Four seasons in one weekend… Belton had it all… literally!

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!

Putting on the emotional handbrake

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At Milton Keynes BE100

I’ve been quite tardy about blogging here for the past few months. It really does seem that life, work and babies have taken over (note that I include horses in the ‘life’ bit as they are a major part of that). I’ve also been writing a bit for Eventing Worldwide and a new project which hasn’t been formally launched yet. 

Eventing wise we had a great run at Burnham Market, My first BE 100 this season to come 8th which I was thrilled about as it was very competitive. Six days later we ran at Milton Keynes and I really struggled with nerves, but still got a double clear; although a load of time faults which knocked us out of contention. Following this we went to Rockingham, an improved dressage (lying 5th), but a very flat SJ round, on holding ground to have 2 down. Wanda felt very low that day and not her usual uppity cob character so we decided to withdraw from the XC as it was up to height and I was concerned she wasn’t on peak form. Within a day she was back to her old self but I’ve been unpicking our performance a little to work out why I haven’t been so confident of late. I’ve written a lot of detail in an EWW blog which will be published soon so won’t cross over into that, but in sum I think my private life as really had an impact on my riding and enjoyment of eventing.

I’ve been trying to get divorced for the last 3 years and it really has taken its toll on me emotionally and physically. I just feel worn out. Add to that raising 3 kids under 6, and one who is 10mths plus work and I’m pretty frazzled. But riding is my sanctuary and it’s not something I’d give up lightly; although things did get that bad a few weeks ago I thought I might need to. 

So how do I work through this? Well I had a little break from riding Wanda for a couple of days last week and headed off to Badminton Horse Trials to meet some friends and also spent the weekend reporting and blogging in the media tent. Possibly the most tiring thing I’ve done in a while but somehow it really restored my batteries and made me realise just how much a big part horses play in my life. 

I’ve also been having some help from Jo Davies, who is a sports psychologist. www.jdpsychology.co.uk Over the phone we have talked about my nervousness and confidence issues, developing some really tangible ideas that I can use when out competing. I really want to knuckle down and work through these ideas as I feel very positive that they will help to make my eventing so much more stress free. 

Today I’m back in the saddle after my mini break and decided to have a little jump and see how I felt. After one or two pops I was really back into the groove. So much more relaxed and Wanda was really taking me into the fences. I definitely didn’t have the handbrake on. For the first time in a little while I had a real sense of achievement and a little high. I’m hoping this isn’t a false dawn but today was a good one and I’m now getting excited for our next event at Little Downham. Hopefully I will be Kicking on!

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At Rockingham. Photo by Lens Vanity Photography

 

 

 

 

Focus on Regional Dressage

With the eventing season almost upon us I have been to some JAS and JT competitions and a little bit of show jumping but have also had several British Dressage competitions so that I can begin to focus on the BD regionals at Addington on 16th February.

I’ve found my last few tests really hard to ride. They haven’t felt that fluid or very comfortable to ride. I have had mixed marks as well from the low to very high 60s. I can’t quite pinpoint exactly why my marks are erratic apart from lack of test riding. My last BD competition was in November 2013, just before my hacking accident. I then had a gap of over 2 months without a dressage run. My work on the flat at home has really improved and I know Wanda is going well.  However, it all goes out of the window when I ride a test. When I showjump of XC I’m able to make small changes and I think well ahead and react. This doesn’t seem to happen in the Dressage arena.

With this in mind I’ve been thinking about ways to up my game for the regional dressage championships next weekend. As well as a training session at home I will also be meeting my trainer Matt Cox at Keysoe to run through my test on a 20x60m arena and start to unpick and improve areas that are problematic. So basic training and run throughs.

In addition I’m working a lot on the test in my mind, really visualising it and riding it in ‘my mind’s eye’. This technique was introduced to me by Jo Davies, a sports psychologist, who gave a talk at our yard last weekend. By mirroring the sensations of riding a test or a course, even off the horse, you can improve the way you react to stress and the competitive environment. Although I wouldn’t say I was nervous when I ride a dressage test I do get quite tense in my shoulders and over ride. I hope that by working on my mental preparation I can get through this issue.

