Matt Jenkins’ dressage diary: the importance of training

  • Writer’s block, a blogger’s worst nightmare! So I have been quizzing regular readers of my blog on what they really want to hear. Yes, we all want to hear what is going on with the horses and training, but actually some of the nitty gritty background information wouldn’t go amiss either.

    After all, we know a life with horses isn’t always easy! There are always bad days, but for me this is usually outweighed by the good ones. The feeling you get when a green horse does a great transition, or a youngster lets you sit on it for the first time, when an older horse does its first flying change or first steps of piaffe or even just the silly things like an early morning whinny to greet you. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

    A worrying time for horse owners

    With the recent EHV outbreaks, it’s a worrying time for horse owners. I won’t go on about it because that’s all we seem to talk about these days — that and the weather! I’ve certainly been taking extra care and changing my clothes between each yard I go to, even though I am not riding or teaching in any places that have shown signs of EHV. The washing machine has taken quite a bashing, I can assure you!

    At the yard, the management and staff have been great at taking every possible precaution to prevent infection entering the yard. Disinfectant has become a weekly item on the shopping list. Let’s just hope the problem goes as quickly as it arrived.

    Then on to the weather! While I ride in the lovely indoor school at Churchill (shall I run for cover now?!) I often think about how difficult it must be for people with only outdoor facilities, or for the eventers I teach. It is harder for them to be able to keep their training up and together and to prepare for competitons.

    With many of the first events of the season cancelled, are we really going to have an event season as bad as we did last year? It must be proving difficult to do enough fittening and fast work with ground conditions being so soft and soggy. Then there are the ones who manage to get their horses fit enough for the event, for it then to be cancelled last minute. I commend all of you eventers for your loyalty to the sport — let’s hope the weather sorts itself out before you all become dressage divas!

    Turning clients into dressave divas

    So, what else has happened? Oh yes, I took another of my client’s horses to a small unaffiliated show. Harv (pictured top right) is owned by Sue Portch and I took him to do his first novice class. Sue and Harv are affiliated eventers by trade, but with the lack of events running at the moment, I am secretly trying to turn them into dressage divas.

    Harv is a very willing horse with a great amount of power, but due to him being slightly croup high he often finds harnessing his power and keeping his balance at the same time difficult. However, he gained a score of nearly 69%, a very pleasing score for his first attempt at this level.

    Sue is one of my longest standing clients and her hard work and dedication is really starting to pay off. If I say I can only fit in a lesson at 6am on a Sunday morning, she will be there ready and waiting, whatever the weather. I’m so proud of how far this combination have come already and they have a bright future in whichever discipline they choose to follow.

    Any horse can do dressage

    On Tuesday, I went to watch another one of my pupils, Sara Kocinski, have a lesson with grand prix rider and trainer, Tessa Thorne. Sara has been training with me for nearly four years and has a stunning Welsh section D called Shadow. They reached the Petplan finals at novice a few years back and have been busy training at home and progressing up through the levels ever since.

    Shadow has started his tempi changes and pirouettes and is testament to my belief that any horse can do dressage. Last year, Sara attended a camp which was organised by British Dressage and was lucky enough to have some lessons with Tessa, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Luckily Tessa focussed on the same things that I teach Sara (it’s always helpful when two different trainers sing from the same hymn sheet!) and worked on having Shadow round enough and soft, swinging and supple over his back.

    As Sara has been selected to ride on a team for an inter-regional competition, next weekend, I encouraged her to get some extra help from Tessa. I have always admired Tessa’s riding and training. She has a wealth of experience in training horses to a high level and a very good eye for ringcraft. I always encourage my pupils to ride in front of different trainers if they get the opportunity — especially ones of Tessa’s calibre. You never stop learning with horses and that’s why we all keep training!

    The boys have stepped up a gear again and I cannot wait to get out competing with them. Once we have sorted our transport issue, there will be no stopping us. Stig is a lot more elastic in the rein and starting to find more gears. How on earth am I going to sit to that extension? Dalito has beome a lot more active behind and supple through his body. I recently found a video of his sire Lord Leatherdale on the internet — looks wise they are practically identical. Let’s hope he follows in his father’s footsteps.

    Wow! It’s crazy how much I have done when I sit down and think about it. As well as the above, I’ve also managed to move house. I am not ashamed to admit that recently I have been doubting myself and my abilty — probably due to the worst winter I can remember, combined with a few personal issues. But the horses have kept me going and are getting better and better. It’s time to get a grip for goodness sake!

    Now the clocks have changed and the days are getting longer, I’m coming out of hibernation and as a close friend said to me recently, “It’s your time to shine!”

    Happy Easter everyone.


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