In Emma Massingale's latest blog post, she goes on a special trip to meet the Skyros Greek Island Horses...
"Checking my emails is one of my first jobs in the morning, catching up with people, sorting work, contacting clients and sponsors, responding to requests and so on. A few months ago I received an email from a lady, also called Emma, asking if I would be interested in teaching in Greece. It was the middle of winter here so naturally my first thoughts were hell yes, sunshine, I am there!
After we had sorted possible dates Emma told me that my trip was to be a surprise gift for a lady called Amanda, arranged by a group of friends and volunteers who had been working at the Skyros Horse Foundation. I had done some unusual things before but this did sound a little more bonkers than normal! I hadn’t ever even heard of a Skyros horse before.
But life is an adventure, so naturally I was happy to jump on a plane. I met Emma and Anna (who had come from Germany) at Athens, and we took the short flight heading east to Skyros. It was clear to see that this place meant so much to the girls as they giggled continuously about Amanda, the Island and, of course, the Skyros horses. Naming all 40 of them, telling me stories about each of them, and about the work Amanda and Stathis (the owners) do.
While we were waiting for our transfer flight the girl’s sent a text to Amanda to check she was okay to pick them up form the airport, only to be told they were currently trying to sort out some fuel as there was none on the island! The girls roared with laughter, before putting my mind at rest saying that Amanda and Stathis could fix anything and it would be no problem. It felt a bit strange, uncomfortable even going through passport control thinking you’re a total stranger’s surprise! I am actually quite shy (with people I don’t know!) so felt pretty terrified.
The girls spotted Amanda and Stathis, and while they dashed over for hugs, I stood back in true reserved English style. Amanda turned straight to me, smiled, and then burst into tears.
We all piled in the van and heading to the farm, I could see how stunning Skyros island was, the weather was fantastic with not a cloud in the sky. Arriving at the farm I met two more of the volunteers, Inga and Elia, who had helped Emma to organise my trip, the girls were clearly all super stoked their plan had come together and we were finally all there, on the farm in Skyros about to work for four days with the Skyrian horses.
Amanda took me to meet the horses - all 40 of them! We went in to one field after another, I was totally fascinated, the horses weren’t like any breed I'd known. I started to wonder where I had been all my life, and how could there be a breed of horse living on a very cool (in the trendy sense) island, that I had never even heard of!
The Skyros horses are small in stature, maybe about 11.2hh high, predominately bay or varying shades of dun. As soon as we went in the fields they were straight over to say hello, to be stroked and fussed over. Amanda told me all their wonderful Greek names and what each one meant. As we were walking into one of the paddocks I realised the horses were all stallions. I love my stallion Marcus (as you all know) but have never had the chance to see a true natural bachelor herd. Herds of young colts are more common to see but these were varying ages and were all working or going to be working stallions.
I asked the obvious question of why have so many horses, and Amanda told me about the breeding, the need to protect and preserve the different bloodlines to ensure the longevity of the breed. In the adjacent stallion field a small fight broke out, Amanda calmly told me how one of the stallions, Orfeas, had covered a mare and that it was still causing friction in the herd. Within a few seconds they were back to swatting flies off each other but it reminded me just how quickly instinct can take over a stallion.
That evening we went into the villiage, passing hundreds of goats and sheep and a few horses. We drank wine, ate olives and I listened to Amanda and Emma talking about the project, the struggle to get hay and how excited they were as there was to be a large hay delivery tomorrow of the result of an appeal they had run to raise funds. I sat there trying to imagine what I would feel like having to get hay from another country, no popping to Mole Valley Farmers or making your own. It was obvious that the financial situation in Greece was very bad, the Island obviously wasn’t rich in money terms but my goodness the inhabitants are passionate and incredibly resourceful. Emma said they don’t have a Vet on the island, which I struggled to comprehend, and then she told me how Amanda and Stathis are called all across the island to help injured horses and other animals. They have clearly learnt to use the land, homeopathy and get by with relentless patience and love for the horses. Emma enthusiastically tells me about how they helped a young horse with a broken leg, I listen almost in disbelief, but sure enough the next morning Georgie, the horse who beat all the odds, trotted over, completely sound.
The first night I lay in bed worrying how I could really be of much help with training, I am not very good at the whole just standing in a arena and saying 'put your hand here or your stick there'. Amanda clearly had a totally natural way with horses so it was just finding a way to make her dream more possible. I felt that Amanda was in a situation I had some empathy for and recognised, when you're working so hard to get all the ‘have to be done jobs’ done that there simply isn’t enough time to train any horses. And with 40 to train, where would you start!
