Dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer has been spending the short winter days training the youngsters and taking on some new - rather muddy - challenges…
“Now that we are well into winter and the days are getting colder and shorter (groan), the competition season has got quieter for me, particularly as I already have Socs (Tantoni Sir Socrates) and Bracks (Headmore Boadicia) qualified for every class we are aiming them for. This means that it is a fantastic time for training the horses and teaching them new things, which I love! It's what keeps me going through the winter - I'm not good with cold.
I did have one competition, the High Profile show at Bury Farm with Del. It was a very late test; we weren't in the arena until 9.15pm, so I was hoping Del would still be up for it in the dark and cold. He had been a lot more confident at home in the Grand Prix work and I was hoping we could transfer it into the ring. He warmed up well but was a bit nervous at the start of the test, but the hard stuff was much more established. There were also a few rider errors where I'm a bit ring rusty. Nevertheless, we still scored 68% to finish fifth, and when I can ride with more power the scores will rocket!
The following morning I had to motivate myself to run the Grim challenge. This is an eight-and-a-bit mile run around Aldershot army vehicle training grounds through puddles and mud, under nets and over obstacles. My personal trainer (and so-called friend, not sure after the run) had persuaded me to do it. It was incredibly difficult, especially as I'm not a natural runner, but we got round in a time of 1 hour 18 mins. I was pleased as the only time I stopped running was to wade through the waist deep puddles. Gemma is all up for doing it next year but I'm not so sure. I did get a t-shirt for finishing however, but I could be heard complaining that "we had to pay for this s***", but it is something that I can add to my list of achievements!”
Carol Dunster from Cornwall adored her horse Boxer so much that she can't face getting another....
"It's been 10 months since I lost my beloved horse Boxer, and since then plenty of people have asked me if I'll get another. I can't. I promised Boxer I wouldn't, and even the thought of getting another horse makes me feel sick.
He was my horse of a lifetime. He got me through some terrible, dark times, and he taught me never to give up.
Boxer was a rescue horse, who came from what was then the ILPH in Norfolk. Right from the start he was a character. During the first night at his new home with me, he escaped from his stable and took himself out to the paddock.
He certainly wasn't the easiest of horses. I fell off so many times, broke so many bones. I had to have three metal pins in my foot, because of his tendency to trample on me. We even had to have the air ambulance called out to us at one competition.
I'd dreamed being a showjumper, but how could I? We were unable to get round a course, we were always getting eliminated.
But slowly things started to come right.
I started to have more lessons with a top showjumping trainer. We started getting those elusive clear rounds. Soon we were winning all over Devon and Cornwall. People started to recognise Boxer, the rescue horse who was making his mark on the circuit. They loved his big heart and will to win. He just kept on winning, picking up countless rosettes and trophies in unaffiliated and BSJA classes.
When my marriage broke down, I was left on my own to raise our two daughters. If it wasn't for Boxer I don't know if I could have got through it. I cried into his mane so many times, he was my rock.
Boxer and I spent 16 years together, and had so many amazing adventures. Looking back at all of our early struggles and later successes, I honestly wouldn't change a thing.
He was 23 when he passed away back in January, and that was when I swore I'd never get another horse.
Thank you for everything, Boxer. You can never be replaced."
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Showjumper Anna Edwards reflects back on a year of highs and lows, and looks forward to a promising future with her young team of horses...
Well, this year hasn't quite gone to plan - but then how often do life plans go smoothly?!
Having said that, the second half of 2013 has been fabulous for me. I was delighted to qualify both Croklund and Blazer for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). They are both young, up and coming horses, and to qualify for HOYS is very tough. You have to jump four double clear rounds in first rounds, and then second round classes tend to have huge numbers of competitors. Blazer won his second round out of 95 competitors, while Croklund came second in a class with more than 120 horses in it!
Sadly, just five weeks before HOYS, Blazer studded himself. He wasn't quite ready for the show, as he wasn't match fit. This was a big shame, had he been fit he would have stood a good chance, but the show came round just a few weeks too early for him.
Croklund, however, was outstanding. In 2012, Blazer was the highest placed six-year-old in the Newcomers Masters, finishing fifth. This year, Croklund was also the highest placed six-year-old, coming second, so I was thrilled with this back-to-back success. For their age, my young horses are achieving some outstanding results.
