Wilma’s turn to shine

As some of my regular readers will know I also own Wilma, who is Wanda’s niece. A Wb x Cob x TB skewbald filly. She was bred by Wanda’s former owner Tessa Frost, based just outside Cambridge. Wilma’s sire is Wanda’s full brother and her dam is a former TB racehorse. I purchased Wilma at the beginning of December 2013 and she wintered with Tessa, running with the other weanlings, arriving to our yard in April.

I decided to buy a youngster as I wanted a second project to run alongside Wanda, hadn’t the funds to buy an older horse and also knew a little about Wilma’s blood lines so felt slightly more comfortable with the idea. Wilma was also 3 weeks older than my youngest son and for some madcap reason I thought buying her was a nice way to celebrate his birthday. 

What I lacked was any experience handling young horses so was very much prepared for a sharp learning curve. In hindsight it wasn’t until Wilma arrived that I realised how little I knew. After feeling swamped in the do’s and don’ts left by Tessa I did feel rather like I may have brought myself a lot of worry. We turned Wilma out to run with the 2 kid’s ponies and it was clear that they were going to make sure she was low down on the pecking order. I guess it’s just natural behaviour and decided to leave them be. True to horse form they were settled within half an hour, with dear Wilma being very much ignored and looking a little lonely. Within a few days she was best buds with Hickory the pony and as I write this blog she is now leader of the ponies. Wilma is a very friendly yet sharp yearling. 

As part of my plan I decided to get as much ground work done with Wilma as I could. My thinking was that it was easier to manage and train a 10 month old foal than it was train a stronger and bolshier 2 year old. Within a few days Wilma had her first tie up, ate from a haynet and experienced the start of grooming. She also soon learnt that it wasn’t sensible to swing her head and neck into my face and that it was important to stand still when I asked, move to the side and then back up. Our paddocks have a lot of gates so she soon learnt simple move over and back commands. 

Feed wise I took guidance from Baileys www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk and my trainer Val Gingell. We don’t have a lot of grazing but with the wet weather the grass has kept coming. I’ve been very watchful of Wilma’s development, keeping her fed with Baileys Stud Ballancer and at first Stud Pencils and Alfa A. As the spring grass came she swapped to balancer and pony nuts. She is also fed oil. I think feeding was my main concern and I have been very aware of the problems that can arise if young stock are over or under fed. 

At first grooming tickled and Wilma really fidgeted so I persevered, kept brushing until all her tickle spots disappeared. When she arrived she couldn’t cope with belly and back leg brushing. Now she accepts it calmly and enjoys it. I also started with feet picking, finding out the hard way that a yearling can cow kick very sharply and how much it hurts when they catch your little finger! Her first visit to the farrier for trimming was tense, but now she stands like a pro. In the early days I could see that she learnt quickly but I was always a little timid, worried that I would teach her bad habits. At the time I had a lot of help from our groom Coco Chambers who was amazing at holding and working with Wilma on the times that I was tied up at work or with my children. 

My intention was to take Wilma to some in hand yearling classes but I always found they clashed with events which was frustrating. I then found out about British Breeding Futurity assessments that are supported by Baileys Horse Feeds. www.britishbreeding.org/home.aspx 

The Futurity is the fastest growing young horse evaluation programme in the UK. The assessments aim to identify British bred young potential sport horses and ponies destined for top level careers in dressage, eventing, showjumping or endurance, and may even find the Olympic champions of the future. 

Horses and ponies are entered for the Futurity discipline they are bred to perform in, with age groups for foals, yearlings, two and three year olds. Each horse is evaluated in hand and loose in an indoor school as well as undergoing a vet’s assessment. Breeders value the Futurity because it allows them to get their youngstock out in public, but in a low stress enclosed environment. 

I decided to enter Wilma, just to get an outing and guidance more than anything. As preparation Wilma needed to get used to thorough grooming, bathing, trimming, mane pulling and plaiting. She also needed to wear an in hand bridle, so essentially be bitted and comfortable wearing it to be trotted up and handled. I also had to ensure she would walk on trot on a 15-20m triangle and feel happy doing so. I had a month or so to work on these points and in this time I’d say her handling really matured and we developed a great bond. It was the start of her really getting tuned into me as a partner and guide and really felt quite magical. Unfortunately futurity at Keysoe wasn’t meant to be as Wilma went lame a few days before. She bruised her sole and it wouldn’t have been sensible to take her. Luckily I emailed the organiser Cat and she transferred our entry to Writtle College which kindly gave Wilma time to recover. 

