Advertisements

Phoenix’s Progress

It’s been a few weeks since I updated you on Phoenix.

We did very well at our first competition, so I decided to keep the ball rolling and enter another dressage competition at the same venue three weeks later. The blips in our first competition were due to her competition inexperience so I felt she needed her horizons broadened.

The second competition had far better trot work: more consistent and relaxed but unfortunately the canter work didn’t reflect her recent canter work at home. I was really disappointed about that, but then had to remember that we scored highly for the transitions, an area I’d really been focusing on. After all, it’s one big learning curve for her.

Since then, we’ve had a a quiet couple of weeks. It’s continued to be scorching hot and the ground hard, so hacks have been mainly walk with the odd trot in the woods where the ground is softer with mulch. I’ve been hacking in the jump saddle to help her acclimatise to it, as she wasn’t convinced by my change in balance when it was first fitted to her. Now, I’m pleased to say, she’s as comfortable in that as she is in the dressage saddle.

Phoenix has really proven herself to be excellent to hack; she took some persuasion to cross the narrow byway bridge a few weeks ago, but now she’s got it sussed and confidently leads over it. Last week she waited at traffic lights and walked through some roadworks without batting an eye. I feel that our relationship has become stronger so I can push her out of her boundaries and she trusts me more. When the ground softens I’ll be able to test her in an open field, and go on a sponsored ride, which whilst I’m disappointed I’ve not been able to have a good canter out on a hack I know that this foundation work is excellent for both her manners and our relationship.

I’ve taken the opportunity to introduce lateral work on our walk hacks, zigzagging along the road and field. Phoenix is definitely understanding the idea of sideways, and is maintaining her rhythm and balance as she leg yields in walk nicely.

Unfortunately the sand arena has become very dry and deep. Sand is usually a good surface to work on, but when it’s dry it is very hard work for the horses. This means, especially when it’s very hot, I’ve been doing a lot of walk work in the school and riding field. Transitioning between free walk and medium walk, working on getting more of a stretch. Halt transitions, and decreasing circle sizes. Yesterday I was playing around with turn around the haunches and turn around the forehand, as well as some leg yielding on the slope. Recently, I’ve done very little canter work, pole work and jumping in the school as I don’t want to risk her legs as she develops muscle and tendon strength. After all, she’s building new muscle and fitness which she’s never had before so I don’t want to make it harder for her.

Last week Phoenix had the week off because I was teaching at Pony Club camp, but when I rode on Saturday we picked up exactly where we’d left off. Having a horse who didn’t need a full daily workout was one of my main criteria, and this is the first time she’s had a week’s holiday, so I was really pleased she’d proven herself to me in this way.

The following day we hired a showjumping course. Bearing in mind that I hadn’t jumped her for eight weeks, Phoenix jumped everything perfectly. We didn’t jump too high because of the heat and her lack of jumping fitness, but she ignored the fillers, and jumped more solid fences, and less inviting fences than before.

Hopefully with this week’s rain I can start doing more pole work and jumping at home with Phoenix, as I really want to get back to improving the canter and jumping. But the weeks of walk and trot work hasn’t been wasted as we’re closer to perfecting the core basics, which will help all her future work.

This week Phoenix also had a massage. I felt she’d been tight for a couple of weeks. A combination of working harder, increased muscles, and the ground conditions I think. Anyway, she thoroughly enjoyed her masssge, which found some tight spots in her shoulders (which have bulked out a lot) and over her hindquarters, which is just because she’s using them more and has bigger muscles there.

I’ve not got any more competitions lined up. You never know, the ground might improve enough for us to go cross country schooling! But I’m keeping my eye out for some clear round showjumping as I feel that now she’s ready to jump some small courses in more of a show environment. If I can’t find anywhere, then I’ll hire the showjumping course again. Then I think in September we’ll try another dressage competition when hopefully our canter won’t let us down!

Phoenix is still barefoot, and coping really well. My farrier was pleased with her feet when he last visited, only needing to shape them slightly. I feel she’s really changed shape as her fitness has improved, so I’m keeping an eye on the saddle fits and making sure that as soon as I feel any tightness in her ridden work I get her massaged so she is most comfortable and able to perform to her best.

Keeping Fences Low

With Pony Club Camp last week and the ground being incredibly hard this summer, there was a lot of talk amongst the instructors (which didn’t necessarily relate to me and my six year old riders) about how to keep the fences low in the jumping sessions. After all, there is a huge trend towards people (and not just the children) judging how good a rider someone is based on how high they can jump. I would much rather see a horse and rider jump a lower height safely, stylishly and confidently than “keeping up with the Joneses” and have an accident, lose confidence, and have an ugly round. Besides, none of us question Charlotte Dujardin’s riding ability and she rarely jumps.