I asked Amanda about her personal dreams, and she told me she loved working at Liberty and the idea of possibly having a team. There was a big festival coming up on the island and she wanted something to start on with that in mind (no pressure then in three days!) I said to Amanda I needed her to think of perhaps a few horses that we could put into categories; I suggested we could have four as a Liberty Team as one group, one stallion perhaps who is running with some mares to work alone, five or six horses that work with the volunteers and children who live on the island, and maybe a gelding for Amanda to look at the more advanced Liberty stuff with.
Amanda chose her horses and then volunteers, and then we set to work, doing some fencing and getting ready for the hay delivery that evening. I was whacking in metal fence stakes with the girls holding and putting all the new wire up. Maybe it seems weird to have horse trainer go over and the first day be fencing and moving horses around, but it gave us all a chance to really get to know each other, by lunchtime it seemed like we had known each other for years! By 9pm we all tired but on a high, feeling excited about being on Skyros togther, then the hay arrived….all 21 tonnes of it! It had been sunny all day but the wind had got up and it had started to rain, the driver of the hay lorry said he only had until 6.30am before in had to be back on the ferry. We all very enthusiastically said we were on it, the driver said we wouldn’t be able to do it, Amanda smiled told him there were three English and three Germans! He gave a warm smile and drove off into the village, and by 4:30am we had done it! It was incredibly hard work, the bales were SO heavy, but none of us were going to leave the others so we pushed on until we literally collapsed in bed.
The next day, the jobs were done and we could now really get on with the horses, I started working with Amanda and the horses, they were amazing, they are naturally very kind and clever, once you teach them they seem to get it, obviously very intelligent but rather refreshingly have this incredibly calm attitude. I was now in my element! A group of the stallions had caught my eye, (all dark brown, almost black) I got this feeling that they could be the Skyros Liberty Team. I started teaching them to work together, I haven’t ever tried with mixed aged stallions who hadn’t done much (some hadn’t done anything at all) but full credit to Stathis and Amanda that the horses were so confident.
They started to get it really quickly. One of the older stallions had done some training already so I handed him to Amanda and taught her how to add another young stallion to work alongside him while I worked with the greener pair. On the first day both pairs started to show real brilliance, I felt so excited, they could park and walk together calmly, at first they would occasionally forget themselves and jump or chew each other (with no intent, just games) but by day two they started to own the tasks. Watching Amanda parking two in the middle and starting to work the others was super cool!
Amanda, Stathis the girls and I all worked with the chosen horses, one day the girls and I took four horses down to train on a local beach. I am not sure who loved it more but I remember thinking what a truly awesome group of young people and horses, and just how lucky I was to receive Emma’s email.
The following morning we let the girls sort the horses at the farm as Stathis and Amanda wanted to show me where the horses come from. We drove up to the mountains which cover about half of the whole island. The views were spectacular; I kept my eyes peeled trying to spot some wild horses. Eventually Stathis spots some down near a watering hole (just like in Africa, minus the lions!) We got as close as we dare in the van before heading over on foot, and saw it was three stallions, they looked well, Amanda said it was a good time of year as there was plenty of food around. I turned into tourist mode and wanted to get closer to take some happy snaps, we all wandered over, within a few minutes the stallions came over, one looked about three years old and the other two were older. They let us scratch their necks, they even pulled funny faces, as we walked of they followed in twos! I did think well they clearly aren’t that wild but as we got in the van another vechicle turned up. A man got out of the van calling come, come, and yet they quickly left at this point!
Back at the farm, we were now on a bit of a roll, the horses were coming along well, I did some work with Orfeas - the stallion who was causing a bit of trouble in the other herd - he was quick to be defensive and perhaps by nature he needed to be. He found a win and I left it at that, they usually come good the next day… Amanda can keep me posted.
My few days were up, we had crammed so much in. I felt so proud of the amazing horses, especially the Stallion Liberty team. I will have to pop back and have another play with them again very soon. Amanda is incredible and an honour to work alongside, she has so much passion, love and drive even in extreme adversity but still manages to smile and keep going. I definitely have met a new lifelong friend. I must say a huge thank you to Emma, Anna, Inga, and Elia for the organising the whole thing, working so incredibly hard and just being super lovely people!"
In this first blog from dressage rider Becky Moody, she explains all about unreliable Frank and her two very different horses...
"Well, as I start writing this - my first ever Horse & Country blog - I am sitting in my wagon on my way to Hartpury for the British Dressage Winter Championships. I am rather nervous, although not for the reasons you might expect... I am not that concerned about my competing - for that I am 'good nervous'. The 'bad nervous' feeling stems from the fact that Frank never gets to Hartpury without misbehaving. Frank is the wagon, and the last three times we have ventured down this particular path he has been VERY BAD INDEED.
