Pony Club Dressage

It was our dressage competition this afternoon at Pony Club, and the children and ponies were beautifully turned out – diamanté plaiting bands, sparkly quarter marks, big cheesy grins. The lot.

I have to say, that they all did me proud. They all stayed in the arena, cantered in the right place, and had some semblance of circles. I was very proud of all of them!

For a bunch of seven year olds, this test was pretty tricky. And I do have a bit of a bone to pick with Pony Club. There's a PC walk and trot test, which is pretty slow and sedate, and once kids can canter fairly competently they need pushing, as well as inspiring to take flatwork a bit more seriously. Now, my kids can all ask for canter at a corner, trot at a marker, and stay fairly balanced. So I didn't want them to do the walk trot test.

The alternative Pony Club test we had, however, is the grassroots test. This is quite a steep jump from the walk and trot test. Let me list some of the movements – I know the test well enough after having read it numerous times for six riders and judged another five on it.

  • 15 m circle on both reins at E and B in trot.
  • Half 20m circle between E and H to between M and B in free walk on a long rein.
  • Trot K to X then X to G. Halt at G.

This is pretty tough isn't it?! The rest of the test was fairly straightforward with centre lines, canter large, change of rein E-B, transitions at and between markers. How many of you reading this would be able to ride an accurate 15m circle? Or a half 20m circle between markers?

I had quite a lot of trouble getting my little riders' heads around the test. The circles were either too big or too small. Or sausage shaped. And the half circle was more of a straight line. The fact they navigated it at all in the correct gait was an impressive achievement to me.

This test is actually used at the regional dressage and eventing championships, so I understand that it needs to be challenging.

But what I'd quite like to see from the Pony Club is a set of training dressage tests, aimed at kids. Which are designed to encourage them into dressage. When a test is complicated and they don't score highly, they lose interest. Surely, it would be in equestrian's best interest to have a selection of tests which are prelim level, but clearly understood by children, and focusing on building their confidence, knowledge, attention to detail, and the basic flatwork building points. If the layout of the test is less complicated for them to think about, they will be able to focus instead on riding into their corners, sitting up tall, and keeping their pony in a rhythm.

Movements such as 20m circles, simple changes of rein, progressive transitions, serpentines. Nothing tricky, but everything encouraging. Then perhaps more Pony Clubs would run small competitions and rallies, particularly aimed at the younger members, and children would become more enthused by dressage, instead of it being seen as the "boring bit".

I just think that making simple dressage tests that do include canter, would stop dressage seem like such a daunting prospect for the little ones, and thus strike an interest as well as improving their riding.

Realignment

As much as I like seeing my clients go out competing and succeeding, I also love helping horses and riders overcome physical problems and improve their posture, or way of going, so that they get more pleasure from their work and have a longer active life.

I've been working with a new client and her horse, who has a series of back and hock problems. The first couple of lessons were about rebalancing the trot, slowing it down and creating a consistent rhythm. We've started a little bit of suppling work, and established a quiet, still hand. The mare has shown glimpses of starting to work over her back, which is great because it's not manufactured in any way.

However, the mare is crooked through her body which I think will prevent us from improving her suppleness and getting her to release over her back. So a couple of weeks ago I gave my client some homework; to think about and try to develop an awareness of where the hindquarters were in relation to the rest of her body.

The next time I saw my client she had watched her horse under saddle, and clocked the fact her hindquarters were always slightly to the right. When she rode though, it felt normal and it took a while for her to identify the crookedness. Which is understandable; when you only ride one horse you get used to them as being normal, whether it be a crookedness, an unbalanced saddle, or one sided contact. My job is to reeducate both of them so that straight becomes the new normal.

On the left rein, where the quarters sit to the outside, we spent a bit of time feeling how her body moved on straight lines and around corners. On a straight line the hindquarters were slightly to the right, and the head and neck were also turned so they were looking out too – in a classic banana shape.

Dividing the body into two halves, we focused on straightening the hindquarters first. My rider brought her outside leg back behind the girth, keeping her inside leg on the girth, she tried pushing the mare's hindquarters in, so the they followed the tracks of the forelegs. Initially I wanted the reins to support the shoulders and neck, stopping them from wiggling out of their natural position. If the mare tried to fall in, the inside leg prevented this. The mare was very obliging, and soon the majority of the long sides were ridden with her body straight. You could see if was difficult for her, hence why we kept it in walk. Now my rider could feel this straightness, which all helps to improve the mare because she will be able to more quickly correct and straighten her.

Once the straightness on straight lines was achieved, we had a look at how the corners felt. With the mare in right banana, her hindquarters tend to swing out around corners and she doesn't look around the corner with her forehand. Now ideally, we'd get her bent around the left, inside, leg. But Rome wasn't built in a day and because of her previous medical history I want to take it slowly with her. So I just asked my rider to exaggerate her outside leg behind the girth around the corners to hopefully prevent the hindquarters swinging out. We did this a few times and it started to fall into place, so we changed the rein.

