The World Equestrian Games

Has everyone been following the WEG competitions this last week? If I’m honest, I’ve not watched any, but plan to do a marathon catch up over the weekend. I have however, been following it all online.

I do have a couple of opinions about it to voice though.

Given that it’s the championship for eight of the FEI disciplines – combined driving, dressage, endurance riding, para-equestrian, eventing, showjumping, reining and vaulting – I have to say that there is disappointing media coverage on the non-Olympic sports.

Horse and Hound have dutifully written up about Team GB’s personal best in the reining, but that’s nothing compared to their social media posts about the dressage and event horses who passed their respective trot ups, and detailed analyses of each performance.

You can watch every discipline on FEI TV, but all other channels, such as BBC, Eurosport, H&C, provide extensive coverage of dressage, eventing and showjumping, with minimal coverage of the other disciplines. I hope Clare Balding references each discipline in her highlights show at the games.

I’m sure there’s financial reasons for not televising the disciplines where we aren’t so dominant, but equally with so much online TV available I’m sure with just a bit of promotion on social media, equine enthusiasts will be more aware of all the disciplines and be able to watch them. You never know, if a young rider watches, for example, the vaulting competition, that may encourage them to take up the sport as it combines their love of horses with their love of gymnastics. Which of course only benefits equestrianism as a whole.

My other question, or rather thought, about the WEG is why on earth are they holding it in North Carolina during hurricane season?

Unlike the Olympics, which are held circa the first two weeks of August, the WEG can be held at any time during the year. In 2014, the Games were held at the beginning of August in Normandy. So when Tryon was given the bid, why did they choose the hottest, most humid time of year to hold the Games? You only have to google the climate in North Carolina to see that it is extremely hot – red on the colour scale – from June until October. Then consider the North Atlantic hurricane season, which peaks from the end of August right through September.

As far as I understand it, there wasn’t a huge amount of interest, or funding to hold the WEG. Initially, it was given to Bromont, Canada in 2014 but then they pulled out due to not being able to secure financial support so in 2016 Tryon was announced as host. Ok, so they haven’t had that long to prepare for 68 nations and almost 700 horses to descend on them. Which may have led to them choosing the latter part of the year.

But surely if horse welfare is at the top of the FEI’s agenda, they would have come up with alternative plans. Either to use an alternate venue, or delay the Games to the early part of 2019. I honestly don’t think any of the athletes would have minded it being 4 1/2 years between WEG if it would have improved the competition environment. I applaud the owners of the Irish show jumper who refused to send their horse halfway across the world into potentially catastrophic conditions.

This leads me onto the debacle of the endurance event. First of all there was a false start, and then the race was disbanded due to the weather conditions. Imagine all that preparation, flying across the world, to participate in a failed, badly organised event. Then we hear that an endurance horse has been euthanised due to kidney failure from severe dehydration. What else has gone on behind the scenes that we don’t know about? How many horses and riders suffered from heat stroke and had to be hospitalised?

This morning, I woke to the news that the eventing showjumping and the dressage freestyle have been postponed due to Hurricane Florence hitting on Sunday. I know no one could have predicted the magnitude of Hurricane Florence, but given the fact that September always has at least one major hurricane hit the North American coast, we could’ve placed some bets.

I haven’t even touched on the outrage when it was revealed that the grooms accommodation consisted of dormitory style tents. Which is rather reminiscent of a scout jamboree. And doesn’t give the grooms the best chance of doing their job to the high standards the athletes expect and require. Let alone the fact that it’s hurricane season and let’s face it, those tents aren’t going to withstand the first gusts of Hurricane Florence! I know the infrastructure was only just finished in time for the beginning of the Games, so corners will have been cut somewhere but it seems the poor grooms suffered. I have also heard there were problems with arrival process and that feed and gear were confiscated and lost upon arrival, which hasn’t made it into mainstream media yet.

I think a lot of equestrians are, quite rightfully, upset with the WEG/FEI and the Tryon organisers for several bad decisions, and for not prioritising athlete welfare. Apparently the discipline sponsors offered to relocate the event at their own expense because they were so concerned about equine welfare, but the FEI insisted on continuing with Plan A.

