Saturday, 30 December 2017

Looking Back Over the Last 12 Months


This is a long post, so make sure you've got your cuppa, a tray of biscuits, and enjoy our journey back through 2017 with us!

First up, I’ve had an absolute blast throughout 2017...I’ve achieved things I never thought I would, learnt a lot along the way & best of all, feel the strongest partnership I ever have with Louie!


So with that I hope you enjoy hearing EVERYTHING we've been up to over the last year, whether with Louie or on the blog itself, literally everything is in here!! Hopefully, you'll enjoy each month's lessons too!

January

We started off the year with a couple of great dressage competitions - coming second in our unaffiliated one and winning our first ever go at British Dressage!


Our win was short lived though... It’s been a few years since I’d done British Dressage and things have changed! Each class used to have Open and Restricted sections. But now, there’s the introduction of Bronze, Silver and Gold sections.

And here lies my first lesson - always read the restrictions FULLY! I innocently entered the Bronze section, but with holding Elementary points from days gone by with Buddy, I was eliminated! Even though I didn’t find out for a few days, I was very embarrassed...

During January, we were also super proud to be asked to ride in a showjumping demonstration that my regular showjumping coach, Philippa, was holding. The topic was about understanding a horse’s behaviour & thinking outside the box to teach a horse when it doesn’t always go to plan.


Louie hasn’t been the easiest horse, while he has no nastiness, never trying to get you off or being a bratty youngster, he’s not always confident on answering the questions. Nothing that a bit of patience, clever thinking and confidence giving experiences hasn’t helped to move forward with him.

During the demo, we jumped ladders for the first time, and even managed a water tray for the first time!! The session also did me a lot of good - I learnt a lot about riding under “pressure” and that it really doesn’t matter about being perfect. Looking back, being perfect is nearly impossible for the best & most experienced combinations, so I’m glad I finally shrugged off that pressure!!

In terms of my blog, we were warmly welcomed into Haynet's Cream of the Crop club, enabling us to try & test new products on the market from a variety of equestrian brands.

January's lesson: always read the rules fully!

February

February was a bit of a strange month, as after all our fun and games in January, Louie went a bit off the boil... He seemed to be struggling with bending left, instead wanting to dive around the corner. He also began changing behind.

It was important to make sure that this was in fact just a strength & balance factor, and that there wasn’t anything else that it could be. So, I decided to give him a full work up with the vets. I was pleased that after a couple of visits and trying this & that without any ridden work, lunging only, Louie massively improved. Our 6 month check up later in the year proved what a different horse he was and that giving him a lot more muscle and balance did wonders for him!


Unfortunately, this left our month pretty bear and boring...only some lunge work to enjoy. It was however a very valuable time - time without a saddle to build himself up and find his own feet.

I was gutted to miss out on some riding club qualifiers and to cancel my showjumping lesson with Yogi Breisner, but knew it was for the long term gain!

February's lesson: the power of lunging & how much it benefits your horse

March

The first week of March, we got back onboard. And just in time... With 3 days before the Yogi Breisner demonstration, Andrew was able to fit me in for a ONE TO ONE flatwork lesson with Yogi before the day’s jumping started. I was over the moon!! A one off opportunity to hear some top tips from the master of eventing...



It was one of best sessions I’ve had away from my regular flatwork coach, Cathy Burrell. We just worked on one very basic element - contact. Something that we are likely to always find as our weakness - getting Louie to take (& keep) the contact forward and down. His reaction is to tuck up and behind it... and just spending a dedicated session with a new eye on it really helped me to pick up what was needed.

It was a great session - if you ever get the chance to have a session with him, TAKE IT!

After the short days and cold temperature, we were pleased to see the spring tips coming through, and enjoy our first hack of the year enjoying the sunshine AND feeling warm!


It was a very busy month for the blog too! We did our first product review for the Cream of the Crop club - a JHL faux fur headcollar. This is something that I wouldn't have picked and bought, but I was surprised by its quality and was pleased we were able to keep the product!

In the middle of March, we were given the opportunity to do a social media takeover for Northumberland Sport - it's the first time I've done this. I was super lucky to cover their Inspire with Yogi masterclass. I was confident I could take what I'd learnt in my professional career and combine it with my own social media activity to do great coverage for coaches, riders, owners and equestrians from the local area.

Photo credit: Stevie Purves Photography

March also saw me take on my blogger challenge - a 26-day long one! My A-Z of Everyday Equestrian... I had a lot of fun doing it and finding things each day to make the next day's letter. But, as the letters got a bit trickier, it became much more of a challenge to find everyday items that everyone would be able to relate to.