On the right rein, the mare has her quarters in, and they almost lead around the corners, so we started off having the inside leg slightly further back on straight lines to align her spine. I was really pleased to see that the straightness work on the other rein was already having an effect because my rider didn't have to correct the hindquarters as much. Just by having the horse straight before a corner, improved her balance around the turn, but now it was time to look at the straightness of the forehand.

We were on the rein that the mare naturally bends to, but where she is a little bit tight through her rib cage her outside shoulder was pointing slightly towards the fence. This is hard to explain. The hindquarters were towards the middle, but the barrel straight, causing the outside shoulder to point towards the fence and then the neck to turn in, towards the direction of movement. The easiest way to improve the suppleness of the barrel, after all the neck is already bending the correct way, is to focus on riding the outside shoulder around the turns. The outside rein works against the neck, and prevents the neck flexing too much, and the outside leg is closer to the girth to influence the shoulder more than the haunches. The inside leg is ready to support the hindquarters if they fall in, and the inside rein indicates the direction of turn, but is a very positive aid to discourage too much flexion in the neck.

After a couple of turns like this, the mare was managing to be better balanced and stayed much straighter on the long sides. My rider could also feel the improvements through her body.

We returned to the left rein, the stiffer one, and this time monitored the effect that straightening the hindquarters had on the forehand. Due to the stiffness through the barrel, as the haunches went straight the left shoulder drifted in. So we forgot about the hindquarters for a moment, and flexed the mare's neck so that she was no longer looking to the outside, and was straighter through her shoulders and neck. Once my rider had learnt to feel and correct this, we started correcting the hindquarters again. For a few minutes we had to straighten the hindquarters, and then correct the forehand as it tried to compensate. Then check the straightness behind the saddle, and then in front again. And so on, until the mare found it easier to work with her spine, from poll to dock, straight.

All of this work was done in walk, and it's something that my client needs to be aware of and quietly correct when hacking and working in the school. Then the trot will start to automatically improve.

We finished the lesson with some trot work. I explained to my rider that I just wanted her to think about and feel the straightness, or lack of, in the trot and that we wouldn't do too much correcting today. However, I think because of this new awareness, my rider automatically corrected, or at least used her aids in a more straightening way, and we ended up trotting some balanced, round circles with the mare bending through her whole body. The straight lines and corners were much improved, and my rider could feel that when she changed the rein there was very little change to her mare's balance. Because she was more symmetrical, she didn't make big changes to her body to go from a left turn to a right turn. We even had a couple of strides where the mare suddenly felt a release of energy and surged forwards with a longer stride and more impulsion, and she also softened and rounded her neck and back for a couple of strides.

I was really pleased with their progress in just half an hour, and although we will need to keep building their muscle memory and strength to work in this straight way, I'm looking forwards to developing their circles and suppleness, as well as seeing the mare learn how easy it is to propel herself forwards when the hindquarters are straight and so the legs can push the body forwards effortlessly. Then I think she will work in self carriage nicely and they'll be able to achieve their aim of going to a local dressage competition.

Only a Short One …

This is only a short post because I’m tired from dressage camp and still have a lot of unpacking and organising to do.

Dressage camp was at a large centre with an excellent cross country course so yesterday afternoon a friend and I went for a leg stretch around the cross country course; walking through the water and generally building up the bravery of the horses. 

The Diva, that I was riding, started off by mincing through the water, and shying ten foot from, with eyes on stalks, the ornamental camel, but with time he was trotting confidently through water and even gave the camel a kiss!


This morning we decided to actually go cross country. Yes, I know it’s a dressage camp, but it would have been rude not to given that the facilities were there. The ground is exceptionally hard at the moment, so I decided to only do little fences, and concentrate on the ones around the water and on all surface tracks. The aim being to give the horses a break from dressage, to have fun, and to build their confidence around the water and with steps and ditches. 

Which we did. There was a lovely selection of small fences around the water complexes and on the tracks. The horses felt great and The Diva even jumped into the water and cantered up a step the other side very happily.


Afterwards, we were talking to the owner of the centre and he had some gems of knowledge to share.

Currently he is trying to put people off from coming cross country schooling because the ground is so hard, but he thinks they’re busier now than when the ground conditions were ideal. Perhaps not good business sense, but good horse sense.

He went on to say that the main test in eventing is the width of the fences. Most horses can jump the height required, but few can jump the width required. Take for example, at BE100 the maximum height is 1m, but the maximum spread at the bottom is 1.8m, and 1.1m spread at the top of the fence. Here comes the facts. When jumping on hard ground, horses are more likely to jump with a steep bascule, i.e. up and down with very little distance covered. On landing, they don’t like putting their forefeet down first or opening up at the shoulder and thus loading their heels, so they tend to land steeply.

This obviously doesn’t have such an effect over little fences, but if you consider the competition rider training on hard ground then they will be changing their horse’s jumping technique which will mean they aren’t as economical with their gallop as they shorten their stride, and will lose time as they aren’t jumping the spreads out of a flowing stride. Additionally, they may lose confidence with the spread fences because they don’t want to take a longer bascule, or they associate it with jarred limbs.