I had been worried that the atmosphere might get to Croklund, because he is a quirky horse to say the least, but he surprised me. He has had limited experience with indoor jumping but he rose to the occasion. The last horse I had with this attitude in the big occasion was my Queen Elizabeth II winner Unique IX, so this bodes well for the future. Croklund just missed out on the win by just 0.38sec, so close!
Having done fewer shows this year I have had more opportunity to help younger riders and start working with some new companies.
NAF is just the best company to work with, and the knowledge within the company is so high. I feel my horses are now all on the correct supplements and they are all feeling fantastic, it's all about the small improvements in many areas, when you add it all together great progress is made.
Prestige Italia have just come forward with a sponsorship package. I have ridden in their saddles for the previous five years and I wouldn't use any other brand. I was using their Paris K when I won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and on my winning FEI Nation's Cup performance, so the brand remains dear to my heart.
Another new company I'm working with is Quinton Health. With my horses in top shape, this is something to make me feel better as well! Quinton re-tunes the nutrient balance of your body, leaving you feeling healthier, more focused and with higher energy levels. I suffer with Addison's disease so my body is even more out of sync than most people's, but since being on the Quinton products I have found a big difference, I have even managed a 10km run with obstacles, I wasn't even stiff the next day.
The last company I have teamed up with is Swiss Horse Hair Jewellery. They have made me a beautiful bracelet and necklace using both Croklund and Blazer's tail, which are stunning.
Another great bit of news is I have an exciting new owner joining the team, so watch this space! I am already planning my 2014 season. You will see me return to Arezzo, Italy, where I had great success with Unique in 2010. Blazer will be a year younger than Unique was so I will only start in the middle Grands Prix, but the plan is to enjoy the show and hope for good strong results on all of my horses. Exciting times ahead!
Sorry I have not written in a while, but it is great to be back blogging again.
H&C's web editor Victoria is appalled by reports of unbelievable cruelty in Dublin...
"After a decade of working as an equestrian journalist, I've read and written about some sad and harrowing things in the horse world. Neglect, cruelty, abuse - we seem to be getting more of these types of stories, not less.
I thought there was little left that could truly shock me. But I was wrong.
Yesterday Irish newspapers reported on an act of cruelty so vile, so needless and so heartless that I am truly repulsed. The charred remains of a horse were found in Dublin, a city where many abandoned equines roam free, left to fend for themselves.
The horse had been doused in petrol and set on fire, killed in the most horrifying of circumstances. You can read the full report here - but be warned, it is hugely distressing.
'A number of young people' are thought to be behind the crime, and police are appealing for witnesses.
I can't begin to comprehend the actions of these people. Perhaps they felt that there would be no retribution for a crime committed against an animal. Maybe it was pack mentality, when one person's sick idea becomes a disturbing group reality.
But this wasn't some reckless act, a moment of madness. Getting petrol requires planning and intent.
Every time we post a story about cruelty or neglect, it causes outrage on our social media platforms. Every such story results in some calls for 'an eye for an eye', offensive language and violent threats about what people would do to the perpetrators. We understand the depth of feeling, the upset and disgust felt - but we have to remove the most extreme comments.
I could never bring myself to wish such an end on any human or animal. But I do hope these criminals are caught, and given a prison sentence suitable for someone who has tortured an innocent animal to death. I hope they one day come to realise the true horror of their actions.
I am outraged by what these people have done. I can't imagine the circumstances that have led them to do such a crime. I am saddened for the poor innocent horse, in all likelihood born to a life of neglect and killed in the most terrible way.
I love, own and work with horses every day. I know their kindness, their characters. I understand their incredible ability to trust in humans.
But these criminals must see horses as nothing more than worthless objects, creatures to torment and kill."
Dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer has had a busy few weeks - with a trip to Italy, a successful competition at a famous indoor show, a masterclass under some very watchful eyes, a new puppy and a new sponsor!
“Last time I wrote was just after my holiday to Tenerife. Just as soon as one holiday was over, another came along and I was straight off to Venice with my friend Kerri. We did lots of touristy things like catching a water taxi into St Mark’s Square and visiting the Basilica. We also went on a bike ride to one of the nearby villages to visit Villa Pisani in Stra. We had a very enjoyable ride and the castle was amazing - though when we were walking around the rooms we heard a child screaming, even though there was none around. I'm sure it's haunted! We also tried some wine tasting and shopping, but unfortunately the weather ruined our last couple of days and meant we couldn’t go on a planned boat ride. I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back to Italy.
