Retraining The Giant Bolster: time for his first dressage lesson

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  • This winter has so far been very mild with some amazing sun rises and bright pink sunsets. We have, however, also had some sharp frosts which are quite inconvenient for me and The Giant Bolster’s retraining as my ménage freezes.

    Our gallop, however, was resurfaced with a special carpet fibre. This does not freeze and it has meant that I can continue to exercise ‘Sammy’ and keep him ticking over. New exercises include leg-yielding and plenty of transitions — not exactly what he is used to doing on the gallop!

    Our farrier, Andy, has been in to shoe Sammy. He has always worn alloys which are ideal for racing as they are light, however, they offer little support. Over time, Andy will pull back his feet and make them less flat and use shoes with more support. This wouldn’t have been possible while in training as he would constantly be pulling shoes off galloping at speed.

    One racehorse habit we have managed to break is moving while being mounted. Anyone who has watched racing will have seen jockeys being legged up in the paddock while the horse continues to walk around — I, however, need to be able to mount from a block on my own.

    My husband, David, has been helping me with this — I stand Sammy up by the mounting block and David stands on the off-side to immobilise him. We spend about five minutes each session, mounting and dismounting.

    Sammy soon realised that it is less effort to remain motionless and has readily taken to the idea. He is now happy for me to mount this way on my own, but a packet of polos and plenty of praise always helps!

    We have had good days and bad. I was so thrilled with him one day, he was really listening and was consistently cantering 20-metre circles on each rein. I thought “wow, we have really cracked it”, but the next day Sammy spent the whole time squealing and bucking which made me feel so disappointed.

    I decided to ask his previous trainer (Bridgie, my husband!) for advice. “Take him for a gallop,” he said. Well, this was good advice, but I am not going to let him know that! Having unleashed his inner racing beast, the following day we were back on track. This is obviously a compromise I will have to make and when he wants a good blast up the gallop, I will let him.


    As I had mentioned in my last blog, I do not know what discipline Sammy will do once retrained, so I do not want to buy a saddle just yet. Luckily, my lovely saddler, Maurice from Colne Saddlery, came out and said that my dressage saddle — belonging to my newly broken three-year-old Denzel — fits Sammy, so happy days!

    My concerns about him not liking a hard, heavy saddle were unfounded — having been a top racehorse, Sammy ran in championship races and carried 12 stone plus a weight cloth, with which he did not bat an eye lid.

    I was feeling confident enough with Sammy’s progress, that I thought an outing was in order. I booked a lesson with my good friend and equine mentor Jo Bates. Jo has an unlimited wealth of knowledge, so I was excited to see what she thought of our beautiful boy. I have to admit, I did feel quite apprehensive, as I really wanted it to go well and for Sammy to enjoy the experience.

    My lorry is bigger and has a steeper ramp than our little racing lorry, but, once again, the boy surprised me by leaping straight up the ramp to a big haynet (a treat they don’t get on the way to the races). Sammy did sweat up quite a lot and was very surprised on arrival — not a racecourse stable he recognised clearly!

    We had a very productive lesson and, for his first outing, I thought he behaved amazingly. We ended the session watching Jo’s daughter, Holly, doing tempi-changes on her advanced horse — hope Sammy was taking notes!


    Jo suggested I put Sammy in a thicker snaffle to be softer on his mouth and not to worry too much about straightness until until we have an even contact.

    Continued below…

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    I feel Sammy’s flat work is at a level that we could now leave the ground — I will have to get my showjumps out of storage. I bought them second-hand from Nick Skelton, so it always amazes me to think Big Star had jumped them previously, no pressure there then Sammy!

    Christmas was lovely and Sammy has been very spoilt with large amounts of carrots and treats. We have also been overwhelmed by the amount of gifts sent by his fans to such a loved horse . Thank you so much to all.

    Wishing you a very Happy New Year.


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