So whilst it’s never been advised to do a lot of jumping on hard ground because of concussion risks, it’s interesting to know how it affects the mechanics of jumping and goes to show that it could actually be more detrimental to your competition performance by training over hard ground than by substituting it for some other training on a surface. 

Improving Their Jump

The ideal bascule, which makes jumping effortless and lengthens their athletic life expectancy, as well as making them successful in the competition ring, is when a horse folds his forelegs neatly underneath him, rounds his back, lengthens and lowers the neck, and then follows through with tidy hindlegs. 

Various faults occur, either by poor training, poor technique, lack of confidence, or poor conformation. One interesting jumping fault I’ve recently experienced, and haven’t really come across it before, is the slither technique.

Have you seen it? It’s when the forelegs get left behind and the horse literally jumps with his front legs under his belly.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how best to work on overcoming this fault, but as ever reverted to flatwork.

Showjumping is dressage with speed bumps.

The horse in question is rather large, with long legs. Like a super model! So the flatwork focused on engaging his hindquarters, getting him to lighten his forehand and bring his engine underneath him. Smaller circles and shoulder in have all improved his balance, and the canter has improved dramatically. He can now shorten and lengthen the canter strides without losing his balance and his hindquarters are doing more work than his shoulders.

Horses tend to slither over jumps when related distances are too short, which given this horse’s size puts him at a disadvantage. At every competition he will find distances a bit short. Which is why it’s so important that his canter is adjustable. It does mean for me that I have to be generous with my grid distances with him so that he learns, and develops the right muscles, to bascule correctly. Then once he is stronger and more adjustable in the canter we can start to teach him to work with the slightly shorter distances, that he would find in a competition environment.

Once a horse is starting to get the hang of basculing correctly the gridwork becomes invaluable. Having a quick succession of jumps, one or two strides apart improves the horse’s gymnastic ability because they have to extend and flex their joints in quick succession.

Over the last few months this horse has really improved and the slithering only happens when he gets too deep into fences. I’m enjoying seeing him going out competing with his owner now, and having more success.

The other factor that can cause horses to slither over jumps is when they are a bit slow to pick up their forehand and to lift the shoulder over jumps. Which caused me to use an A-frame with this particular horse the other week. A placing pole meant he didn’t get too close, and the A-frame really got him lifting his forelegs and tucking them up neatly. His owner could feel the difference in the bascule from the saddle – his back rounded underneath her over the fence.

Our next move is to try a line of bounces because this will make him pick up his feet quickly, and improve the muscle memory, which will mean that if he does get a bit deep into a jump he will be able to get himself out of trouble. Previously when I’ve done raised pole and bounce work with him he’s found it really difficult to organise his legs and keep his balance, which invariably means I have to get on and off a lot to adjust poles!

Just by using a combination of different exercises, you can make massive improvements to a horse’s technique and build the correct muscles. Recently, because this particular horse was jumping so well on a lesson, we did a bit of a Chase-Me-Charlie. I wanted to build the horse’s confidence a bit and see the extent of his scope, but I knew a single upright would be very difficult for him as he would have to pick up his forelegs very quickly; he’s much better in his technique but our high jumps needed to complement previous work, and not let him revert to slithering. So I build an oxer. The front rail wasn’t very high, perhaps 70cm, and there was a clear ground line. The back rail of the oxer, which wasn’t that wide, started at 90cm. As he cleared it comfortably I notched it up, and up, to an impressive 120cm. He cleared it easily, whilst still jumping correctly! I was so pleased!

Now we need to increase the height of the general exercises to build his muscles and confidence, whilst still using his body correctly and efficiently. Then they will definitely notice a difference at competitions! 

The National Championships

After months of having the British Riding Club winter championships in the far distance, planning and organising my Mum`s work with Matt, `flu vacs, lessons, warm up tests, and all of that. Once Matt came over to me at the beginning of March, the champs seemed to be looming very quickly. March was very busy for me in terms of work, trying to keep Otis ticking along, and fitting in all of Matt`s prep – I`ve lost count of the number of times I`ve been riding by 6.30am over the last few weeks!

My Mum challenged me to see how many blog posts I can get out of today … but I won`t bore you over the next week, and just give you a very long post, with lots of pictures!

It`s been a tumultuous couple of weeks as we made heaps of progress in our first lesson and had a great warm up competition. But then only a few days later, on Thursday, Matt came in from the school lame on his right hind. I was devastated! So I gave him some bute and told him to rest in the field – he wouldn’t stay happily in the stable alone – and on Friday he had another bute, which was the last he could have before the champs. My vet friend checked him out and agreed with me that we thought he`d fallen in the field and bruised his flank. Nervously, I rested him over the weekend and found him a bit better on Monday. Tuesday he looked sound, but I gave him another twenty four hours to rest – I wouldn’t have done much more than a gentle hack anyway on Tuesday.

On Wednesday we had an alright short schooling session. He was sound but I did think it was a bit of a long shot going to the champs. Thursday morning was a better session, and I felt he was getting on the ball. Then I started organising my things and planning for the champs. There wasn`t any time to get nervous, and to be honest I didn’t have chance to stop and think about the upcoming weekend.

