Have you had your pre-ride Espresso today??

photo (8)
Article by Peta Bee in The Times. Saturday 26th April 2014

It’s fair to say I am a coffee addict and although I don’t drink gallons of it, I love me coffee in the morning! I was therefore rather pleased to read an article in Saturday’s The Times which explored briefly the research done on effect of caffeine intake on human performance.

Apparently Mo Farah “swear by it” and who are we to argue with the Olympic and World Champion 😉

I do wonder though…Have you noticed a difference in your riding performance/focus/abilities/stamina post a coffee cup?

It is currently believed (according to newest research quoted in the article) that caffeine “releases calcium stored in muscles which in turn, boosts their power”. In simple terms, it allows the muscles to work for longer without fatiguing.

Considering that in riding we need to organise own body very well for fairly long period of times in order to organise horse’s body, it would seem that some added muscular stamina might come handy!

Riders often say, “ah if only I could keep myself straight for longer when he drops his shoulder or struggles for a canter transition” – perhaps it’s time for a quick espresso before the next lesson! 🙂

Would you like to join Aspire Grassroots Clinic in Poland at the end of May? Read on…:)

On 23-25 May 2014 we will be running Aspire Grassroots clinic near Warsaw, Poland. It turns out that there will be horses available for outside riders to borrow for training so if you after a weekend riding adventure please feel invited and give Wiola a call on +44 7438 758 217.

The format will be that of usual Aspire clinic – 2 hour private sessions on each day. Accommodation and food will be taken care of so all you need to do is to book your flights (only 1.5h from London).

Please call for details 🙂

Official poster for our clinic in Poland. Weekend Grassroots Clinic near Warsaw.

Improving Your Riding Off Horse – few things that are good taken care of on the ground…

SONY DSCWe are just freshly back from another great, long weekend in Yorkshire running Aspire Grassroots clinic at Lindrick Livery – it is a little bit of a trek up North from South East hence few quiet days on the blog.

It might be a short post today but I hope useful nevertheless. There are certain issues we all have in the saddle that I find are best addressed off-horse and since those issues are so repetitive and span various riding levels (and come up in Aspire blog’s search stats all the time) I thought it might be good to chat about them 🙂


If you find it difficult to break the habit of aiding too frequently, losing your balance through overriding, collapsing in your waist due to too much strength you put into a leg aid or weight shift or you revert to manhandling your horse sideways by overusing the rein aids, I really recommend you have a play with your horse in-hand doing the movement you are struggling to achieve from the saddle.

Below is a video of Pippa learning to leg-yield Buffy on the reins from the ground:

Doing those movements with the horse by your side, with one hand on their shoulder holding outside rein and the other softly by the head holding inside rein you discover how little “aiding” there is needed once you coordinated your steps, your own balance and rhythm and movement direction…In fact, the more you do the less the horse focuses on subtle signals and either gets stressed, or unresponsive, rushed or otherwise not ready to cooperate.

Feel the steps, move slowly and do less 🙂


This must be one of the most often asked questions by many riders: how do I stop myself from leaning forward in sitting trot/rising trot/canter etc Learning to sit vertical without leaning forwards has as much to do with confidence as it does with technique but one thing you can try it to look closer at your movement on every day basis…We often walk leading with our shoulders rather than our hips which effectively means that we are leaning forwards most of the time: some people very slightly, some rather strongly.

Try standing by the wall with your back resting against it, move off half-a-step forward without taking your shoulders off the wall, then let them join in. Repeat several times until you find the weight distribution through your body that let’s you confidently start the movement with your hips and legs rather than your shoulders.

Once you get the feel for this, walk a straight line paying attention to your shoulders being exactly lined up with your hips (you can bend your elbows by your sides for more of a “riding feel”. It’s not as easy as it sounds and often we want to shift the weight forward by just moving upper body slightly forwards. Maintaining upright upper body takes some core strength so you can judge by yourself how much you need to improve yours to maintain the hip leading motion easily.

Try this feel in the saddle in walk, sitting trot and canter…(it’s ok to be slightly inclined forward in rising trot, after all, it was invented to take the weight off the horse’s back…).