Anyway, one exercise I did a few weeks ago was a relevant option for keeping the fences low yet still still testing the rider’s ability.

The exercise started with a cross pole at X which I had my rider jump on a steep angle from both reins. This tested that they could ride their line and the pony wasn’t trying to run out through the open side.

Then I set up a skinny fence, one canter stride away from the cross, on the line they’d been jumping. The skinny was an upright, with a plain pole, so had very little visual clues to help the rider stay on their line.

This particular pony always runs to the left so the double was first set up to be ridden from the right rein. My rider carried his whip in the right rein so if his pony drifted to the right he could use it on the shoulder to help stay on their line.

It was a tricky exercise because although the cross was a nice, encouraging fence, having only one stride to the skinny meant that the pair had to prepare properly, and set themselves up accurately to the combination as there was no time to do any repair work between jumps. In all honesty, I was surprised when they succeeded the first time and jumped the skinny very accurately and stylishly.

After riding the line a couple of times I rearranged the exercise so that they jumped it off the left rein. This would be their harder rein, because the rider has a weaker left leg and the pony tends to drift through his left shoulder which, combined with the fact the pony is encouraged to veer left through the double, means it is more problematic.

The first time they drifted left, then my rider really applied his left leg and the whip on the pony’s left shoulder. Which unfortunately meant that the pony overcompensated and ran out to the right.

So I used some poles to help guide the rider and pony. The tramlines were leant against the jump wings so that they ran diagonally down to the ground. This meant they clarified the question to the pony and helped funnel him towards the skinny. After a couple of times where they jumped the guide pole rather than the skinny they successfully rode the double. As soon as they cracked the line and stayed straight as an arrow, the double was a perfect canter stride and the pony made it look effortless. When they wobbled off their line, however fractionally, the distance between the fences became longer so the pony squeezed in an extra stride to the skinny.

This exercise really tested both horse and rider without being very high, because the rider had to have a good eye and be able to ride their line, and the pony had to be on the aids. In Pony Club jumping sessions, a course could be set up with lots of tricky lines and combinations which encourage accurate riding rather than jumping big and fast. After all, lots of jumping on hard ground will damage the horse’s legs.

Dressage with Kids

Even the easiest of dressage tests can be overly complicated for kids, which I found out this week.

Just before their dressage competition this afternoon I snuck over to the judge’s car and stuck a sign on the front with an arrow pointing left. This is because my riders don’t know their left from their right and I wanted the girls to have a successful experience to hopefully encourage them to further their dressage education.

However, I did think that you’d enjoy my adjusted commanding for the test so that the little kids could ride their best.

1. At A walk towards C … straight! … C’s over here! Halt at X … now! Salute (try not to laugh at the flamboyant salute).

2. C turn left … other left! At H walk to F … trot now!

3. At A 20 metre circle … bigger … bigger …

4. Just after K walk. Not yet, keep going … now walk.

5. C halt and count to three SLOWLY! Now walk on. Don’t let them go back to their friends!

6. At M walk towards K … trot now!

7. At A 20 metre circle …. bigger than your last one! Stay in the arena …

8. Just after F … keep trotting … now walk.

9. At H change the rein across the diagonal to F with long reins … keep walking … no, don’t trot, just walk. Short reins at F.

10. Between A and K … wait for it … yep ok, trot! Quick, trot!! At E rainbow across to B.

11. Walk in the corner … keep going, keep going. Now walk. Don’t leave the arena!

12. A turn down the centre line … keep walking … keep walking … straight … stop …. right there. And salute!

All seven of my riders managed their test, albeit with some assistance, and I was pleased with their marks and the huge improvement in their riding over the week. But commanding those tests wasn’t easy!

“Put Can’t in Your Pocket…”

This week at Pony Club camp I’ve dragged up an old adage my childhood riding instructor used to say:

“Put can’t in your pocket and pull out try”

She used to say that to any child who said they couldn’t do an exercise before they’d even tried it.

Now why have I brought this up? Because for some reason my group of little girls lack confidence and the desire to try new things.

In some areas they’re very confident, but as soon as I mentioned the concept of jumping, I had a couple of them say “I can’t do that… I’ll just go around the jump/I’ll only walk over the jump. I can’t do it.” The same with cantering and their dressage test.