We had a shorter, but productive session on Friday morning, and I told Matt he just had to perform as he did today and I`d be happy. Yes, there are bits to work on, but considering how much time I had left I knew I couldn`t work miracles! That afternoon Matt had a bath and was told on strict instructions not to roll.

I don`t think he listened.

IMG_3032

The alarm clock was set for 3am. Yep, you read that right. 3am! we had to leave the yard at 5am in order to arrive at the showground by 8am, ready for my test at 9,02am. I think the boys were shocked. Otis was happy to have an early breakfast, and Matt was so surprised he stood very quietly eating breakfast whilst Mum and I titivated him. We even had time to let him have a graze before loading.

IMG_3038.JPG

The journey was smooth, but we did had to stop to get me a cup of tea as I`d left my travel mug on the hall table, and I needed help waking up! Matt travelled well and then we were there!

I have to say that the championships were very well run. The venue was clearly signposted and there were plenty of stewards to park us, and everyone was very helpful, answering any questions and directing us as necessary. There was a fab community atmosphere, especially from those who were riding as part of a team, or who had travelled a long way. Riding club banners were slung between lorries, which all added to the mood.

We took Matt to the declarations and, to my great relief, his vaccinations certificate passed inspection. Then Mum went to get my number and complimentary rosette (phew, at least I have some proof of going!). She had a mental block and gave my maiden name, caused a panic because my name couldn`t be found, but then came to her senses (I blame the early start) and the mystery was solved.

I had loads of time in the warm up, but Matt didn`t seem to need it. It sounds strange, but he felt like he knew what his job was today, was calm, in the zone, and totally focused on me. He just felt great. So I spent a lot of my warm up encouraging him to have a free walk as that’s our weak part.

Whilst in the warm up I had a good look at my fellow competitors. I was a bit apprehensive that there would be a lot of flashy warmbloods, luxurious dressage saddles, and dressage divas. I was so wrong! There was a huge variety. Ladies (and it was mostly women competing) were of all ages, shapes, sizes, ability, and the horses ranged from skittish Warmbloods to comfy cobs, plaited divas to hairy vanners, rangy seventeen handers to little Matt, just qualifying as a horse! The important thing I noticed was that everyone seemed happy; they all had a little band of supporters, were very happy with their horses and in general seemed just, well, pleased to be there. It was actually a really nice atmosphere and I had a couple of passing words with several competitors.

I only really got nervous when I was called, along with another two riders, down to the test arenas. Matt must have picked up on my nerves because he started doing little poos every minute. Then it was our turn.

It was a large arena, with three dressage arenas in, music playing from the tannoy system, a dense beech hedge, and an audience along one side. This was my biggest concern; maintaining Matt`s focus. I trotted smartly towards my arena, had a little canter because we`d been stood for a few minutes, spotted my Mum hiding in a corner, and then tried to ignore everything. The bell rang, and we began.

Our test started well with a nice, straight centre line. The third movement was a change of rein, FXC in working trot. As we neared X, Matt suddenly put on the brakes. I panicked and gave him a sharp kick. This was most unlike him! What had he seen? Then I felt his tail lift and a final nervous poo was released. Dying of embarrassment, I tried to smile it off at the judge, who was laughing. Not in a horrible way, but in a “horses will be horses” way. Matt picked up his lovely trot straight away and the test continued.

The rest went smoothly; I felt our downward transitions were better than they have been, and while the free walk is getting better, and he stretched a bit, it was still a weaker area. I was pleased anyway, and made a big fuss of him as we left.

For your eyes only, take a peek at our test – watch it here!

Mum and I left The Chauffeur grazing Matt, to have a look at the official photos and to get more tea. We picked our two favourite photos and bought them – after all, how many times do you get to go to the National Championships?!

IMG_3052

IMG_3051

The scores were going up as we bought tea, and to my surprise we were in the lead with 74.31%!

After waiting on tenterhooks for another hour, the final results were announced … Matt and I had won with a 4% margin! I was gobsmacked! Who would have thought little Matt would go and win the National Championship!?

Eagerly, I read my test sheet … a five for our pit stop. Not surprisingly, but it could have easily have been a seven point five score. Eights for our centre lines, halt (I don`t think the judge could see his wayward front leg that he wouldn’t shift forwards), canter transitions, circles and for two collectives. The rest of the marks were sevens and seven point fives. I was really pleased! Even the free walk had improved to get a seven!

Mum read my test, and commented, “Oh, your medium walk wasn`t very good”. I rolled my eyes at her – just because sevens were my lowest marks, doesn’t mean it`s a bad score! Most people would be thrilled to have a seven on their sheet! I also realised that the five is the equivalent loss of marks as a spook, or a break in canter. And the important thing is that we got straight back into our rhythm.

We had a mounted prizegiving and Matt got to lead the lap of honour, to his delight. Then, we had an interview with the Horse and Hound, lots of photos taken for BRC and KBIS, and Matt just got to bathe in the limelight!

