Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: what a difference six years makes

  • Finally it’s my favourite time of the year — British Dressage summer national championships season! I love early autumn weather as you just never know what you’re going to get. I like the suspense of getting up and looking out my bedroom window to see what the day portrays; will it be glorious sun with a slight chilly breeze, or a full blown rain and wind storm that lasts all day? Personally (and maybe I am slightly mad) I love both kind of days, whether it be sun or rain. It’s a challenge whichever it is and we spend most of the time playing musical rugs. Also, I much prefer winter clothes as they tend to have more pockets for holding vital items such as fibre nuggets and dog treats, so I’m pretty happy whatever the weather throws at me. That being said, I can’t say I overly enjoyed the near hurricane weather that bombarded those of us competing at the nationals this year…

    Having qualified at Keysoe (we were second in the inter II) and Somerford (first in the under-25 grand prix), I was set for the inter II class at Stoneleigh. It’s not my favourite test, but I’m learning to like it the more I ride it. Typically, I had a stinking cold and terrible cough.

    We travelled down on Wednesday, so I could settle Apollo in. He worked really well considering what was going on, including a young horse that was running backwards and double barrelling! Luckily he was in a really sheltered stable, but we spent the night in the lorry feeling like we were at sea!

    The next day brought rain on top of the wind. I wasn’t on until half four, so had plenty of time to browse the shops. Another essential to the nationals experience are the doughnuts, which is of course a vital part of my athlete’s diet (along with cheesy chips, obviously).

    Apollo at the nationals

    The rain had stopped by my time to ride. We figured out this year that Apollo gets overly excited when his boots and bandages come off in the five minutes before I go in, so we’ve been warming up without.

    The wind was horrible; tents and flags flapping and the multiple flower pots around the arena were bent sideways. Apollo is scared of flower pots at the best of times, so I was just happy that he didn’t spin in fright. I think there was so much going on that he couldn’t focus on a single thing to spook at. The first half of the test he felt like he was holding his breath and then he started neighing in the walk which he’s never done before! In the canter he ducked behind my leg for the pirouettes and performed his own very fast spin, then had a massive spook at the end of the two-time flying-changes resulting in a missed change. Overall though I was incredibly proud with how he coped. We finished on 65.57%, so not our best score. We’re still new to this level, so I was over the moon to finish in 10th. In the prize giving, Apollo decided he didn’t want to be at the back and took off to overtake the others, which was pretty embarrassing for me.

    Me at the GT Championships

    It was a really special moment for me to get my highest score from judge Peter Storr. When I was 13, I competed for the first time at the nationals on Apollo in the medium restricted class. We finished 10th and after the prize giving while walking off in the warm up, the end of the rosette that was in his mane flapped forward and touched Apollo on the ear. He hates having his ears touched so as I reached for it, he spun the other way, depositing me on the ground and bolted off. Geoff, the lovely steward, caught him as he tried to bolt out the arena. I was left to pick up my now squashed and crumpled rosette and walk across the arena covered in sand. When my parents got there and asked what had happened, the only person to see it was none other than Peter Storr. It feels like quite an achievement for me to go from falling off at the nationals in front of him, to performing the inter II test in front of him, at the nationals, on the same horse six years later.

    Meeting the gorgeous foal

    We stayed the next day to help warm in our clients Juliette and Prince, who did really well. We also snuck off to go and visit the Waverley Stud, where we met the most gorgeous foal. Owned by Verity Jenner, he’s by Ibiza out of Seramai, a mare we had in training for a while. He had such attitude I instantly fell in love with him. He certainly has a bright future ahead.

    Continued below…

    Back home now, it’s all hands on deck to get ready for winter. The clippers are making an appearance again and the dreaded sycamore seeds are beginning to fall. The horses are feeling fresh from the chill air and the big excavator that’s working all day in one of the fields to construct an art studio, the excitement around here never ends!

    Celebrating with Flick and Jonny

    We did find time to whizz off to Donington for the British GT championship final, where Flick, who is one of my owners, was competing. It was a really fantastic day. Flick and team mate Jonny had to be in the top six to finish overall winners of the year. Of course, they did it! It was amazing to be in the pit lanes when it happened and it’s an experience that will stay with me forever. I could seriously get into this motorsports stuff you know…

    Finally, I’m really excited to say that I’m now working with Equine Gastric 74. Having won a tub at Somerford, I was thrilled with the results and am looking forward to the continued results with my horses.

    Joanna x

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