A hectic half term for Black and White eventing with work, 3 children, the house build and a host of pony activities! So time for something different – you get to see me close up & personal (with no make up – EEEK!), riding out and Vlogging (without falling off)! A few words about what we have been up to, supporting one another and being positive (especially on social media). A Massive thanks to Katie (my top notch XC partner in crime) and Kate (for being a lovely kind friend). Enjoy and have fun with your horses xx Nikki and Wanda
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Over the past few years there has been a surge of technical stirrups new to the market. From the very popular Sprenger Bow Balance (from £160) to the lightweight metal, and very popular Jin Stirrups (from £125), and recently the ‘safety’, ergonomic option FreeJump. With prices over £100 to the £200 mark these are big investments and loved by a pro’s and amateur riders alike. The latest offering from FreeJump is the Safety Soft’Up Premium Pro Stirrup. But just how good are they and are they worth the extra spend?
What Freejump Say…
FreeJump Safety Soft’Up Pro adult stirrups are the latest innovation in safety stirrups. They have a bendy plastic arm which will stop your foot getting trapped however, if you get really stuck (for example in a fall) the arm will snap away completely if the right amount of pressure is applied. Should the stirrup snap in a fall FreeJump will replace the stirrup free of charge. The stirrup is strengthened with steel and the foot grip is wider and thicker than usual which makes for a more comfortable ride, it also has a slight angle to help give you the perfect position. If you lose your stirrup during riding, it is specially designed to swing back to you.
My Experience – Soft’Up Lite – For Children…
I purchased a pair of FreeJump Soft Up Lite stirrups for my son at the start of the year. He is only 8 so I went for the slightly less expensive and smaller children’s style. I actually managed to grab a virtually new pair on EBay for less than half price (the full price is £145) – bargain! The SOFT’UP LITE by FreeJump is inspired by the SOFT’UP PRO but reduced in size for younger riders. I wouldn’t normally splash cash on things like stirrups. But was prompted after Henry fell off several times and got his food stuck in his traditional elasticated safety stirrups. He has found his FreeJumps have really helped this issue – and I have seen the safety mechanism work very well in real life when a particularly naughty pony bolted with him! The outer side of the stirrup is made from notched plastic so bends open should his foot get caught in a fall and in my opinion the style of the stirrup looks tidier than an elastic sided or bent stirrup. Henry has found the secure grip on the tread helps him maintain a good foot position in the stirrup (he rarely loses a stirrup now). I’ve also noticed that this section of the stirrup is generally broader so he puts more weight through his feet and ankle. In my opinion his lower leg is more stable, more often than not in the correct position and looks more balanced than before. This is likely to be due to the design of the stirrup and the 45° angled eye at the top of the stirrup. Henry likes the way you can clip the stirrups on and off the leathers to clean or change them to a different saddle. He has mentioned, without me prompting him, that they feel more comfortable, are easier to ride in and feel safe. I think they have been an asset to his riding from a safety, and balance perspective. As a parent I have been very impressed with their safety, styling and ease of use / care. Well worth considering for the young rider.
These stirrups accommodate a shoe size of up to UK size 6, the 10.7cm width fits soles not exceeding 10.2cm, so very petite adults might get away with a children’s pair!
Available in Black, Brown, blue, pink, yellow and red, from £145. The new edition ones have metal plates on the outside that can be interchanged and customised with national flags and other designs.
VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100
VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100
My Experience – Soft’Up Pro – For Adults…
With Henry getting on so well I decided to treat myself to some FreeJump Soft Up Pro’s (RRP £215) but splashed the cash and purchased the new silver styled Premium version (£230). I wanted to see really how good they were, but as anyone working to a budget understands, I was a little worried I’d just spent a fortune on something that wouldn’t benefit my riding, apart from looking smart.