Last time my wonder groom/driver Kelly had to get him half way there and all the way home with no low gear box, which considering he is 40ft long, carrying several horses and you live somewhere really hilly is no mean feat. The time before that he got a leak in his steering fluid pipe, and even a very nice man with some very long tools couldn't reach the problem area so he had to come home on the back of a tow truck. So, you get the picture. I am going to temporarily sign off now, while I go calm my nerves with some chocolate. Sorry - I meant fruit. Obviously. Cause I am an athlete, and eat healthily at ALL times.
Right, I'm back home and doing a little sofa surfing. I am pleased to say that Frank behaved very well, however our journey home after finishing competing late in the Gala Night prompted the following Facebook status: 'So Becky and Kelly's bright idea: leave Hartpury at 11.30pm, roads will be quiet, be home by 3am, horses and us tucked up in bed by 3.15am. What we didn't bank on was EVERY FLIPPING ROAD THAT WE NEEDED TO GO ON BEING CLOSED! Number of road closed signs: 10,000. Number of traffic cones passed: 1,000,000. Number of workmen seen: 0, yes - ZERO. Might be home a little before we need to start Sunday's teaching....'
Anyway, after some exceptional map reading by yours truly, we rolled in the gate at 4.15am and the ponies were all put to bed, able to start their recovery after a long weekend.
Now, onto the Winters! I had fully intended to keep updating this blog throughout the weekend, but despite only having two horses competing I seemed to have no free time at all. I had quite a few clients to help, some in the PetPlan Finals, others in the NAF Winter championships, as well as a number of British Dressage committee meetings to attend (surprisingly yawn-free!) and a somewhat traumatising video shoot for my amazing sponsors Childeric. It was only traumatising as I am not that keen on being in front of the camera, unless I am sitting on a horse! I had to compromise and go with standing in front of my horse's stable with his beautiful head hopefully distracting people from looking at me.. It was all worth it though, as my Childeric saddles are heavenly.
Both my horses were superstars, finishing unbeaten in both the Prix St Georges and Inter 1 Freestyle Championships, Carinsio so nearly meeting my 80% target in his first ever Inter 1 with a fantastic 79.25%. I love riding these two horses, who are so so different - Tirsa is a little horse with very correct but not amazing movement who has the heart of a lion (unless she needs to walk over wet concrete and then she is a TOTAL WUSS) and a super sharp brain. You have to squeeze all the marks from the judges that you can, but the point is she lets you, and that is so rewarding as well as educational.
Carinsio on the other hand is such a natural athlete, with huge amounts of scope, but he is very young and still a little sharp at times so you need a different skill set to get the most from him. It's this diversity that makes my life so interesting. Whether its horses or riders that I am coaching, every one is different, and everyone should be open minded in how they think. For the fast majority of us there is still so much to learn, so I really ought to quit with the sofa surfing and go get something done..."
Meet Hazel Towers, a keen event rider who combines working full-time with competing up to international three-star level. In her first blog for H&C, she talks about the difficulties in balancing work, life and horses...
“It’s 10.30pm and I’m sat on my bed trying to keep my eyes open, eat my reheated dinner (as naturally, the rest of my family are in bed asleep already!) and write a blog about balancing full-time working with full-time eventing… What justification could I give, other than that I regularly consider myself bonkers, but I also couldn’t imagine life any other way!
Balancing work and life is something most people struggle with at the best of times, but throwing into the mix eventing three horses up to three-star - with the aim to go four-star in 2016 - does make things a little hectic. I wasn’t planning on this four years ago when I got a couple of cheapish youngsters – I just thought I would see how they went out eventing.
Obviously, like all pony-mad girls, I had dreamed of doing Bramham (our local 'big' event) and Badminton, but dreams are most often just that! As it turned out, last year saw my nine-year-old move up to three-star and my seven-year-old had considerable success at two-star level. Even my mother’s horse, lovingly but accurately referred to as “the goofy one”, is starting to show serious potential too for this level - well, he no longer looks like the love-child of a giraffe and a dinosaur anyway - which has further contributed to me finding myself in this difficult, but fabulous, situation.
I couldn’t possibly sell my babies, but how on earth will I manage, I ask myself regularly - as I am sure most horse owners do. You just have to work really hard to make it work for you. Eventing is not a cheap sport. Most full-time eventers have sponsors and financial backing, but for those less fortunate there is no way to fund it other than to have a full-time job.