When I got home I had another quick turnaround as Del (Headmore Delegate) and I had been invited to compete in the Mount St John Future Dressage Elite Championship at Bimingham’s NEC. There was a lot to take in, from scurry ponies and the King’s Troop, to miniature horses in their tiny rugs and bandages. We even saw one competitor straightening her Fell pony's feathers with a pair of hair straighteners! We were drawn second to go and I just wanted to get in the arena and enjoy it. I'd decided I was going to go for it with a difficult Freestyle test and, although Del was nervous, my trusty Nupafeed helped him to stay with me and he answered every question. We were rewarded with 74% to finish a very close second behind Michael Eilberg. I couldn't have been happier with Del.
With the winter now drawing in, it means less competing and more time to train and teach the horses new things. Though I did have a small outing recently when I was asked to be a guinea pig at the List 1 and 2 judges seminar with Del. It was being taken by Stephen Clarke, our most renowned international judge. I was a bit nervous having to go in front of all of our top judges, but didn’t have to ride the entire test, just some of the movements. Stephen gave me some good advice on improving the canter pirouettes and piaffe and passage, and he praised our changes. He was very complimentary about Del, and said he was very exciting for the future.
Kate (my sister) and I also picked up our puppy. As we have moved to a new house, we didn't have any pets with us as Stitch and Hector (the dogs) and Ricky and Spot (the cats) had stayed next door at our parents’ house. Stitch had had a litter of puppies with a very cute Norfolk terrier, so we had decided to get one and opted for 'his first born son'. Charlie is mega cute and looks quite a lot like Stitch. Hector thinks he is fab and plays with him, but Stitch is a bit nervous. I think he didn't want the responsibility, he would rather be an absent father!
Finally, I am pleased to announce that I have a new sponsor. Hampshire Stone is based in Lasham which is not far from us at Headmore. They produce granite and marble work tops for kitchens and bathrooms and they wanted to support a local, up and coming sporting talent, having been inspired by the London Olympics. In their words, they are “proud to recognise all of the hard work that goes Alice puts into achieving her goals and she has proved to be just as passionate as us in pursuance of excellence.” I look forward to working with them, and have my fingers crossed for a lovely new kitchen in the future!"
Gemma on Arctic Soul, who is currently up for sale unless Gemma can put together a syndicate to keep the ride on him
Gemma Tattersall’s eventing season has come to an end for this year, and she's facing the prospect of losing her top horse…
“So it’s the end of the season again and it seems to have flown by, with the usual mixture of highs and lows. I am very lucky to have continued support from a fantastic bunch of owners, sponsors and my team at home without all of whom I would struggle to do anything so a big thank you to all of them.
Highlights of this season for me have been selection for the World Class Elite squad and being part of the winning FEI Nations Cup team. This new eventing series has been a great opportunity for us to get to know other future team members and compete together under pressure, in preparation (hopefully) for championship team selection. I think all of us involved have very much enjoyed being part of it and to win the series and beating the ever dominant Germans was icing on the cake.
Another top moment was coming fourth at Blenheim CCI*** with Arctic Soul. It was confirmation that we are on track as a partnership and it was exhilarating to be the only person in the whole competition to go inside the time cross country. This achievement was, however, tinged with sadness as the current owner of Arctic Soul needs to sell him so I am currently in the process of trying to put together a syndicate in order to keep the ride and hopefully secure my place on the British team. So pass on the word and hopefully someone out there can help me keep the ride on my beautiful boy.
Even though the season is over we are still very busy. I am off to Ireland for the Goresbridge Going for Gold sales with three lovely young horses I produced for Donal Barnwell. Fingers crossed all the hard work throughout the year will result in some good sales and maybe even replicate the success of the previous two years by getting top lot. It is usually a pretty manic week, but always good fun with a great bunch of characters - and as they say, a change is as good as a rest!
Steph wins her biggest class with Mr Hyde, and thinks she may have found her next dressage star...
I did my first Intermediate II with Clyde (Mr Hyde) at Vale View EC in Melton Mowbray – and he won the class, bless him, with a score of 67.72%. He didn’t really make any mistakes and I was in shock when I came out of the arena. It was judged by David Trott, who is a list one judge, so it was great to get a good score from him.