Of course, Mum had to buy some more photos, so off we went again! But I think you`ll agree that they are pretty special pictures of a pretty special pony!

IMG_3048

IMG_3049

IMG_3050

Matt was fairly exhausted by the time we got home, as were we, but we had a fabulous day! The weather was perfect, the show ran smoothly and on time, and there was a lovely, encouraging atmosphere which made me really grateful to belong to a riding club, and I definitely want to return to another championship show soon!

Postscript

I woke up on Sunday morning and did the usual social media check I found that Matt and I were the overall winners for the whole day! How exciting, what a way to top a superb day! Apparently a couple of magazines will be in touch for interviews and we have a super snazzy rosette, sash and some prizes on their way to us. What a cracking journey Matt and I have had, and I`d like to say a quick thank you to all of BRC organisers, volunteers and judges who put on the championships and to KBIS, the sponsors, and of course to my Mum for letting me take Matt and to The Chauffeur for getting up incredibly early to drive us there!

Matt’s Diary – Week 11

Saturday 

Today was an exciting day. The Chauffeur turned me out with my breakfast first thing. Finally, they’ve realised that the most important horse needs to go to his field first!

Then at lunchtime Young Mum came to get me in. I was pleased to see Old Mum too, looking very well. They groomed me together and generally titivated me so that I looked super smart, and then we had to hang round for ages until a lady came with a big camera. Apparently I’d won a photo shoot when I did my amazing dressage test. 

The camera lady kept trying to take photos of my bad side… so I kept turning round to show off my good side. Then she made funny noises to make me look at her. I mean, seriously, I’m not stupid! I knew that Young Mum had a treat in her pocket for me!

We had lots of photos taken of me and both my Mums. Otis tried to get involved when we were near his field. But he looks like a ragamuffin so wasn’t allowed to be in the photos. So in protest, he rolled until his fillet string broke on his rug so it slid up his body much to Young Mum’s annoyance.

When the camera lady was finished taking photos of me, the Pessoa came out. “Really?” I thought “I’m tired after all this posing.” But apparently Old Mum has to learn to lunge me properly so that she keeps up my training in Wales. After all, it takes a lot of work to maintain my svelte figure!

She wasn’t too bad really. At least she didn’t drop the lunge line or poke me with the whip … 

Sunday 

Much to my surprise, Old Mum was back again in the frost to lunge me. This time she didn’t have any help from Young Mum and seemed happier with the strings of the Pessoa.


After she’d turned me out it was a nice peaceful day of grazing in my field. She mucked me out, and I’m afraid to say that I had to have a quiet word with Young Mum about quality control. I mean, I may complain about The Chauffeur’s lack of spirit level, but today my bed was lumpy! I hope Old Mum bucks her ideas up before I return home. I have become used to this five star accommodation.

Do you remember last week Otis and I played Young Mum up when coming in? Well I’m afraid Otis did it again today. There was lots of banging behind the hedge so he ran away. Naturally I had to follow, and then when he stopped I told him to carry on round the corner with me. I think we were both in the dog house after that. Especially when Otis met a ginormous Gelderlander on his walk and turned tail and trotted home!

Monday 

This morning Young Mum and I ran through some dressage moves, especially the transitions, which are tricky to stay straight in.

When we got to our fields Young Mum spread Otis’s hay out as usual. I wandered over. I felt like some today. Initially I pitied Otis in his postage stamp sized paddock with hay, but now I’ve eaten all my lovely grass I wouldn’t mind some hay. However, I did not want his leftovers from yesterday! When Young Mum through it over the fence I turned around in disgust. I mean, come on! A dressage pony like me doesn’t eat left overs!

Tuesday 

It was a freezing foggy morning today, and thankfully Young Mum decided to share Otis’s hay with me. Mid morning we got a surprise as she came back to bring Otis in. He had his vet check. 

We thought it was Thursday so we hadn’t practised trotting up. Which meant that he did a few dodgy strides. Which means no more walking and more X-rays and investigations. 

Just after lunch I had a dressage lesson. It was a weird one. Young Mum wasn’t really trying. Her mind wasn’t on it. Then it hit me. No matter how much I try with the silly sideways stuff (and believe me, we did loads today) I will always be the substitute. Otis will always be number one and no one can match that. I did try my hardest though, to make her feel better. I didn’t even act like I was jealous when she spent ages grooming Otis before dinner.

Wednesday 

Young Mum seemed to have her head back in the game this morning, as focused and determined as ever when we ran through the dressage tests. We were going to jump but I have a tickly cough, so Young Mum told me I needed to rest up tomorrow and Friday before a hack and dress rehearsal on Saturday. I think they’re looking pretty good though.

Thursday 

True to her word, I had the day off today and am also having dampened hay. I haven’t coughed though, so she’s not too worried. Apparently a horse who’s feeling under the weather doesn’t throw himself around the stable waiting to be turned out.

I had a good long roll in the field when we went out, and when she poo-picked she called me.

“Matt, what are you doing? Your bum is hanging out!”

