Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2010 National Champs

Right. Once again I am left to apologise for the wait for posts. I’m not quite sure what happens to my time, all I know is that it disappears into some great void never to be seen again. So now I’m forced to plumb the recesses of my memory and write about our National Champs that happened way back on the 5th – 7th of March in Taupo.

I often say to my students that a successful competition is less about the scores and more about achieving the goals you have set for yourself and for me, National Champs was an excellent example of exactly this. On paper the results from Nationals aren’t that impressive however I still came away from the show with a smile on my face.

For Da Vinci, the show was about just one thing - giving him a happy experience in that atmosphere - and he didn't put a foot wrong all weekend. From the outside we’d had an interesting season with him but every show and every class were chosen for a reason. We have the end goal in mind for this horse – to produce an internationally competitive Grand Prix ride. I’ve withdrawn him from classes when the conditions aren’t great and I’ve laughed and taken the pressure off instead of riding for a score when he has shown he’s not happy in the ring. I knew coming into the YDH class that he was unlikely to do well. Despite being of obvious presence and with incredible movement I have chosen to allow him to develop naturally and maintain his natural expression rather than force a frame or demand absolute submission at his age and stage. My trainer Bill Noble often talks about the stability required to score well at the lower grades and the difficulty that this produces when a trainer has to rattle the cage for the upper level movements and energy and I wholeheartedly concur with this theory. Therefore it was no surprise to me when Da Vinci was placed well down the field in both sections. Da Vinci was still in that ‘teenage’ challenging stage to ride plus his incredibly active hind leg in the canter was not at that point matched by his balance – as a result he was finding it difficult getting his forehand out of the way and was sometimes four beating the canter. In saying that we weren’t surprised, it is still not pleasant having the horse you rate so highly slammed, but I am heartened by the fact that Ahlerich didn’t have a great reception in his young horse classes and he nevertheless went on to be a fair competitor in the international arena! As it is, and with no disrespect to the very nice horses in that class (I’ve been trying to pinch the ride on Glamour Star all season!) Da Vinci is still my pick for future international competitor. I guess time will tell if I’m right!!

Definitely the most exciting part of the show for me was my rides on Gosh. The Inter II was a bit of a 'meh' test - he went well enough but not completely consistently through and made some mistakes. However the next day was a revelation when I rode my best Grand Prix to date. Gosh stayed connected and through, over the back and into an elastic contact for the entire test. We still made far too made mistakes in the movements to really score well but overall I was very happy both with how he went and how I rode the test. Of course it was a great help both days to have Bill there to warm me up – a luxury I don’t often have. Despite our mistakes we easily qualified to ride the main class the next day.
About to go in and ride our Grand Prix - connected, engaged and in self carriage.

The piaffe that impresses!
For the final day we rode our musical. At our last competition the music was played so softly I could hardly hear it (and started late – the music appears to be our nemesis!!) so I asked the team at Nationals to play it loud and LOUD it was! Unfortunately the mark to start came as we were right by one of the speakers and as it began Gosh got such a fright he leapt forward and ran into the bridle. It took the first half of the test to get him to stop him from running away and even then he was tense for the remainder. This taught me a great deal about how to ride him when tense and also gave me a tonne of confidence when I saw the scores. We did end up 9th of the 9 CDI*** qualifiers but the scores were very close and if we could be nearly in the placings with such a difficult ride then in my mind we were making progress in the competition arena.
Show winners were Jody Hartstone on Whisper who rode a very exciting freestyle and Vanessa Way on the ever improving Arvan were runner up.

From here it was home to put Da Vinci in the paddock for a couple of weeks rest and to focus on Horse of the Year with Gosh. And what a show that would prove to be!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Just unpacking from our best competition to date and thought I'd take a moment to share...

Gosh started the weekend in a low key way finishing in the middle of the pack in the Inter II. The weekend was dominated by the appearance of Jody Hartstones new stallion Whisper who qualified for the last Olympics for the Australians and who she has purchased with the intent of qualifying for WEG this year. Also it was Prestige VDL's first start at Grand Prix. He is a lovely stallion imported 2 years ago by Lisa Blackbourn and trained in Europe by Edward Gal who is the Dutch rider currently dominating the International Dressage circles. These two boys finished 1st and 3rd on the Friday with Whisper 3% in the lead of the bunch but then only 2% covering 2nd - 7th where we sat.