Overall the adult version of Soft’Ups are larger, with bigger grips on the tread and built to take a heavier rider. They are much more weighted than the children’s versions which is an asset. They have a very distinctive design and incorporate all of the features of the children’s style. So they look great, have loads of features to make them feel comfortable, help you to gain a better position and grip, but do they work? The answer is a resounding yes! It took a while to work out how to attach them to my traditional stirrup leathers, but they were easy to clip on and off. Immediately my feet and lower leg felt very secure. I noticed this getting on my mare who often won’t stand still when I mount. The wider tread helps your balance in these situations, as it does when you have sudden spooking at kamikaze pigeons and pheasants out on a hack! For riding long distances, I found the stirrups gave a nice balanced feel, I particularly liked them for canter work on the gallops (I felt less tired in my legs and ankles). Although I haven’t gone cross country in them I think they would provide a really solid, balanced feel. When jumping I have found the Soft’Ups great. I think my leg sits in a more natural, unforced position, that is very stable, leaving my knees freer and soft. The grip is excellent and it would take a lot to lose a stirrup unintentionally.
Overall the FreeJump Soft Up Pro’s are a large investment for the amateur rider, but are easy to change from saddle to saddle so can be used with multiple horses. The colours add a fun, team colour element to their styling and I wold be tempted to buy a red pair for XC. The new silver professional range style gives a more traditional colour, but with the FreeJump contemporary design these are most definitely stirrups for the 21st century. I wondered if they would be worth the extra spend but have found they really do live up to the manufacturers claims and in that sense offer something different to the market, that can help support your riding in a variety of disciplines.
Available in Black, Blue, chocolate, Green, Orange, Pink, Silver, Red, Vanilla from £215
The FreeJump stirrups can be used with any stirrup leather and boot.
The FreeJump stirrups have the following features:
Tempered spring steel single-branch with extra high mechanical resistance (1200MPa)
Open eye for fastening to the single strap
45° angled eye for a perfect foot position
Patented flexible outer branch made of Elastollan® which helps free the foot in case of fall
Extra wide tread made of Ixef® 1022 (fibreglass loaded polyarylamide)
Screw fastened protective cover
Branch situated at the front of the tread for a natural slope
Rectilinear bevelled rear leading edge for better lateral stability
I was lucky enough to spend 2 days at one of my favourite events, Belton, last weekend. Despite having to battle with a flurry of snow on Saturday morning the organisers yet again put on an amazing event, which is really growing every year.
Set in beautiful parkland, with a majestic stone stately home nearly always in view, this is a real spectators event and on Sunday cars were still teeming into the event long after lunchtime. The cross country course, designed by Captain Mark Phillips, once again was up to height at all levels and tested both horse and rider in terms of their athleticism and ability to adjust stride length through the combinations and links of fences on course. It was interesting to see how his course designs developed from Novice up to Advanced, sometimes with similar, but smaller fences; with slightly easier lines at Novice. By clustering fences mid – way on the course, providing a Lycetts sponsorship area and café, with yet more combinations of fences the other side of this, spectators were provided with a great space to sit, enjoy a drink and take in the action. I think this approach makes eventing spectator and family friendly and I hope to see this idea at other major competitions as it really seemed to pay off, particularly as the weather on Sunday was glorious.
The CIC 3* and Advanced sections were showcases of International eventing at its best with a worldwide collection of nationalities in the top 5 of the Lycetts sponsored Grantham Cup CIC 3*. USA’s Christopher Burton and Mrs Sue Lawson and Carolyn and Anthony Townsend’s 10 year old Nobilis 18 took the top spot and with it the second leg of the Shearwater Insurance Tri Star Grand Slam with an impressive 34.50. France’s Thomas Carlile also added nothing to his dressage score of 38.40 to finish a close second with Quiro Hoy. Germany’s Bettina Hoy completed the top three with her ride Seigneur Medicott who rolled an unfortunate pole in the show jumping costing her second place.
