Daisy Bunn brings you all the latest behind the scenes gossip from Hickstead...
"Hello, hello, and welcome back to my blog on the second day of international competition at this year’s Longines Royal International Horse Show. A proper scorchio of a day, French-riviera-eat-your-heart-out-stylee, we have a bevvy of happy sponsors, spectators and riders alike, after a beautiful English summer’s day, and some world-class competition to boot.
First though, for those of you who remember the good old days of ‘blog fodder’, and the summary daily sacrifice of one of our incredibly hard-working team members for everyone else’s entertainment! Well, it’s back. Sadly, however, it is I who seems to have fallen prey today. Much to my delight, as I was walking elegantly/desperately focusing on not tripping over in my enormous stilettos as I walked across the International Arena, I realised that the marching band were playing ‘It’s Raining Men’… Not realising that they were T minus 2 from recording a huge showground piece for international television, and were miked up accordingly, I leaned into the play pen (esteemed Olympic course builders Kelvin Bywater & Bob Ellis’ mid-arena home) and hollered “Raining men? I don’t think so! Certainly not at Hickstead, and I’ve been looking hard!” Funny little in-joke with Bob and Kelvin thought I, another most entertaining thing about which to take the mickey out of Daisy thought the several hundred showground and television staff to whom it was transmitted. Super!
But back to the business of the day, and the only chance to watch team GB compete on home turf in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup presented by Longines. As I said yesterday, as one of the last chances to jump as a team before this year’s Europeans, the field really was the crème de la crème, and produced an absolute treat of an afternoon of top-class showjumping. You really couldn’t have scripted it better, as after two rounds of nail biting competition, we did in fact end up with a three-way jump off – not a common occurrence after 60 odd rounds of jumping at such a level.
But despite coming so close, it was the Belgians who lifted the famous Prince of Wales trophy and left the Swiss and the USA languishing in second and third respectively. A testament to the incredibly unique nature of our sport, that can see teenagers competing head to head with those not far from pensionable age, it was great to see some young faces on the podium, including Hickstead first-timer Judy Ann Melchior and Belgian legend Ludo Philippaertes’ 22-year-old son Olivier. Congratulations guys, and here’s to all the exciting talent currently surging up through the ranks of our sport.
And on that note… It is of course my responsibility (tough but someone’s got to do it) that Nations Cup winning Hickstead first-timers (not to mention incredibly good looking young Belgian men) experience the kind of Hickstead winners’ party that we have become famous for, and so to our garden I must fly, for one of my favourite nights of the year – our riders' and officials' BBQ.
Until tomorrow, and our Ladies Day, which reminds me, I really must find a hat"
H&C cannot wait for Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup of Great Britain this afternoon at Hickstead, but - as we all know - the nations cup can all get a little complicated...
So we have put together a simple short preview of today to help clear things up. We hope we have got things straight, but it's tough so bare with us...
Crowds are poised for some edge-of-your-seat showjumping action at Hickstead this afternoon as the Brits fight to continue their Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup winning streak.
Chef D’Equipe Di Lampard has her fingers crossed for a strong performance today at the team’s penultimate chance to score points to win a place at the final in Barcelona.
Brits have been on flying form so far this season, scooping a hat-trick of wins at La Baule, Rome and most recently Rotterdam in June.
But because the team have saved their remaining point-scoring opportunities until the competitions on home turf at Hickstead and at Dublin in August, they are only seventh on the leaderboard and still need to secure a top placing to guarantee a spot in Barcelona.
Fighting for Team GB’s ticket to the final are stalwarts Michael Whitaker, Guy Williams, and Olympic gold-medallist Ben Maher who are joined by rising star Holly Gillott.
The 25-year-old, who is fast becoming a Nations Cup regular, helped the team to victory in La Baule and Rome with her horse of a lifetime Dougie Douglas.
But the Brits will face a top field of international riders, including Penelope Leprevost for France, Laura Kraut for team USA and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum for Germany.
Race to Barcelona
Four other teams (Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany) are also hoping to score vital points today to get to those all-important finals in Barcelona in September.
Teams to watch out for include Belgium and Germany, who lie in fourth and fifth on the leaderboard, and will be hoping for a win at their last point-scoring opportunity of the series.
The riders will face two rounds over a whopping 1.60m track, with each team allowed to drop their worst score.