I’m also working out how I can improve my shape, mainly circle, riding. With this in mind I decided to do some pole work with Wanda today, working on the curve instead of on the straight. We set up 3 poles in the corner of the arena, with the centre of the pole to centre of the next set at 3m.

After warming up on the flat I trotted over 2 poles set at 4 canter strides to get her working over easy poles before the curve. I then worked over the curve in trot. The circle I rode was about 15m diameter. For a relatively simple exercise it’s not that easy! You can’t approach the first pole straight and it really reveals horse and rider imbalances. I asked our groom Coco to take a short video which I’ve uploaded here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P811oyBko8&feature=youtu.be

It shows how Wanda is inclined to want to put in small strides rather than stretch in trot, and how her left canter is more consistent than her right. However, I sit badly to the left (old riding injury) and have a weak right leg. You can see on the right rein we had to work harder. Because of both of our imbalances we were inclined to cut the corner of the circle and Wanda falls onto her right shoulder. To counteract this I placed a cone just after the first pole and really focused on supporting her with my inside leg. This worked well. I have a long way to go with my riding but 7mth on after baby I’m feeling a lot stronger.

Following these exercises I did some straightness work, turning onto the centre line, transitions on the centre line and such like. In all, a really good workout with variety to keep Wanda interested. Next week we will jump her and add some fences as part 2 of the curve and possibly curve bounces.

This weekend the weather reports look grim so I’m not up to much apart from a training session with Matt on Sunday, then its head down next week as we get Wanda polished and preened for regional’s. It’s a really exciting time for us both and hopefully my work will pay off 🙂

Baileys and British Eventing Jumping and Style

Yesterday Wanda and I were lucky enough to travel to Bury Farm, Bucks to compete in my first Baileys / British Eventing JAS competition.

We had entered the 100 class as this will be the level I will be eventing at this season.

The course consisted of 7 very twisty and strategically placed show jumps followed by another 11 XC style jumping efforts including a corner, 2 doubles and some skinnies. The Competition  is judged on a style mark and then clear rounds and the XC section is timed so time faults can occur.

I was quite confident that Wanda would jump well as she thrives on this sort of challenge. My main worry was not forgetting the course!

I was lucky enough to have the round filmed by my friend Michael from http://www.mdr-photo.co.uk/ 

I was really pleased with how we performed and really enjoyed myself. You can watch the round by clicking on the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhnEoUkUr0U&list=UUHsRRqg4aQMg6ckdop_EyAw&feature=c4-overview

I also filmed things on my hat cam which gives a very different sense of speed and perspective.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SgufxspeDs

I was quite confident that Wanda would enjoy the course as it was right up her street. She was very confident and took the challenges in her stride very well. Our results were very pleasing. We had a style score of 11, which was in the upper band, a clear round but clocked up 6 time faults. The time was tight, I possibly could have ridden tighter lines but was very pleased with a smooth clear round. The time faults knocked us out of the top set but I was very pleased with our progress. Looking back at the videos I have loads to work on, including fitness and shifting baby weight 🙂

In hindsight I could have maybe ridden the 90 class first but feel that she doesn’t respect the fences at this level. It wouldn’t have really been a challenge for her and I’m glad I went in at 100 as this is the level I will event at, without a 90 warm up. Next year I plan to do the Novice and possibly the open.

So all in all a really fun day out and a great way to fine tune our jumping before the season starts.

Big thanks to MDR Photo and to Baileys and British Eventing for putting on such a great series of competitions. We will be back… and faster… next year!

 

Jumping and trying to do it with Style

As I’ve been doing quite a lot of dressage training recently I have tried to focus on jumping over the past week as without realising the new eventing season is quickly approaching.

I decided to enter a British Eventing Jump Training (JT) competition which was held at Houghton Hall at the weekend. I hadn’t jumped in one of these types of competitions before so it was a new thing for me. Primarily I wanted to jump a couple of rounds at about 1m and as the competition has a large training element it seemed ideal for us both.

As a tune up to the competition I took Wanda to Waresley Park to jump a couple of rounds on their lovely outdoor school.  I had decided that I needed to school over some larger courses to prove to myself I was more than capable of dealing with the weekend’s event. As usual Wanda was firing on all cylinders and jumped two lovely rounds, a warm up of 95cm and then at around 105-115cm.

It was really useful to test ourselves over a whole course, with tricky turns and combination fences.