There is a lot of truth to the statement saying we are all asymmetrical by nature and it’s impossible for an average person to be fully ambidextrous. Same applies to horses. However, many riders struggle with postural habits that are possible to unlearn and correct and which in turn help immensely with improving degree of natural asymmetry in horses.

As an instructor I can visually correct the rider to the point he/she is visually straight…This doesn’t mean they can ride in comfort and work on correcting horse’s crookedness. When a rider is told not to collapse in their waist or to keep one shoulder or hand down rather than up, they will try to adjust their postures accordingly. I have learnt to make more meaningful corrections but I have noticed that the best option for the rider is to have a postural assessment done with a physiotherapist of their choice…Conducted well, the assessment and follow up exercises will help the rider to find their own individual way of correcting themselves without creating strain elsewhere in the body.

Crookedness in the rider, once corrected off horse, makes a huge difference in ridden training.

What issues do you struggle most in your riding? Please share in the comments below 🙂 


Dr Inga Wolframm on Being Great…

Bella (www.bellagiles-smith.co.uk) and Stuart Boyle’s Rudy during Aspire training session on 13th April 2014. Photo credit: Pacific Vidaurri

What makes for a truly great rider?

Amazing skill, a great horse, lots of money and a trainer at your beck and call? Undoubtedly any one of those attributes would be exceedingly helpful to any equestrian, never mind a great one. Yet is it enough? Or is it even what is most important in the quest to being truly successful?

Upon closer examination of what makes top performers, be that riders, athletes, musicians or business people, so very good at what they do, we soon notice that they all share a number of attitudes, character traits and mental skills absolutely essential to success. First of all, every single top performer will have shown incredible levels of commitment to their chosen field. They will have lived and breathed whatever it was, sometimes to the detriment of other areas of their lives. But more often than not, they wouldn’t even have said that they had missed out on anything – quite simply because they wouldn’t have felt that they had! But that kind of commitment doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has to be fed by real passion, by the kind of fuel that keeps the fire burning even when things get tough! And tough they will get! Being exceptional and exceptionally committed, at the expense of what society considers a “normal” lifestyle, usually causes quite a few raised eyebrows, and more often than not a fair share of jealousy or even hostility.

This is where the concepts of single-mindedness and mental toughness come in.

Single-mindedness, much like commitment, means being prepared to put the blinkers on, and to just keep on going, no matter what. And mental toughness? Mental toughness will make sure those exceptional individuals pick themselves back up after they have been knocked down, trodden on and left to flounder. Mental toughness is the coat that keeps them warm in the chill of the headwind, and nice and cool under the scorching lights of scrutiny.

All these traits fit together like puzzle pieces to form the backdrop to another layer essential to top performance: solid mental skills! Being in control, confident in one’s own abilities and knowing precisely what to do and when to do it – extremely important in any type of sport. But even more so in equestrian sports. Horses are, after all, highly sensitive flight animals. That means that they’ll react first and ask questions, well, never… In essence, that also means that every time riders get on their horses, they need to be fully committed,aware and “in the moment”, they need to be in control of their bodies, their thoughts and their emotions, just to make sure that whatever they communicate is precisely what they had aimed to do in the first place.

And the good news is… the traits and skills described above can be achieved by anyone. All it requires is the right kind of mindset and the willingness to put just a little bit of effort into it. But that’s the beauty of dealing with equestrians – at least that is one trait that just about every single rider already has in bucket loads: a real sense of commitment – to their horses and to their sport!

So, really, what are you waiting for?!

Inga Wolframm is a writer, scientist and sport psychologist focusing on equestrian sports. Read more about Inga HERE

Pure Essence Photography

Learning to school a horse as a non-professional rider

There comes a time in many riders’ lives when they go from being a passenger in the saddle to riding with influence, when a circle becomes the most difficult arena shape to ride well and when phrases like “ride him into the contact” appear.

I have recently spoken to a client marvelling about how many different ways of teaching of that “influence” there are, how every single instructor will have different methods, views and approaches and how confusing this is for a learner-rider.

So how is an average, less experienced rider supposed to know what is the right or not so right a way? How should they know what will eventually make them a better rider or horse-person and what will give them a plethora of bad habits, years of struggle and perhaps a broken horse in the process? 

