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Aspire Eventing Diary. Through coach’s eyes: Emma and Shabhash at BCA Horse Trials (BE100)

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Event location: Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA), Maidenhead, Berkshire

The 2 weeks prior

Two weeks before BCA Shabby’s ran at an unaffiliated Novice (1.10m) event at Hambleden. He excelled at his dressage and got 34 in it but then proceeded to knock most show jumps and was not allowed XC to `Emma’s despair since the XC was the main reason she wanted the run anyway.

It was the final nail so to speak and we decided to turn more attention to the show jumping phase in our sessions. I knew there was a little chance we could make much of a change before the June event at BCA but we had a go anyway.

There are several main issues that we need to work on – both long and short term:

1. Nerves – Shabby easily goes rigid and panics under pressure. It can happen at home to some degree but is hugely amplified at the events. Emma has now had Shabby for over 5 years so she knows the second he goes into his panic mode and has similar reaction herself. So nerves are something that needs work in both of them. We discussed some sports psychology techniques options after Aston where he did dreadfully tense test but didn’t follow the thoughts with any actions as yet.

2. Quality of the canter – there is a weakness in Shabby’s canter that needs addressing. He gallops well but cantering to the jumps in a rhythm and through tight turns is a different matter. The right lead canter is not only weak but panic inducing for some reason.

3. Connection and thoroughness – in a calm state, Shabby works very nicely now staying in front of the leg and on the bridle with his back relaxed but his connection and thoroughness and very volatile and depend largely on his mental state. He is not the horse you can bully into cooperation and get good results and even if he was, Emma would have to change her trainer to go for that as I am not prepared to go back to the “hold him and push him into the bit/contact” methods for the sake of short term results.

4. Balance on undulated terrain – he is unsure of himself on grass especially when it’s slippery or on a slope and especially in trot and canter. His movement can be soft and fluid on surface and go into rigid and wooden on the grass – almost like when you walk on ice and you worry you might fall over and you then anticipate slipping with each step. The problem is, the more rigid your joints and limbs go, the more difficult the balancing act is.

Then there is one element that is very positive and could be improved on: Shabby’s heart and willingness to “do”.

Even though he goes overexcited and is consumed with nerves in the arena and the jumping ring, you can tell he looks to Emma for reassurance and that’s something we could build on further.

This is what we did before BCA…

PLAYING WITH SHABBY

I want to use Shabby’s trust in Emma so I get them to play to see how deep rooted his nerves are. He is great on foot. Relaxed. Bored almost. Happy to pop over little jumps with Emma running with him. His coordination isn’t great to start with, his jumping awkward. But is as cool as a cucumber and is not hot at all.

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She mounts and I take Shabby’s bridle off and give her a neck strap. He doesn’t react to her seat or legs correctly when in his panic mode so I want to see how he reacts. It’s amusing and he is not very responsive at first but we get to the point when she can walk and stop with just a little cue from a neck strap.

I suggests she does this a couple of times a week but I am not sure how realistic this is with her schedule.

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It might seem crazy but I am thinking, we might as well try to utilise what he is good at (connecting with Emma) and improve that further rather than focus only on the things he really drives us bonkers at 😉

Few days later, we take him to the field and start the boring process of trying to stop and stay halted in front of the jump. Shabby does various things NOT to stand in front of it. He piaffes, twists sideways, tries not to look at it. Eventually, he sighs and stands still for a few seconds. Then for several. Then for long enough that I can take a sharp picture 😉

shabby 10th JUne

He jumps the jump very well, calmly, waits and doesn’t become creative with his stride. We call it a day and he even eats his dinner and breakfast the following morning (he has been on an on/off food strike for the last few weeks).

There are small changes Emma notices in his behaviour. He starts grooming her back when she brushes him (he generally detests being groomed. patted etc). He lies down in his stable and has a proper snooze.

shabbyrelaxed

We add some work on changing bend in trot and canter on large circles in the field to make him realise his posture doesn’t always have to correspond directly with direction. It’s a good preparation for counter-canter which I know will strengthen his canter overall.

He becomes panicky at first but settles well enough and lets Emma ride him. Again we finish with pole work and little jump which he deals with calmly.

