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Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: We should have lunged 2020 in advance

Hi all and welcome back!

Firstly, sorry for the absence. The second lockdown knocked me sideways and I found I lost my written speech. As we emerge from it again and with Christmas looming, I was mucking out this morning when the urge to write swept over me (much like my broom swept up shavings) and now here we are.

This year has been an emotionally challenging one for me. It is cliche to say ‘I’ve had ups and downs’ but that is what life is really about, isn’t it? I think it’s universally felt that 2020 has been monumentally bad. I’ve spent much of this year in low spirits, having been battered down by lockdowns, heartbreaks, loneliness and fear. I’ve written blogs, put so many words to paper and never had the heart to publish them. I’ve spent so much time encased in my bubble of horses and home that I lost touch with the outside world. It’s been hard. I’ve had wins, I’ve achieved a lot, but it’s been hard.

However, as this year draws to a close I find myself thankful for the life lessons that 2020 has brought. Every obstacle that has been thrown in my path I’ve overcome. A huge part of me being able to do that has been the support from Jackie McCormick, a fantastic hypnotherapist who has turned my brain on its head (pun intended) and has made me see the positives to every situation. So here I am for the last time this year to spread a bit of my own sparkle over the screen of your phone or computer.

My horses have benefitted from the quieter year. I’ve been chipping away, moulding them like an artist would a statue. Sometimes I’ve found that I doubt my work, that it’s not turning out how I want it. Other times I rejoice in how beautiful it is going to be. Nothing I ride now is the finished piece but I know I can finish my work, as I did so with Apollo. And such is the nature of training horses, we keep chipping away to find that beautiful statue waiting beneath. For future competitions we have rising stars Simba, Sirocco, Dolce and Habil. Each presents a new challenge for me, but each has the potential to reach stardom, which puts us in an incredibly exhilarating position.

A lunge lesson from an Olympic gold medallist

Recently I took Simba for a lesson with Carl Hester. It felt fantastic to be back as I haven’t trained with him since before my 2019 injury and I was super-excited to show off my little monster. Simba came out in true monster form as he was relatively alarmed by Carl’s selection of birds milling about. A quick whizz on the lunge pre-ride seems to be a 2020 mood (we really should have lunged this year first…!). This was then followed by Carl lungeing both me and Simba round. Yep, I’ve now had a lunge lesson from an Olympic gold medallist. It’s something I didn’t know I needed to tick off my bucket list, but there we go.

Once Simba and I were off free-wheeling (with me in control of 95% of the wheel), he showed off his beauty and potential and made me a very proud rider. He has recently started learning flying changes, which are more miss than hit at the moment, but it’s all there, waiting to be unlocked. I feel like I blab on about Simba a lot, but he is quite an exceptional horse. Something about him just gets my heart singing. His wild nature yet soft spirit has been an anchor for me this year.

Joanna with Simba. Credit: Ben Clark Photography

A massive part of my 2020 has also been my darling Dolce. The story of us looked a lot like a tragedy, but really, it was just a bad chapter, not a bad book. From shaking with tears and terror on the mounting block, to now being able to ride him with a smile on my face and with a laugh in the air, with his ears pricked and his powerful body an extension of mine. I won’t say too much about him for now as one day, years from now, I hope to write the story of Dolce. For now, that particular piece is still being written.

At the tail end of the autumn I had a super-fun photoshoot with the phenomenal Ben Clark. I’ve been a fan of Ben’s photos for a while and after I ran head first into him at a show last year, it turns out we went to the same secondary school. Small world, isn’t it? His photos are simply amazing, capturing memories to last a lifetime. My favourites are included here. I adore how soft and sweet Simba is with my other great love, my dog Sprout. I might be biased (definitely am) but I think we could star in a Disney movie, right?

Joanna with Simba and Sprout. Credit: Ben Clark Photography

Looking ahead to next year, I have the four older horses to potentially compete. I say potentially, because who knows what will happen. As well as those, we have rising four-year-old Stanley, our Uthopia offspring, who will be ready for riding. Soon to be three-year-old stallions Iniesta and Frodo will hopefully be backed — I can’t wait to see them under saddle as they are magnificent young studs.

We also have our first foal on the way! Seramai is due next spring to the great young stallion Jameson RS2, whose beauty captivated me from the first video I saw. I’d also like to say a huge thank you to my sponsors (Sue Carson Saddles, Baileys Horse Feeds and New Hatches) for their continued support and to my home team — you all help me to keep doing what I love and for that I can never say thank you enough.

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Finally, a different kind of horsepower. Recently, every vehicle we have has broken in some way (including me ripping off the front of my car on my actual birthday… but that’s a story for another day!). This has resulted in my family playing car swap. Coming home from teaching in my car one day, my mum commented how very off the aids and forward it was, and how very light in the contact. Well, if that doesn’t prove you can take the woman off the horse but you can’t take the horse out of the woman (or something like that) then I honestly don’t know what does.

Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas and here’s to a happier New Year.

Until next time,

Joanna x

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