We did the Prix St Georges first, and got about the same mark. David said Clyde's hind leg in canter needs to be more through and under. I think it’s because PSG feels feels easy to him, so I don’t really ride him – I just sit there going ‘la la la’ - but in the Inter II, it was more like ‘oh my god, I’ve got to do all this and I don’t really know what I’m doing!’. Everything happens so much quicker, so I rode him more forward and together. David said the test really suits the horse, as it enables him to stay more engaged.
When we arrived I said to my husband Simon, 'Please let it be in the international arena', but it was in the national one, which means the ‘bogey monsters’ are much closer to the arena! There were plastic chairs and lots of coloured mucking out buckets, which are his nemesis as he thinks they’re going to eat him! There was even a dog bed near the arena – I just thought, ‘please don’t let my changes be towards that!’
He was tense in the corners where the bogey men were, but I got him back quick enough to do all the movements. Luckily he got everything, and we scored eights for the piaffe. Richard Davison, my trainer, always said he has good natural piaffe, but until you put into practice you don’t really know.
I’m so pleased with him, as it was his first outing at that level, and it’s given both of more confidence. So I might do the High Profile show at Bury Farm at the end of the month – although I’ll probably get about 58% now!
When you go out locally you’ve only got one judge, but at the bigger shows there are a group of judges. Because my horses are bit marmite-like, I’m guaranteed to get at least one judge that doesn’t like him, which pulls your marks down. When I went to Hartpury Premier League with Clyde and I thought he’d done really well, but he only got 60.8%. So I’m on the back foot about it all and I’m scared to be too hopeful.
That said, there have been changes to the FEI test and there is more emphasis on the piaffe now when scoring, which suits us as that’s his strong point. I really don’t have to do anything – he gets a good mark for going into and coming out again, and good marks for the actual piaffe as well. But we will wait and see – anything can change between now and then!
Mr P is enjoying his retirement. I rode him yesterday and he was a complete twit – turning into a bucking and broncoing nutcase every time he touched a blade of grass. I’m just going keep him ticking over during the winter and then decide what to do with him. I’m not even going to clip him this year as he hates it, so he’s going to be a woolly mammoth. I’m just going to let him chill – that’s what retirement all about!
I had some lovely news the other day as someone contacted me via Facebook, with photos of him as a baby. I took one look at them and just knew it was Rimmer – and his mum had a massive white face!
They’ve got all his papers as well, which is fantastic as in the 15 years I’ve had him I never knew how he was bred. I didn't really knew how old he was either. He was sold me to as a four-year-old, but the vet said he was three. So I’ll get to find out his real age too. Apparently they’ve got a five-year-old relative of Mr P, who is a chestnut roan, so I can’t wait to see what he looks like.
Speaking of babies, Clooney, our four-year old, has been very naughty recently. I half own him with a friend, Julie Harris, and he’s been testing her out! She hacked him out by himself for the first time and he was a very good boy, but then the farmer moved his cows and Clooney decided he was not going past them. Simon or I would have stayed up there day all if we had to – but she turned him around and brought him back home.
So I frogmarched the pair of them back up to moor and I chased him past the cows with a lunge whip. He set off at a spanking trot and I shouted to Julie: ‘Don’t you dare stop that horse till you’re back in the yard!’
Now Clooney has to lead out on hacks. He doesn’t want to, so we stick Rimmer or Clyde right behind him and every time he stops they nudge him up the backside to get him going again. He only really needs a tap on the bum to get him going forward – we just need to convince Julie that he’s not going to buck!
In the meantime, I think we might have found my next international Grand Prix ride – he’s a donkey with very large ears that Annabel fell in love with on our holiday. We went to Majorca for a week, and he was in the villa next to ours. Annabel would call for him and he'd eeyore very loudly and come galloping over. The only problem was we conditioned him to expect treats, because everytime he saw the kids playing in the pool he stood there calling to them for more carrots!
Coming back to this weather was a bit of a shock – it was in the mid 20s over there and when we drove back from the airport on Saturday it was three degrees! Winter seems to have arrived at last."
"As we all know, horses like nothing better than to get down and roll as soon as they've been groomed or bathed.Well this foal decides to get up to speed on the bath-roll-bath routine in one very busy day! Check out this very cute video about an inquisitive foal."