The Polly Phillipps Memorial Trophy, awarded to the highest placed British rider in the Grantham Cup not eligible to wear a senior flag, was awarded to local favourite Ros Canter and her mother’s Zenshera who finished on 57.50 adding just 10.80 Cross Country time penalties to their dressage score.
Classic Moet and her partner, New Zealand’s Jonelle Price claimed top spot in Advanced section M followed closely by Britain’s Laura Collett and Cooley Again, with Oliver Townend and mount Samuel Thomas II coming a close 3rd. Completing his Belton Advanced 1, 2, 3 Oliver took 1st place in Advanced section O with Dunbeau and 2nd with ODT Ghareeb. 3rd place was taken by crowd favourite Andrew Nicholson and Perfect Stranger.
As expected, I spent a while checking out the range of over 100 trade stands. It was great to catch up with the team from Noble Outfitters, who I work quite closely with in my day job (to view some of the lovely pieces we sell click here) . They will soon be announcing some exciting news about a new Nobel Rider… so watch this space for news!
I was also keen to see the new belts on offer at Dalton’s. . They have taken polo belt style, but updated and refined their designs into off the peg or bespoke team colour belts, keyrings, dog collars and leads. All of Dalton’s products are designed and individually manufactured by the founder of the company Emma Louise. The also stock classic snaffle and plain leather belts. Beautifully made and classic designs, they offer a slightly different take on the usual polo belt designs and are British made too! I’m now lusting after a black and white belt in my team colours – another add to the wish list!
Recipy had a beautiful stand filled with some high end and luxurious combinations of leather, tweed, silk satin and fur. These fabrics have been featured by many other designers but I feel Reipy has the style edge for those wanting something just a little different, ladylike and eye-catching, with a great attention to detail. I spoke to Sarah Pickering – Paterson, Recipy’s design director who told me about her MA in fashion and how the collection was developed from this. Featured in the likes of Tatler, and British made, Recipy is great for town, country and would look amazing on the catwalk that is the first horse inspection.
Another fashion and style conscious brand, Voltaire Design, were exhibiting at Belton. After having a sit on one of their bespoke dressage saddles I was interested in finding out more. Taking to their UK sports saddle specialist Mathieu Tireau it was great to hear just how much the design house takes into account when designing bespoke saddles. Voltaire Design relies on the long French tradition of saddle making. Interestingly they are the first saddle maker to get help from the fashion industry in terms of the design of their products. I particularly loved the distinctive blue gullet that flashed beneath their saddles. This is certainly saddle design for the 21st century and in hand with this goes their strong environmental values, unique to this brand. Speaking to Mathieu it is clear that their design ethos puts a horse’s comfort at the forefront of design and they work very closely to ensure that the back and shoulder is allowed freedom through the wide gullet and specially manufactured tree. So refreshing to see a design house that puts this first, while also enabling riders to gain the maximum comfort and support when riding in their chosen discipline. Obviously this doesn’t come cheap, but then nor does the endless quest to find the perfect fitting saddle. A definite add to my growing wish list and a brand worth checking out ‘in the flesh’ if you are in the market for a new saddle.
With shopping a plenty and more eventing action than any fan could want, Belton International is shaping up to be one of the best spring events in the UK. With plenty to keep non horsey family entertained, loads of room on course to spectate, and a select range of trade stands I will definitely be going back for a busman’s holiday next year!
This weekend I’m off on a little jolly… to Belton International Horse Trials . It’s one of my favourite events in the spring calendar, set in beautiful parkland with one of the prettiest stately homes in view. This year a stellar line up of competitors is entered in the CIC3*, battling for the Grantham Cup and the Shearwater Tri Star Grand Slam .
Eventing fans are waiting in anticipation to see if Oliver Townend will win round two of this prestigious and generously supportive initiative. 2016 seems to be the year of the big prizes with the Tri star and Event Rider Masters which kicks off in a few weeks at Chatsworth. With that and new trialled classes such as the BE105, to support the upgrade from BE100 to Novice, it seems like really positive changes are happening in eventing, with exciting opportunities for all levels. Is the tide about to turn for Eventing? We hope so!