The team with the fewest combined faults wins – picking up maximum points as well as the coveted Prince of Wales trophy and the lion's share of the €200,000 prize-fund.
Daisy Bunn is back with all the latest behind the scenes gossip from Hickstead...
"So we now officially have an answer tolast night’s musingsabout who might win the Amlin Plus Eventers' Challenge… none other than Kiwi eventing legend Andrew Nicholson. Hoorah, hip hip bravo, what a round, what a winner, and what a class!
It was ‘family day’ in our box, so we were packed to the rafters with godchildren and old friends galore. One of our guests was great friend Harry Wallace, showjumping stalwart Malcolm’s son, a Captain in the King’s Troop for many years. Well everyone was doing very well at being terribly civilised and grown up and sensible until Matt Broome suddenly realised where he’d met Harry before (after which the entire table was so hysterical that all order and sense had been lost completely for the day) and regaled everyone with the following story:
Our fathers being great, great mates, Harry and I hadn’t seen each other since we were tiny until about ten years ago, when we all reconnected at Olympia. Fast forward a month and Harry arrives at my silver-themed birthday party – fresh from the saddle of a point-to-pointer. Always game for a laugh, and finding himself lacking a costume, Harry simply stopped at a Halfords on the way, and via a can of silver spray paint and the skimpiest pair of speedos, arrived as the silver man! Calling his Dad on the way there for directions, having not been here since childhood, Malcolm said simply "Just get to Hickstead, and don’t worry you’ll hear them." Harry duly did just that, and following the noise found himself at the top of the Members' Grandstand… at a corporate Christmas Party where everyone else was wearing black tie! Much pandemonium ensued when several somewhat over excited ladies assumed that the stripper had arrived! Harry was eventually re-diverted to our house and party, but not before an incredibly embarrassing half an hour of making small talk in his tiny silver knickers with lots of fully clothed people.
It was back to serious business though for our new eventing class, and everyone was glued to the action unfolding before us. The new format proved to be a huge success, and it was very interesting talking to victor Andrew Nicholson just now about why he thought it had proved so tricky (there was a flurry of thrills and particularly spills into the lake!) He said his horse was “excellent at jumping fences, it’s just the in between bit we tend to struggle with”, and in fact Andrew had bought him specifically to fast forward his education of crowds and train him out of being a bit 'nervous and lookie’ – I quote! He went on to point out that it really is a unique class, with the new format of staying entirely in the arena, and not what most eventers are used to doing at a normal event, and hence why it had proved so challenging despite the quality of the field (six of 20 didn’t complete the course, with one retirement and five eliminations.)
Even though I hadn’t actually paid him to say this, Andrew pointed out that despite it being a relatively small field of 20, it was a testament to how much the riders enjoyed coming to jump here, as in that 20 were some of the very best eventers in the world; Tim Price, Pippa Funnell, Tina Cook, Elizabeth Power, Laura Collett and Tom McEwen to name just a few amongst them.
Panic not though, the home of British showjumping has not ‘gone all eventy’ as someone remarked earlier, and we had two great wins by Trevor Breen and Michael Whitaker earlier in the day. Rock on tomorrow’s Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup, the only chance to watch Team GB compete on home turf – it promises to be a mega competition as we have some of the strongest teams in years, serving as it does as one of their last competitions before next month’s European Championships. Come on Team GB!"
Daisy Bunn is back with the latest behind the scenes gossip from Hickstead...
"Hello and welcome to the first blog of the Longines Royal International Horse Show. We're nearing the end of our country's summer season, having had a fantastic run of shows with Royal Windsor, Bolesworth, the Equestrian.com Hickstead Derby Meeting and the London leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour under our belt. It's great that the amount of top-level international shows in this country now reflects our riders’ standing on the world stage.
When lucky enough to be on an organising committee of a five-star show like ours, you become well used to your familiar understanding of a working day being thrown entirely out of the window. Your days end up being split into new time chunks – pre-show opening, morning, middle and afternoon of show day, and post show day. Well I’m writing this well into post show-day I’m afraid, which means I'm already late for at least one exhibitor's cocktail party, not to mention all the people staying at the house whose supper will not magic itself onto plates.