Recent changes in Jenny's life have made her come to the conclusion that she is extremely, inescapably horsey....
"Have you ever wondered how horsey you are? These days I work with horses, both as a rider and trainer as well as presenting for Horse & Country. But when I was younger, not many of my friends rode, and I did a degree that was nothing to do with horses. In fact, I didn’t really get into them until I was 23, so I started to think I might not be that horsey.
Apparently I was wrong….
My boyfriend has recently moved in with me, so I've had to make room in my house (begrudgingly) for him and his things. Suddenly I realised just how much horse-related stuff there is round my flat. From the eventing photographs in most rooms, to the Terry Kirkwood stallion painting that takes pride of place in my lounge, to the Stubbs print in my bedroom – my house is filled with everything equestrian. When my other half asked to put up some of his sailing pictures and some of his family shots, I was at a loss - which photo of me proudly clearing a fence on a horse that passed away years ago could I possibly take down?
Then there’s the hallway, piled high with clothing and a mountain of Ariat boots. “How many coats and boots do you need?” is the standard holler every time he tries to make room for his one pair of trainers. I have to explain every time - you need several coats in case it rains, then there are the slightly nicer coats to go to events in; there's boots to ride in and warmer boots to be on the yard in… Need I go on?
Next up is the kitchen. Until I met him, I had been using my oven for storage. An early attempt to cook resulted in me fusing the whole house, so it gave me a perfect excuse never to have a face-off with the cooker again. As the boyfriend unpacked his kitchen utensils – I have none - and fought his way round the surplus of Thellwell mugs, he remarked on my lack of ironing board. I'd been hoping the bottles of wine in the fridge might destract him from the lack of typical kitchen things like an ironing board and, errr, food. Clean and tidy I am, domestic goddess I am not. Who irons jodphurs anyway?
Then it comes to my selection of books. I do read a lot and have a varying assortment of literature from the classics to Life of Pi, but I am worried by just how may equestrian books I seem to have collected. Even the bathroom is piled with old horsey mags, and my old BHS books now reside in there permanently. I did umm and ahh for quite a while about how many eventing magazines to throw out, and whether my copy of Celebrity Jumping Exercises could make way for his book on boats?
While writing this blog, I asked my non-horsey other half if I had missed anything out. I regretted this. Apparently his car has never smelt the same since meeting me, from dog hair covering the seats to mud in the footwell. He has a new pair of Hunter wellies in the boot.
He tells me I might as well give up asking him if he likes the jodhpurs I am wearing as he can’t tell the difference from one pair to the next.
I think I have to face it - I am as horsey as they come. But maybe said said boyfriend is coming round to my way of life. I've taught him how to do studs, change rugs and come on foot when I go hunting. There is no getting away from it now.
Thank god he appreciates the fact that if the horses are happy then I am happy. And he seems to still want to live with me, despite the all-pervading horsey smell…"
Show producer Louise Bell finally gets round to sitting her HGV test...
The last two months have been pretty crazy for me and not everything has gone according to 'the plan'!
I had an amazing time at the Espayo National Dressage Championships. Fantastic dressage and fantastic friends there, and what a fab show! Met all sorts of people I know from hunting, showing, jumping and - of course - dressage. The weather was great too and I can't wait for next year.
After meaning to take my HGV test for the past 15 years and never finding the time to do it, I finally did - and I passed! So I am officially a Yorkie Bar Trucker. I am not convinced a tattoo would work for me but I'm more excited that I qualify to have one!
So to finally be able to drive my big truck has been amazing and I got straight to it and drove to Sollihull for a four day Premier Show, to warm up for HOYS. All went well and I thought, if my horses could go as well at Birmingham, I'd be very happy.
But anyone who knows horses knows there are always off days, and they normally arrive when you want them the least. After being great in the collecting ring at HOYS, when jumping under those very white bright lights I found both my horses to be quite wary of all the dressing of the fences - this distracted them and they were not really concentrating on jumping the fences... Which meant rails fell. It was not just my horses - there was only one clear round out of 40 starters, so it was a shame for many of us. But hey ho, that's HOYS - anything can happen!
So it's back to the dressage for now and working towards great things. Bring on next showing season - I will have a couple of new faces to bring out, so I suppose I better start to break one of them in... A homebred I'm most excited about..