– Belton International Horse Trials 2015
Pony Club Mounted Games – Belton International Horse Trials 2014
– Belton International Horse Trials 2015
So back to Belton… As I mentioned, the start list is literally a ‘who’s who’ of eventing, with the Olympic selectors in attendance, team places are won and lost in these preparatory events. If you fancy doing some homework you can view the start lists here. I am particularly looking forward to seeing one of my favourite horses running, Improvise ridden by Australian Bill Levett. I love the pair’s attitude to cross country and it will be great to see what they make of Captain Mark Philips’ challenging course. After having the pleasure of attending a couple of Bill’s XC clinics last year I still have the memory of his Aussie voice shouting ‘GO FASTER, MORE!’ imprinted in my brain. As a note Bill’s clinics are great fun and his straightforward and honest approach to cross country riding is really refreshing, you can find out more on his website.
Team Ireland are out in force following recent team training with Nick Turner at my local centre, Waresley Park Stud and it will be great to follow their progress leading to Rio. Expect upbeat social media from the gregarious Jonty Evans as the weekend progresses…
Other big names presenting include Andrew Nicholson, Ludwig Svennerstal, Paul Tapner, Bettina Hoy, Clark Montgomery, Aoife Clarke, Daag Albert and Vittoria Pannizon… this is set to be a thrilling weekend of international eventing!
In sum, Team Black and White wish the best of luck to all competing this weekend… we all have our national allegiances but ultimately my joy is to see great partnerships at the top of their game, coming home safe and well.
If you are unable to visit in person for the first time Belton International Horse Trials is offering eventing fans the opportunity to watch all of the action from the comfort of their own homes by streaming Sunday’s 3* Cross Country online. You can watch Belton international CIC3* live from 2pm by clicking on the link .
Alongside the eventing action Belton always makes an effort to entertain families and those not so equine motivated! There is a wide range of displays, demonstrations and the ubiquitous trade stands, along with a food court to refuel and relax.
The stands I will be definitely be visiting are…
Noble outfitters …some of the best riding and leisure clothing you can find… intelligently designed and full of great features too!
Fairfax and Favour … if you don’t know who they are you should do… my favourite footwear retailer and an upcoming business ran by a team of enthusiastic and really friendly staff.
Your 4 Legs …An equine an Human McTimoney massage expert whom I was a guinea pig rider for last year at Belton (photo below!)
Hot Togs …purveyors of some of the best thermals on the market, hopefully not required this weekend!
Recipy … fashion pieces for the design conscious, with quality fabrics and on trend, yet unique styles.
Altogether an amazing weekend and a great set up to the rather delayed and damp season so far. Keep a look out on my social media channels for some sneaky pics this weekend… and let’s hope the sun shows its face for just a little while. The organisers deserve at least that for putting together such an amazing experience for us to enjoy!
It has been ages since I have blogged for myself. I can provide the same old, but very genuine reasons for not putting hands to keyboard… work, family, stress, more work, family etc etc etc. Recently my youngest son was diagnosed with CP so this has had an impact on family life, just in the time spent in physio and trying to do all we can for him. That said he’s responding well and his consultant recommends lots of riding which is a great thing!
So this year I have most certainly been out of the blogging loop but also very much within it as I’ve been freelance writing – so my time is very much taken up commentating about and for other people instead of pour moi. I love this work, I find it really rewarding and can quite happily sit at my desk and get lost in the world of word. I also write for a great team and although the world of media can be a pretty full on and I am really thrilled to have the opportunity to have my work published.
So that’s my work… what about the horses and life? I’ve been up against things still trying to get divorced, yes 4 years on and it’s dragging its heels. There I was in 2010 thinking it would all be done by Christmas. I could throw in a select smattering of war analogies in at this point, and to be fair sometimes it has felt pretty much like a battlefield. Safe to say, this is one battle I need to win for the sake of my children and I will not put up with the Machiavellian behaviour of my ex. Enough of this though… it is not worth the words, and this is, after all, an equine blog!