So I had a good talk with all of them about giving things a go. Walking on the edge. Widening their horizons. Thinking positively.

I have to admit that today they were a bit more positive about their own abilities and with some gentle coercion they agreed to try the exercise. For example, one girl agreed to try to trotting over a cross pole instead of walking. And another tried jumping without a leader. Another agreed to try cantering on her own.

So I think my main aim for this week is to create a group of riders who have a positive attitude towards trying new things, and have more self belief in their own abilities. After all, they’re more than capable and have lovely, willing ponies who look after them.

Whips

I guess it is a consequence of Ollie Townsend’s infamous whip use at Badminton but there is now a group of leading equestrians doing some research on whip use in equestrian sport.

If you have chance, do the survey – https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/whipuse

I completed it last week, and it made me stop and think about whips. We take them for granted, and many rider’s use them but do they know why they’re carrying them?

I’m not against carrying or using a whip; for many horses the act of carrying one improves their attentiveness and respect of the rider’s aids – particularly cheeky ponies!

I always tell clients that the whip is a secondary aid, therefore it’s used after other aids, and it is used to back up the leg aids. For the beginner or novice rider, if their horse ignores the leg aid twice, I then recommend the whip is tapped firmly behind the leg. Some riders prefer to have 3 leg aids, some only one – each to their own as long as they’re consistent. For children, often a whip is a useful accessory to prevent them flapping their legs around like windmills as their pony is often more switched on. I encourage my little riders to think about when they want to carry the whip. For example, they may want it for flat work when the pony is switched off, but once they’re jumping choose to drop it because the pony is more forwards and it’s more clutter for their hands when going back and forth into jumping position. If I find a child to be a bit whip-happy, I will happily take their whip away until they’re riding more correctly and politely.

I think it’s so important to understand and respect the whip. After all, horses can feel a fly land on their body, so will be acutely aware of even the lightest touch of the whip.

The survey asked some questions about what you use a whip for, and had some options that I hadn’t thought of. Firstly, is the obvious use that I’ve described above – to back up the leg aid. Usually to help a horse go forwards, but also to help them move sideways.

Secondly, when working the horse in hand. Does this include lunging? But yes, when working a horse in hand a whip is the extension of your arm so you can manoeuvre the horse laterally as well as improving the activity of the hindquarters by touching the hocks with the whip to encourage more flexion. To an extent, you can carry one when leading a horse. I would have thought you’d only want to carry one if you had a horse who dawdled and dragged behind you. By encouraging a more forwards walk with a flick by the hindquarters, you can lead from the shoulder, where you’re far safer. But using a whip in this situation is only temporary as it’s no longer needed once the horse has been taught to lead correctly, and I do find that horses then stop walking straight, as they bow their bodies away from the whip, so it isn’t a long term solution.

Thirdly, to make the horse focus on their job. Well, yes you could argue that a child on an idle pony carrying their whip is using the whip to improve the pony’s work ethic. I don’t agree that tapping a horse when they’re losing concentration helps. You’re better off improving your schooling tactics to prevent the horse becoming distracted. I’ve also seen horses who have been on their line to a jump, been momentarily distracted but when the rider taps them with the whip they change their rhythm, lose their line, and don’t jump as well as if the rider had just used the voice, leg or hand to regain their horse’s attention.

The survey also asked if carrying a whip made you feel more confident. I had never associated carrying a whip with feeling confident. I’d be interested to know what other people’s responses were to that question. I can sort of see how people, especially those who view equitation as the rider dominating the horse, feel more confident carrying a whip.

It also made me think about when I carry a whip. If riding a new or unknown horse would I automatically pick one up? I don’t think so. I’d either discuss with the owner as to whether I needed one, take one to the ménage in case I needed it (then forget it and leave it there for a week or two …) or go without, sweat buckets and vow to carry one next time!

I think picking up a whip is about knowing the horse. Will it benefit your work to carry one? Will it help keep you safe – for example preventing a horse from napping on a hack? Or will the horse be tense because you’re carrying one and they’re a bit whip-shy? And maybe most importantly, are you likely to misuse the whip either by forgetting the leg aids or by getting cross with your horse?

I look forwards to reading about their findings on the general populations understanding of using a whip, why and when people choose to carry one, their knowledge of competition rules regarding whips, and whether these rules need changing to protect horses.

A Grid of Skinnies

I built this grid the other day to help with improving the rider’s eye for straightness, their accuracy in the turns and ability to ride a line. and to test the horse’s straightness over fences. It also builds a horse’s confidence over narrow fences.

