Well I’ve finally managed to escape from the shackles of the Aga and, for once, with very few scars caused by my attempts at mass catering! The trailer has returned from trailer hospital complete with a new, very expensive ramp spring and a full service so it’s ready and waiting for the new season to commence.

You may think that my culinary efforts have released me from my endless walk work with Fantom and Chiara, but no. Steely determination rules the day and we have been out pounding the roads and tracks (well not literally pounding) every single day, often in the dark. At least when it’s dark nobody can see the wet mud that Fantom liberally spreads over himself when he knows it’s his turn for work.

This is the time of year to analyse our performances in 2018.

What have I learnt from Fantom? He has had an issue with tying up, most spectacularly doing so in Brussels at the European Championships. The exact cause of why some horses tie up is unknown and I really believe that with Fantom it is a combination of travelling long distances, diet and the adrenaline rush he experiences at the beginning of a race.

Well, on the surface of it, these things are definitely within my control. In practice it’s somewhat harder to know exactly how to adapt Fantom’s regime to each challenge he meets.

Filthy Fantom

I have just been reading an article about diet and energy in the endurance horse. It seems to me to be spot on — such a shame it wasn’t published a couple of years ago. After Fantom’s first tying up episode I changed his diet to high fibre and oil, but found that the energy tank ran dry before completing a long distance race. Maybe he would have had enough for a lower distance of, say, up to 80km but not for the longer ones. Following that, I reverted to feeding some starch but from that of a brand especially targeted at horses prone to tying up. Unfortunately this did not work at all. I have learned this year to use the high fibre and oil diet together with the correct supplementation provided in the form of a bespoke supplement from Feedmark right up to competition day. However, at the first possible opportunity (first vetgate) we tank up on cereals which by then Fantom is craving for. Interestingly later in the ride he usually chooses fibre over starch. This seems to work well for him but is not a solution on its own.

Owing to living in the best part of the country (Cornwall), we have to travel about seven or eight hours to major competitions. When we went to Belgium for the last Europeans, Fantom refused to drink and eat on the journey and very little at the overnight stop and had to be rehydrated on arrival. To try to overcome this, I will endeavour to leave home days in advance, find somewhere close to the venue to stay and arrive at the last possible minute. A logistical nightmare of course, but Fantom is definitely worth the effort.

The adrenaline rush again appears to be easy to deal with but in practice is often more complex. The obvious answer is to quietly start the race after everyone else and gradually increase pace up to the first vetgate when a more normal approach can be taken. In reality it is often not possible to get enough space to start behind everyone else and a fine balance is needed between keeping out of the melee and riding alone and losing motivation.

With Chiara (pictured top doing some stretching exercises) we have learned that she needs space and hates being crowded whether this is in the vetgate or out on course. Obviously this is a challenge but with careful planning it can be managed and the upside is that she needs no company for motivation; a completely different character to Fantom.

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It is almost time for us to go skiing. After the Christmas festivities and loads of food, it is with shaking hands and fear in my heart that I try on the salopettes. Relief, they fit; must be all the exercise!

It will be so nice to get out on the slopes; I can’t wait to get away from the mud, rain and gales blowing over Cornwall in a seemingly endless procession (I am exaggerating as the last few days have actually been dry). I long for blue skies and powder, but realistically as long as there’s enough snow for long ski safaris, powder hopping, mogul bashing and jumping that would be absolutely fine. Oh wait — I mustn’t jump for fear of jolting my back; so I’ll have to revert to timed runs and try to beat my record of an average of 103kph. I know it’s not fast by some standards but with longer skis, a bit more weight and a steeper slope I could well smash it. The horses will be pleased for me as they will have a two week break!

Happy New Year and here’s to a wonderful 2019 competition season with healthy and happy horses.

Annie

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