Alfie, aka Beechwood Bracken, is my handsome hunk of 14.2hh Welsh Section D who I use for the national driving trials.

He has had a quiet season this year as I am still on crutches following our unfortunate tip up at Keysoe indoor finals, however I am keen to compete at Sandringham national HDT at the end of June, and determined to do what I can to further his education.

Alfie is considered to be a marathon phase specialist and is a powerful responsive pony who thoroughly enjoys cantering around obstacles and galloping through water. He has a flamboyant “I’m up for it! What are we waiting for?” attitude so it requires time and skill to settle him to dressage and quieter pursuits!

I decided that the peaceful BDS area Show on the Gower peninsular would be the perfect day out to get him used to working among other turnouts in a confined area. Only too often at events he has settled to a beautiful rhythm in dressage but become excited by the proximity of another turnout leading to the inevitable dreaded comment “tension shown.”

Emily Ham Alfie 2

The added bonus of this jaunt would be the opportunity to try out the four-wheeler carriage we had just bought to take my mum out on pleasure drives. With this we could enjoy grassroots classes. Mum, who has a bad knee, is thrilled that at last I have a carriage she can easily climb aboard and the two generous passenger seats at the back are perfect for my parents. I can also have someone more agile up on the dual drivers seat. This means the carriage is perfect for teaching as the learner can sit alongside, with dual reins if needed.

Usually I show in private driving classes with my section C so it was a bit of a scramble to find the more relaxed outfits suitable for exercise class showing – these hadn’t been used for a number of years and were buried deep in the wardrobes!

With mum

With mum

It’s always great fun thinking about what to wear and as the carriage has lovely deep blue shafts and wheels blue was going to be a strong contender in colour choice. Minor crises – such as finding only the jacket for dad who would be my groom and having to ferret out dark twill trousers, then discovering that the panama hat had been squashed and was sadly in need of TLC – are inevitable. The hat was duly repaired but then blew off as soon as the carriage got moving at the showground. Luckily there was a much smaller one that had been left by friends along with gloves and a driving apron.

This means that somewhere at home dad’s gloves along with his entire private driving outfit are safe in a plastic box! I will need to turn the place upside down to find it in time for next weekend when it is the Three Counties Show where I am private driving with Mr J on Saturday and then sports driving with him on Sunday.

Alfie having a roll

Alfie having a roll

The day of the show in Gower we were all up by 6am to feed ponies and check the last few things were on the lorry. Our fingers were crossed that Alfie would load easily, and when it came to it it actually wasn’t too bad on the “Alfie scale of lorry loading reluctance!” We were on our way!

Sat navs are truly amazing at getting you into tight spots with their so called best routes and having to detour to miss the low bridge to then spend a happy hour touring the housing estates of Swansea and testing their speed humps! Dad at the wheel was not amused and had his own suggestions about the chosen route which can’t be printed! This meant we arrived as the exercise class was finishing but this now meant we had plenty of time to set ourselves up for Alfie’s new experience. Time too to settle him in the carriage and make minor fitting adjustments.

It was such a useful afternoon – as I knew he would get excited (and rather full of himself!). He was also bemused by the whole showing procedure, in particular having to stand in a line up while turnouts drove under his nose. This was a challenge that he rose to as the afternoon proceeded. He was second in the novice horse class and so qualified for the grassroots championships where I can truly say I was thrilled to win reserve champion.

The salute with Alfie

The salute with Alfie

Keen for more practice we entered the concours d’elegance class where we came third behind the two immaculate private driving turnouts. We also came second in the registered Welsh private driving class.

Mum got her first drive on her new carriage and sat in the back with dad making it a very special family occasion. We enjoyed a fabulous picnic and homemade chocolate cupcakes while watching the private driving classes and chatted to our driving friends. It was a lovely day out and really illustrates that driving has much to offer families and the whole age range: my 70-year-old friend with her novice mare was over the moon after winning all her classes and the grassroots championship while three young juniors delighted judge Mrs Boucher with their enthusiasm, focus and skills.

What’s more a few more outings like this will go a long way to sorting out Alfie’s arrogance and superiority issues. I was thrilled with the progress he made. Happy days!

Emily