With the season fast approaching, I’m now ramping up things to get out and about and get going. I’ve been so frantically busy lately, I can’t even begin to remember what I’ve been doing without referring to my diary!
First off, as many people will be able to relate to, I sat down and did my season plan, which is very exciting. Working out which level and competition I’m going to aim each horse at is the fun part, and you become brim-full with anticipation. I only plan up to mid-season, and then sit down in June and plan again. It’s the business of horses and life; you can never tell what’s going to happen.
I’ve got a super string of horses and they’re all going out and having training sessions now. Corrine Bracken is one of my showjumping trainers, and I was up with her recently. The horses are all in great form and feeling really good and confident. We all really enjoy working with Corrine and she’s great at sharpening up my skills.
I also recently had a lesson with my other showjumping coach, Richard Waygood, and took four horses over for jumping practise. They are all doing brilliantly and are getting to a good place in their training early on, which is encouraging. We took Total Darkness, Total Belief, Cascadelle, and Wellshead Fare Opposition. Both of these super trainers work so well with all my horses and me. When they’re both busy with their hectic schedules and I’m trying to organise my fitness training, it helps a lot being able to go from one to the other with ease, especially as we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. If we weren’t, it could get quite confusing!
We took a trip up to Austin O’Connor’s fantastic facilities at Attington last week to use the amazing cross-country schooling arena. We took eight horses in the pouring rain but as it has an Andrews Bowen all-weather surface, the rain didn’t affect ground conditions at all and everything went very well. It was perfect to give the young horses some training and give the older more experienced horses a bit of a refresher and tune-up.
As well as all the other superb features in the schooling arena including trakheners, mounds, banks, and ditches, there is a fantastic (and huge) water feature, which is very beneficial for young horses to canter through and onto the island in the middle and off again.
I need to take this opportunity to thank one of our sponsors, Mountain Horse, for all our waterproof gear. We were hugely grateful as it makes a real difference in the hideous conditions we’ve been experiencing this winter — we keep warm and dry, although the horses might have a different view! While it was pouring with rain and we were covered in waterproofs, there was still ice around the edge of the water feature — I’m there kicking on, telling the babies ‘it’s OK, you can do this’ then the ice cracks and they’re like ‘I knew there was a monster in there!’
I’m pleased with progress so far; things appear to be going well. Total Belief, who is rising eight, feels like I could jump anything on her — but obviously I have to keep my excitement in check and take things steady with her. Total Darkness is getting more brave — he has to be the spookiest horse I’ve ever sat on. Cascadelle has come back from injury and feels like she’s picked up from where we left off — It felt like she’d been round a cross-country course the day before. Wellshead Fare Opposition has had 18 months out and we had a lovely time — both he and I were grinning from ear to ear. It’s really easy to get carried away when it feels this good, but it’s important not to.
February seems to be the most manic month of the year. I tend to find myself pondering how I do all of this in February…?
· Train all horses
· Increase fitness in the whole string
· Do a few competitions with each horse
· Plan the year ahead, with entries and admin
· Have everybody’s teeth and backs done
· Have saddles checked. I do believe that horses change shape through the season, with their muscle build-up as fitness increases, so I ensure I have their saddles checked every six months.
Since I got my UKCC level 2 BE accredited coach qualification I’ve picked up lots more teaching work. I’m holding clinics every couple of weeks, which I’m really enjoying and they are proving very popular.
I’ve recently had a meeting with the lovely Lucy from Saracen Feeds to get the correct balance of feed with the right nutrition and everything in place for each horse. Saracen Feeds have been brilliant with their level of support and the horses perform splendidly on it, as well as enjoying scoffing it! They maintain condition exceptionally well, so I’m delighted with this partnership.
Our first target event is aiming for Tweseldown on 9 March, so as you can imagine the countdown is on and there are big asterisks on the calendars and in the diaries!
If you’re getting your own horse ready for the event season, there are some fitness tips I can offer based on my own experience. Of course it’s dependent on each individual horse. Some horses take longer to get fit. For instance a Thoroughbred wouldn’t take half as long to get fit as an Irish Draft or heavier type. I’m lucky with lots of good hills around Salisbury Plain nearby — I can do plenty of trotting and cantering work up the hills. But if you don’t have hills, you’d have to do more intense and extended fitness work.
Mine started galloping at the end of January. I like to give them six weeks of really good work, featuring plenty of gallops before I go eventing. You have to plan for any eventuality. If there’s terrible weather or they have a foot abscess and they miss gallop work, at least you still have some time built into your schedule to catch up. It’s not just about getting them fit; it’s also about having them strong.