So then I wonder if perhaps the equestrian championships aren’t better being held individually, or in small groups. I mean, each discipline has different requirements so in order to accommodate all of them a lot of money and work is needed by a host. Which perhaps leads to a lack of interest in hosting the WEG as a whole. If it was broken down again, so dressage and para-dressage was held on one week, at one suitable venue, and eventing at another time and place you’d have far more willing hosts because it’s not such a massive undertaking so is more viable, and the championships could be held at the time of year most suitable for that discipline. Which would lead to better horse welfare, happier athletes, happier spectators, and hopefully more successful championships.

I think it’s a case of watching this space, and seeing the fallout that the Tryon WEG has on the FEI as a body, and in the future format of the WEG and championships because we, as equestrians, have a duty to our horses to learn from this fiasco.


Back To Work

September marked my return to work. It’s been six months, and although not a holiday as such, I do feel that I’ve had a good break and am refreshed.

Inevitably, I think you get stale in any job. Tired, and there’s an element of repetition. I have far more variation to my job, by teaching and riding a huge range of horses and riders, but despite this there are various common themes which you can end up repeating – we all know the stereotype instructor instructions! In fact, many people have placed bets on Mallory’s first words being one of my teaching phrases.

Anyway, during the long break I’ve only dabbled with the odd lesson – e.g. Pony Club, and Mum/Matt – to keep my eye in. As well as obviously training Phoenix and having the odd lesson myself as I totally believe that you never stop learning. Which is why we strive to find a random fact to share around the dinner table each evening. Mine today is that the collective noun for a group of bats is a cauldron.

I was surprised though, when planning my return to work how being away from the job had left me doubtful of my own abilities, and lacking in confidence. After all, my clients had survived six months without me … did they need me back? What if they’d moved on to a different coach? Would I be able to build my business back up again?

I then realised that I’m rather attached to the riders and horses I worked with. I almost harped back to twelve months ago. I think it’s because my favourite part of my job is seeing a horse-rider relationship develop, educating them both, and having that mentor relationship with my client. Being involved with planning their goals, helping them achieve them, and bursting with pride when the excitedly tell me what hurdle they’ve overcome as a result of my teaching, or when the penny drops in a lesson and they “get it”.

Despite this, I have felt like I’ve picked up the literal reins where I left off. I taught a lesson yesterday with a client I hadn’t seen since February and we picked up exactly where we’d left off. She’s been working hard and they’d continued to improve on the themes we’d been working on, but needed a couple of reminders and, most importantly, I felt like I’d slipped back into that favourite pair of shoes.

It’s been slow starting things off again and my diary looked strangely empty. But I want to steadily increase my workload and childminding hours so I find the right work-life-baby balance which works for us.

Now I’ve had my first few days, a bit like those going to new schools or colleges, I’m back in the rhythm of things and I need to remember that I have good qualifications, am experienced, and enjoy and thrive off my job, so will get busier in the next few weeks. New clients will come along, and the good ones will come back!

Creating The All Rounder

When you produce a horse for a leisure rider, an amateur as opposed to a professional, you want to ensure they are a jack of all trades (hopefully mastering one trade!) and have a wide range of experiences. Some may be obvious and occur every day, but others you might need to specifically aim to achieve.

How many of these things can your horse do?

Here’s a little list I put together. Of course it’s not complete, but they are the main points I would expect a leisure horse to be experienced in.