It seems that, generally speaking, there is a descriptive divide in the horse world between schooling methods, one being “the soft one” and the other “fast/hard/effective one”…On one side of the spectrum we might have various ‘natural horsemanship trainers and riders’ taking long time to understand and improve communication between horse and rider and on the other side we might have those who proudly present their project horses winning various shows within several weeks of being in training.

I personally struggled for many years to find a training style that would match my values when it comes to working with both people and animals and it was part of the reason I recently took 2 years out of full time teaching to fully focus on my own training. There are days when I encounter something – a specific problem, behaviour or an issue – which still makes me wonder about how little I really know about training and coaching. However, I am in peace with that now and have built fairly solid foundations on which to base my doubts and continue with training process that is educational for both horse and rider.

If you teach or are taught on regular basis I would love to hear your views and opinions…

I work primarily with grass roots riders and junior riding instructors or instructors-to-be i.e. non-professional riders or pleasure riders whose main source of income is not connected to competition performance. Majority of those riders are at the stage where they commence learning about riding with influence. It is of course worth noting that my approach is just one of many and it is up to you to make your own mind whether it might help you or not…

Foundations of my approach to teaching a less experienced rider how to school a horse (listed in no particular order)

1. Understand motivation and desire to move forwards


The first and most important element of schooling a horse to me is to enhance its motivation to work with the rider and to enjoy co-movement with the rider. Any methods that make the horse sour and or reluctant to move to his [at least] average abilities are to me the ones not to pursue. I like to observe the general demeanour of the working horse – what their ears are doing, the facial expression, the nostrils, breathing, general feel of the muscles and level of cooperation with the rider. This is my starting point – all healthy, content horses like to move. Most strive to cooperate because they like easy lives. They don’t like to fight with the rider, it’s something the rider [or previous riders] have done or not done with the horse that makes it react in certain uncooperative way(s). Young horses might question some discipline requirements and training needs but it is up to the rider to recognise the basis of each reaction. More often than not it comes from body discomfort which more difficult demands might bring. That discomfort is part of training of every athlete, whether equine or human, and it is up to the rider to teach the horse to accept certain level of pressure without crossing the thin line of acceptance and enjoyment.  The same applies to the rider – to improve, a rider needs to leave their comfort zone but still feel it is there and that they still derive some pleasure from learning process. It’s up to the instructor not to push the rider into sour zone where they lose all confidence in their ability to ride better.

2. Quality of basic paces comes before quality of shape

Pip and Buffy 7th April
Pippa riding Buffy on 7th April. They are both finding out how much energy and body control is needed for ground covering, energetic, working trot stride before Pippa learns how to keep Buffy in a rounder shape…

Rider needs to discover their “schooling seat” before they can ask the horse to work with engagement in a healthy way. What I mean by schooling seat? It needs to be good enough to allow the horse free, quality stride in walk, trot and canter. I often see horses that trot really short behind, canter crookedly yet are asked to maintain vertical nose position or take uneven steps when on circles or in changes of direction. These losses of quality of basic paces are to me areas where the rider needs to address their posture and seat. If, upon presenting the horse with shorter reins and an opportunity to maintain rounder posture, the horse loses the quality of the walk, trot or canter then either rider or the horse are not ready to work in that rounder outline. You might sometimes hear than you need spurs, whip, be more assertive, more demanding, more something or the other but to me, what rider needs is time and patience to develop posture, muscle awareness and timings of aids that allow them to maintain the paces while keeping basic, even contact on both reins. It’s achievable by older, weaker riders and children so it’s not always strength that is the answer.

If positioning the horse’s head on or close to vertical causes loss of quality of working paces or when rider has to drive the horse’s every stride “into contact” with strong leg/spur/whip to keep the horse moving more or less forwards then that position cannot be the right one for that moment in training…

3. Outline = Balance

liberado and gosia
Beginner rider after 3 months on Start Programme. This is her 3rd lesson on Foundation programme. She is maintaining own basic balance to which the horse responds with longer, relaxed neck and gently rounder top line

I believe in matching the balance of back of the horse with the front of the horse with the ability of the rider…What is an outline? It’s simply a certain way of shifting weight in the body by means of certain muscular effort. It takes time for the rider to understand it not just intellectually but through own muscles…

Teaching balance over shape or outline means that horse is never forced into postural alignment that makes him look mismatched – either within himself or with his rider. I often see horses that, if seen cut in half, they might appear to be working at some form of Grand Prix test and the back end works like a 3 or 4 year old youngster’s would. The fact the horse’s neck vertebrae are easy to manipulate isn’t helping.