The first jump was of normal width, with jump wings to give the horse plenty of guidance to the fence. I laid a pair of poles perpendicular to the first fence, which along with the inviting cross shape focused both horse and rider on the centre of the fence, which would hopefully give them the best chance of going straight over the skinnies.

One canter stride away, I made a skinny fence with some blocks as the wings. Initially I put it as a cross to keep horse and rider central. With a green horse, I would use jump wings to discourage the horse from running out, but this horse and rider combination are competent with narrow fences. This fence later became an upright, which meant there was no discernible wings to the fence because the blocks were level with the height of the fence, so increasing the difficulty.

Then, another canter stride from the second element, I placed a barrel on it’s side. I put two upright barrels as wings here, and then once the pair had negotiated the grid successfully I made the final fence an oxer by putting a short pole and two wings behind the barrels. Alternatively, I could have removed the barrel wings, but as this caused them some problems a couple of weeks ago, I’m leaving that option for another week.

I built the grid up slowly, fence by fence in order to keep them confident. If at any point, one of the skinny fences had caused a problem, or the horse was drifting over the fences, I’d have got out some guide poles. Initially, I’d have laid the poles so they formed a funnel, one end on the jump wing and one on the floor, to help encourage the horse to stay straight and jump the skinny fence. Then these poles can be laid on the floor so they are still helping the horse, but he becomes less reliant on them. Then finally, jump the fence without the guide poles.

This grid can be made more complicated by using bounces, converting the first fence into an upright and removing the tramlines at the beginning. I can also make the skinny fences narrower … watch this space!

Straightness Versus Suppleness

I went through this last week with Mum and Matt, but it’s a frequent topic in my lessons, so I thought it was time for a blog post.

We discussed improving Matt’s suppleness by straightening his body. That is, by reducing the bend in his neck and encouraging his inside hind leg to step under and carry his body so that he works consistently on two tracks.

I think this issue arises for several reasons. Firstly, visual feedback is often far more instantaneous and effective than any other form of feedback. Secondly, as riders we are obsessed with circles and bending. Thirdly, it is easy to turn the head and neck whilst riding with the hand than it is to bend the rib cage with the seat and leg. Fourthly, suppleness comes way before straightness in the scales of training.

Let’s start with the Scales of Training. I believe that suppleness comes before straightness because only when you are supple can you work evenly and efficiently throughout your body. But I think the Scale assumes the horse is a blank canvas whereas in actual fact most horses come with asymmetries. From previous training, from old injuries, from conformation, from previous riders, from life in general. In order to begin to progress through the Scales of Training you need to iron out any previous issues, which first means straightening the horse before focusing on improving their suppleness.

When you learn to ride you watch people which means that you initially see the obvious observations first. Such as if the horse has their head turned in the direction of movement or not. You also get feedback from what you see whilst riding, i.e. what’s in front of the saddle, verbally from your instructor i.e. positive or negative, and finally kinaesthetic feedback. This is what you feel, and it can be hard to adequately describe what you are feeling, or for someone to describe what you should be feeling, so a rider’s feel is usually the slowest to develop. Because of the instant visual feedback in a rider’s frame of sight, it can lead to them focusing on the position of the head and neck. When riding a circle, they see that the head and neck are following the line of the circle … but aren’t aware of what the rest of the body (which is out of sight) is doing.

Likewise when learning to ride you perfect the coordination of the hands for rein aids first, and can manoeuvre a horse more easily by the hands than the legs and seat.

Onto circles, and our obsession with them. We strive to ride the perfect circle, which often means we sacrifice the correct bend for the roundness of the circle.

Now with Mum and Matt, along with everyone else I mention this to, they had more bend in the neck than in the rest of the body. A bit like a jackknifed car and trailer, the outside shoulder is wide open. This means that the rider has less control over the outside shoulder, the horse falls out through the outside shoulder instead of engaging the inside hind leg. The rider uses the inside rein because the horse is drifting out through the turn, which exacerbates the bend in the neck so compounding the problem. If you were to look from above a horse with the perfect bend on the perfect circle the inside limbs and outside limbs create a pair of parallel lines. Like a train track. On a horse who is jackknifed, the front limbs follow the line of the circle whilst the hind limbs look like they’re going off on a tangent.

