Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: It’s a minefield, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge

  • Dear readers,

    I’m starting this blog off with a horror story. My sister’s grand prix horse, Spring Pascal, retired at the end of last year. In 2014 he suffered from an infected coffin joint and following three general anaesthetics and joint flushes, he came back to win grands prix. He’s a Cleveland Bay x Hanoverian and he’s crackers. Anyone who has seen him at a show will agree that he resembles a cart horse that is as high as a kite.

    Anyway, since his retirement, we have slowly weaned him into the field. He only goes out during the day and we always keep a close eye on him as he’s rather suicidal.

    One lovely and quiet January day, I left the yard to nip up to the house to change my boots and was gone for around two minutes. In those two minutes Pascal decided it was time to see if hunting was his next career. He jumped a four foot hedge out of his field and landed around a six foot drop onto the road and went trotting off in the direction of the pub where he was rescued by my cousin. How he didn’t break his legs on impact I don’t know. He came in proud as punch, then spent a few days feeling sorry for himself and had a visit from the vet as he was very sore, but he has lived to tell the tale!

    Following on from that, I had two fantastic days at World Class squad training with Apollo. He has really come on in leaps and bounds in the past few weeks, mainly by feeling wild due to the cold weather.


    We can now run through parts of the grand prix test but we still need to put it all together. I mean, who knew the grand prix test was so hard?! The piaffe and passage is getting so much stronger, which I think is largely down to Apollo getting stronger from his water treadmill sessions at New Hatches.

    Our biggest enemy has been the one-time flying-changes (tempis), as I can’t count to save my life. I’ve never been able to count the tempi changes in the PSG (prix st georges) tests — I just feel the rhythm and I always end up on the right leg by the end of the diagonal. It’s a completely unorthodox method but I’m dyslexic and that’s the way I get them. Unfortunately I can’t do this with the ones, as I have to do either 11 for the Inter 2, or 15 for the grand prix. It’s been a massive struggle of brain power from me, as I could do a whole long side of one tempis but not be able to count more than two! However, with a lot of frustration, I’ve just about learnt to count them. It’s a minefield, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge and it makes all the hours of working in the freezing weather worth it — to be able to train my beloved horse to the highest level there is.

    Meanwhile, my two new recruits have been absolute terrors! At 12 weeks, they can now come on the yard on leads. But let me tell you; trying to lead two hyper puppies on 5m long extension leads is not an easy task. They get them twisted up within seconds, and run under fences and into barns before I can stop them. This results in me crawling through the mud under a fence with leads knotted round my ankles and two pups ready to lick me to death if I fall over. Also escaping and chasing our chickens is really good fun.

    My two monsters

    Recently I had them loose in the arena while some trot poles were out and they hopped over them perfectly, so that is their fitness regime ticked off! They learnt to sit on command in around 30 seconds, so now I’m progressing to getting them to sit still until I call. I don’t have time to go to any puppy training classes and I’ve really got no idea what I’m doing, so do any of my readers have any tips on what to and how to teach them next?

    They have also been meeting all types of interesting people, such as Lorna Edgar from Baileys Horse Feeds. Lorna is an absolutely fantastic nutritionist and all the horses thrive under her guidance and from the feed. Plus the pups loved her shoelaces. They also met Kerry from Sue Carson Saddles (pictured top), who had a lot of fun gadgets for them to try and chew! Kerry was fitting a beautiful new saddle for Samantha’s (my sister) five-year-old Sirocco, but she had to stop to help untangle me and take a picture with the pups.

    Continued below…

    The best bit with them comes in the evenings, when all three of us are so exhausted that we all curl up together for a nap before doing late checks. I always used to fall asleep on the sofa with my old dog Stamp, so Sprout and Tommy are doing their job perfectly.

    That’s all from me for now, but stay tuned for more!

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