At the end of October, Lara Butler and I were mums on tour — we spent a few nights away from motherhood and took just one horse each to compete at the CDI in Oldenburg, Germany. Heaven!
The horses were great and we had some good results; I was delighted with my nine-year-old mare, Rose Of Bavaria, whom I threw in at the deep end as I wanted to see how she copes in a big ring. She did not disappoint and I am super-excited about what the near future will bring. It was a wonderful feeling to sit on a horse that, though a little nervous, was so focused on pleasing me.
Dressage enthusiasts live for that partnership and it is something that develops over time; horse and rider can gain trust in one another and riding becomes like telepathy.
But what to do when the lines of communication have a kink in them? Don’t give up. Even the likes of Isabell Werth have phases in which they cannot get something right, maybe spending a whole training session wondering why they can no longer ride a single line of tempi changes without a mistake. These things happen to all riders at all levels; the key is how each rider copes.
Sometimes you have to leave the movement that isn’t working and come back to it after spending time on the basics and other things that give you and your horse confidence. The basics are key — usually if we are having a problem, one of the basic scales of training has been lost. Re-establish those scales and give the movement another crack.
Horses feel our stress when something isn’t going to plan, so get some help. Maybe find someone who isn’t in the thick of it to have a go; you might find your horse responds well to them and regains his confidence in the movement. Or just get some advice, but remember — it’s a phase, so learn from it and keep moving forwards, even if from a different angle.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is diet, and not just my own. My mare can be fussy when she travels and I am still learning how to manage her. She needs enough food, but not so much energy that she boils over: she is hot enough naturally.
We worry about our horses getting the optimum amounts and types of feed, but do we think enough about our own nutrition? Nowadays we know so much more about how to fuel our bodies and our brains, but often in a competition environment it’s not easy to find the right sort of food. Burger vans and coffee with muffins or chocolate bars are often what is on offer at a show. This is just about acceptable as a treat after a test — but not before!
Not eating at all is a terrible idea too, so what can we eat that gives us slow-release energy without making us feel sick while bopping along in sitting trot? A personal favourite of mine is a porridge pot: warming, filling and slow energy releasing. I also always swill some Unit Rinse in my mouth before getting on and before going in the ring. It is a carbohydrate rinse, but is also hydrating to drink. It gives my brain the kick of eating carbs without filling my tummy with lots of food or liquid and the effects last 20 to 30 minutes.
Riders have started to cop on to the importance of their fitness, and I think nutrition is next on the agenda.
Ref Horse & Hound; 21 November 2019