  • Be led from the ground with another horse. It sounds silly, but if you only catch one at a time, they may never experience this.
  • Be led from both the right and left sides. When walking along the road you should walk between the horse and the traffic, therefore for safety’s sake they should be confident being led from the off side.
  • Load well and travel with or without company. Ideally, you’d introduce a horse to a trailer, a small lorry, and a large lorry, using both rear and side loading, but this isn’t always viable.
  • Hack alone and in company. Go lead file, or backstop. Leave the company sensibly and return just as sensibly.
  • Open gates. It’s so easy to mount and dismount in the arena that we fall out of practice opening and closing gates, but equally it’s a simple task to add into your daily routine which is of paramount importance out hacking.
  • Stand still to mount from either side, to mount from the floor, to have a leg up. Oh and to stand still while you climb up a fence and clamber on at the edge of a canter field. With our awareness of the damage done to horse’s backs by mounting from the ground even the lithest of riders can’t do it. Yes, using a block is best but it’s good to have a fall back in case you have to dismount in the middle of a bowling green.
  • Pass all manner of traffic calmly; cars, vans, lorries, motorbikes, cyclists, tractors, diggers. A lot of horses have a phobia of one type of traffic, usually due to a bad experience, but it’s good to work towards desensitising them if possible.
  • Be ridden bareback. Perhaps you don’t intend on entering the bareback puissance, but you may have booked a photo shoot and photographers like to get you on board! That was why, to Phoenix’s surprise, she found herself being ridden saddleless on the weekend.
  • Be ridden in groups. For example, a group lesson or clinic, or worked in in a busy warm up arena.
  • Be led from a ridden horse, or lead a horse whilst being ridden. This is useful in an emergency, but you don’t want to learn how to do it then! Otis was very good at ride and lead, and hopefully Phoenix is for when I have a little pony to escort. I’m yet to test her out though.
  • Experience mirrors in an arena.
  • Stand with you, and be led round the arena while you poo pick, adjust jumps or pole distances without spooking, shying, or planting themselves right where you’re going to walk to measure the distance.
  • Experience a gymkhana. You don’t have to get competitive, but being able to lean down to pick things up or put them down can be useful. We have a cavalry team practice at the yard on a monthly basis, which we’re always invited to join in. The loud shouting, gung ho riding is too much for my instructor mind though!
  • Stand still while you go Round The World, or execute half or full scissors. Let you lie back onto their rump. Otis was very tolerant of this because when I was backing him I used to join in the “baby” lessons (in order to tick the riding in a group box) and being the big kid that I am, I used to get involved with these end of lesson exercises.
  • Behave for their various treatments: teeth, feet, massages, saddle fits, vaccinations, worming and clipping.
  • Let you put jackets on or take them off whilst on board.

Then of course there are some quirky ones, which remind you how very tolerant and kind natured your horse is.

  • Lead from a bike. One of my clients cycles and leads her daughter’s pony to exercise it.
  • Lead from a car. Not recommended. I did it a couple of weeks ago when I was very late and the field was at the end of the drive. You need good clutch control and a very well behaved horse!
  • Push a pushchair or wheelbarrow whilst leading. No one wants to take two trips to the field, so combine taking hay down or bringing poo back with catching and turning out. Pushing with a pushchair is an obvious necessity of mine.
  • Let your unhorsey other half catch/lead/rug up/anything else that you trust them to do, with the patience of a saint. Yes, we’ve all seen those memes on social media of rugs on inside out, and headcollars on upside down!
  • Visit your house, graze the back lawn, and not poo right by said unhorsey other half’s car driver’s door, or trample through their immaculate flowerbeds.
  • Let strangers and non horsey fans (usually friends and relatives) swarm over them, patting, shrieking, and generally acting in a non horsey manner, without snorting like a fire breathing dragon at them!
  • Permit you to buy and eat an ice cream from an ice cream van on their backs.
  • Worn fancy dress. As kids we used to have fancy dress competitions, but as adults our horses sometimes take us to weddings or proms.
  • Allow you and a friend to swap horses without dismounting.
  • Stand patiently whilst a small person sits on their back, tugs their mane, strokes their cheek, sticks fingers up their nostrils, and generally oversteps the personal space mark.

Over to you; what’s the weirdest or most unusual thing your horse has experienced? Or perhaps what is the oddest thing that they put up with? I want to see pictures too!

More Pole Work Exercises

Here’s another pole work exercise from a schooling session earlier this week.

The first three poles were set as trotting poles, 4’6″ apart. Then the tip of the triangle was twice this.

Initially I worked straight through the poles, aiming to stay straight and for the poles to feel effortless and there to be no change in her posture. If a horse doesn’t engage their abdominals whilst trotting over poles they will feel flat, set their neck and rush. So I spent time working straight through the poles until she stayed soft and balanced throughout.

The purpose of the apex after the trotting poles is to ensure you stay straight over and after the poles. Some horses wiggle around the apex because it looks different, others take a very large step over because they don’t like the look of it. It can help improve their cadence.

