and I have a history that’s a bit special that ill explain another time but sometimes a horse is just meant to be your horse. I rode Chanel back in April and had to stop when my back seized up. She had a break while I recovered and while we sold Merlot. Rory got her started again for me and has been amazing training me how to ride her not that I am capable of producing anything like that work he does on her yet. I had hacked her once before in company but yesterday tacked up, mounted up and had a lovely spin around the gallops and woods. Im looking forwards to really getting to know her.
Speaking of Merlot, if it was fate that brought myself and Chanel together it was the same for Merlot and her new owner who saw a video of her jumping and contacted me saying ‘that’s the horse for me’. She was right and they jumped their first double clear at BSJA this weekend!
I have always had a ‘bad back’ for lack of a better expression. I remember as a child my mother telling me to stand straight, shoulders back and to be honest I just couldn’t. It never did me any great harm and I managed to learn to ride starting aged ten but over the years ‘sit up’ was ringing in my ears. I had an accident about 15 years ago. I was working leading treks and a pony kicked my horse and my horse bolted under a tree, I took a branch to the neck and was bent back and the cantle of the saddle went into my back. I was xrayed and as there was no structural damage I was given anti inflammatories and sent on my way. It was an accident pure and simple and anyone who knows me knows my hatred of our compensation culture – there is no blame there, I worked with horses I hurt myself, that’s life. I had another fall off my mare where her back legs slipped as she jumped and I went head first into the ground causing a concussion and vertabrea damage in my neck which made for some interesting weeks of being fairly out of it. I found an excellent chiropractor at the time who helped greatly with my neck diagnosed a mild scoliosis in my back ( I was never checked for it in school). This went some way to explaining my one sidedness and the fact that I have always ridden with my left stirrup at least one hole longer than my right! This man went back to his native country so I did nothing until about ten years ago I couldn’t put weight onto one leg without pain and a friend dragged me down to a spinologist in Carlow. That man changed my life and got me mobile again through cranio sacral therapy and manipulation.
This is something I found myself speaking a lot about last week in person and online. I am, like many others, an amateur rider. Horses are not in my family background and much as they are what I live for, I had neither the talent, the support or the funds to be a professional at this sport. Thankfully I am good enough at other things to manage to be gainfully employed doing them which in turn allows me to enjoy horses which are my true passion in life.
Needs a sat nav
Rider with no concept of basic rules of the school usually riding along naval grazing while others have to swerve around them. Will have ‘left hand to left hand’ hissed at them at least ten times in the warm up but probably won’t even notice as they almost crush your knee against the wall.
Randomer getting a lesson
Will spend the entire time in the warm up arena riding a twenty metre circle while getting a lesson off someone. Shoots glaring looks at anyone who dares to enter said circle.
To find them just follow the histrionic echoes of their tone of dissatisfaction that waft across the warm up. Will literally act as if their Olympic effort has been derailed if they realise a novice class is running ten minutes behind when they are ready to go in. Usually accompanied by a minion. Cannot possibly warm up at any level without the minion applying at least six white boots.
Groom / partner / parent demoted to general dogsbody dominated to the point where they have no opinion of their own and just live to serve and hope they get out alive at the end of the event.
Sunday was quite simply, an experience. I headed off with two friends to our first Dressage Ireland competition of the season. They were keen to qualify for Cavan, I just needed three more scores myself and one wanted to test drive her new lorry so we thought why not and headed off out West to County Clare to compete in the North Munster region.
On Friday I took Sammy and Merlot to Leinster Dressage training with Roland Tong. I had Sammy at a session with Roland once before and also took Samuel last year. The thing with Roland is he fixes problems without me realising. One moment your lamenting the fact that you cannot keep the horse on a 20m circle without it falling out and the next you are somehow on a 10m circle without issues and unsure how you got there!
I love training with Roland for a number of reasons mainly that he makes me laugh, fixes issues and isn’t afraid to tell you how it is. Maybe its just me but there is nothing worse than someone blowing smoke up your ass in training and tell you it’s great when it isn’t.