When the horse is in a relaxed balance suitable for certain exercise or movement and when the rider has learnt to coordinate seat aids with rein aids adequately, the horse will relax the under neck muscles and the head will drop near vertical.

The more the rider improves his ability to balance the horse, the more he wins the right to ride with more compact outline. If the rider struggles with maintaining basic impulsion in working paces or if the horse finds it difficult to balance (still needs his neck for balance at times), bend one way or the other on larger circles, the only outline I allow is the one that the horse offers himself/herself for particular rider.

4. Understanding straightness in schooling of the horse

Pip and Buffy groundwork 31st March
Pippa learning how to work on Buffy’s straightness. Here practising basic in-hand work with purpose of teaching Buffy to move with her neck relaxed forward and down, her body bending laterally and her hind legs stepping underneath her. All to improve her symmetry and balance. You can see Buffy struggling in trot.

There is not much beauty and ease in the moving horse when he or she moves crookedly…If a horse struggles to bend, leans on one front leg or the other (or in other words falls in or out through the shoulders), steps inwards or outwards with hindquarters etc etc then the very basics of straightness are still in progress and again, the only shape asked of the horse needs to be one within his current abilities.

I teach every single rider, from Start programme onwards, about the role of basic straightness in basic performance. I prefer in-hand work for this purpose but very skilled, thoughtful rider with great feel can achieve the same results from the saddle. I feel that working on symmetry from the ground trains a grassroots rider’s eye and feel to an extent that is difficult to achieve otherwise.

5. Schooling is fascinating – why rush? 

I don’t consider myself a particularly “soft” instructor, rider or trainer…Horses are working partners for me, sporting partners, athletic partners, companions. I see schooling as sports therapy for horses 🙂 I rarely if ever “baby talk” to a horse, I appreciate them for what they are, what they teach me and how schooling them makes me feel focused and thoughtful. If we are not in a rush to produce the horse for a quick sale, if we don’t have to push it through any series of classes just so he or she is seen going at certain level to prove value, if we ride a horse for sheer enjoyment, self-improvement, satisfaction and feeling of camaraderie with the animal then why rush…isn’t it better to help the horse learn become more content and more able in his work in his own pace?

Pure Essence Photography


Susanna Halonen about Learning to Deal with Uncertainty with Horses

Horses are your love, your energy, your oxygen. Yet sometimes you have moments in which you are so exhausted, frustrated or overwhelmed that all you want to do is give up. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this. And this doesn’t happen only with horses, but also in life in general! This is why resilience is such an important skill to learn and continuously develop.

Psychologists refer to resilience as the ability to cope with problems and setbacks, something which is common with both horses and in life. Some people are naturally more resilient than others, but the good news is you can learn to become more resilient so you can recover from setbacks quicker, overcome challenges more effectively, and have more fun while doing it.

There are two key factors which make up resilience: persistence and flexibility. Persistence is driven by the inner hope you have, whereas flexibility enables you to try different things to overcome things which stand between you and reaching your goals. This is wisely put by Charles Darwin, and is equally relevant to your success with horses than to the survival of our species: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

So how do you make sure you bring persistence and flexibility into your training with your horse? There are a few simple steps that will help you get started.


1. Identify the key goal you have with your horse. E.g. “The one essential goal I would like to reach with my horse in 2014 is…”

2. Avoid distractions from other competing goals. Scratch things off the list which are not helping you reach your number one goal. It’s all about prioritising & focus!

3. List five alternative pathways to achieve this goal. Really get creative here. It’s these pathways that help you remain flexible and think of alternatives when a challenge or setback appears.

This exercise has definitely helped me focus my training with my young horse Mickey (aka Eurythmic). I’ve outlined my answers below to give you inspiration for you to try the exercise yourself.