So back to the horses. It’s all about the equine non?
Wilma, my beautiful little filly is now two and has had a few growth spirts. She is now larger than her Aunt Wanda and is looking like a very promising horse for the future. Her front end has now caught up with her back end and she is looking altogether much more rideable. My plan was to take her to futurity but, true to sicknote’s form, she slashed her face very deeply a few weeks before and I was worried about her healing in time or being presented with staples! Fortunately you can’t see a scar and she was very lucky not to have caused further injury to herself. She is now regularly wearing a bridle and starting to go for long rein walks around the farm as I think she is ready to experience more of her environment.
Wilma has a lovely, if rather naïve, soul. Always first in line for cuddles and has learnt the paddock pecking order yet is not afraid to stand her ground and is by no means a wet blanket. She’s a beautiful mix of blood horse (moves like shit off a shovel), warmblood (trot to die for) and cob (inquisitive, slightly bolshie and smart and solid on her feet). I can’t wait to do more work with her next year and hope she continues in the way she has been.
Wanda is still my lifeline. As part of a massive life change we decided to move to Suffolk to live on a new farm. It’s a total oasis for the horses and children and possibly one of the best decisions I have made. It took a while to decide what was the best thing to do, not only for myself, but for my family. Sometimes, I think the build up to these things is far worse than the actual act of doing something but we all have choices, it’s a matter of making decisions and sticking with them or having a bloody superb plan B.
So this year I have made a choice not to compete much. Granted this was one decision that didn’t always sit well with me but I think it has been for the best. With one thing or another I’ve been pretty stressed and worn out. So getting up at 3am, to drive myself then event solo all day, getting home at 8pm with 3 kids to sort out really didn’t appeal any more. I felt tired before I’d even started and I don’t think this is a good way to compete, it’s no fun!
Having said that I haven’t evented, I have still had a lot of success with Wanda, qualifying for RC champs in 4 disciplines at open level and coming 5th in the DTM championships. I’ve also been hunting and realised that my little supercob is actually quite turbo charged V6 when her blood is up – never will I moan about not being able to get the time XC!
This year I have enjoyed learning more about my horse and being more disciplined in my riding at home. Sure it’s frustrating not competing every weekend but if time and money don’t allow there is no point getting upset about it and particularly no point in worrying what other people think and in some cases what they have said. It has taken me all year to realise this…
So it’s back to choices again… as Yoda said ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’
But 2016 will be back to lots of doing … and I can’t bloody wait!
For ages I’ve been on the lookout for overreach boots that actually protect and last more than a season’s worth of wear. I was lucky enough to test Woof Wear Smart Over Reach Boots and was pleasantly pleased with them after a string of overreach purchases that really didn’t come up to scratch. I compete on my horses in a mixture of affiliated dressage, show jumping and eventing so overreach boots are an essential piece of kit for everyday and competition use. As any horse owner knows, an overreach is one of those annoying injuries that causes a lot of soreness, despite sometimes being quite minimal. They are just something all of us would prefer to avoid. For this reason I prefer to use overreach boots as a precaution to this type of injury.
For some time I have tried to source some overreach boots that work withstand the rigours of cross country, regular use and washing but would also stay in place and not spin. The Woof Wear boot utilises the technological material of Poron® Xrd™ foam in the key strike area. Upon impact the Poron Xrd foam stiffens to give added protection. The area surrounding the hoof wall is made from a material called PU which again is softer so the boots mould to the feet easily and protect the coronet band. Woof Wear wisely terms this technology ‘protection on demand’. Because of this high tech material the boots are lightweight and feel flexible so minimise rubbing on the horse. The beautifully cushioned neoprene lining and band at the top of the boot is soft enough not to rub but still offers protection.