I quite like being a frantic amateur – I am always thrilled to be at an event and I am always happy with how my horses perform – because it isn’t “work”, but rather a hobby/passion I totally adore. As finances are always tight with horses, you often have to choose to compete or train, it is rare the luxury of doing both presents itself, and when it does it's often under less-than-perfect conditions. If the professional gets a better mark in the dressage than me, I put this down to the fact that they have probably been training all week under instruction in daylight, not at 8pm on a Tuesday, in the dark, on an empty stomach, with horizontal sleet splatting in their face!
It is fully accepted that you never quite manage to clean all the horse poo out from under your nails in time for work, despite trying tirelessly your scent is only ever “horse”, and three meals a day is something that only happens while at an event!
Last month I had a 4.5hr drive down from Yorkshire to Norwich for Burnham Market International with two horses for the Advanced/Intermediate. I loaded at 4am on Friday morning and got back at midnight on Saturday, but as always it was worth it.
It is tough sometimes, but it’s totally a labour of love, and let’s face it; what else would we all be doing every night and at weekends? Sat watching TV, eating take-aways and getting fat?! It’s all about getting a work/life balance after all, and I’m more than happy at the moment for eventing to be my life.”
I am writing this blog having just got back from a wonderful show in Italy. The 'Riviera Sun Tour' was literally like Disneyland for horses! My horse's stables even had a mucking out trap door that took all the muck to the muck heap - amazing.
Going away to these lovely foreign shows has opened my eyes up to a whole new world, I can see myself competing abroad more and more. I think there needs to be something radical done over here to boost UK shows. I don't envy the owners and organisers of our show centres, who try so hard to run shows for us. But after my trip abroad I have to say that the course building, surfaces, facilities and prize money are generally much better international shows.
All my horses have been fantastic in Italy. One of my proudest moments was my homebred five-year-old Candy King jumping lots of clear rounds including some wins. He was also second in one of the Five Year Old Grands Prix then won it in the final week!
Derby, my up and coming stallion, has stepped up a level, jumping clears in the 1.30m classes and getting placed in two Seven Year Old Grand Prix classes, which was pretty big!
After my recent plea to find share holders to retain the ride on Abrisco, a 'fairy godmother' invested in him for me to keep. I am still in utter shock that this extremely kind person believes in us. We have returned our gratitude by winning two classes as well as two seconds and lots of other places.
Goodmans For Fun, aka Gramps, is still blowing it away and had some great results, especially for a 18-year-old. I am so glad that he feels like the same horse as he did last year, hopefully there is still some milage on his tyres.
Bart has won a few classes and been very unlucky not to have won two World Ranking classes, while VIP paid his show bill with a fourth place in the 1.50m World Ranking Grand Prix on week two. He also placed ninth in the European and Olympic trial on the final week, which I believe has us qualified for the Olympic Games!?
My pupil Connor Moore has also had some great results and even beat me one of the weeks in a very fast class! But I could not be more proud of him.
I had a great time abroad but it's so lovely returning back to England, with everything being so green! You cannot beat British spring time. Over the next few weeks we are expecting our first crop of Derby foals, which I am so excited about. Hopefully by my next blog I will have some pictures for you all to see. Until next time, cubs!"
Steph's daughter Annabelle was chief groom in Holland
Steph Croxford and Mr Hyde compete in their first Grand Prix Special in Holland, but disaster strikes on the way home...
"I’ve decided I need to get fit. So I went out for a run on Monday and just about died. The next day I decided I couldn’t be bothered, and went to go out on my bike instead. I discovered I’ve got flat tyres, so I dug out Simon’s, only to have the pedal fall off. I ended up running with the bike the rest of the way home and balancing on one pedal going down hill. I’m paying the price now and am aching all over.
I might just do what the Dutch and Germans do. After a recent trip to Holland to Joosland CDI, I realised the reason they are so thin is they live on espresso coffee, fags and alcohol. Plus they ride about 26 horses a day. So that’s obviously where I’m going wrong - I’m eating!
It was My Hyde’s first trip overseas and he tried his little heart out. If there was a score for effort he would get 11 out of 10. We only had only one small fluff in his first Grand Prix Special and we’d never even practiced it before. Just a shame the judges didn't know what to do with my carthorse, as marks ranged from 62 to 68 percent.
Richard Davison, my trainer, said Mr Hyde’s piaffe and passage is between an eight and a nine, but we got seven.
He didn’t disgrace himself, though as they were marking really hard. Anders Dahl got 65.7% percent and Nikki Crisp got 66.7 percent, so in the scheme of things our score wasn’t too bad.