I looked at her. I knew I’d made a mistake rolling that vigorously. The wind was already blowing around my derrière as my rugs sat rucked round my neck. But did she have to shout about it across the field? I had turned to face the other horses so they couldn’t see my bum. I especially didn’t want the tall, regal mare in the field behind me seeing… couldn’t Young Mum just have silently rearranged my outfit?!

Friday

She’s got the hang of giving me some hay in the mornings now, I don’t even have to ask! We’ve also been really good coming in in the afternoon. I think she blames me for leading Otis astray and then those explosions made him lame. I promise I won’t let him trot in anymore!

I had a lovely groom tonight, and she even left my hoodie off so I made the most of it and rubbed my face against her back as she tied my wet haynet up. I thought she’d appreciate the front of her jumper getting wet from the hay because it’s hot work scraping all the mud off me…

Anyway, I’d better get a good nights sleep as this weekend is the big dressage competition! Wish us luck! 

A Change in Priorities

Do you ever have that life changing moment which throws all your aspirations, dreams, theories, morals, philosophies into disarray?

Well I wouldn`t say that all of that happened to me. But recent events have certainly made me reconsider life.

I always come away from Pony Club camp feeling quite inadequate anyway. Not in the teaching sense, but in competitive experience. I mean, it`s hard not to when there are kids in the club who are competing at BE Novice level at the tender age of eleven. Or competing at Medium or Advanced Medium on their FEI ponies. I end up wondering what life would have been like if my parents had been pushy, or had bought me a competition pony. I doubt I would have liked it. I’m not brave enough, and I don`t have that competitive drive to win. Yeah sure, I’m competitive to myself, but I don`t have that extra sparkle to excel.

Possibly watching the Olympics has added to this feeling; who knows.

The biggest trigger in my shift of perspective, I think, is Otis. In May and June I had a jam packed competition diary for us, with several aims; jumping clear at Hickstead in July for the Riding Club, and qualifying for the British Dressage Native Breeds Championship. Then he went fractionally lame, almost just sore in his near fore, at an ODE at the beginning of July. It looked like a concussion injury as there was no swelling, or heat, and the shoe was slightly pulled. Plus the ground was hard. So a new set of shoes and two weeks rest he became sound. Ish. Probably about 2/10th lame, if that. Then it was Pony Club camp. Then on the Friday he was crippled. It turns out there was a humungous flint in the cleft of that hoof. Which caused bruising of the frog and by the following Tuesday he was very lame. I called the vet because I was just thoroughly confused about it all. He was nerve blocked, coming sound when the whole hoof was numbed. His shoes came off and I had to poultice for a few days.

The next week he was back to the original 2/10ths lameness with the shoes on, so the vet was called out again and she brought the x-ray machine. She x-rayed both front feet. I have to say he was a total angel standing motionless while she snapped away. His near fore is a bit special, with the coffin joint being at an angle in his foot. Anyway, she spotted a bit of sidebone in both front feet. Well, more than a bit in the left one, and it looked furry, which means that it is active. Then the vet was concerned that his right hind leg was causing the left forelimb lameness so she insisted on x-raying that hock. To my relief she couldn`t see anything.

So in week five I had the farrier out again to put remedial shoes on Otis, which are rolled all the way around the shoe, and his toes were brought right underneath him to improve the breakover point. He looked better, marginally so. And was no longer placing his left foot left to right instead of front to back. So the vet came back out a couple of days later. We trotted him up again and studied him on the lunge. She was still concerned about the right hock so we nerve blocked his left foreleg from the fetlock down to ensure we had eradicated any problem there. And Otis trotted up sound, on a circle, on flexion tests. So we abandoned the idea of investigating his hindlegs and we decided to give him a cortisteroid injection into his left coffin joint.

A week of walking and he seems to be sound. And I hope it stays this way. I`ve decided to start feeding him turmeric to reduce the likelihood of the sidebone causing future problems. Once the sidebone has stabilised I hope service can continue as normal.

However, during these seven weeks I`ve been really thinking about him, and what is important to me. Perhaps I was being too greedy, and wanting to do everything. So I pushed him too far. At one point I was worried he`d never jump again. Then I realised that I just wanted to have my Otis back, so we could go hacking and have fun again, whatever it entailed. I ride numerous horses a day and none of them are quite like him. He`s my best friend, ying to yang, and I know him inside out. Then I worried that he wouldn`t be the same to ride. After all, I`ve ridden veteran horses who are stiff, or cannot flex properly through their hocks and I was scared I would lose Otis`s exuberant gaits, and the bounciness that he`s famous for. I just wanted things to be how they were in May.

I did come to the conclusion that whatever the outcome, I would adapt. If it means he can`t event on hard ground then I will use June-September to work on dressage or showjumping. If he couldn’t jump again then we would focus on dressage and not go above elementary. If he could jump then we wouldn`t go above the limit set by the vet. Whatever it took, I was happy to adjust my ambitions and dreams. I had realised how much he meant to me as a friend, a comrade, a confidant.