After some ribbing last night from reigning Equestrian.com Derby winner Trevor Breen about the ‘simple supper’ I had produced not being quite as elaborate as my normal wannabe-Nigella offerings, he was told in no uncertain terms that he was lucky he was eating pudding with ‘pie’ in the title, because from tonight onwards it is strictly handheld puddings of the cornetto variety, which require no making and even less washing up.
Our first day of competition in the international arena today was full of exciting national championships, and I’m always amazed how many top-flight riders appear on our balcony to watch proceedings. The reason why is because it is one of the most important days of the year for spotting the stars of the future, and if I had a pound for every Wednesday Winner who had gone on to the very top level, both human and equine athletes alike, I wouldn’t be naffing around with hand-held ice creams I can tell you!
Despite the somewhat embarrassing green-screen moment in the presentation earlier when, too overexcited for words, Chelsea Skelton’s mount wouldn’t come within 6ft of the shiny red rosette I was trying to proffer, 18-year-old Chelsea’s win stands out as a real highlight today, after a super round against a serious field.
I must fly, as late has become seriously late since I’ve been sitting here typing, but all eyes are turned to tomorrow’s Amlin Plus Eventers' Challenge. Back by popular demand (and that’s not me pedalling out that over-used phrase) we were genuinely inundated by members of the public demanding the re-instatement of the class after we had discontinued it last year.
Some of our classes, like the Derbies, are wonderfully perpetual, but sometimes change and innovation are essential, and our old Eventing Grand Prix had come to the end of its lifespan. So tomorrow sees an entirely new competition, with a different format, and we are VERY excited. We are lucky that the word Hickstead is synonymous with the very best of the best, and we took the decision to raise the quality of the competition by making it a pure eventing class – the showjumpers will no longer go head to head with the event riders, and the competition will remain entirely in the confines of the International Arena – rather than the horses and riders disappearing up into our garden!
With a field strong in top event horses, our gamble has paid off, and the ante really has been uppped - I for one cannot wait to see who will have been on the winner’s podium by this time tomorrow.
Para-dressage rider Erin Orford has had a hectic few weeks of competition, plus she looks ahead to a sporting challenge with a difference...
"Well…so much has happened in the last few weeks, I’m not entirely sure where to start! I went to the RDA Nationals, I was asked to go on the British Dressage stand and to also present the rosettes and trophies in the prize giving. It is such a fantastic competition and the attendance has grown so much over the last few years, they’ve had to add an extra day to cater for everybody. About 10 years ago I won my first RDA National title, so to be back there presenting the prizes was a strange feeling - but it was great to get the chance to chat to people interested in developing their riding and helping them to realise what other opportunities are out there.
Our trip to Holland didn’t go quite as expected but we managed to finish with two respectable scores, which suggests that the judges like my mare... Always a good start! When you take a new horse in that sort of environment, anything from a change in their routine can affect them and until you try, it is difficult to know how best to manage them in order for them to produce their optimum performance. It was a great learning experience for her and for us and since then we have a made a few simple changes, which have made a huge difference.
Before we knew it, Hickstead Spring Championships were here – it’s a fantastic competition, and tied in with the Premier League it offers a great opportunity to showcase Para Dressage but with so much going on, there is an undeniable atmosphere so it really does test the horses’ concentration. I have had several 'challenging' rides there over the last few years including face planting at X in the Jaap Pot arena and being asked to leave the warm up due to a minor loss of control, so it was refreshing riding without my main objective being to stay in the arena!
Nearly 40 riders had qualified for the Championships so it was great to see full classes with some new combinations coming through. Pimms got better and better over the competition and entering the arena for the Championship test I felt like whatever I asked she offered even more, which for a rider is just an amazing feeling. I had my best Hickstead ever, finishing a close second with scores of more than 70% on both days – that was more like it!
Next stop was Hartpury International, and with both Hickstead and Hartpury acting as final selections for the Europeans, the pressure was on for everybody to perform. I was looking forward to building on the positive experience we had at Hickstead and she raised to the challenge. It was a strong class with the Canadian bronze medallist from WEG last year, and Natasha Baker, the current Paralympic Champion, so I was delighted on Championship day to finish third with 71.2% - the top three were all within 1% and one judge even had us to win on a massive 76%! Each day she grew in confidence and despite the hot weather she finished the week as fresh as she started.
