Emily Ham’s driving blog: Training with the world champion

  • I was thrilled to be one of the British Young Drivers (BYD) who were shortlisted for the first weekend’s session of training with World Champion Boyd Exell.

    We had the most amazing weekend at the Unicorn Equestrian Centre, Stow on the World. It’s true to say that Boyd brought out the best in the BYDs!

    Each session was tailored to suit the individual drivers and their horses. This was my first time with Welsh Section D Alfie and immediately Boyd was suggesting ways to improve his way of going.

    Bitting is a key factor for Boyd and after some experimentation we found a bit that made a huge difference to Alfie, allowing him to soften but still go forward.

    The young drivers are a friendly and generous group and I was able to find our dream bit thanks to Rosanna (a fellow BYD) lending me the specialised bit she uses with her World silver medal Welsh D Bailey. Needless to say I have now ordered one and can’t wait for it to arrive from Germany!

    It was a busy, action packed weekend with our initial individual sessions followed by a cones session.

    Emily Ham

    Practicing obstacles with Boyd

    Boyd’s aim was for us to be forward, regular and rhythmic. To encourage us to focus on the skill aspect of cones driving we swapped over turnouts and could try an unknown horse on the course. This was interesting and worthwhile. It also gave me the opportunity to observe Alfie being driven which is always enlightening. In other sessions my kind volunteer BYD backstepper Alice Stables had a short turn driving so I could watch from the ground while Boyd gave commentary.

    Everyone benefitted from being able to watch all the lessons Boyd taught over the weekend.

    The evening involved group work designing obstacles which we got to drive around the next day. I was thrilled with how Alfie took up the contact and responded to Boyd’s suggestions for encouraging him to go forward while making the turns. I was amazed that we were only two seconds adrift of the fastest time out of all the BYDs!

    Disaster strikes

    I have had a lot of success with Alfie in outdoor national trials, but after our training feel very confident in the tighter indoor spaces and so I took him to the indoor championships at Keysoe instead of my lovely Welsh Section C Mr J.

    I was delighted with his performance and his willing, focussed attitude. I was especially pleased with his paces which for the first seven movements gained eights. Eight was the highest mark that was awarded for paces at the championships so to get a long run of them was wonderful! He also showed just how nimble and responsive he is in the cones and obstacles.

    Emily Ham

    In the dressage at Keysoe

    However our championship hopes were not to be; we were lying in a close third position heading into the final phase, but unfortunately we tipped up in obstacle one so our competition ended there. It’s sadly just one of those things. Alfie was flying and luckily was absolutely fine. We were rather battered, though relieved we were wearing our body protectors. Clare, my kind backstepper sadly broke her arm and we both hurt our left legs (a matching pair now both getting frustrated on box rest!). Despite all this, Clare’s daughter Melita bravely carried on and finished in fourth in a very competitive junior class.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their kindness, support and offers of help. We even received even offers of driving the lorry home after my dad twisted his knee doing his Colin Jackson impression hurdling the partition. Driving really is a lovely, friendly sport and everyone’s kindness really is very much appreciated!

    As I want to compete Alfie nationally in the outdoor trials, indoor work is useful technical preparation prior to building up greater stamina and fitness. After interrupted training due to my university commitments, I hope to focus on driving this year and am setting high goals to improve on past performances and achieve consistently good scores in all three phases. Despite our setback, I’m determined to get back to it as soon as possible.

    Emily Ham

    Alfie in the cones at Keysoe

    A flash new addition

    Excellent equipment is so invaluable and as well as my German bit, I am thrilled with the support my horses have from Equilbrium Products, who supply massage equipment and breathable boots. These give me the confidence to push on over the courses knowing the horses are receiving great protection from injury and sprains. I am very grateful for their sponsorship.

    I now have my wonderful new carriage, the three phase Revolution, which was designed by talented engineer and generous sponsor Simon Willis to fit my 14.2hh Alfie as well as my 13hh Welsh Section C. It is amazing at holding the ground at speed with very little sideways slip on even the tightest turns and its innovative design allows the horse to maximise its forward momentum. It drives like a dream and I cannot wait to get going on the outdoor marathon courses with such an awesome vehicle. With this carriage, my new bit and all the extra schooling tips I hope this will be my best year yet of competition!

    The British Young Drivers organisation is outstanding in the opportunities it gives to young drivers. Thanks to sponsorship by British Carriagedriving, Baileys Horse Feeds, The Worshipful Company of Saddlers and generous individuals, we have training that most of us could not otherwise afford at the annual Easter camps and summer camps, our National Young Driver Championships and now the Boyd Excel Talent Programme.

    The training progression is built in to take young drivers to the very top of their sport against the adults nationally and internationally. I can’t wait for the next training sessions and the competition circuit this year!


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