1. My goal is to finish in the top 10 of a Premier League 5-year old young horse class.

2. Now that the first show is weeks away, I’ve cut down on jumping and upped the number of schooling sessions we do in a week. Every time I get on him, regardless of whether it’s a hack, jump, gallop or schooling session, I make an effort to ride him properly so he’s working through the back into the bit whilst on front of my leg. I’ve also become more aware of my posture as well and how it affects him.

3. – I travel to my dressage trainer Sarah Millis bi-weekly for a focused schooling session.
– I get another dressage trainer to come to me weekly or bi-weekly if I can not make it to Sarah’s.
– If Mickey gets stuck in the schooling sessions too much, I make an effort to school him on the gallops as I would in the arena to get his mind and body in the right place.
– I use pole work and grid work regularly to strengthen his hind end and teach him to use it more effectively.
– If we don’t finish in the top 10, I make an effort to take him to a few novice tests in the fall to get him more familiar to a show environment, making him ready for the 6-year old classes in 2015.

Now I want you to put your resilience into practice. Complete the exercise yourself so you’re ready to persist and remain flexible when you work towards your main riding goal for 2014.

Would be great if you wanted to share some of the exercise in the comments below – the other readers can help you come up with other pathways too!

“Lazy” horses – one thing rider can do to win some energy…

Sometimes they simply make you work harder than you would like. Sometimes they hide behind the contact, shorten in the neck or “come back” at the rider. Sometimes they won’t move “off the leg”. There are many shades of an unmotivated horse who just doesn’t move through and truly forward so below I attempted to describe a feel/technique we can add to our riding repertoire to win some energy…

Photo credit: Author’s own training. Lusitano stallion Utuaba. Portugal. The horse who loved to drop in his own back and switch off to the leg despite otherwise being a very sharp and sensitive ride.

Learn to put your horse in front of your back…

There is a lot of talk in arenas, whether dressage or jumping, about the importance of having your horse in front of the leg. It makes sense since the leg is regarded as a “driving aid” but I like to think about it or feel it as having the horse in front of my back…When I sit in the saddle and start walking, I find seat bones position that feels as comfortably close to the pommel as possible; feel ever so slightly anchored through the tail bone but watch that I do not lean back or put more weight into the back of the seat – just feel the weight of my head dropping softly into tail bone and into the saddle as I walk.

What next…

As you walk on around the arena or out hacking, seek the feel of the movement of the horse’s shoulders gently lifting your thighs – left, right, left, right – but do not let them move into “chair seat” – they stay right underneath you. Your seat bones softly moving in a manner of a mini walk (think in millimetres rather than inches).

Seek the feel of both seat bones being close to the horse’s spine but watch out not to clench your seat muscles, just stabilise your spine directly on top of your horse’s spine. The more stable your upper body is, the less your horse’s back muscles have to contract in order to “catch you” as your both move together.

Got the feeling? Now, allow your legs to hang softly by the horse’s sides by their own weight and feel slight left to right shifts of weight through your horse’s ribcage as it moves under your seat bones. Let your horse breathe fully by feeling the slight opening of each hip joint as the ribcage opens/bulges outward and soft closing as it swings away from your leg.

Feel which way your hip joint opens more i.e. which way the horse’s ribcage swings further out and which way there is barely any movement. This should tell you which hind leg is doing more work and which one is the “lazier” one…Activate the slower/stiffer hind leg with quicker (not stronger) leg aid.

As you walk and feel the hind legs do not let yourself be moved forwards through your upper body. Remain in “your spot” with your horse moving “in front of your back”. I like to visualise the rider’s back as a draw bridge which closes the way back…(think about rein back when you lighten your seat ever so slightly to open the way back…the opposite needs to happen when you want more forward energy). 

Now, the same has to happen in trot and canter – practice neutral pelvis position and your seat connecting to your thighs – if you hollow through your back, lean forwards or otherwise let your “draw bridge” lift you no longer have your horse moving in front of your back. The more he stays in front of your back, the less leg you need to use and the more naturally he/she will desire to move forwards.