Consecutive challenges like this are hugely popular in blogging world in general, but I was quite honoured to see a few brands and other bloggers that follow me do a similar concept!

March was also the month that I decided to set up the Facebook group to bring Equestrian Bloggers together, help one another and share top tips & advice. If you're not a member and you're an equestrian blogger, head over to give it a go!

March's lesson: forward thinking, always!

April

A piece of advice Yogi had given us, along with Philippa during our showjumping sessions, was to try the softest of soft bit to really help Louie find his contact confidence. So we did this during March...but we're in April now?

Yes, well I didn't even consider my bitting choice when I took Louie on his first pleasure ride at Hulne Park. Louie definitely found the pleasure in the ride...I, while had a great time, won't be taking him on a pleasure ride again. Once he was off, he wanted to keep going - he wasn't strong but just jogged if we weren't trotting. Rather than allowing him to learn the EXCEPTIONALLY annoying skill of jogging, I trotted nearly the whole 10 miles! My only regret to keeping my rubber bit in was during a long canter through a few fields over the jumps - no-one can argue Louie LOVED that bit!!


Easter fell in April in 2017, so I took full advantage of the long weekend away from the office to enjoy some cross country schooling with Louie.
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I was away with work during the last week of April, but decided to get Louie out to a riding competition as it seemed to have been a long time since we'd been out...


April's lesson: rhythm, rhythm & more rhythm!


May

I was determined to get Louie out much more during the summer - I wanted to give him experience in more arenas and enable him to become comfortable and confident, no matter where he is working.

We headed to a local venue for a couple of dressage tests. This provided one of my biggest learnings & why it is important to always take your positives as much as the negatives. Unfortunately, on this day, I ignored the positives completely, and ended up in this position...

Sharp turn left before B...
Posting the bad days is NOT weakness - unless you only look bad at the negatives. Then they will haunt you for weeks. Instead, use it as a sensible way to find the positives and what you could do better next time. I really hope I got this across in my 'When it's just not your day post'...

Well timed, perhaps, earlier in the month, I ran through the biggest learnings that I've had with a young horse.

Apart from our dressage outing, May was all about jumping, and getting Louie's confidence up over showjumps with various different items underneath them. He still wasn't always confident to go from one side to the other when there was something "suspicious" underneath it. I can look back now and know that although to some the work we did in May might seem basic, it's really paid off in terms of Louie's confidence, both over jumps and on the flat.

During May, we were also really lucky to catch up with Tina Wallace, who was about to star in series two of the Blue Chip Allstar Academy. Take a flick through our quickfire Q&A with her...

May's lesson: if you can swallow the negatives, take the positives with them!

June

So, we needed to work a little bit on our ringmanship (is that a word!?) & what better way than throwing ourselves into a couple of competitions, including a riding club qualifier.

I actually thought I was going as an individual, so there was no pressure as to putting in a good performance, but a couple of days before the times were sent I discovered I was part of a team. I was looking forward to being part of a team, and decided that it didn't make any difference - I had come to give Louie experience in a busier warm up, with more going on around the arenas. That's it.

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I was thrilled with how the day went for us - Louie put in a fab test just the jockey that needed sacking!! Even better, on the way home, I found out the team had qualified for the Northern Championships - another opportunity to give Louie arena experience AND an overnight stay!

June also saw us head to the riding club annual combined training - it was boiling on the day!! So much so, I almost didn't go, and did end up pulling out of some classes rather than waiting.


June presented us with a problem early on - Louie was diving out to the left when coming round a right handed corner when showjumping. Was he sore? In a sort, yes. With Philippa's help, we figured out that my very bad habit of collapsing around right handed corners and putting all my weight down my right stirrup, coupled with a saddle that was now perhaps a little tight on the shoulder was possibly causing the behaviour. Philippa kindly lent me her wide Harry Dabbs to try one lesson...as well as making sure I didn't collapse. The issue didn't happen.

A new saddle it is then...

We muddled through June without causing the issue and had a saddle fitter out at the start of July. I was anxious that I wouldn't have much time ahead of our championship by the time I got a saddle made and back to me. But it gave me another chance to spend time lunging Louie and helping his balance.

At the end of June, we gave support to the Glow Means Slow campaign, allowing campaigner Sarah to guest blog in aid of their cause. If you're not familiar with it, head over to find out what it's all about!

June's lesson: listen to your horse - there's no such thing as naughtiness; he's probably trying to tell you something!