Once this exercise was established I added in a curve: trotting over the three poles before riding either left or right over the diagonal poles. Due to greenness, she struggled to adjust her trot stride on the curve so chipped in a tiny stride before the last pole. I made it a little easier, and more comfortable for her, by riding a smaller curve and slightly off centre to the first three poles. For example, if I was taking a left curve I rode over the three poles 1/3 from the left hand side before curving to the left diagonal pole. To curve right, I rode towards the right side of the trotting poles. As she gets stronger she will be able to maintain impulsion throughout the exercise and thus ride the curve more easily.

The aim was to introduce poles on a curve, and for her to maintain her balance, rhythm and not to tense up as she stepped over the poles.

Again, this exercise can be made harder by moving the first three poles apart so it can be ridden in canter. The horse must maintain their canter lead in order to ride smoothly between the straight line and the curve, whilst keeping a rhythmical, quality canter.

I also rode this exercise backwards, riding from the curve to the straight poles. This was easier as she managed to keep the impulsion on the curve.

Next time I do this exercise I’m going to put three trotting poles on each side of the triangle, to further develop her balance and strength.

Zig Zag Poles

Here’s a little suppling exercise I did today, using a combination of poles and circles.

Beginning in walk, walk over the pole on the right, then walk a right hand circle. I worked on a fifteen metre circle as that is the smallest diameter that she can stay balanced on. From the circle, walk over the pole to the left of the first pole. Walk a left hand circle before walking over the pole adjacent to pole two before riding a right hand circle and finishing by riding over the most left hand pole.

The exercise can then be repeated in trot and eventually canter, with a flying change over each pole.

The aim of the exercise is to maintain the rhythm of the gait over each pole, and for the horse to step effortlessly over the pole without changing their stride length or posture, and for them to be able to easily change from left bend to right bend for each circle. The circles should begin to feel more even as the horse develops their suppleness.

You can identify the horse’s stiffer rein as they will drift out on the circle and be off centre as they go over the next pole. You can then work on the stiffer rein to help improve their flexibility before retrying the exercise.

You can progress to riding smaller circles, extending the zig zag of poles so there are more circles within the exercise, and then potentially raise them to cavaletti or small jumps.

Shallow Loops

To add variety to lessons I often throw in some shallow loops. Then the other week a kid asked me what was the point of them. Good question really, and it’s always good to know what you’re trying to achieve with an exercise.

Shallow loops are ridden on two tracks – they’re sometimes mistaken for leg yielding away from the track and then back to the track by riders who like to over complicate things – along the long side of the arena. Coming out the corner ride off the track towards the three quarter line, then after riding a couple of strides parallel to the track, riding back to the track in time for the corner.

The shallow loop can be made easier by not riding so far off the track, or harder by riding the shallow loop more steeply so that it reaches the centre line.

The shallow loop is very good at improving a horse’s suppleness because there is a series of changes of bend. For example, on the left rein, you have left bend around the corner and riding off the track. At the deepest part of the shallow loop you change to right bend. Upon returning to left bend for the corner. To execute a shallow loop well the horse needs to be balanced enough to switch seamlessly between bends.

I also find shallow loops very useful in checking that a rider is using their leg and not relying on their reins to steer. If they are cheating with their aids the horse will lose rhythm and balance, and swing through their neck as they drop onto the forehand. They will also get an exaggerated bend through the neck. A horse who relies on the fence for balance will wobble as they come away from the track and lose the quality of their gait.

Shallow loops are particularly useful in improving the quality of a horse’s canter because riding counter canter on the return to the track improves their suppleness and balance so the canter becomes straighter and the hindlegs more active.

In terms of jumping, riding shallow loops will improve your ability to ride dog leg turns smoothly and the horse will maintain a better quality canter so is more likely to jump cleanly.

From a teaching perspective, having these multiple changes of bend allows a coach to introduce the concept that outside aids are relative to the direction of bend as opposed to the direction of travel around the arena.

So add them into your warm up and it’s surprising the difference it makes to your horse’s way of going.

Two Years

It’s been two years since the vet told me Otis would never jump again, and a year since I stopped fighting and admitted his retirement. I’ve stopped choking up about it now, and am just glad to see him a few times a week in the field; happy, healthy (except for the dodgy foot), and enjoying equine company. Things happen for a reason, and if my riding time was cut short with Otis, it was so that I got to meet Phoenix.