Also, we had a lovely holiday with great weather – so I can’t grumble. That was always the plan – to have a nice family holiday and take the horse along.
We had a disaster on the way home though, as we broke down on the M25. We arrived at Calais at 2pm on Saturday and our ferry wasn’t until 5.15pm, so we were stuck there for hours waiting for the ferry.
Then, when we hit junction 22 of the M25 I heard a rattling noise in the middle of the wagon. It got steadily worse, and told Simon we have to pull over – NOW!
He pulled over on the hard shoulder to have a look and said he thought it was the rear axle, so decided to stop at the next service station. But when he went to release the hand brake we heard this expulsion of air. The air breaks were stuck on, which meant we couldn’t release the hand brake.
By now it was 9.30pm and we were stranded. There was freight flying past us, causing the whole wagon to shake – thank god the kids were asleep in the back! We rang the NFU and said we wanted transport NOW and luckily it arrived before the mechanic.
The police were brilliant. They shut down both sides of the M25 so we could get Mr Hyde off one wagon and onto another one safely. He looked at me as if to say: ‘On that one now? Really? Oh, alright mum whatever you say’. By this point he was too knackered to argue.
The kids and I got in too, leaving poor Simon to wait for the mechanic. We got back at 2am but Simon didn’t make it home till 8.30am the next day.
Simon said the rear axle has gone, which is where the horse stands – so in hindsight were pretty lucky.
To add insult to injury the recovery wagon they didn’t jack our lorry up high enough so they ended up trashing all four wheels behind! I’ve got Keysoe coming up, so I’m hoping the lorry will be fixed by then – with four new tyres and a new axle.
We’ll be doing the Grand Prix there. I feel more confident with Clyde now as I know it’s within his capabilities. I’m just going to go and do our best and if they like him, then great, but I can make them like him.
It’s the same when I started out with Mr P. The first few times they didn’t know what to do with him. But then as they got used to him they started judging him against his type, rather than against the flashy warmbloods that came in before him.
At least the other competitors like him! It was so nice at the show in Holland the number of people who came over and said 'we love your horse!' They loved how happy he is and how hard he tries for me.
The same, however, can not be said for Clooney. I took him to first his first unaffiliated competition. There were only 15 in it but the first test was 30 minutes late – so by the time I went in I’d ridden him for nearly an hour. Then, when I trotted around outside arena to start, the judge said ‘sorry we’re on a break’.
I’m afraid the dressage diva in me came out! ‘WHAT?!’ I said. ‘On a break! You’re half an hour late and you want a break?!
When they finally called me back in he did his trot work fine, but tried to gallop out of arena when we started canter. I dragged him back in, and he napped to horses standing at the door and went bolt upright!
At least, as Clooney was waving at the judge, we made my point that my youngster had seriously had enough by that time.
Simon said it was time to go home, but I told we were going back in and doing the Elementary – I wasn’t going to finish like that. This time they were 40 minutes late, but at least I managed to keep him inside the arena – just. It was like ski Sunday with him going in and out of the white boards.
I retired before the end of both tests as I really didn’t want to know the score.
So now I’ve realised we have to get him out once a month – it doesn’t matter where. He’s working to Advanced Medium at home, but all that’s immaterial if he can’t stay within white boards!"
Spring is officially here, and it's time for scurry driver Chris Orchard to get her ponies ready for the season ahead...
Spring has finally sprung at the home of The Orchard Scurry team, and the daffodils are in full bloom; naughty Dylan (Rough from "Rough & Tumble") decided to wedge his head through the fence & give them a good sniff - they smell nice, but it's a good thing they don't taste so nice!
It's time now to start thinking about the Scurry season ahead, the first event is at Southsea on the first bank holliday in May then on to the first HOYS qualifier at the end of May at Surrey County, after which the schedule picks up and the qualifiers come up thick and fast through the summer months.
Getting the ponies back in harness after their winter rest is easier now that the clocks have changed so a quick whizz round the block before tea time is a good option at last. The less fun part of the preparations is getting rid of all that winter mud!
With my team of grey ponies I find the only way to get a good clip is to bath the ponies first, then leave them overnight in a heap of coolers and rugs, then clip them the next morning when they're warm and dry. I try to check the weather forecast to get a nice bright day to clip, but it's all a bit fingers crossed at this time of year. I usually go for a full clip but sometimes leave the legs on if the weather doesn't look so promising and do the rest in a few weeks' time.
So with preparations well under way and the physio for my previous leg injury and arm surgery on track, all I can say is look out 2015 Scurry Season, here we come!"