Sammy went first mainly because having spent three days in the UK I trust him more when he is fresh and I didn’t fancy giving Merlot the opportunity to crack me into a mirror. I have spent a long time working on medium dressage movements and through jumping keeping him in a higher more uphill frame. The good news is I was told he is looking better, he no longer has tourettes and actually going sideways isn’t a problem. However, as I found out last week attempting to do a long and low circle in trot in a test and feeling like I was on a kangaroo, he now needs to be rounder and hold a lower frame in half pass. Basically he can go sideways but now has to do it with manners. On that note, he was described as ‘a bit rude’ which wouldn’t be unusual to be honest.
One theme that shone through this weekend of education was that I ride with my elbows out like a chicken which really offends Roland (sorry!) and that I give the rein at the wrong time – to be honest I’ll admit sometimes I give the rein just to get out of dodge which of course the horse is delighted about. Homework includes working on a rounder lower outline, riding straight lines off the track in trot and canter with maintained inside bend and being really disciplined about not allowing the contact until the horse does as asked. We also did a great exercise of canter straight with bend, a few strides of half pass and back to straight with bend which will help me to control the shoulder a lot more.
Merlot was up next and thankfully I had time to lunge her before I sat up. Merlot is the epitome of “street angel, house devil”. At home she is an opinionated little diva with no patience but put her in front of a trainer and butter wouldn’t melt.
Roland assessment of her was fair and constructive – she is a very weak rising five year old who probably will take another six months at least to mature into herself. She isn’t an easy animal to feed as hard feed sends her bananas so I have been using equerry mash, oils and fenugreek to build her but – she has also grown an inch in the last while so I think like her mum she will take time to grow into herself. I was very happy with her behaviour and work ethic.
My take homes with her were to use lateral to help regulate the rhythm and keep the forward motion. We worked on taking a twenty metre circle down to ten metres and leg yielding it back out again. It exposed her weakness a bit but no harm as it will strengthen her with practice. I was to ride with a wider hand and as with Sammy – only give the contact when the right answer is given. I do find this hard on this mare as she can argue with the contact and I submit instead of her for the sake of not having a stand off but when I took clarity in inside bend, make her rounder and only allow her down we both got on a lot better. We also went from wonky donkey on the left rein to cantering a ten metre circle. I am not sure how that happened but sure isn’t that the best part of a good session.
Huge thanks to Marguerite who not only organised the training, allowed us the use of her beautiful indoor (a gods end in this weather!!) but also allowed me to use her outdoor school for lunging and offered a coffee on the way home. It was such an enjoyable Friday afternoon on a sunny Winters day and a brilliant mental break having spent three days abroad working hard mentally on problem solving in work.
“Oh my god this feels amazing” I shrieked across the arena at a friend last week followed by “please say it doesn’t look terrible”!! No, I wasn’t doing anything incredible, there was no Piaffe or passage going on not even an accidental spook inspired one. I wasn’t doing anything remotely close to a dressage test movement. I’d simply, after trying to get it for almost half an hour managed to get a horse really long and low, stretching out taking the contact forward and working over the back which for at least six strides felt bloody amazing. Naturally I lost it about half a circle later and spent the rest of my time trying to find it again. See, that’s what happens when you love flatwork, the feeling of doing it even half right for half a circle is like crack cocaine and we need our fix. We are mad really.
A few months back a company contacted me by email to ask if I would write about their product. I told them the same thing I would tell any company in the same position – if you want to send on a product I will happily give a full and honest review but my opinion is not for sale and I cannot guarantee a positive review. The company were happy with this and sent on a product for me to try out. In turned out the product was Quick Knot – a product I had seen videos about online and was keen to buy and try anyway. In addition to not selling my opinion I also don’t believe in giving anything a half assed trial so this product has been tested on five different horses in the last four months. The results are below.
I love to shop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for me which makes Christmas shopping great fun as it is guilt free spending! If you haven’t got all your Christmas shopping sorted yet don’t worry – the internet is your best friend – no traffic, no queues, no slow walkers. So grab the credit card and follow me down the rabbit hole