On Wednesday before the event we practice the dressage test on grass and he is tricky – unsettled and rigid like he can be at events. I take it as a good sign – if he doesn’t do something we just can’t work on it so I am almost pleased that he is all over the place. We go through the test and amend it, put medium walk for a few strides longer than in the test as he likes to jog, educate the corners through hind quarter yields and put in circles when he goes tense to help him release.

Eventually we get a decent work and call it a day.

On Thursday he is so incredibly relaxed we are wondering what’s going on. He warms up spectacularly, all his muscles like a fluid jelly, soft. His canter looks so relaxed we are laughing.

Then we repeat his halting in front of the jumps. He halts like a pro, and reins back beautifully. I can hardly believe it and start to think there is a trick somewhere.

We jump him on the left rein and he reacts very well to Emma’s half halt and makes a very good (for him) shape over the jump. I still wonder where the trick is.

Emma changes the rein and approaches on the right rein. All hell breaks lose and we see where the trick was. It takes 20 minutes for him to calm down and approach the jump without jumping invisible jumps on the way. We sigh.

THE EVENT

Warm up & Dressage

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He warms up quite sweetly, nothing amazing but all looks manageable. The only thing that rings alarm bells in my head is that Emma looks down more than usual and this tells me he probably isn’t feeling very connected and is volatile in the contact. She always sits proudly on him when he switches his little trot engine on but she looks like she is hiding somewhat.

We are quite happy with him upon his time coming up and off Emma goes. I watch them enter the area where the arenas are and I can see him tensing up. They get the bell almost immediately and he likes a few minutes to adjust to the change of space so that’s not a good sign.

The moment they enter down the centre line I know all is not good. He goes rigid and tense and although I know Emma hides it very well, it must feel awful. I almost stop filming after the first 10m loop because it’s just dreadful and I know Emma will be so disappointed (as you watch the video below you will see the cut in the test – nothing is edited out, that’s the moment I switched off the camera for a few seconds). i start filming again almost immediately because it might be good to re-watch it anyway.

He gets better in places, then worse again and I know Emma is hoping to be over and done with. He halts square at the end as if he wanted to add a joke 😉

We are so deflated by his performance that if Shabby has any sense of human emotions he must wonder who died! As Emma says, months ago there were no expectations and she would be ok with the test like this. Now, we know he can do so much better. They both can.

I decide to put them through their paces as he needs to release all that tension anyway so I ask Emma to stretch him in trot a little and then work on his right canter. She rides him the best I have ever seen her ride, partly angry at him partly surely relieved that she is out of the arena but I make a mental note to tap into whatever is possessing her now and put it to use…

I ask her to canter him all the way the imaginary centre line of the warm up field which is massive, maybe 2 football pitch length and off they go. He looks great, powerful and never once goes disunited. She stretches him in trot again and this time he really wants to reach the bit.

Good job.

Warm up & Jumping

BCASJThe set up at BCA is that there is a grass jumping warm up of sorts and the main warm up on surface. We make a pit stop on the grass warm up and do our halts in front of the jumps – first from walk, then from trot, then they jump it a couple of times. He looks good!

The main warm up is crowded but not as chaotic as some others we have seen recently and again they warm up well. He is backing off a little and Emma is riding a bit backward in anticipation of him running but all in all he looks calmer and fairly settled.

They enter the ring and are able to start on the left rein which is what Emma planned. I can see him starting to boil up and now I just hope he doesn’t drop 6 poles so she can go XC. He ploughs on attacking the jumps with all his might, jumping them by Braille and rolling 5. Initially we think it was 4 but 5 it was.

I wish I could say something good about an improvement in his jumping but I wouldn’t be honest. He gives the jumps some air but his pace is so frantic his legs just don’t come out of the way. The good thing I see is that Emma tries to stay more upright and keeps her upper body well out of his way more. It’s something we discussed after last event. She also says, he was more rideable than two weeks ago which is good but I know they can do much better.

The improvement in the warm ups is comforting and In fact, I am more than pleased with warm up in the jumping. The disappointment lingers because we still can’t confidently pin point his tension triggers. We explore some breathing techniques with a fellow rider and I make a note to look into this more seriously as Shabby is very responsive to Emma’s state.

XC

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Shabby is fabulous XC and Emma continues to experiment with time. He is so far either too fast or too slow. She ends up trying for the middle pace and gets 3 penalty points for too slow (6 for too fast at one of the previous events).