Inside the boots is an anti-spin nodule that rests in the cleft of the heel and prevents the boot from spinning. This works brilliantly and for the first time I noticed the boots didn’t spin, which was one of my criticisms of previous boot purchases. The boots have a stylish finish which looks high tech but is also subtle. They look protective before you’ve even put them on.
One element I really appreciated was the quality of the fastenings and details such as the neat little leather loop at the end of the Velcro. This small feature makes the boots easy to fasten and undo after cross country when you may have muddy hands and boots.
I trialled the boots when schooling and they fitted well and did their job. Woof Wear is very keen to promote correct fit and there is a useful video on their website. The boots should be fitted snugly, protect the heel bulbs but be too long so that they are pushed up when riding on deep surfaces. I would say that correct fit is essential with this product but it is easy to achieve in a range of fittings. As a final test I used the Smart Over reach boots on my horse for the SJ and XC phases of a BE100+ event. I was really pleased with their performance. They didn’t move but protected her, they also didn’t spin and I felt they wouldn’t be a trip hazard which has been the case for other designs.
A final test was washing the boots. They lived up to expectations and looked like new after being washed with all my other cross country kit. They were quick to dry and use again.
With most manufacturers producing an array of overreach boots to choose from it is tricky to make the right decision and end up with a product that ‘ticks all the boxes’. My horse literally has more pairs of boots than me… which says a lot and I’ve wasted money on boots that really don’t live up to claims or expectations.
However, the Woof Wear Smart Over reach boots are a top class mixture of great design and technology that offer stylish protection for competition and home use. For the dressage divas they are also available with a sheepskin trim which again may be useful for a very sensitive horse. Price wise the boots aren’t bargain basement but for what they offer they are very fairly priced and great value when comparing the materials, design and tech to other brands.
I would highly recommend the boots; they are a must for anyone wanting to protect their horses while not compromising on style. It’s led me to look at using other Woof Wear products, if they perform as well as the smart over reach boots I am a definite brand devotee!
We are so near you can almost hear the 5,4,3,2,1, GO! The eventing season is weeks away and team Black and White will be kicking off our campaign at Isleham 7th March. At home I am starting to make sure all my kit is in order and giving my tack a little t.l.c. This is important for any rider, but especially for eventers, who can put their saddles and bridles under extra strain when riding cross country. To get ahead of the game I took some time out to get a few tack care pro tips from Kate Hardt, the MD of Northumbria Equine.
Kate has had a lifetime’s experience working with horses and serving as an apprentice saddler and as a mounted police officer. Her company, Northumbria Equine UK makes a range of bespoke and off the peg tack including saddles, brides and martingales and personalised pieces to commission. They really can make anything you desire, and at a very affordable price too! Kate’s exclusive range of tack is available from www.northumbriaequineuk.co.uk
In my latest blog Kate talks about the basic checks that any rider needs to consider before heading out competing this season.
Cleaning and preparation
Now the winter is very slowly drawing to a close – we find ourselves already getting those entries in for events. Our horse’s fitness regime is already being discussed and one of the last things thought about is tack – other than tack junkies who always think about it (now that I can understand!)
Competition bridles, saddles, breastplates and martingales that may have been stored in the winter need to have a good strip down and check over. Some areas are often missed, the smallest, most crucial areas too…
When strip cleaning your bridle work, always check the leather that the billet hook protrudes from. Very often they get missed when cleaning as it’s a bit fiddly, we do neglect this little bit of leather. It too, needs to be cleaned and treated – if that goes, your hook goes, your bit or reins go…. you get the idea!
Check all of the stitching meticulously, check the stitching on those girth straps and the holes – have they stretched? If so consider getting replacements.
Check your tree, flocking, everything. Saddles ideally need a check twice a year as your horse should add muscle. For peace of mind and your horse’s wellbeing it is worth calling in the experts.
