Tag Archives: eventing diary

Gilly’s journey back to fitness & eventing after an injury – rehab diary

My loan horse was off work for two months after an injury and I’m blogging his rehab – fitness, suppleness, flexibility – sharing successes, exercises and more. 

Gilly January 2017. Stage of rehab: 40 minutes walking hacks

This is Gilly. He’s a 10-year-old, 16.2hh Irish Sport Horse gelding who I’ve had on loan for just over a year. He’s a character and a great horse to ride: Sensible but with enough attitude to keep things interesting 😉 He also happens to love jumping. I returned to riding in my 30s after a hiatus of 20 or so years and he’s taught me loads. He helped me progress to the point where we competed in our first one day event at the end of last summer.

Mairi and Gilly achieving their 2016 goal to take part in One Day Event

We were planning what we’d be doing over the Autumn when Gilly came in from the field lame one day last October. “Hopping lame” is probably a more accurate description. The vet later worked out that he had somehow punctured a tendon on his right hind leg with a huge thorn from one of the hedges that line the fields at our yard. While the wound itself wasn’t that serious, he got an infection that proved tricky to shift and ended up spending two months on box rest.

I didn’t expect that he would take him so long to recover from the injury and it’s been frustrating to watch him lose his fitness over the weeks and see our plans crumbling. But there’s a old saying that every misfortune is a blessing in disguise: In this case it’s that Gilly has soft muscles right now and is a bit of a blank slate so it’s a great opportunity to work on his suppleness and flexibility and improve his posture while bringing him back into fitness. Maybe I can teach this horse (and myself) some new tricks!

Over the next few months, as I build up his exercise regime from long walking hacks up to canter work and jumping, I’m planning to incorporate lots of pole work, stretches and work in hand. I’m hoping that these gymnastic exercises will help improve our focus, communication and skills and help us prepare for a successful summer of eventing.

Some of Gilly’s exercises & stretches suggested by his physiotherapist, Rachel Keeble. Photos: Christine Dunnington

I’ll be investigating different issues and trying out different exercises over the coming weeks and I’ll share some of them on the Aspire blog. Major areas I’d like to work on with Gilly are:

  • Getting his hind legs more active so that he really steps under himself, can push from behind and come off the forehand, which he can be quite heavy on. He’s got a relatively long back conformation-wise so he’s a horse that finds this harder than some.
  • Activating his core and encouraging him to work over his back more to improve his posture and make him stronger. This is a long-term, ongoing project but I’m hoping to work on more in-hand exercises to encourage him to lower and relax his neck.
  • Lateral work like leg yields and shoulder in to help with mobility and suppleness particularly through his shoulders.

I will be working with my trainer Wiola on all of this and we’d be really delighted if you join us on this journey to bring Gilly back from his injury even better than he was before.

If you have any questions or ideas or would like to share exercises that you think Gilly and me should try, leave them in the comments section below. We’ll report back on the blog. 

Mairi Mackay & Gilly aka Farmer’s Boy

Gilly looking smart after his clip on Saturday – ready to slowly step up the work 🙂 

Ex-racehorse to Event Horse in progress: 3 months flatwork training – comparison video

Merehead comparison
Scroll down for video 🙂


Merehead: Foaled March 24th, 2006, Grey Gelding, Al Namix – Moneda (Cadoudal)

Merehead (Harry Derham)


National Hunt Racing

See Merehead’s racing photos here

I have just put together some footage from one of the first lessons I gave to Emma and Merehead (this was possibly the second time we worked together with this horse) and yesterday’s session. We’ve been meeting weekly since December last year and taking it slowly with the gangly chap. He has made a huge progress and I am so happy for this pair!

Two weeks ago they went to a local dressage show to do a walk and trot test (his canter is coming along nicely but he still eats up a long side in 4-5 strides so there was no point in asking him to contain himself in a small arena yet) just to see how he will behave and with a goal to just let him look around and potter around the warm up and arena. He took it all in his stride and will soon go out more.

Great job Emma!

Intro to the New series! Aspire Equestrian Training Diary: Emma B and Shahbash (British Eventing)

Emma and Shabby

The British Eventing season has now officially started and I decided to bring you all a little insight into training and competing adventures of one of the riders I teach. It will hopefully be a fun, educational and maybe inspirational read for some of you who train and compete on less-than-perfect horses with text book problems…It will very much be a real life scenario of a hard working rider with big dreams, small budget and very busy days!

Who is Emma? 

Slightly speed and XC obsessed tiny rider, ex-racehorse enthusiast and manager of Brackenhill Stud (click HERE to check it out)

Me on Friday: OK, so let’s have a look at the dressage test…how long is Shabby’s optimal warm up for the test?

Emma: (suspicious silence) Honestly?

Me: Yes?

Emma: Well, it depends what time he gets off the lorry, sometimes a few minutes. Also, this is the earliest I have ever practised my dressage test 😉

Me: Ok, we have some work to do 😉

I have always noticed a tendency in the UK riders to generally practice very little…better still if one could say that one rode through the test once, in one’s head, on the way to the show and got placed.

Coming from a system where if you didn’t practice you were out from the competing team without much of a second glance, such approach has been a bit of a shock to me for a long time. Some twelve years later I got used to it a little. Perhaps it has something to do with being perceived as more talented if one doesn’t practice much? Something to do with a fear of failure? If all goes badly, you can always say it will be better next time when you actually put some effort in?

What do you think? How much effort do you put into preparation for your events?

emma and shabash

Emma’s first event of the season: Goring Heath BE100 with ex-racehorse Shahbash (more about Shabby very soon!)

Shabby’s training: a little power house, Shabby is a 12 years old Thoroughbred ex-racer. He is a tense horse with tendency to brace through the back and neck and has varied degree of bit acceptance depending on his mood which makes him volatile when it comes to many aspects of dressage. The goal of our training has been to improve Shabby’s suppleness and basic straightness as well as quality of his trot and balance in canter which we have done in the last 3 months. Still lots of work to be done.

We are now training towards improving his acceptance of the bit and overall relaxation under pressure.

Emma’s training: As far as the rider training, Emma has had a bit of a seat bootcamp in the last 3 months which is still in progress 🙂 She is a great rider to teach, always up for a challenge. I will explain what we work on as we go.

Below is a very short edit of what is yet to come.

I will try to bring you weekly training stories all the way to Goring Heath and if we all enjoy it, we will continue throughout the eventing season with both Shahbash and Merehead (and maybe a couple more horses) 🙂

Stay tuned and do let me know if this series is of your interest!