It's not just me on my own - I've got the lovely Rosie for company
H&C's web editor Victoria is going solo to her first horse trials of the season...
"Things were easier when I was young. My Mum would drive me and my pony wherever we needed to go – summer shows, Pony Club rallies, treasure hunts, gymkhana games. Later, when I got more into dressage, she’d trail me further afield, to larger shows, bigger venues.
I’d sit in the passenger seat en route to these competitions, reading a book, listening to the radio, learning my tests, and Mum did the driving. When we got there, she was in charge of checking the time, brushing boot removing, test calling and playing amateur sports psychologist. I just did the riding – that was the easy part.
Roll on a few (okay, rather a lot) of years, when I’ve moved from Scotland to Surrey. My mum, chief driver, entries secretary and all round organiser, now lives 400 miles away. For a while I was living and working in central London, and I barely rode at all. That all changed in 2009 when I got a new horse, and six months later a little horsebox followed. It was small and unglamorous, but it got me from A-Z. And suddenly, when it came to competing, I was in charge.
To begin with, I wouldn’t dream of going to shows on my own, and always had to find someone to come with me, and preferably do all the driving. Eventually, some months later, I felt brave enough to go to a lesson on my own. But it was stressful - forget riding nerves, I’d get in a total state about simply getting myself and my horse to the right place at the required time, with all our belongings.
I wasn't confident about tying my gelding outside the lorry, after a horse once cantered past him and he pulled back and took himself off for a tour of the dressage arenas. Because of this, I had to create complicated systems to ensure I could get tacked up, unloaded, then on to the horse, and later back off the horse and on to the lorry, with the ramps, partitions and all our equipment in the right place. I found I had to get used to doing things in a strict order, instead of my former aimless manner.
A lesson was just about all I could cope with – there was no way I’d go competing without someone to lend a hand.
Later, after the gelding went off to a new home, my young mare, Rosie (another chestnut ex-racer - it's all I've had for the best part of two decades) started going to shows. She did tie up outside the lorry, so I plucked up the courage to go to a dressage competition on my own. I couldn’t do several tests in long arenas, like I once used to, because I didn’t have a hope of remembering them and I couldn’t guarantee I'd find a willing caller. But I realised I could handle the act of arriving, getting ready, getting on and then loading at the end. I found it wasn’t that different to a lesson.
Then came the first solo combined training competition. My partner works every Saturday and isn’t always willing to give up his Sundays to trail round after me (disgraceful, I know) so I had the choice – be brave, go it alone, or miss out on lots of shows. And I did it! We coped with the dressage, I was able to change tack and get back on for the showjumping, I managed to track down my H&C colleague Jenny Rudall to help me with the practice fences before I went in, and I survived. Hey, I even enjoyed it.
So the point I’m trying to make in this blog? This Saturday, I’m going eventing, and I’m going alone. I’ve made it through combined training, and it’s just one more phase, right? My partner is working, the girls at the same yard as me are off elsewhere, and my horsey friends all have their own equines to ride and compete. Nor do I want to attempt to persuade my non-horsey friends that getting up an at ungodly hour and spending a day in a field is a fun thing to do; and my fellow equestrian journalists already spend their weekends at big events, and hardly want to spend their days off watching me coax my six-year-old round 80cm.
Yes, it's nice to have someone there to chat to, to have a coffee with, to discuss plans or dissect performance, to hold the horse, help navigate and to pass you things from the horsebox once you're on board. But there are some benefits to going alone. I can leave when I like, I can go home as soon as I’m ready. I don’t have to cope with the logistics of having more than my horse to get on and off the lorry. I can go to shows and events that suit me, instead of relying on when other people are free. I can just load my mare on my little lorry and off we go, whenever and wherever we want.
I've met lots of horse owners who are happy to compete on their own, who don't have a big entourage to support them, and I tell myself - if they can do it, so can I. Sometimes I'm lucky and will have someone to come with me to help, but if I don't want to miss out on all the other times, I just have to crack on with it.
I once said I’d never go to a show on my own, and this weekend I’m going eventing. Wish me luck."
What a busy time our blogger Louise Bell has been having - with her first international dressage competition...
Life has been a whirlwind for the past few months, what with training others and being trained myself! My goal and dream of doing my first ever overseas international CDI has been my focus for the past few months and it's finally happened. And did it ever!
I travelled to Barcelona with my young horse Into The Blue, in convoy with my great friend and trainer Michael Eilberg and his family. It was my first time for a lot of things. Driving on to the boat, driving on the wrong side of the road and riding in a different country, representing Great Britain. I can honestly say I loved every single minute - forget 'staycation', it's all about the SHOW-CATION!
