Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: an emergency U-turn

Hi all and welcome back!

Firstly, sorry for the radio silence. With spring nicely sprung, we’ve been flat out working. A hint of sunshine makes such a difference to everyone’s attitude and the horses have all been stepping up a gear in training. This is fantastic, but now we seem to have returned back to winter with hail, rain and wind dampening our spirits. However I’ve had a great few weeks, so stick around to hear more…

Firstly I’m incredibly proud of my pupil Juliette Lindsey and her lovely horse, Prince. They achieved three top 10 places at the Keysoe junior CDI at their first ever international competition. I travelled there to warm her up on the first day, then warmed her up via me FaceTiming her mum from the warm-up arena, while Juliette rang my home number so I could talk to her while watching her on her mum’s phone. Then I watched her test live through the live stream! Technology is amazing.

But now poor Juliette is forced back to school to revise for her A-levels. I think it’s easy to forget just how tough it is for these under-21s, trying compete internationally while studying. I took the easy route out — I never revised for exams and abandoned my sixth form studies to ride instead. Of course I DO NOT recommend this is — needless to say if I ever needed a fall back plan from riding it would definitely be stacking shelves as my results literally spelt out DUD.

Anyway, after that I was lucky enough to try one of the new Sue Carson Secret Weapon saddles. I was honestly blown away. Apollo felt so light, easy and supple, flying through his tempi-changes while feeling truly free and over his back, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m also convinced that the secret is fairy dust. I can’t wait to get my own one for Apollo!

Trying out the saddle

Simba and Sirocco are both improving in strength and knowledge on a nearly daily basis. Simba has been hacking out by good old-fashioned riding and leading. This started due to his teeth problems. With the wound on the side of his face, he couldn’t have a bridle on, but needed to get out and do something. Now he gets led from our lovely livery, part-bred Irish draught Louie (who’s working at advanced medium level with my sister Sam), and I follow on behind on another horse. His back is getting so much stronger from going up and down the hills without the weight of a rider, as well as the in-hand work we do. Sirocco is Samantha’s horse that I have stolen as I love him. He is absolutely stunning — and he knows it. He is going to be such a fantastic horse in a few years and I’m loving getting to ride him (Sam if you are reading this, this is me telling you he’s mine now!).

Louie

Now we have an extremely exciting week ahead — my first international of the year! We are on the way to Joosland (otherwise known as Zeeland) CDI in Holland to contest the under-25 grand prix classes. It’s going to be a busy, fun week, but packing the horsebox for a week away is a marathon in itself. It’s like trying to pack for a holiday — one that includes the necessary clothing for ANYTHING the weather might throw at you. You practically need to remember your bikini, thermals and waterproofs as well as your mucking out kit. Then of course there is packing for Apollo, which involves some manic stuffing of any available space with every rug he’s ever worn, sets of tack and spares, plus every single boot/overreach boot available. He will possibly need his fly rug and mask, so best pop them in. But also a full heavyweight in case it snows, obviously.

Then there is all the food, human and horse. Apollo’s Baileys feed had to go in the horse area as the side lockers were so full with tonic water (gin will, of course, be brought in copious amounts at the duty free.) Then there is horse bathing, tack cleaning and the quick rush to find competition gear. Funnily enough, Samantha and I actually only have one set of competition gear between us. We share boots, hats and a short coat. As she had been competing at the winter national championships on Sunday, I had to collect the scattered items from where she had taken them off after her test.

Packing the lorry

After a few hours of mad final packing, including vet Rob Oulton coming to do the health check papers for Apollo and giving him an acupuncture session, we were off.

We were 20 minutes from home when I suddenly screamed “SH*T I’VE FORGOTTEN MY MUSIC!”. So we had to quickly turn around at the next roundabout to head back to collect it. Luckily my aunt Angela lives next door and she saved the day by finding my music in the house (behind the bananas in the kitchen, which I also forgot to bring) and she whizzed it up to as as we waited in a lay-by just off the M40. Poor Apollo must have been very confused as to why we were going away… and then hastily coming back again!

Once the music CDs were safely in the lorry, we carried on to our overnight stop off point at Parker’s, a handy 20 minutes from the port at Dover. Apollo got a good night’s sleep before he was awoken before the crack of dawn (4am to be precise) so we could make the 5.30am ferry crossing. All went smoothly and we drove straight into the boat and away we went. It was, however, the truckers-only boat, which meant that mum and I were the only women on board. After receiving stares from the hundred or so truckers as we walked through, I turned to mum and asked if she thought they had ever seen a girl before, which of course had us cracking up.

While I’m away, I’m leaving poor Sam to hold the fort. With me gone, I’ve added five extra horses to her list to be worked each day. She’s a real trooper and works her socks off — definitely no wedding diet required for her!

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As I write this, I’m riding shotgun with my dad driving. Mum’s asleep in the back and Apollo’s cruising along, watching the world go by. Every time we stop, like at the ferry crossing and petrol stations, I go in to the back and open up the partitions to let Apollo stretch his neck down. He has a sloppy feed of his favourite Baileys fibre nuggets, which keeps his gut working and gets some water into him. I also do carrot stretches with him and put the Arc Equine machine on. With all this, I have the hope that he will get off the lorry in Holland feeling fit, fresh and fabulously ready for action.

If you want to stay up-to-date with how I get on, go check out my social media pages — Instagram @joannathurmandressage and Facebook @joannathurman-bakerdressage !

That’s it from me for now… I’ve got an international to get to!

Until next time,

Joanna x

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