On Saturday we rode the Grand Prix. This was a change from the previous shows where the GP is on the last day but the format for both Nationals and HOY. The increase in energy paid off big time for me with my best score to date - finally cracking the 60% in the GP proper and finishing 1% behind Whisper the wonder horse in 2nd place! Easily our best performance to date and a fantastic feeling lying between two purposebred and internationally trained and competed stallions on my crossbred and self schooled pony. Big smiles all round and the bubbles were in the chiller!

Unfortunately it rained on Sunday and as I hadn't been told that the competition at Woodhill was run on grass, I hadn't packed my studs. Gosh slipped a little in warm up so we rode a safe and somewhat tentative freestyle. We still ended in a creditable 5th place, beated by the two stallions and then Charlott Bayliss & Karen Anderson who have both been competing GP for 4 years apiece.

Of course I still want more and I know we are capable of a great deal but it is nice to celebrate our successes! Looking forward very much to Nationals and HOY - only 2 weeks till we head to Taupo!!

North Island Champs

Well the fantastic news is that we managed a PB on each of the boys at the North Island Champs. Gosh in particular started the weekend with a hiss and a roar with his best performance to date in the Inter II. We scored 61.3% and were 3rd in a very strong field, beating all the combinations we had been pitted against in our previous outings this season. Des had a rather more traumatic start to the weekend in the horrendous weather that Hawera put on. The freezing conditions at gale force winds doing nothing to assist us put in a good performance. In fact at one stage we had to stop in the middle of the test as the arena was blown towards us. He held it together remarkably well for a young horse and came out with a decent score and a middle of the field finish amongst some very strong company. This was, after all, his second Level 5 test ever! The second day and the weather had only gotten worse – while the family at home in Cambridge were sweltering with temps in the high 20’s and humidity in the 80’s, we were freezing with highs in the low teens and those gale force southerlies only strengthening. I made no friends all weekend by pointing out that I was from the South Island and was therefore prepared for the frigid weather with my puffa jacket. I think I had made 42 references to it on last count…
Des was up early in the day with his Musical Freestyle held indoors and I have to say he got up and boogied to the James Bond theme with a huge 66% and some fantastic feedback. By far and away his best test to date.
Gosh of course had a lot to live up to with his performance the first day. Unfortunately our warm up was in the worst weather of the day and with one hand trying to stop my top hat from blowing away things were always going to be tricky. We went in and did OK – my music certainly needs tweaking which doesn’t help however some good work still including a piaffe pirouette to finish that had people talking. We finished 7th however not as bad as that sounds – only 1% covered 3rd to 8th and two judges had me 4th… if we can do this when we’re not on our game…
With the continuing awful weather and average footing outdoors I decided to scratch Des from his afternoon class and save his confidence.
Sunday started early for Des and although he proved himself a competitor by picking up in the arena he was tired and it showed with a rather erratic test and lots of mistakes – we had freestyle flying changes, even one times that he won’t need for probably another 3 seasons yet! A rotten score was tempered by the visiting Australian judge commenting ‘A lovely bright horse with potential, 3 expressive paces and a good quality canter.’ Gosh again didn’t bring his best despite an OK warm up this time – keeping him up for a 3 day show is proving to be tricky and something we still need to work on.
So despite in some ways having our best showing ever I came away slightly disappointed. It would have been great to carry on with the momentum we started with however it was not to be. At least now I know we CAN do it in public and Gosh came away with some fantastic comments from both the local and international judges present. ‘An expressive horse with good future potential.’ ‘Nice to see a forward horse.’ ‘Talented horse.’