I'm pretty sure Geri Eilberg (Michael's mum) and I could be on Masterchef! Each night we cooked up deliciousness that was totally needed, after long days with seven horses in total to organise. Helen and Jo were our fabulous grooms and we did all the riding and hand walking and general duties. Long days, yes, but totally brilliant. The Barcelona dressage tour is run by Topiberian and the great Collins family with Victoria Krausse, and I have never been so welcomed and looked after before, so great credit to them. The horses all travelled well and with our great grooms Jo Jo Marshall and Helen Babington Smith they wanted for nothing.
Michael and Maria dominated the arenas in fine style and I didn't let the side down, even though I am a newbie at this game. I held my own even if my horse let the whole experience go to his head and decided to show the judges how expressive his flying changes could be! He did a lot of squealing in the twos and I found it hard to keep a straight face, but we powered on through. We had three top ten placings, finishing fourth in the CDI4* Inter I - on the same marks as the winner but the collective marks were counted and my changes need to be calmer.
I think with all the attention he was getting out there for being such a character and his unusual colouring made him feel a million dollars but made riding him a little tricky. He will teach me patience that's for sure but what a star of a horse. What an honour it was to go and be a part of something I love doing and hope to get better and better at. My reigning national Working Hunter Champion is now officially an INTERNATIONAL dressage horse! So proud of him. I had to work my butt of to get there but I tell you now nothing is more rewarding!
As soon as I got home it was back to the grind. I had three full day clinics to teach and lunches to make and unfortunately the weather did not help but had a great fun day at my place. My clients had a day of learning and getting ready for the show season ahead but what was great was really getting to know everyone over lunch and everyone enjoying themselves. Horses too! Major thanks to Lizzie Drury from Saracen Horse Feeds, Sam Forrest, Zebra Products, Amerigo, Veredus Products for their goodie bags for clients and making this day a real treat for everyone. We've had great results already from my pupils, one of whom has already qualified for HOYS on their first attempt.
I have been doing a lot with retraining racehorses over the winter months, and I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing both horses and riders changing and improving. I have also been getting my young horses ready for the show and dressage season and cannot wait to get going, although I may be a late starter this season. I'm looking forward to bringing out my lovely Blue Hors Zack youngster into the show ring. He's a jumper too, so why not let him see the world in a few working hunter classes before he starts his dressage career later on in the season. He is a beautiful, beautiful horse and I hope I can do him justice. I'm also hoping that later this year my great 'W Get Smart' will proceed up the levels too. Working on the Grand Prix movements after his winter holiday is our next goal.
It's been a crazy winter and this spring weather is a real treat. Hunters are out early on their hols and the competition horses are enjoying their afternoon sun bathing. Happy horses, and I'm exhausted!"
Jenny jumping Finn at home - no starting with the cross-pole classes for them.
Read Jenny’s latest blog, which is all about finding the right horse for you…
"How do you know when a horse is the right one for you? Can you find the perfect horse when you have a strict budget and an ever-growing list of desirable equine qualities? How many parents have faced the mammoth task of tracking down the perfect pony for their horse-mad child?
And when you've done your searching, your viewings, your travelling around the country in search of your perfect partner, and you finally get your new purchase home - and the quiet, 100% no vices, dream ride suddenly becomes spooky, refuses at fences and dumps you in a heap before kicking up their heels and refusing to be caught - what then?
Is it the job of the seller to be more completely honest with you when you come to try their horse? I would like to say yes, but let's be realistic, no one is going to write in an advert '99.9% perfect except throws in an occasional buck or two.'
Also, it's easy to blame the horse, or the seller, but some times we must take a hard look at ourselves.
For example, say you've bought a horse from a professional. It went like a dream for both them and you when you went to try him or her; and then when it arrives things start going wrong. Could it be because the horse is used to being ridden by someone very skilled and experienced? It the horse confused by your different approach, or does he spot weaknesses in your ridding and take advantage?
Also, what is this obsession people have with buying youngsters? Why oh why, if you are still a relative novice yourself, would it be a good idea to take on a horse so early on in its career?
I have been backing and starting horses for years but when I bought my first horse just a few months ago – you may wish to read my blog about him – I bought an eight-year-old. And oh, the joy of owning an older horse. No starting off in the cross-pole classes, no loading practice, and no worries about doing basic tasks like grooming or clipping.
When I go into a dressage test, my main goal is not just to stay within the boards but to produce the best test we can; and when we're done competing he will happily munch on his hay in the lorry without any fear of him kicking the box to bits. If he has more than two days off I don’t fear for my life the next time I ride, and we can hack for hours on our own with no danger of a complete meltdown. It's bliss.
