So much has happened since my last blog, it all seems like a bit of a blur!
In April, I travelled out to Australia to play for the UK at the Adina Polocrosse World Cup, and what an event it turned out to be. Each team drew a pool of horses to play, and we happened to draw the pool that had my dad’s two horses in it! We had three days to get accustomed to our horses, and see which horse suited each rider. As I was to play the defensive number three position, I chose to ride my dad’s Silver Hills Pearler, a seven-year-old Australian Stock Horse gelding, as my main horse. He felt powerful and athletic, if a little inexperienced, and I was hopeful that he would improve as the competition went on. And boy, did he exceed my expectations!
Our team didn’t quite fire in our first game against New Zealand, which effectively put us out of a top four placing, but from then on, our players and horses rose brilliantly to the challenge. In our five games, Pearler received three best horse awards and a champion Australian Stock Horse award, and helped me to win three best player awards. What a great horse he turned out to be, and it was so special that he was bred and owned by my father.
The UK team finished in a highly creditable fifth place, after performing brilliantly in three night games under lights in front of thousands! Polocrosse is a minority sport in the UK, so it was a great experience to play in front of so many people, as well as being livestreamed round the world. Maybe it was the show off in me that allowed me to play some of the best polocrosse of my life, but I would like to think that some other factors were involved! In what is likely to be my last international competition, I threw everything I had at it.
Preparation — in the lead up to this competition, I put aside all the “extras” in my life and was pretty selfish (with my family’s blessing, of course!). Fitness and training sessions were non-negotiable, I spent a lot of time on ensuring my equipment was perfect and I went the extra mile in my preparation, which included a weekend trip all the way to Zambia to get some match play in.
Nutrition — I am a skinny bloke, and have to eat constantly to keep any weight on, so I have always steered clear of any “diets”. But Gus Olds, our fitness guru, encouraged the team to try a keto diet to make us as “sharp” and alert as possible. It was an interesting exercise and I have to say I felt great (even though I cheated every now and again!).
No distractions — in every other big competition I have played in, I have either been captain, acted as player-coach or have been in a decision-making role as a senior player within the team. At this World Cup, I didn’t have any of these additional pressures. For once, I could just play and it was a revelation! I slept well, I switched off, and I just had to focus on each game.
In the zone — sometimes, it all just flows. Everything you do works and you feel in control of the situation. A lot of this is down to experience; I know what it feels like to “be in the zone” and what I have to do to get there. But that’s no guarantee that it will happen when it matters most!
There was no rest for the wicked on my return home, as we held a Retraining of Racehorses camp the day after. Luckily, the jetlag didn’t kick in too hard, and I had a blast with eight riders and their lovely ex-racers. They proved that these horses can make excellent all-rounders by taking part in a range of activities from groundwork to gridwork, mounted games, polocrosse and hacking, to having a good old “open up” across the open fields! I also put on a demonstration with local ROR-endorsed retrainer, Kylie Manser-Baines. It was very interesting to pick her, and ROR South East coordinator, Pippa Boyle’s, brains about what to look for in an ex-racer, and what to expect when you first get them home.
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May is proving to be a very busy month, as we also have our three-day spring Your Horsemanship camp, lots of clinics, and a full yard of some lovely horses in for training. If I’m allowed to have a favourite, it would have to be “Bo”, a stunning coloured dressage stallion, who has become unsettled in certain environments. He is beautifully trained and so balanced, I am optimistic that it’s a case of ironing out a few kinks before he is back among the ribbons.
Now I’ve penned this blog, I better find a moment to unpack properly… I just wish I could have fit Pearler in my suitcase!
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