We`re now beginning his rehab, which hopefully shouldn`t take took long. I’m taking a clients horse to the Blenheim Riding Club eventers challenge, which should take my mind off Otis`s rehabilitation progress, and I`ve still got until the 30th September to qualify for the native breeds championship. Should I wish to. At the moment, I don`t know if I want to or not. Then I’m going to do as much research as I can about managing this condition and go forwards into next year with fewer, more specific goals, which centre around him and his well-being. After all, he`s the most important one here.

IMG_0087IMG_2321SM1_5165-2

 

Patience is a Virtue

“Patience is a virtue, 

Virtue is a grace.

Grace is a little girl who doesn’t wash her face.”

This rhyme was said over and over to me as a child because, regardless of what anyone thinks, I’m not a very patient person. If I want to do anything I want to do it now. Which usually means I get less help or end up struggling on my own because I won’t wait two hours until another pair of strong arms gets home.

At the moment my patience is being tested with Otis.

Last weekend (as in nine days ago not three days ago) we went to a BE100 ODE. Only the second one of the season because of inconveniences like weddings and honeymoons. I didn’t feel hugely prepared as he’d lost a shoe the previous Wednesday and I’d missed our final fast work session having a “get your bum in gear” showjumping session the weekend before.

Anyway, I didn’t know the dressage test that well. Well, I didn’t read it properly and made a slight error on both canters which meant we ended up on 32 penalties. When really it should have been sub-30 and near the top of the board. Showjumping was fine, one down but neither of us ballsed it, which was an improvement from the weekend before. Then he flew round the cross country, obviously not inside the time as we aren’t fit enough, but only 1.2 time penalties. It was close, but enough for eighth place. Frustratingly I know that had I got that sub-thirty dressage score I would have been placed higher.

As soon as we were back at the trailer I noticed Otis wasn’t quite right. He was pointing his near fire slightly. He was walking fine as we cooled him off. Then we noticed that shoe was loose as I took out the studs. There wasn’t any heat, but it’s hard to tell on a hot,sweaty horse. I couldn’t decide if there was any swelling or not. On a turn I thought he was struggling slightly with that foot, so I bandaged both front legs before putting his travel boots on.

When we got home I couldn’t see any thing and Otis seemed comfortable on his foot. My suggestion was that galloping and jumping on a loose shoe, on fairly hard ground, with a stud, stressed the foot and leg because it wasn’t flush.

First thing Monday morning I rang the farrier (we’re making such a good impression on our new farrier; lost shoe and bringing his appointment forwards within five days) and Otis was reshod on Tuesday morning (how about that for service?!). But he had some puffiness on his mid cannon, about the size of my baby finger nail. It was very soft swelling, I half thought I was imagining it, and it went down with cold hosing.

By Thursday there was no swelling but still a lameness in trot, so I resigned myself to more cold hosing and field rest over the weekend. It’s a good job I had a DIY weekend planned in the garden.

But Otis still isn’t quite right. It’s annoying because there isn’t anything to see anymore. I spoke to a vet who’s a friend, who said that because it was such a soft swelling it was likely to be excess fluid from the joint caused by concussion, and some form of inflammation of the tendon sheath. Which is what I thought and studiously tried to ignore. If I had Otis’s leg ultrasound scanned it’s unlikely anything will show up, especially as the swelling has gone now. If he’s still unsound in the next ten to fourteen days then it may well be a vet visit, but for the time being I’m doing the right thing.

So, gutting as it was, I had to withdraw from Team Quest this weekend- it leaves me with one more venue at which to hopefully qualify for the native championships – and I’ve had to withdraw from my Riding Club showjumping team at Hickstead the following week. The last two months have been building up to Hickstead, so I’m disappointed, but actually now that I’ve confirmed my withdrawal I feel like there’s less pressure on Otis coming sound in the next forty eight hours and I can bring him back into work as slowly as he needs.

On a brighter note, I can use these two free weekends to get organised for the new bathroom, finish the patio, and maybe even dust the house, so I’ll be keeping busy which will hopefully make me more patient. And of course, playing with the kitten!


Towing Trailers

When I got my driving license back after changing my name, I took a moment to study it. I always forget that I have a “special” license. Well, I have B and E categories ticked, which means I have my towing license as well as the bog standard license. I don`t tow trailers that often, but when I do I don’t think twice about what I can and can`t do.

Then, last weekend Otis’s chauffeur and I were discussing trailer weights and what you can and can’t tow with. Secretly I think he’s planning to upgrade the car.

However, it’s so complicated when you try to read up about it online. I tried to get my head around the law.

First of all, there are some terms to learn, because these are thrown around willy-nilly in trailer-talk:

  • MAM – the maximum weight of a loaded vehicle.
  • Kerbweight – the unladen weight of a vehicle.
  • Permitted load – this is the weight the vehicle is allowed to carry. It is the difference between the MAM and the unladen weight.
  • VIN – vehicle identification number plate on a car.

