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Saturday, 29 February 2020

February Round Up

Well, it’s been pretty crap with the weather over the last three weeks. Storm Ciara, Storm Dennis and then some unnamed one dropped by to say hi last weekend... I’ve had to re-arrange flatwork training sessions, not been able to jump and had competitions cancelled. The horses at our yard are permanently stabled at the moment because the fields are just so wet! However, while I’m usually not a big fan of horses being kept in, it has played its uses.

Firstly, NO MUD. For every grey owner, this is a HUGE plus. While I use every conceivable mud-busting hack ordinarily, it’s been nice to come after work to a horse without any mud to negate for getting brushing and overreach boots on.

With the bad weather, it’s been so easy to “just not ride tonight”, which in reality translates as ‘I’m chickening our because it’s windy/pouring with rain/hailing/all of the above’. With Louie in the stable 24/7, he gets bored so quickly. He’s had more Silvermoor Swingers than I can count, but ultimately it’s his brain that needs occupying, so I’ve been good at sticking to heading into the school three times during the week and varied it up with a pole work session and two very different flatwork sessions. It’s been a bit windy to lunge, as the line pulls on his sensitive mouth and we end up on some very odd shaped circles. The night I haven’t ridden, I walked him in hand and given him a roll, before listening to him squeal like a little piglet, tossing his head in elation to be out!

Not once has he put a hoof out of place.
Not when it’s been 50mph winds.
Not when it’s been pouring with rain.
Not when we’ve had gritters going past the end of the arena.
Not when the roadworks next to the arena have been clanging and flapping around.
Not when his waterproof exercise sheet fully inflates in the wind.
Not when horses around him are being a little cheeky.
Not in ANY of those...but a rabbit running across the arena. That is a cause for the world to stop.

No, in all seriousness, I cannot fault his behaviour.

So back to all we’ve been up to during all of that...

We started February with an absolutely amazing weekend away at Morris Equestrian, doing both of our first British Novice classes! It was two months since we went there last, and with a handful of training sessions in between, I was so excited! We headed home full of happiness and pride - I was so proud of what we’ve achieved!

After Morris, Louie has a week off, so no negative reason. He’s the sort of horse that gets bored very easily so doesn’t take to long durations off work; he finds his own entertainment in life. That’s fine when he’s living out, but once stabled, even if only overnight, it’s not the best for him. So, instead, I give him a week off work about every 6-8 weeks. He spent the last three weeks of living out in September/start of October enjoying a break and went all the way through to Christmas, when he had almost a week off, so it was due. I quite enjoy a bit of time out the saddle and used it this time to regroup and plan our next few months.

So it was really sensible after a week off to head into the arena in the full force of Storm Ciara...& why not add in an exercise sheet for fun! I gave him every excuse to be tense, not concentrate and silly about life.

He wasn’t. He was so relaxed, focused and just got on with his job with so much willingness. Never would I have described riding in those conditions as enjoyable, but it was...

By the time the weekend came, I was desperate to head out on a hack. It had been literally WEEKS since we had been out as the weekend before Morris we’d headed for a showjumping training session, then we were at Morris, then a weekend off work. It was literally a month...

We headed out on a grey, miserable morning, but no rain or wind for a good couple of hours to enjoy together. I really love our time hacking together, I couldn’t only go for hacks, but I enjoy just the downtime of riding outside of the arena and exploring new routes with my little pal for company.

We were at the local riding club dressage the next day. Then came the rain on Saturday night. My gosh, the rain came. At one point at home around 6pm, I got up as I thought a pipe had burst upstairs. It was a welcomed message to hear the dressage was cancelled.

I opted not to ride out the next day. It was just flooded everywhere, and while Louie is excellent at water jumps and hazards, I wasn’t prepared to knock his confidence in deeper water that was around us.

Miraculously, and thanks to unbelievably strong winds, the arena was dry by Monday evening and so our rearrange session with Cathy could go ahead. It had meant to have been the Monday prior, but I’d cancelled as it wasn’t at home and I wasn’t comfortable driving the horsebox in the high winds.