He likes fast pace but she needs to bring him back early to set for the jumps which costs valuable seconds. More experimenting needed with the speed.

VIDEO

Here is a video from the day. I thought it would be nice to invite some of the other Aspire riders to come along for a taste of eventing and we had a great time. Huge thank you to Tatiana and Gary for an awesome picnic!

POST EVENT PLANS

Shabby goes to Farley Hall BE100 nest weekend so he is resting now for a couple of days and we meet on Wednesday for the lesson.

I plan to show Emma the videos from her riding him after the dressage test and for her to figure out the difference in her riding so she can replicate it. We will continue with canter work and pole work as that’s a mission for good few months rather than days.

Breathing exercises and some sports psychology perhaps. Shabby just likes to make sure we explore all sort of training avenues. He is a thorough fellow like that 😉

Aspire Eventing Diary. Through coach’s eyes: Emma, Shabhash and Merehead at Aston Le Walls

Having had a very hectic month I am a little late with this report which in fact I am writing after the third event we have just came back from (Rockingham Castle International Horse Trials). It went better than the Aston event I shared my observation with you below and the report on it is coming your way very soon 🙂 In the meantime, let’s look at Aston Le Walls.

Aston Le Walls
Aston Le Walls – XC course

The second event of the season for Emma took us to the beautiful grounds of Aston Le Walls. It’s a truly wonderful set up with clearly many new venue ideas and improvements in the pipeline. We did the unaffiliated event which followed the affiliated ones earlier in the week. Shabby had a company this time as his stable friend and a fellow ex-racehorse – Merehead – travelled with him to make his first ever appearance in the eventing world 😉 You might know Merehead from the video I posted not that long ago – Ex-racehorse to Event Horse in progress: 3 months flatwork training Shabby and Merehead   WARM UP & DRESSAGE

Merehead

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Moorhead trying his best to warm up sanely 🙂

The dressage warm up proved overwhelmingly exciting for Merehead who lost his concentration on Emma and focused on trying to release his energy. We deliberated for a moment how to warm him up and decided to allow him to canter early on which we sometimes do at home when he is distracted. This worked to some extent but definitely was not enough for a relaxed dressage test 😉 He stayed within the arena boards (his canter can be massive and we had our doubts!) and certainly impressed the judges with his powerful self but that’s about that. He was entered into this event as an experience and to see if he enjoys it rather than to be competitive in any way so we were very pleased with him either way.

Shabhash

Shabby warmed up very well. It’s taking a long time for him to abandon his acute alertness and replace it with some form of a quiet observation but we’ve been letting him discover a more relaxed way of going at home and he is learning well. Working in a quiet indoor school at home, everything is that much easier than in the open field with many other horses and a pressure he evidently feels. Physically, he is more than capable for the demands of the XC but his carrying power needed for self-carriage in dressage and show jumping brings him down.

Mentally, he has a long way to go too. In the lessons, we focus mostly on building his confidence in the physical capability as well as in the actions of the rider so he can built upon those in a stressful situation. He is a very athletic little horse, nimble and quick with a huge heart. I feel really invested in him and really want him to do well. The more he goes out, the better he copes so hopefully we will have him happier and calmer towards the end of the season.

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Shabby in the warm up. Still not fully confident and losing connection but 100% more relaxed than at Hambleden.

There is also a fair amount of weakness in his work on the left rein; it will be interesting to observe what effect the strengthening and improved symmetry will have on his overall performance.

SHOW JUMPING 

Merehead

Two months ago Merehead jumped sideways at a mere sight of a pole on the ground. Doing his chiropractic exercises which involved walking over a series of poles and stopping in the middle of them was a challenge. Aston was his first ever course in an event atmosphere so that considering he was fabulous 🙂 He warmed up in a fashion in a very busy and hectic surroundings and then jumped everything, fillers and odd colours, with a jolly amount of freshly discovered bravado. Emma credits her cross country trainer – Mark – and his confidence building exercises for Merehead’s jumping attitude. It was a very green round but he went beyond all expectations with one jump down (his canter has very minimal adjustability at the moment).