To begin with, I got Mum to ride squarer circles. I don’t think she quite understood, as I didn’t want her to ride a square at first, but she needed to lose the roundness of the circle. By riding a squarer circle and thinking of keeping Matt straight like a plank of wood, she automatically reduced her inside rein action, reduced the bend in Matt’s neck, and he started to straighten up in his entire body. Mainly because she wasn’t so focused on him bending around the circle.

Then I did get her to do some square work, so that she was applying the outside aids to remind Matt he needed to move away from the outside leg. The corners also helped engage his inside hindleg and get him lifting his abdominals which led to Matt being more balanced, less on the forehand and lighter in his way of going.

By riding with her outside aids, and not using her inside rein … even when she thought she wasn’t going to make the turn … Mum found Matt kept his rhythm and tempo through the turns. Which meant her straight lines were better because he started off with a better trot. Once the outside leg was more effective, and Matt was like a plank of wood through the turns, we added the inside leg in again. This, along with her turning her body and using the inside seatbone, created a bend through his rib cage.

A gentle curve through his head and neck then followed. This is a more correct bend as it involves his whole body, but it was a shallower bend than Mum is used to because visually she can see less of a curve in front of her. However, Matt requires a greater degree of suppleness in his barrel in order to achieve this. Next, we can refocus on the Scales of Training, and improve his suppleness by riding smaller circles with the correct bend throughout his whole body and changing the bend frequently, as with serpentines.

As an instructor, I think it’s so important to encourage riders to learn to interpret kinaesthetic feedback, and to increase awareness of the horse’s body which is out of sight of the rider. And to use squarer circles and turns to encourage the more correct use of the outside aids – the outside leg pushing the horse around the turn and the outside rein monitoring the bend in the neck – so that the horse moves in a straighter way before trying to improve their suppleness by asking for a bend with the inside leg. It might take longer to get there, but once on the right path the horse has a good working life projection because they are using their body efficiently and evenly, so won’t overtax a limb or muscle group. Unfortunately though, I still see instructors teaching to get immediate results, and not looking at the long term health of the horse, by taking shortcuts in their training.

Falling In or Falling Out

After a few days in Wales giving Matt and Mum boot camp, and introducing him to his new jockey, I’ve plenty of blog material.

Let’s start with my Mum’s favourite phrase of the week – “is he falling in?”

Firstly, what can you see if a horse is “falling in”? When lunging, which is probably the easiest way to see, the circle gets smaller, ends up with a straight side, and the lunge line is slack. When riding you’ll find they cut corners, of drift onto the inner track. It’s a common problem with ponies who are being a bit cheeky and lazy, and taking the short cut.

What do you feel when a horse “falls in”? I always feel that it’s like driving a car with a flat tyre: the horse is loading their inside shoulder and may well go stiff and tense on the inside of their neck. With a horse who falls in you constantly feel like you are riding a motorbike.

Why does a horse “fall in”? It’s usually lack of suppleness and balance, so instead of curving through their whole body on a turn and staying balanced, they don’t flex through their barrel and so lose their balance on turns.

How do you correct a horse who “falls in”? Take them back to basics. A lot of novices pull the outside rein, causing the horse to turn their head to the outside but still continue to lean on the inside shoulder. Masking the symptoms but not solving the problem. The problem is usually a lack of straightness and a lack of suppleness.

I take it back to basics: check the saddle is straight, check the rider is sitting centrally. Using the long side, I get them to focus on being straight, and then we check that they aren’t using too much inside rein on the turns which will encourage the horse to fall in. After correcting their turning aids, I get the rider to apply their inside leg through turns to give the horse a pillar to bend around. Sometimes a rider over rides a turn, which causes a horse to turn too sharply and lose their balance, so I check that the correct amount of aids is being applied.

By now, we can see if the rider was encouraging the horse to fall in, or if it’s a stiffness or crookedness issue in the horse. So I turn my attention to improving the horse’s way of going. Activating the inside hind leg and getting the horse to unload the inside shoulder, can be done with some leg yielding. Either spiralling out on a circle, or leg yielding from the three quarter line to the track. Once the horse feels more even, and less like they’ve got a flat tyre, it’s back to normal suppling school movements to improve their flexibility and balance.

If a horse and/or rider is crooked and has a tendency to fall in on one rein then odds are they will fall out on the other rein. Falling out is most noticeable on the lunge, when you feel the lunge line being pulled through your hands as you’re pulled off your pivot point. When you’re riding in the school, falling out can be disguised with a fence line, which acts as a support for the horse and is a damage limitation tool.