July

In a nutshell, we did absolutely nothing in July!! Louie wasn't on a break, but we were without a saddle, so Louie was given the time to be lunged in the school and we just enjoyed a couple of gentle hacks at the start of the month until our old saddle was whisked away to its new owner...



While I was left with a little more time out of the saddle that preferred, I did attend a couple of great events.

Firstly, I went to an unmounted vet demonstration that looked specifically at the conformation of the sports horse, and how the not so desirable conformation can really affect long term performance. It was really interesting to see a variety of horse types, breeds and builds, and to be asked to comment on them before the vets gave their advice. Clinics and sessions like these I find really interesting and enjoy spending time learning about various aspects to equine life.


At the end of the month, I went along to the local international event, Burgham Horse Trials. Although a very windy day, with one downpour for 5-10 mins, it was a really enjoyable day out watching some of the world's best combinations skip past us in the showjumping and over the cross country course. If you find the time in July, it's worth a visit! You should also spend some time exploring the beautiful Northumbrian coastline too!!

Weather not always guaranteed!!!

We also got some great news - the saddle fitter was ready with my new saddle! So we were looking forward to starting August off with a bang!

July's lesson: consider the horse in front of you - the way it is put together can tell you a lot about how it will work


August

Started well. Continued well. Ended well. A great month of 2017, and probably one of our most defining...

At the start of August, we headed to the Scottish borders to Hendersyde Park horse trials. Along with Floors, I think this is one of my favourites. I love the setting, the course, its traditions and the way everything is done.


Starting the month with a new saddle, I was keen to get back to it. The riding club Championships were on the August bank holiday Sunday (27th) and I was conscious Louie hadn't been anywhere since the end of June, so I booked a couple of dressage competitions in on back to back weekends, going to a venue we've been to a few times before but also a completely new venue - Leamside Equestrian. We had a bit of a disastrous journey to Leamside, but kept the pressure of being very late at bay. Louie did a nice test, nothing special, to give us both confidence to go away at the end of the month.

The next weekend we headed to the more familiar venue, but I don't know what happened, except I forgot to ride. I was simply a jockey navigating my test...Louie was a good boy but when I came out, it was like I wasn't even aware I'd ridden a test...

I put that behind me and learnt that I need to ride the horse, not just sit there as we go around.

Saturday 26th August - I was MEGA excited!!! We were setting off to Bishop Burton for the riding club northern Championships. I couldn't wait to take Louie away, although a bit apprehensive about how he would behave stabling away from home, I needn't have worried whatsoever....

This was one of my most proud times with Louie, from the way he behaved away from home to his attitude to keep going in that terrifying arena! Even today, I feel that Louie did a lot of growing up that weekend - he came back with a different approach to things. He still has his love of life and his love of working & learning new things, but it really helped to mentally mature him.

Hopefully you'll enjoy our weekend adventure away at the Championships...





On the blogger front, I was really excited to do a Q&A with the founder of Totally Horse & Pony magazine, Julia Hope. I was especially interested to understand her motivation & drive behind creating the online magazine as well as any sneaky snippets into the future plans!

I also received the Blogger Recognition Award in the Pet & Equestrian category. Handed from one blogger to another, I was pleased to be recognised by another blogger from the US. I also took a lot of care, time and consideration to the bloggers that I subsequently handed the award onto. In fact, the process of doing this was a lot of fun - looking over all the bloggers that I follow, considering what they do, looking at their old and new posts, and detailing why I'd put them forward - I enjoyed the time spent doing it.

August's lesson: this sport really is about having a good time!


September

I gave showing a go...

While I really enjoyed my morning with Louie and with the rest of the riding club, I don't think we're going to turn our hands and hooves to showing just yet... There's just a bit too much standing around for me!


I entered as something a bit more sociable to do and to just enjoy being out and about with Louie. It ticked both boxes, but I don't think we'll be heading back in a hurry!

The week after was a small one day event with my riding club. I'd 'umm'd' and 'ahh'd' about entering as we'd done a lot recently, but gave it a go. I'd clearly done far too much dressage as I lost my orientation and went across the wrong diagonal...he pulled out a nice test apart from that but received some very harsh comments from the judge. We had a pootle around the small logs on the cross country and showjumping...but my enthusiasm wasn't there. I made the decision I'd done enough over the recent weeks and I was on a competition break for a while!

It was also time for Louie's physio check-up. This time I decided to book Louie & myself in for a horse physio & rider balance session with Lee Clark. The benefits of these session are massive for both horse and rider, and we're looking forward to our next one in early 2018!

