This week, my driving trainer Dave Titmuss and his wife Jean were away stewarding at Thoresby Park driving trials, so I got the chance to ride Duke instead of driving him.
Duke is regularly ridden by Jean and does have some dressage training; hes even had success in ridden coloured classes. However, it did seem a bit strange putting a saddle and bridle on him rather than his harness.
Happily, Duke is a very enjoyable ride and has one of the smoothest canters Ive ever experienced. It was a valuable experience to learn more about what makes him tick and it made a change from having my left ache after driving with one hand!
But I didnt have to go all weekend without my driving fix. On Saturday evening I got to let my hair down at the British Driving Societys annual dinner dance, and on Sunday morning I gave Steve Manyweathers a hand with his horse, Jordan, while he was trying out a Denney dual action bit.
Initally Steve drove Jordan round the field and as I watched from the ground, I was keen to see how Jordan reacted to the new bit. It was also beneficial to watch how Steve worked Jordan in. Ive often sat at the edge of the collecting ring at driving trials and show driving events, but now, its different. Now Im repeating what Ive done at show jumping competitions for years; looking to see what the drivers are doing so I can use the same techniques when I drive.
After Jordans warm up, I jumped on Steves back step before heading off for a practise through an obstacle. Steve and Jordan have been to the world championships and won a team silver medal, so I was expecting to go a little faster than I had before. What I wasnt expecting was the power of Jordans transitions. The muscles in my upper arms were working overtime and I was leaning this way and that to balance the carriage. It was both scary and thrilling at the same time, and it really made me appreciate just how much work a backstepper has to do and how much of a difference they can make.
Steve explained that trust in your backstepper dictates how fast you can go. I suppose the last thing you need to add to competition nerves is the worry that your backstepper may not be able to keep up with you, your horse and your vehicle.
After finishing in the obstacle, Steve steered Jordan down a dip in the field and then really let him stretch his legs and race up the hill on the other side. The force really was something. Afterwards, Steve asked me if I was ok and I explained that I thought my stomach was in my head!
Look out for Kerrys next instalment, coming soon