A horse who falls out, drifts through their outside shoulder, tending to take any turns a little wide. Sometimes you feel like you aren’t going to make it round the turn, or that they’re like steering a canal boat.

Again, I start by straightening up the rider and increasing their awareness of straightness and ensuring they’re using the correct aids. Then, we begin to improve the horse. Initially it’s about gaining control of the outside shoulder, so shoulder in is very useful, as is a little bit of leg yield from the track to the three quarter line. Once the horse is bringing their outside shoulder around the turns and responding to the outside leg aid, they just need their overall suppleness improving through circles and serpentines.

Let’s take Matt as our prime example. When I sat on him on Sunday I could feel that he was loading his left shoulder; falling in on the left rein and falling out on the right rein. Mum is booking physio for him now that he’s doing more schooling, and to be honest it was a minor asymmetry between the two reins. On the left rein, I did some leg yielding to the right, just a couple of strides in circles, straight lines, etc. And then on the right rein I rode some shoulder fore on straight lines and circles. Then he got his act together, realised I meant business and started carrying himself more. Because each hind leg was then stepping under more actively he could propel himself forwards more efficiently, and his abdominals had to lift, so his topline engaged and he put himself in an outline.

I’ve given Mum homework of some groundwork exercises which will help get his hindlegs stepping under in the turns, and she can do some leg yielding with him to help. Once she’s cracked the straightness element … which I’m afraid to say, is in Part 2!

Phoenix’s First Party

Last weekend I took Phoenix for her first dressage competition. She’s worked well when we’ve had lessons at other venues so I felt the time was right to get some competition feedback. Plus, the venue was only a few minutes from the yard, so it would have been rude not to.

Our canter is still a bit rushed and unbalanced so I decided to enter the Intro test, and then the Prelim as I thought she would benefit from seeing the arena and white boards twice in quick succession. I felt I should disregard the canter movements in as much as if I got the correct lead, maintained canter on the circle and trotted at the right place it would be an achievement. But I shouldn’t lose sleep over those movements and subsequent low marks.

Phoenix warmed up in the large indoor arena, complete with mirrors and numerous other horses, beautifully. She was relaxed and focused on me. When she relaxes she allows me to bend her with my legs so we did plenty of circles and she felt really settled. I’d put a green ribbon in her tail as she’s still a bit worried by other horses, especially if they canter up behind her or the rider is carrying a schooling whip. I also wanted to hint to the judge that she was new to this game!

When we were called for our first test I had to be led into the arena as Phoenix was busy gawping at a couple of signs, the judge’s car, everything. I walked and trotted her round until the bell; we were mainly using the inner track and were cautiously eyeing up the white boards and shadows from some overhanging trees. Thankfully though, once she’d passed each “monster” she paid less attention to it. Which shows that she just needs her horizons widening.

I was fairly happy with the test. She was tense for most of it, but not as tense as she can be as I could still apply my leg, but we had moments that felt fabulous – on par with her best work at home. Her trot circles were 50% beautiful and 50% tense. She did relax more towards the end of the test and I was really pleased with her walk work, and she showed that she was settling into work by stretching down in our free walk.

My score sheet was very positive. The judge marked in an encouraging way, saying what a lovely horse she was with so much potential. We just need to eradicate the moments of tension. There was quite a range of marks: from 8s for my walk circles, halt and rider collectives, to 5.5 for a walk-trot transition. All the comments were what I expected, and in line with her stage of training, and I definitely felt that I hadn’t produced our best work. But we will I’m sure when she’s got a few competitions under her belt.

Anyway, I was really pleased with a score of 73%, which was enough for first place!

The second test was better. It was a complicated prelim with lots going on, but Phoenix was less looky around the arena – she didn’t need to be led in this time – and overall I felt she was tense for less of the time. Our canter didn’t score highly; I was pleased with the left rein but the right she was falling in, looking at the reflection on the judge’s car, so did a great motorbike impression. Again, there was a range of marks and her walk scored 8s again. The trot work was predominantly 7s and 7.5s, depending on if she lost her rhythm.

I left them: happy with how Phoenix had performed, and confident in how to improve her way of going for future tests. I felt she’d had a positive experience at her first competition. I didn’t expect, however, to win the prelim test with a score of 70%!

Out of the restricted sections now, we’re going to have a nice week of hacking before getting back into the swing of things. Practising steadying and relaxing the trot after canter work (Phoenix likes to keep cantering once we’ve done it once!), and working on those transitions, especially the halt, to begin with. Then we’ll find another competition to go to, for more experience.