Shabby

Whilst in the dressage the anxiety and tension translates into lost marks and high scores, in show jumping phase, Shabby is paying a hefty stress price. It’s a concern to me because I like to see him working in a content way. Focused but not to the point of obsession. And Shabby is both stressed and obsessed when it comes to coloured poles. On a positive note, it was a calmer round than Hambleden even though the warm up conditions were everything Shabby could do without being exposed to.

XC

This phase is where I go and grab some food and relax 😉 I love dressage and jumping training but don’t have that much interest in the XC as far as coaching goes. However, I do enjoy watching Emma galloping the boys around 😉 I do observe her approaches, landings and position over the jumps to make sure I can continue improving her riding in our lessons but other than that it’s like going to a cinema and tucking into popcorn! Both boys were fantastic, Merehead flew around looking like he was setting off on a 4* course and Shabby skipped the jumps as per usual. Now, if you are still with me, grab your popcorn and have a look at the action on videos 🙂

MEREHEAD

SHABHASH

POST EVENT REFLECTIONS & Training focus between Aston Le Walls and Rockingham (one week)

There were many positives to this event. Shabby warmed up much better than at Hambleden and his work almost matched his work at home on many occasions. So did Emma’s. The dressage score was high (48.5) which was probably one of the worst he had ever gotten but at the same time, all the comments were very fair and there was nothing mentioned that we don’t work on back home. It’s only his second event and I am sure he will settle the more he runs. The tension costs but if we can get him to work in the arena as he does in the warm up he is more than capable of 6s-7s on his sheet. There is no pressure on him to be what he can’t be but I do want him to find a more comfortable and relaxed way of going and to enjoy cooperating with Emma within the white boards 🙂 Show jumping I have a mixed feeling about. There are several things I want to address in training but I will share more of those in my Rockingham report. He was more “with the rider” this time but still very stressed. XC – I loved watching him in his natural element, he has the confidence there that he lacks in dressage and show-jumping so the mission is to give him that in all phases. Merehead was fabulous. Emma says I help her remain calm when all hell breaks lose with Shabby but I am learning a good lesson myself too. My competition times always meant huge amount of work at home and only showing the horses once they were level above the show level. Watching Merehead counting clouds, hollow and braced doing his dressage test is not something I cherish but probably for the first time in my riding and teaching life I am learning to relax about it, see the events as an experience and a true learning grounds not just as an exam of competency…(I do hope he gets his act together for the next event though :-P) The plan for Merehead is to continue his lessons, do a few local dressage shows now and some xc schooling outings.

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Merehead contemplating whether it is wise to cross the bridge leading to the arenas 😉

Only Shabby is scheduled to go to Rockingham where he will run in BE100 section H. His work plan remains similar but we are increasing demands on bending through his body as well as asking for exercises requiring more self-carriage (shoulder-in, counter canter). We are also keeping a stricter routine of warming up and cooling down for good 10 minutes in a stretchy, long and low trot which Shabby does like when he relaxes. For Emma, I want her to become much more tuned in to any loses of balance in the horse so there is more sitting trot for her, more transition work as well as simple pole work to train her eye for distance and canter rhythm. Until next time! Wiola

How one little ex-racehorse won Olympic gold jumping 1.9m (6ft2in) oxers and 4.60m (15ft) wide water jump…

I came across this footage today and thought I would share a snippet of a story of an amazing little horse that jumped his heart out.

He raced as a 3 year old but wasn’t successful and as a result ended up being passed on to show jumping and eventing. He competed in both until he was given to a Polish show-jumper, Jan Kowalczyk, to ride and specialise in Show – Jumping. He won Olympic Gold and 8 CSIO shows.

He was 16hh...

The video below shows them at Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. Artemor, bred at the famous (mostly for breeding top Arabian horses) Janow Podlaski Stud, was by a Thoroughbred stallion Eros and out of an Anglo Arab mare – Artemiza.

There is a lot being said about cross-country courses and jumps changing drastically over the last 20-30 years but so had show-jumping. The jumps at Olympic Games at the time during top classes were 1.7m (about 5ft6) – 1.9m (6ft2)…the water jump was 15ft wide…In modern Olympics the jumps at Grand Prix are up to 1.6m (5-5ft5) with water jumps being up to 14ft wide.

That little horse had virtually jumped a course of Puissance jumps 😉 The fact the riders wore some soft military berets gives me shivers.

In December 1984, Artemor was diagnosed with Encephalitis and put to sleep.