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Time to evaluate those New Year’s resolutions. I made only one — to up the score on my metre beater. So far, so good.

It started as a fitness regime ahead of competitive entries on a young horse. But it was having an older one to ride too that gave me a shock… A grand prix typically asks for 275m to be covered in sitting trot, with a halt and rein-back at C — or in my case, a collapse at C!

So the metre beater works like this: I measured the circumference of our arena, deducted a bit for bad corners, then trotted round, first in a normal trot with stirrups, then a posh trot with stirrups, then a posh trot without stirrups.

My metre beater is now proudly registering 450m in a decent trot with only five blips — little incidents about which judges would comment “loss of rhythm/outline/balance/contact/connection/throughness”.

As well as fitness, this exercise nurtures consistency. I recalled something a world-class trainer once told me: “One balance, one rhythm, one outline, one picture.”

My self-improvement mission has also included a course with top trainer Christoph Hess, before a trip to Addington High Profile show to watch and keep my eye in.

It’s so useful to link learning opportunities. Christoph had recommended considering the overall impression created by a partnership, rather than getting stuck in the detail. I put this theory to the test by unofficially “judging” the grand prix.

I got the order right and the scores within 1% for those I watched. I was very pleased.

The grand prix runner-up — for two of the real judges and me — was Sonnar Murray-Brown with Erlentanz. This is a quality combination, and a rider sitting well with lovely hands. Watch out for them.

Listen and learn

Carl Hester hosted our annual BHS Fellows’ day, which was a fabulous excuse to enjoy watching and listening as he worked his horses.

We Fellows discussed tight nosebands and the difficulty of measuring them, and how overtight curb chains are almost worse. We also pondered where that equine nose should be, agreeing that in front of the vertical is perfect, while acknowledging that conformation and a horse not taking the contact are issues. Then there’s that wrong moment photographed and spread on social media…

Another interesting point was that Charlotte Dujardin, as well as Carl, would love to redesign the elementary tests. “They are so stop and go — they could have so much more flow — and some are more difficult than some tests at medium,” they said.

‘Get on and feel’

Should trainers be able to ride? I’ve always thought they should, if only to hop on a pupil’s horse. And that’s because sometimes the feel is not the same as what’s seen.

Having said that, I do have great respect for trainers that never deem it necessary to sit on. I had one once — three-time Badminton winner Sheila Willcox. For 12 years she hadn’t ridden a horse, but one day she caught me making a pig’s ear of a shoulder-in. To my horror, and while wearing a dress, Sheila mounted my horse in sheer frustration.

My jaw hit the floor to see the horse transformed. The shoulder-in was effortless and the horse looked a happy athlete, even before the phrase was invented. There are exceptions to every rule, but my preference is still “get on and feel”.

Ref Horse & Hound; 1 February 2018