Coco, who helps us out with the horses came along to help with fences and we had some fun playing with my new hat cam which wobbled a bit but footage can be seen here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6pQn4NElx4

Here are a couple of pictures from the day – lovely Wanda making a real effort!

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We felt really well primed for the weekend’s competition. We had late times so I had a busy morning doing all the family stuff… swimming lessons, washing, cooking and mucking out.

The venue for the competition was Houghton Hall, about a ½ hr drive for me so really helpful. The venue has recently

had a massive facelift and was ideal for this sort of training competition as there is plenty of space and good quality surfaces.

The first part of the competition involved an explanation of the structure and a course walk with Tiny Clapham who was one half of the training team. Although I had show jumped a lot as a junior it was a useful experience to walk with a pro and consider lines, environment, distances and types of fences.

Following this we had time to tack up and warm up on the flat using Houghton’s huge outdoor arena. In Jump Training competitions you then have an allocated time for a guided jump warm up which was led again by Tiny. I have been lucky enough to have been taught by Tiny before and find her style really suits the way I learn and ride, so it was a really confidence giving experience and set me up well for the main phase of the competition.

The jumping round phases were led by Antonia Brown who was a new trainer to me. She invited us to jump the course, starting in our own time. I was a little nervous but once I’d started my nerves disappeared as I focussed on the course. Wanda jumped so boldly and I was really thrilled with my round, also considering I’d jumped one competitive round since last October!

I pulled up Wanda to have a break and a chat with Antonia. She gave some really positive feedback and I was quite proud of what we had already achieved. We spoke about how I gradually rode with more weight forward in my shoulders as the round progressed. Something I was aware of but still useful to note and definitely an area which I want to work on. I do attribute this to a lack of core strength post baby. I simply get tired and loose a bit of balance.

With this in mind I set off on round 2 of the course. This time I tried to ride with a light seat and softer, lighter shoulders. This technique really worked and I jumped even better than the first round… However it was not to be! Turning into the penultimate fence I remember feeling really tired and maybe didn’t ride such a balanced turn. As a result I really missed my striding, lost concentration and knocked the planks down. So disappointing after such great rounds and I felt I’d really let my little horse down.

Even more frustrating was looking at the scores and realising I had scored 8.5 out 9 out of ten for many elements and was lying on a very good style score of 18, but with an added penalty of 4 for the knock down. Sadly this knocked us out of the top qualifying 5, but within the top 10.

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I left home feeling very pleased with the day and our performance. We ended up jumping two really great, confident rounds which has set us up well for the start of the season. I’ve also got some really useful pointers to work on and have set about improving my core and cardio fitness. Id also personally like to thank the BE trainers Antonia and Tiny and the wonderful team at Baileys that Support and make this happen. This weekend sees Black and White Eventing travelling to Bury Farm in Buckinghamshire to jump in the Baileys / BE JAS 100. This is a combination of show jumping and arena XC. Another challenge for us both 🙂

Photo Courtesy of Baileys
Photo Courtesy of Baileys

Helmet Ears Lecture / demo

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

http://www.teambsfeventing.com/helmet-ears-demo.html

https://www.facebook.com/HelmetEarsDemo

Dressage Regionals for Diva Wanda

Fortunately my sons birth went very well and I was lucky enough to feel quite fit and strong. As I had British Dressage regionals 4 weeks after the baby was born I was keen to get back on and had my first ride 4 days after I gave birth. Initially I had to be very careful as I was still quite tired and had lost a lot of core strength. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t make dressage regionals, let alone jump a fence again. I had a tough few weeks adapting to having a new baby, making sure my other children were well cared for and also beginning to focus on my riding and fitness. At first I took things very gently but I was soon able to work on my strength by having a few lunge lessons which really helped to re-engage muscles and work on my balance. I initially just focused on the dressage regionals and did my first BD competition 2 weeks after Bobby was born – winning on 71.25%. Bit of a shocker to say the least. I didn’t fare as well at regionals and came 19th out of 43 horses. Despite this I was really pleased with my performance. There was about 2% separating 19th – 6th and I think that I rode the best test I could have at that time. With the dressage out of the way my next goal was to start jumping and aim for Milton Keynes BE 4 weeks later!

 

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