Last weekend, my UK polocrosse team mates and I paid a flying, two-day visit to Zambia to play the number-two world-ranked team, as a warm up to the Adina Polocrosse World Cup, which is being held in Australia in a month’s time. Having only been able to play “arena” polocrosse during the winter, we were desperate to get some competitive chukkas on grass, but getting off the plane, straight onto an unknown horse, and lining up against world-class opposition was a bit of a shock to the system! We got sharper and more competitive over the three games, and were able to put some tactics and ideas to the test. The Zambians were fantastic hosts, and I definitely want to return for a more leisurely visit to this stunning country and take up the offer of a fishing trip on the Zambezi River.
The countdown to the Adina Polocrosse World Cup has now well and truly started, and these matches have got me really excited for the event, where we play current World Champions South Africa, New Zealand and Ireland, in the group stages. In 2015, I acted as player-coach and we finished a highly creditable fourth, so it would be fantastic to finish in the top three in the twilight of my international playing career.
These last preparations are all coming at a time when we are most busy on the yard with call-outs, as spring brings riders out of the woodwork and can also ignite a personality transplant to some horses!
My March webinar for Your Horsemanship members, was based on how to get your horse back “up and running” after the winter, particularly when taking them to their first event for the year.
I always recommend that when you’re bringing your horse in to work, it should be progressive; start with what they are comfortable at, before moving on. For example, two of my horses are more trustworthy, and less likely to have a little “explosion”, if they are taken straight out hacking round the roads after a break. But for many riders, they would feel more safe if they had the first few rides in a fenced arena. Horses love routine, so repeating exercises in the arena, or a certain hacking circuit, for the first few rides can work wonders for settling them down.
As for taking them out for their first outing of the year, the easiest bit of advice I can give is “LEAVE MORE TIME THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED!” Taking time pressures away gives you one less thing to get stressed about, and it is something you can control. If your horse does come off the box excited and on his toes, then you have time to diffuse the situation and get him in a better frame of mind before you compete.
Following on from the same theme, we have just finished our first hacking camp of the year, where 10 participants worked through issues with their horses’ behaviour, and their own confidence when out hacking. The preparation work led to a hack down the local lanes to have a picnic lunch at a neighbouring farm. Although some approached the outing with trepidation, the sun on our backs, the beautiful countryside and the spring lambs gambolling in the fields couldn’t fail to relax the riders and they all returned with a real sense of achievement. Practice makes perfect, so hopefully, this is the start of these riders being able to enjoy exploring their local environments on horseback.
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I mentioned in my last blog that I was starting three home-breds from the Bechtolsheimer’s breeding programme (pictured with all three of them, top). I delivered them home last week and I can’t wait to seeing how they progress. When I dropped them off, we went for a hack round the farm to get them used to their new riders and environment. The “handover” is a crucial part of the training process, as the horse gets used to the feel of their new rider, and I give the rider the tools to cope with any hiccups along the way. My dad always used to say that a horse isn’t truly broken in until they’ve done a year’s worth of mustering cattle round the steep hills of ‘Silver Hills’, the 4,000 acre property I grew up on. I’m not sure how many rides that would equate to for most riders in the UK, but you get the idea! So, with that in mind, I’m off to go for long hack with my family on a new youngster that I have high hopes for.
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