If anything needs repair – get it sent in to your saddler – now is the time. Saddlers are busy people – it is hunt season and they will be up to their necks in work.
If your kit has had a fair amount of wear and it needs some repair work – you may want to think about getting it replaced. With some items, the prep work involved prior to repair – can mean that the item could have been made from scratch in that time and may not be much more expensive to replace with new.
Leather oil & Cleaning
Try not to use leather oil all the time when cleaning tack. I used to see this all the time some years ago, not so much now thankfully. Leather oil when used to excess wrecks leather. It separates the fibres in the leather and causes stretch. It also gives quite a nasty feel to the leather and makes it very spongy. I find the only time I really need leather oil is occasionally if something feels a little dry (leather girth perhaps after a soaking and several hours mud bath on a long and sticky day hunting), or when leather has been soaked.
If leather gets very wet, the best thing to do is get a sponge cloth – squeezed out, wipe the saddlery over with this and WHILST WET apply leather oil then allow to dry. This should reduce the chance of leather drying out too much and getting too horribly water-stained. If your saddlery gets wet, it is vital that you look after it as soon as you get back – it won’t repair itself!
Once you have checked your saddlery thoroughly, always use a good quality leather care, plenty of them out there and lots in spray form, so tack cleaning is easier than ever. I always use tack cleaning spray too – it gets those horrid chunks of grease (jockeys) off your saddle flaps and inside of reins etc. Finish off with a decent soap or leather balm then assemble your saddlery again and hey presto, you are one job down on the list.
I know not everyone cleans tack every day – not even I, however, I do use glycerine spray soap on our saddles before we ride out – if nothing else it give me the grip I need to prevent me from performing high level gymnastics that I could never manage at school!
Regular hunting has its benefits – your tack gets cleaned before and after each meet – and can look fab at the end of the season! Do consider once a week if you can – and invite a few friends over for a tack cleaning party with a few bottles of the red stuff – makes it far easier to stomach!
Sound advice from an absolute pro! Thanks to Kate for her help putting together this blog. Happy tack checking 🙂
After a rather flat run at Rockingham where I decided to WD before the XC (Wanda felt off colour and we just weren’t on form that day) I decided to enter my local event Little Downham. I took a less is more approach to training and kept Wanda’s workload limited to short bursts of jumping and flatwork with some hacks and cantering. Basically enjoying her and not putting myself under pressure.
I felt really positive coming up to the event and quite excited about the opportunity to get out and compete again. My times were really late on Sunday (xc not until 6.30pm) which was a new thing for me and I was a little worried I might just be off the boil or a little nervous. To combat this I course walked on Saturday and met up with one of my sponsors Loren Causer from Lens Vanity Photography who stayed at our house and had a great night in of wine and curry.
On competition day we had a leisurely breakfast and got Wanda scrupulously clean and polished. It was great to have someone to chat to as it really helped with my nerves; it was also a really glorious day which made things all the more cheery.
We only live half an hour away from Little Downham and are lucky that it sits on fenland soil so is always excellent going – despite constant rain the week before. I was also met by my friend Hannah Galley and her mum. I’ve known Hannah for a few years now. She’s due to have a baby in late August so isn’t eventing but is a very keen spectator!
Wanda is very straightforward to get ready and we were soon on board, with a plan to keep the dressage warm up minimal as it was so hot. She worked in well and had really good focus so I was pleased and quite chilled. Our test went well. It was consistent and accurate, with only a couple of things I felt could have been slightly better. Sadly I scored a disappointing 35 which I felt was a little harsh. However I am fairly good at not dwelling on dressage scores and my main aim was to focus on confident Show jumping and XC.
Another friend, Brenning, who has a wealth of experience arrived at this point… and Wanda’s old owner, my mum and half of the children at the riding school where Wanda used to live! We had quite a fan club!!! Brenning helped put up some SJ warm up fences and I really appreciated his calm and encouraging approach. We warmed up well, and Wanda felt very much on form which was a positive boost.