The final day, in the main arena for the music she seemed to grow in the atmosphere, so much so I had to make an impromptu floorplan change when we were way ahead of our music! With the quick change at the end, I was grateful to finish both in time with the music and facing the judges so when I saw the results I was thrilled. It couldn’t have been closer, with two judges having Natasha to win, two having me to win and one judge having us both to win on exactly the same score. We ended second on a personal best of 74.8%, just 0.8% behind Natasha. It was great to have Pimms' owner Annie and her mum along with the rest of her support team come and see her dance and they were thrilled when Pimms was followed down to the hand grazing area for some chill time by the one and only Valegro!
With only five spaces available across 5 grades, the selectors for the European Championships had a tough job as always and massive congratulations to the riders selected – it’s another strong and experienced squad for Team GB and I look forward to seeing the collection of medals that return home with them!
Until then, we have Bishop Burton 3* International in two weeks – another opportunity to gain valuable points for our World Rankings in preparation for Rio selection next year! Sophie Christiansen and I haven’t planned our diaries particularly well though as the following day we take part in a team triathalon for the Para Tri competition at Dorney Lake. I’ll be swapping my breeches for a wetsuit to do the swimming before Sophie takes over for the cycling section. If I’m honest, my approach to swimming is more with a purpose of ‘not drowning’ rather than speed, but I’m looking forward to a different type of challenge even if it is starting to get a little more real!"
Moody Dressage apprentice Bea Burnham in the lecture demo organised by Becky
In dressage rider Becky Moody's new blog, she reflects on a productive lecture demo, and looks back on two fantastic dressage competitions...
"In May, with the help of some amazing volunteers, we ran our first ‘Northern Dressage Extravaganza’ – a charity lecture demo held in aid of various different charities. Although slightly stressful(!), I was really pleased with how it went – I hope it was educating, entertaining and inspiring for all those who braved the coldest EVER day in May to come along.
As with any new venture, there was a certain amount of experimenting in terms of the format. I tried to make things a little different by having a ‘panel’ of experts: myself, my sister Hannah - who as well as being a Grand Prix rider and international coach is also heavily involved as a coach educator; Jo Graham – international judge and Grand Prix rider/coach, and Peter Scholefield – one of the North’s most highly-regarded vets.
All of these fabulous people, as well as my demo riders and a host of volunteers gave their time for nothing, and Askham Bryan College were kind enough to give their great facilities free of charge. Add to that my ‘super sponsors’ (Childeric Saddles, Spillers, Throstle Nest Saddlery, the Swan Hotel, and NCP Carparks) whose very generous donations covered the tiered seating and great sound system, meaning the entirety of our £6,000 ticket sales were able to be split between the charities. And our impromptu raffle raised £600 for the DEC Nepal Appeal. Happy days indeed!
When we have recovered from organising this one, we may start building up to the next one – in a year or 10....
BUT, one of the reasons I brought up this event, was a section that we did about what qualities you look for in a good coach. We had some audience participation, and came up with a pretty good list - good communication skills, knowledge, empathy, honesty, challenging (in a good way), patience, thoughtful, logical, adaptable, persistent, consistent, and so on...
When talking through all these things it made me really conscious that these are very similar things to what you need not only as a coach but also as a rider, after all – you, the rider – are coaching your horse. Maybe something to think about when you are riding by yourself and feel you are getting a bit lost with what you are trying to achieve...
During the past month I have been to two great events that are most certainly going to put dressage even more on the map in the North of England than it already is. Somerford Dressage, the brainchild of Julian Sebire, has always been a brilliant event, but this year, under the new management of Jo Graham and her great team, things were taken to a new level. With an international show planned for 2016 it was really great to see how it is going to develop.
The second event was Bolesworth International, a 4* showjumping event that dipped its toes in the dressage pond with an invitation only Inter 1 freestyle. This show has an amazing atmosphere and setting, and the main arena – almost like an amphitheatre, has its own moat – yes – an actual flippin’ moat. And more relevant is that there is no fence between said moat and the arena.... Luckily the space is so large that the 20x60 dressage arena was positioned nicely in the middle – far enough away for my horse to not notice the water while doing his test! It was only in the prizegiving that I really wished I had packed a pair of armbands..."