Below is a very short video showing the tendency many riders have in canter – letting front of their bodies extend on upwards swing of the canter. Notice how that hollows the rider’s back and how, when corrected, the rider makes herself stronger and less moveable from the centred position in the saddle. This even front to back posture allows for supple strength through rider’s back, provides the horse with better balance and quality of the canter and helps the rider put the horse in front of the rider’s back (or in front of the leg if we go with the usual language 🙂 )

Better balance = more energy…

What do you think? Have you experienced this feel before? How would you describe the feeling of “putting the horse in front of your leg”? 


Pure Essence Photography


Susy Stark and Otis back from their first event of the season at Aston Le Walls

The washing machine is in overdrive, the freshly washed whites are hanging up already and the cross country gear is spinning round now. In the sink are the damp brushing boots, and my leather boots are awaiting their turn.
It`s time for a tea break I think, and to update you all on our first event of the season, at Aston Le Walls.

Susy and Otis

This week has been difficult in terms of preparation to say the least. On Tuesday Otis had the vet because he was having difficulty breathing. A couple of times over the last fortnight he`s taken a long time to recover from his exercise. Initially I thought it was the change in atmosphere, but when it took twenty minutes for him to stop panting like a dog after a lunge session I became worried. Coincidently, the vet was already at the yard, so she got to see him first hand. His lungs were quiet but she suggested a blood test; however, it couldn`t be done until Wednesday when he was rested.
It was an anxious forty eight hours, but at half four on Thursday the vet rang to announce that Otis was very healthy, with plenty of red blood cells, and they could only suggest that he was adversely affected by the high pollution levels. I had to pull my socks up now! I schooled him, and practiced my dressage test (it always helps to know where you`re going). He seemed much better then, but was quite tense and resistant on the flat, as he has been for a week or so.
On Friday I changed his bit and he worked quite nicely in it, so I made a note to pack both snaffles just in case.

Roll forwards to this morning, as I`m sure this is boring you.

Our times were very considerate really; 12.25 for dressage, 13.35 for showjumping, and 14.05 for cross country. Otis didn`t faff going onto the trailer, and travelled reasonably well. Some days he sweats, others he doesn`t, and today was a sweaty day so it was a good job we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

I picked up my number and paid my starting fee before walking the course. It was quite straightforward, and I was pleased that none of the jumps phased me. I had a cheeky look at the pre-novice and felt that they were manageable too so watch out pre-novicers, here we come! After our gentle stroll we unloaded and dressed ourselves.

I was without grooms today, with the exception of my chauffeur, so had to organise both myself and Otis. That isn`t to say that usually I just sit in the car, but you save so much time when you can delegate removing boots or brushing off while you tie your tie. I gave the loose ring snaffle to the chauffeur/camera man and headed over to the crowded warm up.

This winter Aston has invested in an all weather cross country arena, and now the showumping takes place on the upper level, with the dressage and dressage warm up on the lower level. This is great if your horses prefers the arena, but it was very hectic in the small warm up. Otis still wasn`t in the flatwork frame of mind, and had half an eye on the showjumping and another half eye on the cross country. He was tense and bouncy. I got tense and stressed. For some reason I kept thinking that there weren`t many unplaited natives around, and I was feeling a bit self conscious. Like the poor country mouse. After a bit of a warm up I changed the bit from the fillet boucher into the loose-ring lozenge and he relaxed somewhat. We were called and went forwards to ride our test. Our average test. He wasn`t really listening to me and I had to ride conservatively to keep it loosely together. Funnily enough, on both centre lines he wobbled slightly. I put my leg on, but instead of moving forwards and straightening himself, he wobbled even more. I wasn`t particularly pleased with our test and felt a bit grumpy after, but after wandering back to the trailer, changing outfits, and having a buttered hot cross bun, I was ready for round two.

If I thought the dressage warm up was busy, then I had no idea what I was letting myself in for going to the showjumping warm up.

It was chaos! One poor guy jumped the cross pole three times and each time got cut up on landing! I think at competitions everyone forgets “pass left to left” rule and “walk on an inner track” rule. At least the flags were up clearly so there were no airborne collisions. I managed to have a canter and popped over the cross and upright. My mind was still on the dressage and we had a few awkward jumps. He cleared them all, but we were out of sync. After I did the oxer I let him chill for a moment while I gathered myself together. Positive thoughts!

