On Sunday afternoon I rode Hilly (Fernhill Present), precisely 16 days since I’d last sat on him.
I climbed onto him and I barely had my feet in both irons as I felt his back tighten underneath me, lowered his head and did a little bunny hop buck underneath me.
“Yes, we’ll lunge him Jenny!” I shouted to my groom as I swung my leg back over over to jump off him. It’s safe to say Hilly is feeling well.
He has always bucked. He bucks if he’s fresh, happy or even angry. They are not nasty bucks and I genuinely don’t think he bucks to get you off and (touch wood) he has never actually got me off. The problem with Hilly is that he is quite short coupled and has very powerful hind legs so he doesn’t realise the strength he has with his bucks.
I never have tested him to the point where I could be bucked off. I like to take the sensible approach for
both of us and if I think he may buck I will always lunge him first in a safe environment. I do this with all my horses especially youngsters. I don’t want to fall off and hurt myself or even worse if the horse became loose and God forbid suffered a life threatening injury. I would never forgive myself. I think too many people may unfortunately feel like they have something to prove by ridding a fresh, naughty horse and staying on.
No horse in my opinion wants to be naughty or difficult. Hilly bucking is not him being naughty. I believe he’s telling me how he is feeling and on Sunday he was saying “I feel good, mum!” However this mother does not want to fall off! As I said he can also buck when he’s angry. For example, he can buck after a showjump if he’s knocked it down.
If I had a horse in my yard that I felt was unhappy through bucking, rearing or napping before I jumped to any conclusions I would always investigate the problem further with veterinary advice first.
After Hilly had a little lunge he overcame his excitement and I climbed on board and went exploring around Morphettville Racecourse the home of the Magic Millions complex where the horse trials is taking place. I am very lucky to be based here for the two weeks leading up to Adelaide. Morphettville Racecourse is the main horseracing track for South Australia. It is situated in the suburb of Morphettville and is about 10km form Adelaide city centre. It is also the home to the South Australian Jockey Club.
The complex is fantastic and I am very grateful for the use of the track and the superb facilities. Hilly seems more at home here too. The grass seems greener and the weather is treating us well. Adelaide has had a very hot spring but at the moment the temperatures have dropped to around 22 degrees celsius and we have had a fair bit of rain which has made the going perfect. I can only hope this weather continues for us.
As I was taking in the amazing view around the racecourse I suddenly seemed a lot happier. I can only describe it has a weight being lifted off my shoulders. I breathed out a deep sigh of relief and I realised something which may seem blatantly obvious to others. I love riding. It dawned on me that as well as feeling the pressures of quarantine and the worry of this truly epic journey, I missed being on the back of a horse. 16 days is the longest I can remember not being able to ride. Broken bones and holidays have never stopped me from riding for more than a few days. I have completely taken it for granted how much I deeply love horse riding. When Hilly and I are together, whether it’s out hacking or half way round a four-star cross-country course, it’s just me and him. Everyone or everything else seems so far away. Helen Thomson was right: “In riding a horse we borrow freedom”.
“There is nothing so good for the inside of man as the outside of a horse” ~ John Lubbock “Recreation”, The Use Of Life 1894
I am beginning to up Hilly’s work. Depending on my gut instinct I have him out twice a day under saddle. In the morning I tend to do my hacking/canter work and in the afternoon I do more schooling work with him i.e dressage/jumping. I always listen to Hilly and my instinct depending on how he’s feeling and the conditions of the day. There’s no point trying to run through your dressage test in a lightning storm which is something we had here yesterday.
The Melbourne Cup, as a lot of you will know, is hugely popular here in Australia. Gillian Rolton (event director of Adelaide Horse Trials) very kindly invited me to watch the races at Morphettville, where we watched the big race.
Gillian introduced me to the CEO of the South Australia Jockey Club Brenton Wilkinson, the chairman of the SAJC Tony Newman and Dr Duncan McFetridge, a local member of Parliament. We had a delicious lunch and I felt welcomed by everyone I met.
It was a lovely afternoon out and I felt at ease knowing Hilly was just a five minute walk around the corner from the racetrack. Everyone there was in full support of what I am doing and wanted to try and make the experience as best as possible for Hilly and I. It was also very reassuring to know that just one week before Hilly and I flew out to Australia, seven British horses traveled from Newmarket, England to Australia to race in the Melbourne Cup. They all looked fantastic. It brought a tear to my eye to watch Michelle Payne, the first ever lady jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. She rode a truly fantastic race with such style. I am in awe of her and hopefully this will encourage more lady jockeys out there.
Hilly has become a bit of a celebrity these past few days. We have been on Channel 7 News and we are doing interviews for the Adelaide Advertiser, FEI TV, CNN, Eventful Life, and Horse Deals magazine. We have met lots of people including media advertiser Warren Partland, Karen Raffen who is the Australian three-day event board chairman and Katherine Maitland who is the PR and marketing manager for Adelaide Horse Trials.
Hilly and I were very honoured that Leon Bignell, minster of tourism, sport and agriculture for South Australia also came down to meet us and have a chat. Leon loved Hilly even did a interview holding him. Hilly was very relaxed about the whole lights, camera, action malarkey and didn’t put a foot wrong.
I do miss home. Family and friends have been amazing sending good luck messages. I often think about my horses back in England, wishing I could just pop back and see them and make sure everything is ticking along nicely. So as I stood at Adelaide arrivals gate waiting for my boyfriend Dave Cullen to walk through the doors, you can imagine my excitement.
Dave has this wonderful ability to make me calm and make all calm around him. He’s a bit of a cool dude. Even the horses love him, though he does not come from a horsey background. Dave often comes to competitions with me and he is completely in the loop with the horses and their goals. To have him here is amazing as I can tell him anything and share my thoughts and worries. My mother doesn’t arrive until 15 November and trust me, I am counting down the days. I don’t think it matters how old you are, you always need your parents.
Until next time when Hilly will be in full competition training and we are hoping that the weather stays cool.
Alice and Hilly xx