The next stop for us will be Waitemata Champs at Woodhill Sands in February. I have decided to leave Des at home for this weekend and just concentrate on Gosh. I also feel that there is not much to be achieved by competing Des in the grade competitions. While the level 5 work is all well established his lack of strength inherent in a young horse will make a consistent showing at those levels too hard for a while. Being the wonderful competitor he is, there is no need to drop him back down for the mileage – instead we will push on at home with training and bring him out again next season when he is good and ready. We will be taking him to Nationals but this time just for the Young Dressage Horse class – one test and a chance simply to show off.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


We went for a quick jaunt up to Showfields Jan 9th - primarily to give Des a Level 5 start before North Islands and also a good chance to have another run through of the GP for Gosh. Unfortunately the GP was not recognised as the List 1 judge was sick. No matter it's all mileage. Both boys were excellent - Des scoring 65% and an easy win while Gosh did an ever improving test. Had them both videoed so you can judge for yourselves!!
Des - the course error was the judges - not his!



I hope you all had fabulous holidays. It wasn't much of a break around here - the only day I had off work was Christmas Day itself where I hosted my entire extended family at home, of course the horses are all in full work and the kids are on holiday... but we managed to have a great day of sunshine, family and food - and of course presents!!

Harper on the non-OSH approved waterslide
Every little girl's dream
Such a boy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reserve Reserve two weekends in a row!!

I'm posting a slightly overdue update before I turn my mind to my family and Christmas for a week or two - although it won't be long with North Island Champs the second week of 2010! Seems all I have been doing for the past few is ride and work and take care of mum who had a hip replacement in Tauragna two weeks ago.

As you are probably aware I have had two shows - Waikato Champs and Auckland Manukau Champs. Waikato was to be Des' debut at Level 5, unfortunately he came up a little uneven a couple of days before so I decided to scratch him. Nothing serious, he is now fully recovered and back in full work but he was long overdue for a bit of a break anyway. It does mean that we will be attending Showfields on the 9th of January now just so he won't have his Level 5 debut at the North Island Champs!

I still attended these two shows with Gosh - his first outings since HOY in March. And what a season opener! At Waikato we were still finding our feet but managed to place 3rd in the Inter II and 4th in the Grand Prix in good company. The musical didn't go so well for us - the faster grass surface catching us unawares. However we still managed to come third overall in the GP section behind seasoned campaigners Charlott Bayliss on All Black II who are in their fourth Grand Prix season and Sally Isaac on Vincent St James who is a past National title holder ad HOY winner. And Auckland Manukau was even better. We were second in the Inter II, a very close 4th in the musical (just 0.1% separated 2nd to 4th) and 4th on a very tired pony (somewhat overcooked by his rider) in the Grand Prix. All with our best percentages to date and more than enough to qualify for Nationals, HOY and the Challenge Finals in one hit. Again we were pipped for the reserve by the same combinations - but this time even closer on countback - Sally's fractionally better performance in the GP just nudging them ahead. The fact we were 4th instead of 3rd in the musical on countback as well made it all the more frustrating! I managed to get a nice plug in for the sponsors in my introduction for the musical freestyle as well and it was a crowd favourite performed to Christmas carols. Below are a few pics taken by Geegees photography at Waikato Champs.

Overall I'm very happy with our performances. We really need to up the game for the seasons big shows but the basics have been well laid. With the mileage I intend to gain between now and then and of course some more training I'm really looking forward to a big finale for the season. I may have to re-evaluate the plan with Des and campaign him towards the young horse classes rather than the grade finals but both options are still open to us at this point. Will keep you posted.

One final thing I have to say before I sign off is to thank Sheena & Dermot & Pippa & Alan for being the most wonderful hosts. You guys are treasures, truly.

Have a fabulous Christmas with friends & family and I'll see you in 2010!!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bruno's back!

Those of you who have been followers of this blog for a while may remember Bruno, my young yellow pony. Actually he is more of an orange colour but as I met him as a yellow ball of fluff, he will always be that to me. Bruno is a 4yo by Gryffindor who was broken in at Christmas time and then spent a spell on the West Coast with Toni Bryant being educated. As he had spent quite some time since then in the paddock and I'm no young horse rider I sent him to Mark Brooks to bring back in. He was there for four weeks and has been home here a week. Everyone has done a super job on him - he is obviously very green with balance issues, no bend and a rather uncoordinated canter strike off, but he is immensely rideable and adjustable and incredible confident to hack out. These photos were taken of his second ride at home last weekend. The aim is to bring him on quietly and maybe find a small show at the end of the season to debut him at.