I saw her advertised as a five year old two and a half years ago. If I’d had the gift of foresight perhaps I’d have bought her then. But I wouldn’t have been able to devote as much time to either her or Otis, nor had my time with Matt and won the dressage championships. Things happen for a reason, but I’m very happy with how well Phoenix is fitting in with my lifestyle and how she is everything I wanted from my next horse but highly doubted I’d find.

After almost a week off over the bank holiday weekend, she was foot perfect in the arena, producing some of her best trot work. I can feel the improvements in her every day and she tries so hard to please. The following evening she and I went for a lovely peaceful hack on our own, and it began to feel like hacking Otis. At one. Except for the levades before a canter. You don’t need to learn that Phoenix!

Then yesterday we boxed up for some showjumping practice. She didn’t even hesitate as we walked up the trailer ramp, and travelled perfectly. Once there, she was a total pleasure to unload and tack up, then waited patiently while the baby had her food.

Last time, Phoenix had been very wary of the water tray and I hadn’t made an issue of it, so this time I led her over it a few times before mounting and walking over it. Once I’d ridden over it twice, she understood. She cantered over it as part of the course, and maintained this confidence when I made it into a jump.

With the other fences, I build an array of sizes and for the first time placed fillers under some jumps. After a couple of warm up fences I took her round akin to a competition. She felt confident and calm; was very rideable around turns and followed my lines. She had a couple down but that was due to babyness – her canter isn’t that established so she can’t adjust it to reach the fence perfectly, and then needs some practice in getting herself out of trouble.

The double took a couple of tries to perfect. I needed to adapt my riding as I kept forgetting I didn’t have the power in the canter. She needed to travel more than I initially thought. But she tried, and put in a long jump over the second element until I got my act together.

I wanted a horse who was well behaved to take out, and she definitely is. She’s patient with the baby; waits quietly on the yard if I have to go and feed or change her. Doesn’t spook at the pushchair, and ignores the crying. To handle, she’s perfect; I’d happily let a child groom or lead her. With assistance of course! And most of all, I feel like I have a relationship with her. She trusts me, and I know exactly what makes her tick, and how to instil confidence in me.

I just feel very lucky that I’ve had ten years of education with Otis, and learnt so much from him, whilst enjoying every minute, and now I can take my knowledge and impart it to such a worthy successor.


Everyone who has horses buys treats of some description. Be it to bribe them into a trailer, or to persuade them to leave their field mates. For me, I use treats for Phoenix’s various carrot stretches and to disguise Otis’s sweet itch tablets.

Anyway, this means that I ended up in the tack shop the other week looking at rows and rows of various treats. And honestly, it’s mind boggling.

And expensive.

Let’s take a look, and compare the prices.

Spillers horse treats – £6.29 per kilo.

Global herbs treats – £10.79 for a three kilo bag. That’s £3.60 per kilo. Half the price of the Spillers ones!

NAF treats – £7.29 per kilo. These are by far the most expensive on the market.

Equine America treats (these have coconut in and get a suspicious sniff when first offered) – £7.95 for four kilos. At £1.99 per kilo they are almost four times cheaper than the NAF ones.

This is where it gets interesting. A tub of Baileys Tasty Treats is £9.29 for five kilos. That’s a reasonable £1.86 per kilo. If you’re going to buy a tub of treats, this is probably the best value for money.

That is, until you realise that these treats are identical to the 20 kilo bags of Baileys Fibre Plus nuggets. Which can be purchased for £10.25.

That’s fifty pence per kilo!

Obviously we bought the twenty kilo bag and decanted them into several Quality Street tins so that they didn’t lose their freshness.

I was horrified at the daylight robbery in the tack shop. We equestrians really need to consider how much we spend on treats. Horses don’t care if their treats come in colourful packets or not. We’ll consider the sugar levels, obesity and negative effects on behaviour of various treats another day. A horse treat only needs to be bland and with a low calorific value. Really, the pure fibre approach of Baileys tasty treats is perfect and I’m yet to meet a horse who’s turned their nose up at them. But what is wrong, is the extortionate price difference between a “treat” and a “feed”. Also, consider the environmental impact of a paper bag (which can be used to store potatoes over winter) carrying twenty kilos of treats, compared to the equivalent twenty plastic bags of alternative treats. By being attracted to the pretty packaging and falling for the marketing ploys we’re all being taken for a ride.