It was a busy time on the blog too with Q&As with Victoria Brant (Diary of a Whimpy Eventer), Sam Hobden (founder of Haynet), a blog review to HorseAddict and our first Equestrian Blog Hop!

September's lesson: stop while it's fun; don't lose the enthusiasm then stop

October

October was DOMINATED by another of my most proud moments with Louie. We headed to some very small showjumping at a local venue. I can't stand small course of cross poles - I just want to jump mini fences, not lead rein ones, to help get Louie's confidence. This venue builds just that - mini fences!

You can see from the video below what I mean by mini fence (not a cross pole in sight!!) My mindset when I went in was to get a rhythmical canter (or trot!) around the course, not put too much pressure on Louie, and never get caught looking down at a fence as I approach or go over it...


Louie's confidence showjumping has taken time to come, so to go around here without schooling first of a class before it was a major achievement, no matter how small the fences are. In fact, these could have been 80/90cm and it wouldn't make a difference to his confidence level - it's about how many monsters are sitting under the jump! I was thrilled to discover we came 1st!!

By the second round, which was only 10cm higher, Louie is much more confident, almost a bit cocky! 



The weekend after, we headed to the same venue with the same course to have a go at a group lesson as part of British Showjumping's Academy. It was great fun and I'd recommend it for anyone wanting to do training in a more sociable environment and have access to high quality coaching. 

It was a packed month for the blog too, with a guest post from Amy Frost, founder of #HorseHour, as well as gearing up to the announcement of Equestrian Blogger of the Year 2017. I was honoured to be shortlisted against another 11 very strong bloggers from all over the world, but it was Roosa's Horsey Life that was crowned the winner. I was very happy for Roosa as she puts a lot of effort into her blog - making it completely personable and relatable as well as being highly supportive of other equestrian bloggers that are out there.

October's lesson: your mindset is a powerful factor to success

November

So, for a month or so now, I'd enjoyed going to flatwork and jumping training sessions, hacking about and doing my homework with Louie. But I felt I wanted to head back out to some competitions...

I entered a local unaffiliated dressage. I actually almost affiliated, but thought I'd do one more unaffiliated to get back into it. It was a cold day, but thankfully not too much wind. With an unusual late start to our tests, I was able to get Louie fully ready on the morning meaning he had his 'Daz bright white challenge' socks on, but I was well out of plaiting practice - I did my first four plaits four times each!! I lost the plot, did lots of small plaits that were very neat! And calmed down...

I don't know if it was the cold, but Louie didn't feel like he had any jump in his first test, but I thought I'd warm him up for the second and see what he was like. Much better. We had another enjoyable day out but we were all glad when we got home to the warmth!


Our training sessions were going excellently, with a fantastic session on the flatwork with one of the biggest compliments I've had about Louie to date (& I get a fair few!)


Roosa & I  had agreed to do some collaboration blog posts to tie up with the Equestrian Blogger of the Year announcement. I grilled Roosa on a number of things and gave her the opportunity to do the same of me before publishing it over on Roosa's Horsey Life

I mustn't forget Black Friday...and the amazing Premier Equine sale that takes place! Louie definitely has a supersonic wardrobe for all his winter rugs

November's lesson: recognising long term progression in the moment makes your moment a lot better!


December

I'd finally taken the plunge at the end of the November to affiliate to British Dressage and we headed to our first competition as full horse and rider members at the very start of the month. It was a new venue, and when I got there, the warm up surface was less than desirable for a grey horse, but I put it all out of my mind, and had only one thing to achieve....'Feed the neck'.

This was to be my new mantra from last month's flatwork lesson. Throughout my tests, even in moments of being very green, I concentrated on 'feeding the neck' to try and prevent Louie drawing back and up. Our first test was tense, but very obedient and accurate, but our second test was much better and I caught myself riding around with a smile whilst I was 'feeding the neck'. It was far from perfect with lots to work on, but was very accurate and very obedient - two things I've always aimed for.


I was amazed to discover that we'd not only won the Silver section, but we had won the whole class!! My little green pony had won against all the ones strutting their stuff - I was bowled over with pride both at me and Louie.

With a couple of big things happening at work, and then needing to dash off to a family emergency, Louie hasn't done much more this month. I jumped on for a quick school just before Christmas and a couple of days after to feel a lovely relaxed, responsive and willing horse beneath me. I can't wait to kick off 2018 & see where our journey will go!

December's lesson: there is no such thing as the perfect test

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