As ever the 2 weeks leading up to the assessment was busy and Wilma had a few practices loading and standing on our lorry and being bathed. I had wanted to take her to the local agricultural college to loose school but funds and lack of available time put pay to this. Wilma also had her mane thinned and pulled in preparation. In haste I took her for her first lorry journey 2 days before the event. My plan had been to do this sooner so it was a major risk. Wilma was her usual laid back self and travelled brilliantly. Not a noise and totally relaxed all the way to the next village and back. At this point I became more confident that we would be able to cope with futurity and all that would be expected of team Black and White… 

To be continued!

Showing Off

I’ve taken a small break from eventing, before gearing up for my BE regional Final this Sunday at Milton Keynes. I haven’t sat idle though, and have been trying out a few new things with Wanda and my yearling Wilma. First up it was Wanda’s time to turn her hand at showing…

A couple of weekends ago I decided to take Wanda to a working hunter competition which was a HOYS qualifier. It was held just down the road at the newly refurbed Houghton Hall Equestrian Centre so it was great not to have to travel far. My reasons for entering were twofold. Firstly I wanted to go and practice jumping ‘chilled’ rounds. For working hunter the idea is to produce a forward yet consistently rhythmic round and this is exactly how Wanda likes to be ridden. So firstly a handy bit of practice and secondly I wanted to see how she would behave in the show ring. I may breed from Wanda in the future and it’s nice to have a show judge’s opinion of her.

I set off feeling slightly nervous as I hadn’t competed in a working hunter for about 20 years. Wanda was immaculate, with perfect hunter plaits in and chalked legs so she looked brilliant and white. I was lucky to be met by my friend Frances Murray who is very experienced in showing workers and young stock. She gave me some great advice beforehand about tack and turnout. For Wanda, plain black tack, snaffle bridle, no saddle cloth, a breastplate and boots for jumping but removed for the show part. For me, my usual tweed but a velvet hat, shirt and tie instead of stock, black gloves and the loan of her hunting crop.

It’s quite time consuming getting ready for showing and Wanda wasn’t too sure about having her muzzle baby oiled… and her chestnuts! We looked very smart together and stood out as the only coloured in the competition. Wanda warmed up brilliantly and my eventing experienced showed as she coped with a busy collecting ring while others struggled. I went in early, nodded to the judges and set off over the rustic course that consisted of 6 fences and a double. The course was a simple mixture of uprights, a gate and oxers. The double striding was on the long side which was good training for us. Wanda showed her scope and jumped a pretty much foot perfect round and was praised by the judges. I’d already achieved what I had set out to do.

When everyone had jumped the clear rounds came back into the arena to see the judges for a second time. We were asked to walk, trot and canter on each rein. Stupidly I didn’t hear the instruction to change rein and got shouted at by the judges… oops. Wanda behaved impeccably and enjoyed the gallop section. She really let rip! We were pulled in to stand in a first rank order. I was in 4th, with the other horses towering above Wanda.

Next all the horses were ridden by one of the two riding judges. Wanda was very well behaved and gave her judge a lovely ride, executing a great rein back. Following this the horses were unsaddled and polished to be presented in hand for a trot up and conformation inspection. Wanda is very well behaved in this sort of environment and nothing usually fazes her. It’s one very reassuring element about her character and makes her a very reliable horse to compete on. She was slightly lazy in her trot up and this is something I would work on in the future. We all stood back in line; re tacked and hopped aboard to wait the final judge’s results, walking back in a ride while the judges debated the winners. With the top 2 placing’s going to the final at Horse of The Year Show there was a lot of competition and I haven’t seen so many immaculately turned out hoses in a long time. One lady had even travelled from Wales to Cambridge and had entered every qualifier in order to get here ticket to HOYS.

I was finally called in into 4th place which I was really pleased with. I’d say that Wanda fitted the working hunter stamp well, performed impeccably and did a really superb jumping round. The top 3 placed horses were definitely more of the ‘show’ hunter type. There is nothing wrong with this but I can see how a more Warmblood stamp of a horse is now becoming more popular (bearing in mind my last working hunter competitions were a long time ago so I have an aged perspective!). In my vintage opinion a lighter and less robust type of horse isn’t necessarily a ‘working’ hunter. It would be interesting to run some classes where horses qualify by supplying a card stamped when they actually hunt. In doing this not only hunts would be supported but horses would demonstrate that they would cope in the field as well as the show ring. It would be interesting to see the ‘types’ of horses presented if this were the case.

It was a great experience to have, and the judges gave some useful feedback, being that I should ride Wanda in a higher frame (so different to the longer neck I allow for dressage at BE). They did comment on her jumping ability and manners. I would love to have another go at workers next year, maybe riding at open level which is 1m10 and quite beefy. As a competition in between events it was a really useful thing to do and broadened our horizons. Wanda is definitely not a one trick pony!

Next up will be a bit about my outing to British Futurity with my yearling Wilma. Exciting times for Black and White Eventing!