I’ve been lucky enough to be doing a bit of jet-setting since my last blog. Although most of it has been work-related, I managed to sneak in a quick trip to South Africa to play in the Land Rover Durban high goal polocrosse tournament. With four men’s and four ladies’ teams in action, each team’s sponsor flies in players from around the world to play with the top South Africans, making it one of the most prestigious and high quality competitions to play in.
My team was sponsored by Rokwil and, dare I say it, were slightly un-fancied with regards to winning. However, sometimes a team just works, and we won all three matches to take the overall title. I have been playing polocrosse all my life, and have competed in international test matches and World Cups, but this has to rank as the biggest win of my career. It was made even more special as I played with an old friend in James Hackland, who I first played against in 1999, and got to ride some very nice horses of Travis Timm’s, who I rate as the best player in the world at the moment. My sister and brother-in-law were also playing, and Sandra was in the winning ladies’ team, so I think mum and dad were quite proud back in Australia. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and mine finished with a lost passport, making the trip home a little more stressful than envisaged!
The lovely weather has made it perfect for the Your Horsemanship camps that I have been running at home over the summer. They are a great way for people to really connect with their horses and sort through any problems they may be having, while experiencing lots of new challenges. Some come to have fun, while others use them as an opportunity to overcome some deep-rooted fears. My hacking camp in particular was viewed with trepidation from some of the participants, with some being extremely nervous about the prospect of hacking on lanes and fields. I now get regular updates and tags in social media posts of photos of those same people who are now happy to be out and about with their horses. I am full of admiration for people who overcome their fears like this, and of course, it also gives me a lot of job satisfaction.
Most people’s fears come from a moment where they have felt out of control while riding or handling their horse. It doesn’t matter what that moment was, it is all about the perception of it. For example, a horse may have a little spook one day, but that may be enough for a nervous rider to lose confidence in that horse. This can lead to a breakdown in the partnership, and the spook may develop into more serious and engrained behaviours, such as spinning and rearing.
I recently did an evening talk with a vet, Reuben Whittaker, about how we can tell whether behavioural problems in horses are caused by physical pain, attitude or poor handling and management. Whenever I get a horse sent to me, I make sure that they have been checked by a vet, to rule out physical problems. Once they have the all clear, sometimes I can tell what is causing the behaviour as soon as I start work with a horse, whereas with others, I need to collaborate with the owner in order to get to the bottom of the problem. I worked out that I have started or retrained about 2,500 horses in my career, so I guess it is something that has become quite intuitive!
On the yard, I have been working with some very exciting horses, including Hazelhope Jackpot, a four-year-old by De Niro, who we have just started. He is pictured being ridden for the first time by Joe Bright, who will take on the ride for his owner, Mandy Southern. He really is a full of quality and I hope Mandy and Joe will go on to have a lot of success with him. Mandy is one of the very few people who has ever managed to get me in a pair of jodphurs. A few years ago, she asked me to take Fly, a lovely mare of hers, to a local dressage show to give her some experience. I felt very strange in her husband, Jimmy’s, riding gear, but we must have got away with it as Fly came away with some rosettes, even if I did go the wrong way a couple of times! Ever since, I have been meaning to start dressage career, but somehow work and life always gets in the way.
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I’ll leave you with the adorable picture of “Lily Limpopo” (top), bred by Zimbabwean international event rider, Millie Kruger. At my latest coffee morning, I worked with two foals and had them popping on and off the trailer and getting them used to being led. I am looking forward to breeding one or two of my own foals by our new Australian Stock Horse stallion, Haydon Oracle. Having recovered from his journey over from Australia in May, I have been riding him round the farm and he feels fantastic.
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