The SJ at Little Downham was proving tricky for many, with a scattering of poles down across the levels. My plan was to ride a nice round. I wasn’t too bothered about the odd pole down; I just wanted forward shots and positive riding. That was pretty much what I ended up with. However, jumping out of the second combination Wanda found the distance a little long and we had a fence down. I panicked and a brain meltdown, turning left instead of right… so time faults as well as 2 down. It was a twisty course… Honest! However, I didn’t do the whole beat myself up thing, I was actually quite pleased. We met every fence positively and band on stride and looking back at the photos I can see how much of an effort Wanda took to jump cleanly.
At this point my nerves really kicked in. I felt like withdrawing but Hannah was great at keeping me positive and focused. We didn’t have long to get ready which wasn’t a bad thing! I had my new Lens Vanity Baselayer on and we both looked very smart in black and white.
I decided to keep the XC warm up minimal. Two solid fence jumps and an open up canter is all we needed. Again Brenning was a really calming influence and helped me focus on the positive not the negative.
Before I had time to think I had got to the start box and was trying to turn on my hatcam while Wanda did her usual excited cobby dance. 5,4,3,2,1, go. I was determined to try and ride forward and soon got into a rhythm, in the back of my mind I just wanted a nice steady confident clear.
After about 5 fences I really felt we were in the swing of things, not fast but clear. We went through both waters and jumped a moderate step up and swung left to a plank pile skinny. I think I just didn’t ride the corner positively. Wanda just wasn’t aware of what she had to jump and we had a frustrating stop. Usually I pick up on trickier turns and trouble spots and ride accordingly but I think I lost concentration – something I will need to work on!
We turned and re jumped easily but at this point I did feel Wanda needed to be travelling a little more and she had firm riding and a touch of the whip as we went into the next fence, a downhill drop hanging log. This totally lit her and I think all she needed me to do was say go. It was like a signal to say ‘I’m not nervous, kick on and lets do this’. In the official photo taken over this fence I have my reins in one hand, sitting well back and really riding – I look like I have my mojo back. The next fence Wanda flew and we ate the rest of the course, including a couple of trickier combinations and a large ditch palisade. As I had already had the stop I experimented with our in between fence speed, being softer with my hands so Wanda could really use her neck… and I got a faster Wanda! She also jumped more boldly, out of her stride and most of all it felt easy and fun. We completed with time faults due to the stop but really pleased with ourselves, Wanda barely sweating and feeling really well. Here is hat cam footage of our round https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oZX6I80Evk
So a pretty crap day on paper, not our usual dressage, fences down and a stop XC. But you know what… I feel really pleased with how we did. I’m a very driven and competitive person, I like to achieve and do as well as I can. But I’ve also had a pretty rough time personally and it was really beginning to mess up my riding. I was super anxious and not a happy person. I’ve worked through that a lot and really thought about why I want to compete as ultimately it has to be fun and rewarding or there is no point spending a fortune on it or hours away from my family. All this personal pressure had an impact on my jumping, as I’ve chatted about in previous blogs. I was just riding in a very introvert and over cautious way. This all changed on Sunday, I felt so comfortable on the second half of the XC. I got the buzz back and it was exciting again. Big lessons learnt and I do feel I have a benchmark now for riding Wanda XC. It’s taken me a few rounds to suss the best way to get her travelling and jumping boldly. I can wait to run again and I hope to get some show jumping in so I can practice going out competing and work on my nerves.
I feel so back in the game and happy again. All thanks to my lovely horse and very supportive friends, trainers, sponsors and family. Very very blessed 🙂
I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to be a guinea pig rider at the Helmet Ears evening demonstration with a show jump session, a talk from Chestnut Horse Feeds and a cross country session. The jumping sessions will be with 4* rider Sarah Stretton. I will be a rider in the XC session which will be held at Vale View EC on 16th November. For tickets and other details see the links below