Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: so near yet so far

As I write this, mum and I are trucking home from the Sheepgate premier league show with Apollo and Seramai riding shotgun. It’s baking hot and I’m seriously wishing the lorry had air con! We hosed the horses off before loading them so the wind from the windows could hopefully cool them off a bit.

Sheepgate was a mixed affair. Apollo came third in the Inter II and second in the grand prix, which is amazing! But I prefer winning to coming second, so overall I was disappointed. Getting so tantalisingly close to the top spot is sometimes worse then finishing middle of the pack. Both tests were riddled with small, silly mistakes — we did such as a perfect halt and rein back in the grand prix, followed by a massive spook when the judge moved — typical Apollo! But at 17-years-young he still comes out to every show feeling younger and fitter than the last, allowing me to gain so much experience riding these tests for the future.

Apollo

Princess Seramai, owned by Verity Jenner, showed off her exuberance and joy at being out at her first premier league by performing lovely airs above the ground! While I applaud her enthusiasm, they weren’t 100% necessary and cost us a lot of marks. The feeling she gave me in-between was fantastic though, so the future looks bright for this hot mumma!

A few weeks back I had a glorious photoshoot in the evening sunshine with photographer extraordinaire, Sophie Lefevre. Sophie scaled a major hill (or minor mountain) with Simba and I to get some truly amazing shots overlooking the surrounding countryside. Simba was a total pro, letting me lead him uphill in just a dress and only occasionally stopped for a snack! After Simba’s turn was over, we left Sophie at the top of the hill and hotfooted it home for an outfit change and for me to jump on our resident Lusianto stallion, Universo, to gallop of the hill for some ridden shots. The photos look epic — how Sophie manages to capture them I will never know! Halfway through, she had to capture dogs after Sprout and Tommy broke free from mum walking behind and came charging up the hill to follow me. Check out Sophie’s Facebook page and website to see more of the photos.

On the topic of Simba, let me update you all. Following months of tooth problems, which was of course unavoidable, it really set us back in his training. I still get frustrated when I see videos online of six-year-olds doing advanced medium tests, as I really feel like he is so far behind. But sticking to what I preached about in my previous blog on young horses, I really try to not put a time frame on any of this work. He has so much natural ability, I could ride him all day and his canter is just phenomenal to sit on. We recently took him to his first water treadmill session at New Hatches, which he loved. During his tooth removal, he weighed in at just 400kg. Now a few months later I’m pleased that we’ve got his weight up to 595kg! Slowly building up work and plenty of Baileys feed has done the trick, but he still has a way to go. We had hoped when we got him in early January that we could qualify for the summer novice regionals, but I’m yet to take him out. I am the kind of person who doesn’t like taking them out until I really feel they are ready and I don’t want to compensate his training for the sake of getting him through a test. So for now I will keep him under my training wing and let the others shine in the white boards!

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After a long four-year wait, I was buzzing to have my first sit on Dolce. Having owned him from a few weeks old and spent so long wishing I could ride him while he grew up, it was such a special moment! He is a British-bred Hannoverian by Duke of Capri out of a Pascal mare, so he is related to a few of our other horses. He’s an absolute ‘chunker’, with a good solid leg in each corner. Having been sent away to be professionally backed and then ridden at home for two days by event rider Tom Martin, I pulled on my brave pants and got on. He still lacks adequate brakes and steering, but thanks to our new super manège, they aren’t too much of a concern for me as I feel so safe and secure in the arena. Dolce has such a natural bounce and lift to his paces that I’m really excited for the future with him.

That’s all from me for now as I’m nearly past melting point and we are nearly home.

Until next time, Joanna x

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