I appreciate that not all horses get better behaved with age, but generally they will settle as they get older. Not only do they become better behaved but they also become more confident with the rider. A younger horse needs you to be on your A-game all the time and that takes a lot of skill and patience.
I go back to my favourite saying: it is meant to be fun. When looking for your perfect partner a cob can be just as much fun and talented at the grassroots levels as a flashy warmblood. The worst thing you can do is end up buying a horse that's too much for you, so you end up losing your confidence.
Yes, some four- and five-year-olds are quiet and never put a foot wrong, but that can change if you have not got the ability and skill to produce them correctly.
Buying and selling horses will always be a minefield. My advice is to recognise your own riding ability and level of experience, take your time to get the right match, and seek expert help if you need it, both during the buying process and then to help you develop a partnership with your new horse.
Most importantly, find a horse that fits your needs. For many, buying a youngster is the most rewarding challenge of all - but for others, a major challenge isn’t necessarily a good thing."
We're delighted to announce that horse trainer Emma Massingale has joined our team of bloggers. Read her first update to find out about her amazing new challenge in Ireland...
"Hey everyone, it’s super exciting to be blogging for Horse & Country TV!
For those of you that don’t know me, in a nutshell my life is simple, I love adventure, having fun and working with and training these amazing four-legged animals (horses, of course!) I am completely self-taught, from the first horse I ever backed right up to today, some 17 years later! I'd like to say I am most definitely not a part of any weird cults! For example, I shoe my horses that need shoes and don’t shoe the ones that don’t.
It seems such a long time ago, that first horse I backed, I had persuaded this lovely old lady to let me start her horse. I clearly remember getting on him in the field (we didn’t have any arenas then) and I sat there and thought 'Wow, this is awesome’. The adrenaline rush was totally exhilarating - even though I was yet to actually move! There lay the issue, this kind chap had let me climb on (to be honest by this point he was probably thrilled I had stopped faffing about and just got on with it!) I sat there for a few minutes (might have only been 30secs but at 16 years old that felt like a long time!) before I realised I didn’t actually know how to get him to move or understand what I wanted him to do… That was it for me, those jigsaw puzzles that are there for the solving, and from that very moment onwards I realised my total love and fascination for working out how to train horses.
There aren’t any prizes for training horses, you have to just love it, love everything about it. I dabbled with the competition world for a while but to be completely honest, at the moment, it’s not for me. Maybe that will change in the future... Who knows!
Working with horses at Liberty (meaning the horse is completely free with no saddle, bridle or headcollar) has been a big part of my life over the past few years, it fascinates me that you can teach a horse something and then they are so clever that they can do it completely on their own with alarming ease! I made this promise to myself and to all the horses that I have had or have in my life to always try to improve, there is always a better way - it’s just a case of wanting to find it.
Around 18 months ago I brought my Connemara Liberty team, a group of five (now seven) pure-bred Connemaras, with this goal in mind. I want to understand how to be better with horses, not just my Liberty horses, but every horse I have in for training. Starting the Connemaras from scratch taught me a lot, I managed to learn from the mistakes I've made over the years, and now I am so proud of what the team have achieved in just a year and a half.
Whenever I’m doing a demo or filming a commercial I still smile every time I see my team do something cool and think - how on earth do you know that? It would be easy to get complacent; the horses are all going really well, life is great, however there is still so much more to learn and understand.
After buying the Connemara team I became friends on social media with some guys in Connemara. It is impossible not to feel totally inspired by Connemara National Park - it really is one of the world’s most beautiful places. I came up with an idea that means I get to combine my love for adventure with this drive and determination to be better with horses. In June, I am going to spend one month on a 70 acre island off the coast of Connemara. I am going to take four of my Liberty team ponies back with me and also I am going to purchase two more to take to the island with me. The goal is to start these two new Connemaras completely at Liberty, while surviving on the island.
I am taking just rice, flour and cous cous with me to eat and shall go fishing for the rest of my diet! I have no idea if I can actually achieve this; the romantic part in my head says 'oh yes, how lovely it will be' but the reality of having two completely unhandled ponies in a 70 acre island and to be able to back them seems quite a large challenge... I currently ride my team reinless all the time, but the big difference is I started them all, even if it was just for two or three rides, with a bridle and in an enclosure, either an arena or round pen.
I don’t think you would take on this kind of challenge if you weren’t prepared to fail, however as life is a pretty short one time offer I am super excited to have a go and for sure I shall enjoy the challenge!"