We worked on stopping Louie getting his neck fixed, and helping him to become more supple through just very simple exercises of moving it around more - laterally and lengthening. It makes such a difference to his overall way of going when he has more suppleness through his neck so it’s our takeaway homework piece until the next session.

The following weekend, I’d hired Philippa’s arena while she was away, so I put some poles down one evening when it wasn’t so windy, and worked on the 3 poles down the centre of the arena to practice our rhythm, keeping the canter coming and waiting for our stride without losing power.

Louie aced it! Sometimes when he has seen poles for a few weeks he can go a bit green over them, but it was as if we’d done them every day. It gave me a lot of confidence for when we’d got to jump at the weekend.

With our dressage being cancelled, I’d put a late entry into our local venue’s express dressage. What a fantastic format for the winter months, especially in the weather we are having right now!!

I was brave - I entered Louie’s first-ever Elementary. It would also be my first since April 2012! I spent the morning getting ready, listening to the howling winds, heavy showers and hailstones wondering just how many marbles I’d lost to be bathing, plaiting and actually going to a dressage competition in THAT! I went the back roads to the venue so the horsebox was sheltered and even though it took me longer, it meant we weren’t being blown around.

I got there to blue skies. Lovely, I thought, as the warm-up was outside. I got on. It clouded over and rained. Excellent. Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, as once I was on and going, I barely noticed the bad weather. However, as I headed indoors to do my test, the blue skies reappeared. Typical.

Express format pairs you with another combination. While they do their test, you stand in the corner (outside of the boards), swap, before doing the same for the second test. Your test sheets & any rosettes are posted out to you afterwards, and scores posted on Facebook later that evening.

Louie was a bit tense when we trotted around waiting to be beeped in, and his Novice test wasn’t the best as a result but all considered, I was pleased and it got better the further into it we got. We came 4th on 67.86%

We watched our partner do their elementary, and soon it was our turn. Louie felt much less tense and more amenable when I picked him up and the scores showed that. It was the same judge as our Novice and we managed to get 69.38%, coming third! It was almost 2% more than our Novice! I was chuffed to bits! And only just over 1% behind the winner! I came home super pleased... I've done a dressage competition report that you can read all about it in.

The next day I’d hired Philippa’s arena for a jump. We were on our own, so I used the course that was already up and just popped everything up to 85cm. I really wanted to avoid getting off and dragging Louie around to alter them all. It was the first time I think ever when we haven’t jumped for a few weeks and we haven’t started over two poles to set our rhythm. Maybe a bit of a risk with no support on the ground, but I was confident Louie would take it all on.

He did! He bossed the warm-up jump both ways, so I moved onto the one stride double, knowing if I managed to get two strides or a big stretch I was far too backwards. He got a bit deep to the first part but made his one stride easily and jumped out nicely. No need to repeat. Onto the four stride distance down the long side. I couldn’t find the sweet spot for the first jump on this one - I was either in deep or on a longer one. I was still pleased as we didn’t chip in, or disagree on taking the longer one, just couldn’t quite get the right place. It didn’t bother Louie and no matter what, we got four good strides down the distance. Next was a jump on the angle off the short side, down the arena to a mirror image jump but jumping into the short side. He went down that line so beautifully and easily.

We strung everything together and jump around twice before finishing up after 30 minutes because he’d made a good job of it.

Louie had Monday evening off, and I only had time to give him a quick roll in the arena as I needed to take my Mum to the airport for 6pm. I felt bad I couldn’t give him more and wondered if I’d regret it when it came to riding the next night.

It didn’t & we had another lovely flatwork session on Tuesday evening, working on our trot to get it more consistent, more supple and flexible, and I wanted to work on more cadence to the trot.

Over the last few days, I’ve been away with work, but on Friday evening, I headed out for our first after-work hack of 2020!! Just a short one of 40-45 mins ish, but I enjoyed a much longer one this morning to give Louie a good stretch of his legs!

I’ve booked a training session with Philippa for Sunday morning, the best way to kick start March....and see that spring is just around the corner!

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