There were only a couple to go before me, so I collected him up and went for the upright. But I got cut up. And again. It was a dodgy leap after which he jumped the oxer beautifully so I took my chances and went out for jump my round. Otis is more than capable, but is affected by me, so I had to focus – don`t let him rush but at the same time let him do his job. It was a fairly simple course, and he sailed over the uprights and the related distances suited him really well. Often he finds himself between strides. After the first oxer I was worried he`s clip the uprights, as he tends to get too onwards, but he responded to my “wait”s. Though the second related distance and over the double to finish clear. Excellent!

While I think about it; someone found half a shoe in the warm up. Has anyone ever had an experience of losing half a shoe? How does this affect their balance, and more to the point, did the competitor notice they only had three and a half wheels?

Feeling much better about our abilities, we had a quick turnaround for the cross country. Feeling the time pressure, I jumped on board, only to remember I didn`t have my medical armband. Thank God for my chauffeur.

If I`d have been on my own it would have been such a faff and blind panic. The warm up was quiet so I walked past the steward, clearly showing my number, before starting my quick warm up. A lap or two later she suddenly shouted “Do you want me to write down your number or not?” Well of course I do … I thought as I nodded to her. She huffed a bit, but soon became too busy telling someone else off for the same thing! When the warm up is busy I like to show myself to the steward so I don`t get overlooked, but when it`s quiet I tend to assume they will see me. Otis was very keen for this phase so I only popped a couple of logs before letting him catch his breath. He`s not really the horse I need to have fired up, he fires himself up going through the starting box.

Our bossy steward shouted me over, telling me to hurry, which I dutifully do. Only to be told by the lady with the Go-button that I didn`t need to be so quick… I just smiled and said I was doing what I was told to. “I think she was a headteacher in a past life” joke the Go-button lady.

Aston Le Walls
Various XC jumps at Aston Le Walls – click on image to see many fences from several events in the last few years over many different classes

Amazingly, I managed to time myself so we went through the gate at the correct time, and without the “wait – go” that usually occurs. Over the first first brush and we were away up the hill. Taking a stride out, over the tabletop then up to the ship. Otis isn`t the greatest at galloping uphill but we made it; and then had to squelch through the track between jumps three and four. Obviously yesterdays rain had pooled there. Down the hill, over another jump before we came to the corner. This was the first more technical fence and I was prepared with the whip in my right hand. I aimed towards the right flag, but Otis had other ideas and went dead centre. It was a flier, but on to the water. Here you jumped a log then a stride into the water before a sharp turn left and over a log a couple of strides out. This is were we had a navigational error. Otis thought we were following the yellow numbers. No Otis, the yellow is the Novice course! A quick swerve round the humungous log, and we were out of danger. Next was a long gallopy stretch before a narrow related distance, then a large tiger trap, round a slalom bend into another field, over a couple of pheasant feeders and through another slalom before a step up and over some brush fences to finish. We were home safe and sound!

As it was a long walk back to the trailer I headed straight back; once we were out of the course vicinity I hopped off and loosened his girth and flash. We walked leisurely back and he was reasonably recovered to wash him down at the car.

We took our time washing him off and then let him graze while we packed the car. I like to put everything back in a logical order, and ready to unload in stages. Yard equipment at the front; dirty washing in a bin liner, etc etc. Call me OCD but I can then rest easy on the way home. We loaded Otis up before mooching off to see how the results were looking. I had no idea what my dressage score was, and was not particularly hopeful.

For dressage I had 37, which was expected; but we were clear showjumping, and clear inside the time cross country. Otis must be fitter, as we had 15 seconds spare! This holds us in great stead for moving up a level.

I haven`t a clue on the final results, and eagerly await to see how we faired in the grand scheme of thing. It wasn`t a bad start to the season, but I know I need to get my act together and concentrate for the dressage phase. Next week I`m having a flatwork lesson to get us back on track, and then in a fortnight I`m showjumping, to get my eye in for the bigger courses. Eventing wise, I`m on course for Mattingley on May 4th, and then looking at Aston Le Walls on the 17th/18th to try our hand at a BE100.