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Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: here’s to sunny days, happy horses and an end to this madness

Hi all and welcome back — and welcome to lockdown.

The national and global events of the past few weeks have been unimaginable. I still can’t wrap my head around it and I’ll admit I still don’t fully understand the severity of the situation we are all now currently in.

Myself and my family (which includes working pupil Juliette) have now been in isolation since Juliette got back from Keysoe CDI on 15 March. We decided to go into our own lockdown a week before the government enforced it, so effectively we will have been homebound for four weeks if the ban is lifted — which unfortunately I doubt it will be.

Of course, our version of isolation includes the yard, as luckily we live next to the stables. So we are still free to work regularly and can breathe the fresh air daily. For this I am incredibly grateful and I couldn’t imagine being separated from the horses as I know many are. These are truly testing times.

Joanna Thurman-Baker

Cuddles with Simba

While I am still riding the horses as it is my profession and they are my livelihood, I am trying my upmost to decrease any chance of risk. For example, I am lungeing both Simba (pictured top, showing off his engine) and Sirocco pre-riding and adding a ‘holy crap strap’ (also known as a neck strap.) They don’t need it, but on the off chance that they want a kick and a buck, they can do it in a safe way that hopefully won’t result in my being carted off to A&E. We’ve stopped all hacking, which is tough on the horses. They love hacking, but the risk is too high. It’s not that I don’t trust my horses — I don’t trust other road users. And we are all better safe than sorry. I was supposed to make my show debut with Simba in March, but understandably British Dressage have cancelled all shows. While that’s gutting, it is a very first world problem and there are more pressing matters at hand.

But, as ever, I’m a glass-half-full kind of person so I’m looking at the positives of this situation. Hopefully they will bring a smile to your face, which is always necessary.

Our two-year-olds (Bilbo, Frodo and Ike) are feeling particularly smug as their respective gelding procedures have been put off for the foreseeable future. Happy and boyish, they can continue to mount each other to their hearts’ content and we can but look on from afar and shake our heads. Enjoy it while you can, boys…

Now with conversation topics limited, between myself, Samantha, Juliette and mum we while away the hours having lengthy debates on things such as who, out of us, would win if we were actually in the Hunger Games. While my sister Samantha is quiet and very sweet, I can confirm she is ruthless and would definitely trump the rest of us in a fight. However, we decided that I could win the crowd over and get the most sponsors, so I might end up beating her. Hopefully we won’t find out the results of that one…

Joanna Thurman-Baker

Simba after a pole work session

What with still working long hours and not talking to any liveries throughout the day, Juliette and I go slightly insane by around 3pm and have taken to gymnastic challenges on the back green of the yard. Providing interesting entertainment for the horses, I have rediscovered my ability to cartwheel and Ju can perform a fantastic teddy bear roll. It is amazing how being confined can turn two international riders into mad loons doing teddy bear rolls to an audience of dressage horses in various stages of sleep, but there you go.

In other news, the 3pm insanity led to Ju and I giving up on our ‘no chocolate for lent’ rule. While neither of us are religious, it’s always a good test of self-control to give up something you love. We have been trying to train our brains more and not give in to temptation, whether that’s a chocolate bar or doing a bad transition because it’s easier. But alas, we decided that chocolate is an ESSENTIAL part of any lockdown and we simply couldn’t deny ourselves a moment of joy in the form of a Creme Egg (this situation was not helped by my dad purchasing 48 Creme Eggs online.). It has also given me reason to finally sort through the food cupboards of the horsebox — and what treasures that uncovered! No longer do I need to worry about starving as many overseas trips over the years saw me stock pile enough Super Noodles and dried instant pasta dishes to last a trip to the moon and back. Plus, most are only slightly (two years) out of date, so we are good to go! I’m also very happy that it is now April, as at last our home-made sloe gin is ready for consumption. Comprising a bucketload of home grown and picked sloeberries (fertilised by horse manure, of course), more sugar than a bakery and enough gin to knockout a marching band — we are set for a fabulous party.

Joanna Thurman-Baker

Our 3pm madness

On the topic of gin, let me share a story involving my father (the Creme Egg man) and our lovely village vicar. A few days into the lockdown, we were walking my dog Sprout when we bumped into the vicar (keeping a lot of social distance of course.) Now, my village is the home of the Vicar of Dibley, and it often reminds me of the village from Hot Fuzz (all for the greater good!), so you can imagine the scene. We begin chatting to the vicar and she solemnly tells us that she is lighting a candle in her window every night at dusk and saying a prayer. My father replies “funny thing, we are doing the same thing, but with gin!” Cue me nearly dying of embarrassment and quickly dragging him away before he could suffer from any more foot-in-mouth syndrome.

Joanna Thurman-Baker

Sirocco getting more lift in his Spanish walk

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All this being said, I intend on coming out of this lockdown more motivated and a better version of myself, not as a 22-year-old seasoned alcoholic. It’s all very scary and, as always, I try to stay laughing instead of crying. I’m doing everything I can to keep my precious horses in the best shape possible, from keeping them on their tailored diet plans from Lorna at Baileys Horse Feeds, to keeping them in their fitted saddles from Kerry at Sue Carson saddles. A big blow to us is no longer being able to take them for their weekly splash at New Hatches water treadmill, so we are trying to replicate this at home with poles. It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing. As I don’t know when physio Sara Chittlebourgh will be allowed back, I’ve taken to massaging the horses every other day with a hand-held massager from Equissage Pulse. Another big blow is that our shavings manufacture has shut down, so we have a limited supply of shavings left. We have already turned out half the horses 24/7 to reduce usage, but as we have several stallions on livery that don’t live out, this is a big concern.

But let’s all try and stay as positive as we can and fight our way through this horrible virus. So raise a glass and say chin chin — here’s to sunny days, happy horses and an end to this madness.

Until next time,

Joanna x

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