Improving the Canter Transition

A couple of weeks ago Phoenix and I had a lesson, where we learnt a very useful exercise.

Phoenix’s canter transitions are still a bit of a scrabble as she organises her legs and works out what each limb is doing. Now we’ve had some rain and the school surface isn’t so deep, I’m turning my attention to improving the canter transitions.

After establishing a twenty metre trot circle at R, so there are two open sides on the circle, I began leg yielding her out as I left the track and then once I crossed the centre line I straightened her up by leg yielding in one stride. We repeated this on both open sides of the arena a few times.

This exercise is really useful for getting Phoenix to move away from my leg and to accept the leg without rushing. As we left the track I used my inside leg to push her outwards with my outside rein opening slightly to almost lead her out as she’s still green to this sideways malarkey. Once she’d moved outwards, and the inside hind leg was stepping under her body more, I used the outside leg, closed the outside rein and straightened her body as we crossed the centre line. If she wanted to take slight counter flexion as I used my outside leg to push her inwards a couple of strides I let her. The aim of moving her inwards was to straighten her body and stop her falling out through her outside shoulder now that the inside hind was working more actively.

Once Phoenix had got the hang of this exercise in trot, I brought in the canter. After rising the lateral sequence, as she approached the track, I asked for canter.

The first step of canter is the outside hind leg, and the act of pushing Phoenix inwards just got her outside hindleg engaged so it could more easily push her into canter. Because she was straighter and more balanced the canter transition wasn’t so frantic. Well, once we’d repeated the exercise so that she had worked out what her legs were doing and we’d trotted the exercise enough that she wasn’t anticipating the transition! I did feel that immediately she went into a more correct and three time canter. On the right rein she often slides left through the transition, but this doesn’t happen when I’ve ridden the exercise to help prepare her.

Below is a video of me riding the exercise. Unfortunately it’s not that clear as the transition is close to the camera. The time after we rode the exercise she had a light bulb moment and nailed the transition. Next time the focus will be on getting less resistance in the lateral part of the exercise and then getting the canter transition straight after the leg yielding, but I’m really pleased with the effect this exercise had on Phoenix’s canter and with how she handled a fairly complex (for her!) series of questions.

Change of Perspective

More and more I find myself looking at horse riding and equestrianism from a parent’s perspective.

I think there will be a lot of pressure on Mallory to learn to ride. People will presume that she loves horses and is good at riding because I do it for a living. I’m determined not to push her into horse riding. Of course, she’s already having plenty of exposure to horses and already smiles in pleasure when one breathes gently over her. She strokes their noses and wraps her fingers around their manes. I sit her on them, but I fully intend to be led by her. If she wants to have a ride then I will arrange it, and happily teach and encourage her. If she is serious about learning to ride then that’s the road we’ll take.

The way I see it, if Mallory is into horses then we’ll have plenty of mother-daughter time. If she doesn’t, she can have father-daughter time while I have pony time on my own!

Let’s assume she does take up horse riding. What do I want her to achieve with this hobby?

It would be fantastic if she was the next Nicola Wilson, Charlotte Dujardin or Jessica Mendoza. And if so we’ll support her on her competitive journey. But if not, she’ll be just like the rest of us.

I want horses to teach her respect for others. To care for an animal and the responsibility which comes with it. I want her to benefit from the exercise involved in caring for horses and riding; to get the fresh air and keep fit. I want her to find a best friend in an equine, to help keep her sane during her crazy teenage years when she won’t want me so much. Horses will also allow Mallory to meet and socialise with people from all walks of life: and the ability to strike up a conversation with anybody is a very useful skill.

I don’t mind whether Mallory wants to jump bigger and wider than is good for my heart, or wants to piaffe down the centre line. She can choose to compete, to ride for pleasure, to hack, or to jump. But most importantly I want her to be confident and enjoy herself. And I think that’s my job as a parent: to nurture her (hopeful) love of horses and enable her to enjoy them in the same way I do. If she’s happy, confident, understanding and respectful to horses, and achieves her own aims – be they cantering across fields or competing under the GB flag – then I think I’ll have succeeded as a parent.