Wow! Penny and I have just returned from an incredible day at the Hickstead Derby, where we were wined and dined courtesy of the title sponsors, Al Shira’aa.

A while ago I worked with some young showjumpers and dressage horses for Tom O’Brien. Little did I know that he heads up Al Shira’aa Stable’s UK operations, hence the invite!

The day included a course walk with William Whitaker and Trevor Breen, who gave fascinating insights into the intricacies of the course. Watching the class unfold, all their predictions and knowledge about the fences came true, and, having stood at the top of the derby bank, we couldn’t help but raise a glass each time they made it safely down it! As for the competition itself, what great clear rounds by both Nigel Coupe and Harriet Nuttall. Although Penny was rooting for Harriet to get a win for the girls, Nigel also fully deserved his win. The round I enjoyed the most was by Steven Franks who rode his 1998 Irish Sport Horse gelding Carlow Cruiser so sympathetically for eight faults; they obviously have a wonderful partnership.

One thing William and Trevor talked about was the fact that you had to ride away from the entrance/exit three times during the course, and that the horses generally hang towards it, making it more difficult to jump the next fence. Older, experienced horses become wise to things like this and know that the entrance also means exit and the end of their round, whereas younger horses may be insecure in the pressurised environment of the arena and look for the exit as a way of getting back to their mates. Either way, I would advise anyone going into a competition arena in any discipline to take this simple step every time you finish your round or test. At the end of a course, always ride your horse past the exit, before letting them slow down and relax, and then ride a circle away from the exit. Ideally, you should then leave the arena on a long rein with your horse’s neck long and low.

My last blog was written just before I went to South Africa to captain a young (apart from me!) men’s UK polocrosse team against two South African sides and a team from the USA.

It was a great two weeks and even though results didn’t quite go our way, the boys improved every time they stepped on the field. The UK ladies were very impressive and came second overall. I felt I had a fairly quiet tournament but was very honoured to be awarded a great trophy sponsored by Bomber Bits for MVP for the tournament, and I really enjoyed playing horses owned by Jannie Steenkamp and Camilla Harris. I first experienced Africa back in 1997 when I spent six months in Zimbabwe, and every time I go back I fall in love with it a little more. Polocrosse is a small, but tight-knit community, and it’s always fantastic to catch up with old friends when I’m out there.

The day after I got back, I ran a corporate day for insurance giants, JLT, at Priory Equestrian Centre. As always with these events, I am amazed by how highly successful business people who have never been near a horse before, make such strong connections between the way we work with horses to how they can become authentic leaders within their work. They particularly enjoyed watching me muck about with Diesel, my Australian stock horse who I bred and have taught a few tricks to. He is taking pride of place in the photo!

The yard itself is very busy at the moment and I am lucky to have a young Scot, Hamish Gillanders, riding alongside Annie and I, in addition to a great Aussie lad, Zac O’Leary, who is staying for a couple of months; let’s just hope the horses don’t get confused with all the different accents around the place!

We have some pretty spectacular horses in too; Del Boy, a cremello colt, and Harry, a huge ID x Appaloosa are both particularly eye-catching. At my regular monthly coffee morning, I actually sat back and let Hamish do the work with an eight year old Welsh section D in for starting, while I talked through what he was doing and suggested adjustments from the sidelines. The audience actually came away with a greater understanding, which shows how important it is to take any opportunity to listen and watch in multi-rider clinics and from the fence during lessons.

Continued below…

Betty and Emily

Lastly, there’s nothing better that hearing about my ex-pupils and I was so excited to see a beautiful photo of a perfect partnership jumping over a big cross-country fence and recognising the horse as “Betty” (better known as Bright Spark) who I started for Emily Baldwin a few years ago. She was competing in her first CCI* at Tattersalls and finished 13th on her dressage score. It is one of the real perks of the job knowing that horses we’ve had as babies that are just learning to trot in a straight line go on to give so much pleasure and excitement to their owners and riders. I can’t wait to follow Betty and Emily’s progress.
Jason