Category Archives: Guest Blogger: Susy Stark

Susy reports from her first Pre-Novice event with Otis

Last weekend Otis and I were very brave and entered our first Pre-Novice Event. I had walked the course at our last event and I felt it was within our capabilities.

Our preparation didn`t go quite according to plan – but it rarely does with horses! Our BE90 at Mattingley was rained off a fortnight before, which meant that I didn`t have another run between our first event and last weekends. I had jumped some larger courses, and done quite a lot of pole and gridwork so that Otis was confident over the bigger height. The dressage test was going well and the serpentines suited Otis. I had solved my saddle problem and my GP saddle didn`t slip providing I used a breastplate, anti-slip girth, anti-slip pad and riser pad. Talk about a military operation putting it all on!

It was a boiling hot weekend and Otis, unsurprisingly, got hot travelling, so we arrived in plenty of times to allow him to chill out. My dressage time was at 12.10 so at 11.30 I was mounted and we walked to the warm u. Upon arriving I was informed that they were running a bit early – so early that I only had 2 people to go in before me! I usually need about thirty minutes to get us both focused and working correctly, but thankfully Otis was immediately relaxed and focused, so our only problem in the dressage test was that he wasn`t fully engaged. My test was average, I could have done better but at the same time nothing went particularly wrong. We were in the middle of the field, about to go into the showjumping.

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The first thing I noticed in the showjump warm up was that the competition were much more professional; the horses were a higher calibre than I had seen in previous classes and fully equipped with jumping tack. Otis warmed up quite well but over the large oxer we had a stop, but we just met it on a funny stride and soon got back on the game. I didn`t find the course itself too hard or big, but jump four going away from the gate he just didn`t focus on the jump and clipped it behind. It was an upright and Otis picked himself up quickly to leap the wide oxer four strides later. We had another pole down in the double; the first element was another wide oxer which I just didn`t see my stride, and Otis showed his inexperience at this level. We finished safe and he was overall very good; it is only to be expected when moving up a level.

On to the cross country. When I had walked it I gulped several times. Number two was a ginormous tabletop, whilst number five was a rack of logs at the top of a steep incline, followed by an equally steep decline. The water element wasn`t too bad, and there were several jumps I had already done at the end of last year. The other concerns were the big sharks teeth and trakhener. Again Otis warmed up relaxed and forwards, but not overly excitable. It was so hot I didn`t do too much jumping in my warm up.
Off we went. Number one was easy, and number two was the predicted leap but he got himself back together over the easier brush at number three. I survived number five by the skin of my teeth, but by the water it started to go wrong. I kept losing my stirrup (which has never happened before). We cat-leaped into the water and had a navigational error going up the bank, just getting to the right of the white flag then over the log at the bottom. We were fine over the step up, house, step down, but again I was stirrupless. The sharks teeth was fast approaching. I got my stirrup back but Otis looked at the jump and went “oh crumbs!” to which I replied with something slightly stronger and we stopped. I turned him round and we flew over it on the second attempt, but he was a bit unnerved. Unfortunately the next jump was the large trakhener and Otis stopped again, losing confidence. He went over the second time and the next fence was a nice friendly chair, which boosted his confidence and he continued happily round the rest of the course. He was exhausted at the end and it took a while to walk him down.

I was pleased with his overall performance as it was our most demanding competition, and he tried his heart out. I have two ways forward now; firstly, I need to sort out my GP saddle and look at purchasing a jump saddle as I didn`t feel I had the support over the bigger fences. Also I need Otis to be comfortable over bigger courses and not suffer a bad back from an ill-fitting saddle. This weekend I went on a cross country ride with a friend, which had a lot of decent sized fences which really boosted Otis`s confidence. He started a little sticky and looky, but by the end he was eating up the fences as he usually does. It`s also a great fittening exercise. I`ve decided not to enter any more events until I`ve sorted the saddle however, so it is a good experience all round. I`ll enter some dressage competitions and focus on that with the odd bit of jumping then re-evaluate the season as soon as I get a saddle. Talking of which, I think I`d better email the saddler now.

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.

Meet new Guest Blogger: Susy Stark and her Eventing partner Tymor Del Piero aka Otis

Susy and Otis 1My name is Susy Stark and I am a twenty four (almost) year old based in Berkshire. I work at a busy riding school, teaching a variety of people of all abilities and ages to ride. I am a BHS AI and hold my BHS Stage IV, but am always looking to expand my knowledge and experience.

But enough about me; this blog for Aspire is about my journey with my horse into the competitive world. Firstly, let me introduce my horse. Formally known as Tymor Del Piero, and affectionately known as Otis; he is a 16hh bay Welsh Section D. Otis was bought for me when I was seventeen and he was eighteen months old, and our long and steady journey began together. I backed Otis myself slowly around my A-level exams and exposed him to as many stimuli as possible, with no specific goal or discipline in mind.

By the time he was four it was apparent that there was no way he could successfully compete in the showing world. Already touching sixteen hands, and being of a rangy build judges barely looked at him. He was also still quite immature and ungainly in himself. Friends often joked that he was a giraffe. As I began my training in the equine world I began to look at other alternatives for Otis`s career.

Obviously as a four year old he had barely jumped and was green as grass in the cross country field, so I went down the dressage route. I thoroughly enjoyed the twelve months I spent focusing solely on his flatwork, and we competed at local competitions very successfully at prelim and novice level.

As he grew older, bigger and stronger, I started to introduce jumping, and by the time he was five I was hooked by the idea of eventing. Yet to compete in an event, I focused on getting the basics right in each area and towards the end of 2011 we entered our first one day event. It was a local affair and only 2`3”-2`6” in height, but even so we came second. I was over the moon, and my dream of eventing Otis came within grasp.

otis 2010 2011
The next year we struggled with transport, my injury, and gathering more experience (particularly in the water complex department) and confidence. After a change of jobs I became acquainted with some more eventing enthusiasts who provided me with the contacts to start entering events. Last year with Otis aged seven and all grown up, we began eventing in earnest. I started at pre-intro level, but as it went smoothly I quickly moved up to Intro level, where we performed consistently over the season, ending on a high in eighth place at our last event.

I went away with several tasks for the winter months, and have focused on improving our dressage – culminating in an elementary class a couple of weeks ago – and increasing Otis`s fitness and stamina. He has now matured and I feel confident in his ability for the 2014 season.

So what are my goals for 2014?

susy and otis collage

Firstly, I aimed to improve our dressage so that we were competent in Elementary classes. Secondly, I aim to move up to Pre-Novice level this season. I may end up having to compete in a combination of BE90 and BE100s due to work commitments, but I want us to have a couple of successful runs at the higher level under our belts by the end of the season. I have already partly achieved my goal of stepping up to Elementary level and will continue to intersperse the eventing with unaffiliated dressage competitions. The first event (BE90) is entered for the beginning of April – I enjoy eventing and am not a professional, so didn`t want to rush our fittening and have a problem by entering a March event with uncertain conditions, so aimed for an April start. At this event I`m planning on walking the BE100 cross country course to get my eye in, with the thoughts of trying the higher class next time. I`ll also try to use my free weekends to jump round higher showjumping courses in preparation.

I hope that you will enjoy reading about our competitive career this season on Aspire blog.

You can read Susy’s own blog over at The Rubber Curry Comb or follow her on Twitter @suse717

Pure Essence Photography