A few months ago, I made a glib comment to co-presenter Richard Davison that he’d had Sarah Warne, a Eurodressage journalist, riding at TDC last year, so this year it was my turn. Much to my surprise, he shrugged his shoulders and said OK.
I took two horses, my own shortie seven-year-old mare Fab (Faberge 50 x Rubels) and Newton Stud‘s five-year-old Newton Domino (De Niro x Rubinstein, pictured top).
Fab was honoured to be stabled opposite the team silver medallist Nip Tuck, who is even more mahoosive up close than I thought he’d be. I hoped he would impart some of his grand prix wisdom to my midget, who has short legs and a bull neck and is not blessed with bucket loads of dressage talent.
“Barney’s” delightful owner Jane de la Mare asked if the floor was lower in my horse’s stable. No, I told her, she’s just a midget compared to yours!
Jane was around all weekend chatting to punters who wandered into the stables to see her and co-present Carl Hester’s superstar. What a fantastic opportunity for fans to take selfies and get to chat to Jane about her famous gentle giant.
On Friday night and early on Saturday morning we had the chance to get in the main ring for arena familiarisation.
Dotty, the five-year-old, was lit up like a match and bolted a few times when she saw herself on the big screen. One of the arena crew was sellotaping up signs around the arena (telling people they’d be “escourted” off the premises, much to the dismay of my inner grammar pedant).
Every time Dotty heard the crackle of the sellotape being pulled off the roll, the turbo kicked in and off she went again. She’s so noise sensitive, but this sort of environment is excellent training, particularly for young horses. It’s not often you get to show them a big screen; heaven forbid the first time a horse sees one is at a championships when it really matters — not that I’m personally expecting to get to a major championships, but still.
Florian Bacher from the Spanish Riding School of Vienna gave me a hand on the Friday evening calming her down and gave me some tips for softening her in the frame and keeping her attention.
There was a dodgy moment when Florian was standing next to me in the arena and the big screen changed in an explosion of colour, causing Dotty to wheel round over the top of Florian. We very nearly buried him before he’d even started the convention.
I was worried she might be utterly wild in Sunday’s public session, but he reminded me that if I had problems we had to work through, the crowd would learn more than if everything was easy peasy.
Having someone that calm and knowledgeable on the ground made me feel very safe, even in front of 1,200 people and even when Dotty was running off in supercharged passage with her head in the air, like a fire-breathing orange dragon.
We did consider putting ear plugs in her ears and using ear covers, but as she’d never had them in before, her owner Lorna Wilson and I decided not to risk it — she’d just have to learn to cope.
As it was, there was so much to look at when it came to our turn she didn’t know which way to run. We got some extra voom when someone inadvertently open a rustly packet of crisps and Dotty seemed pretty offended by anyone who dared move a muscle during her performance – reacting with a little rush of crazy power.
Florian had me riding lots of circles in trot while working the inside flexion and leg-yielding out onto larger circles. It engaged both her brain and her hindlegs and is a useful exercise in any rider’s toolbox when dealing with a nervous, strong horse.
He asked me to ride really forward in the trot, then told me to go sitting. I had a slight panic as I am an office worker, not a real rider, so sitting on a big, bouncy trot doesn’t come easy. But I did as I was told (for once) and bounced about until I was finally allowed to go forward into canter, which is Dotty’s best pace; it’s huge, ground-eating and airborne and makes you feel like king of the world.
Surviving that session was a major achievement, but my other big achievement was coaxing Florian onto Twitter, in the bar, late on Saturday night. Having accused him of being “old school” on the opening day, he proudly said to me “So, I’m not so old school now, huh?” on the last day. Please prove me right by following him @BacherFlorian.
His other rider, on the Saturday, was Rebecca Hughes. Unfortunately, due to a slight accent issue/mispronunciation, Florian introduced her as Rebecca Huge, to much giggling from the audience. Luckily she isn’t, otherwise it could have been awkward.
Bling to boot
My other horse did the Tom Hunt music demo on Saturday night. We had a ball.
She’s an awkward little thing to ride though, not being born naturally engaged, and I immediately regretted my decision to ride all the demo pieces of trot in sitting. My pride got the better of me though so, again, I stubborned it out and bounced about until the end. Lesson learned: I seriously need to improve my seat and my fitness.
I knew Fab would lack a bit of sparkle in the paces/talent department, so I covered her in bling, patent and glitter in a futile attempt to disguise our lack of talent.
Both horses had glitter stars on their bottoms, which I had so much positive feedback about. Come on BD, it’s time to follow BS and BE’s lead and allow these in competition. It may well make sponsoring riders more appealing and help bring more money (and glitter) to our sport. What’s not to like?
I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to take part in the convention; it was the most marvellous weekend. The whole crew at Bury Farm were fantastic — especially the dancing car park steward – and the atmosphere in the stables was brilliant, with amateur riders and professionals mixing and helping each other out; lending mounting blocks, baby wipes and plaiting bands.
This was the second TDC and we’re lucky to have such inspirational, knowledgeable and generous hosts in Richard and Carl. I hope TDC will be stamped on the British dressage calendar for years to come.