Then of course, there are three different categories of license, depending on when you passed your test. From the gov.uk website:

Licences issued from 19 January 2013

If you passed your car driving test (category B) from 19 January 2013, you can tow:

  • small trailers weighing no more than 750kg
  • a trailer over 750kg as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing car or van is no more than 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes) maximum authorised mass (MAM)

You have to pass the car and trailer driving test if you want to tow anything heavier.

Licences issued from 1 January 1997

If you passed your car driving test between 1 January 1997 and 18 January 2013, you can:

  • drive a car or van up to 3,500kg MAM towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
  • tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg

You have to pass the car and trailer driving test if you want to tow anything heavier.

Licences held before 1 January 1997

If you passed your car test before 1 January 1997 you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM. View your driving licence information to check.

You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.

 

Basically, if you`re a golden oldie, you can tow most trailers so have nothing to worry about. If, like me, you passed your test after 1997 you can drive a car and trailer (with an unladen weight of over 750kg) with a combined MAM weight of less than 3,500kg.

But how on earth do you work out what car to tow with, which trailer to use, and how big a horse you can tow?

Cars have a maximum weight that they can tow, listed on the VIN plate. This is also called a gross train weight, and is the weight of the fully loaded car and fully loaded trailer. You shouldn`t exceed this. Which brings in another factor into the equation – not only do you have to ensure that your MAM is not in excess of 3500kgs, but also the loaded trailer should not exceed the maximum that your car can tow – this may mean that you cannot fully load your trailer, for example only travel one horse, or a horse under a certain size.

On a post 1997 driving license you can tow a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 3500kgs, so long as the MAM of the trailer (with an unladen weight of over 750kgs) does not exceed the kerb weight of the towing vehicle. This is a safety factor as much as anything because the combination are much more stable when the towing vehicle is heavier. So lets see how this fits into real life.

Our car, is a Rav 4 diesel, with a maximum towing weight of 2000kgs. It`s kerb weight is 1715kgs and the MAM is 2190kgs.

We have an Ifor Williams 506 trailer, which has a kerb weight of 920kgs and a permitted load of 2600kgs.

Firstly, the MAM of the trailer exceeds the kerb weight of the car, which means that you cannot drive in on a post 1997 license without taking the trailer test.

This means that this car and trailer combination can only be carry 1080kgs (2000kgs minus 920kgs) on any license. That means that we could travel two small ponies (of approximately 500kgs each) or one horse. For that reason Otis (weighing 600kgs) travels alone. Then I don`t have to worry that the weight of the water container, tack and equipment will push us over the towing limit of the car. This highlights the importance of having your horse weighed accurately on a weighbridge, so you do not underestimate their size and get yourself into trouble. If we had a car with a larger towing capacity, such as a Landrover Discovery, we could tow two horses comfortably in the Ifor Williams 506.

Now let`s look at the overall MAM of the Rav and 506 trailer, to see how it relates to the 3500kg permitted on a B licence. The combined MAM is 4790kgs. That means that you have to have your trailer test, or be a golden oldie, to tow it. So regardless of whether you are going to tow one or two horses in it, you are more than likely to be over the 3500kg limit by the time you factor in the people driving, tack and other bits and bobs.

So what horse trailers can you tow on a post 1997 license?

Very little from what I can see. Firstly, you need a car and trailer that in total have an overall MAM of less than 3500kgs, and the trailer must not exceed the kerbweight of the car. This obviously drastically limits the options available.

Some trailer manufacturers have jumped on this bandwagon though, and produced a smaller, lightweight trailer which under some circumstances can be towed under an ordinary post 1997 driving license. They are all single horse trailers, designed to carry one horse up to 16.2hh.

Trailers that are in this category are the Ifor Williams 403 has a gross weight of 1600kgs and an unladen weight of 767kgs. The Bateson Derby lightweight trailer has a gross weight of 1700kgs and an unladen weight of 675kgs. The Requisite 75 has a gross weight of 1400kg and an unladen weight of 590kgs.

Let`s look at the mathematics for the Requisite 75 trailer because it is the lightest.

Just by looking at the MAM of the trailer you can see that the MAM of the towing vehicle must not exceed 2100kgs. Our Rav 4 exceeds this, which means that a smaller car would be needed. With my limited knowledge about cars I found that there are a handful of small 4x4s available, such as the Skoda Yeti. The only thing that then needs checking is the maximum weight that the cars can tow, to ensure that it is 1400kgs or more. Again, the Skoda Yeti ticks this box.

So it is possible to tow a single horse with a category B license, but you need to have the correct combination of lightweight 4x4s and single trailers, and have triple checked your maths because it is very expensive if you get fined or lose your license, or have insurance complications. In my opinion, it`s better to get your trailer test so that you have the option of towing a larger combination – either with a bigger car, a larger trailer, or multiple horses – without breaking the law. Plus, learning to tow a trailer correctly means that you are safer on the road. You can reverse down a country lane if necessary, know how to look after the trailer, and learn all the legalities involved in towing. I know I definitely felt more confident towing after having professional tuition, rather than just having my Dad getting me to reverse trailers around corners!

381251_10151104945573369_2037232582_n