Steph Croxford is thrilled with Mr Hyde's performance in the Grand Prix at Hartpury, but disappointed with her score – until she realised they've added it up wrong
Well I’m still doing some running (well, waddling) to work on my fitness, but the bad news is it’s not making much difference! I’m running two to three miles, three times a week – and it’s mostly uphill – but to little avail. I’ll have to chop a leg off before I lose any weight. I’ve also been getting pain in my knee, and it turns out I have a flat right foot. I’ve been to see a podiatrist and my knee does feel better after being pulled around – but you should see the bruises! She said ‘does that hurt?’ and when I said ‘yes’ I assumed she’d stop, but she pulled it even more. I’ve given birth twice and it’s not as bad as this!
Luckily it hasn’t stopped me riding. I took Mr Hyde to Hartpury Premier League to do the Grand Prix, which turned out to be a bit of a hoo-ha. It was the best test we’ve done and I felt really buoyant afterwards (which is very unlike me) as I thought we were finally getting it together. But then we got a disappoint score of around 65.
Carl Hester came over and said ‘I love your horse’, to which I replied, 'well, the judges clearly don’t!’
So we packed up the dogs and the horse and were about to head off home, when Simon suddenly announced my score wasn’t right. My average was lower than our lowest score, which didn’t make sense.
So we parked up the wagon again and went back to the scoreboard where I added up my marks on my phone. And you know what? They had missed out 100 marks! So we went from 11th place to third with a score of 69.5%! Well, that’s more like it!
There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve done the best you can, and that things have gone really well, and then not be rewarded for it. So thank goodness Simon noticed before we left.
I really feel like we are creeping in the right direction.
George has gone to a blood bank, as he was never going to come sound, which meant we needed to get a companion for Rimmer. We decided it may as well be something we want, but we didn’t want to blow a load of money. It’s better the devil you know – so we went back to Ian Smith.
I was doing a dressage-to-music clinic at Bishop Burton and there was a field of youngsters bred by Ian near by, so I went to take a look. It was a huge field and these things were wild, so the closest I got to them was 500m away! All I could do was video them as they trotted and cantered around the field.
We went for a little one who had a softer trot and more cadence, but when he came off the lorry at our place, we wondered what we’d bought. He looks like a 12.2hh Welsh pony! Annabel said, ‘Mummy, is that for me?’.
Ian says he’ll make around 16.1hh and he’s never been wrong before. He’s not even a year old, and they tend to mature late, so we’ll have to see how he turns out. We’ve called him Sherlock and he has a very sweet nature. He was wild when he arrived and within a week we can pick up his feet and brush him all over.
Our other baby Clooney is going well. We made it down centre line in a recent Elementary test and scored 68.9%. We’re currently working on his flying changes, which I can only describe as expressive! I never know if I’m going to be orbited! I come across the short diagonal and he’ll either not change, change through half a stride of trot, execute it perfectly, or do a handstand and I’m up around his ears!
I’m aiming to do Medium with him by the end of the summer and Advanced Medium by the end of the year, which is when I’ll affiliate him.
We’re off to Deauville in France with Mr Hyde to compete in a three-star international show. It’s our summer holiday with the kids, but we just happen to be taking a horse along, too. It’s by the sea in Normandy, so we’re bringing buckets and spades and just hope the weather is okay.
H&C blogger Emma Massingale is back from spending a month on an uninhabited island with just her ponies for company... Read on to find out how she got on.
You might need to get a coffee for this one! It’s been two weeks since I came off the Island with my Connemara team, and I have been putting off writing my blog since it would mean I'd be writing about the most incredible adventure of my life in the past tense instead of being able to look forward to it.
So finally the time came to leave my home in Devon and drive the 22hr trip to Connemara National Park on the West Coast of Ireland. I drove my four Connemaras while my fiance Jeremy took an additional truck and trailer, since I needed to bring my new ponies Evenos and Echo home to Devon after the project ended. I now need to start saving up for a bigger lorry!
We arrived in Clifden in Ireland, and my team had travelled really well - I wondered what they must have thought being back home after 18 months living in the UK. We had an apartment at the station house, which was awesome because my team were just outside in the showground. Naturally the first thing was to go and check up on Evenos and Echo, who I hadn’t seen since I bought them at the sales. I drove over to the field and was pleased to see they looked really well and happy. Evenos was definitely in charge; Echo wanted to come closer but was chased off at every opportunity by Evenos.
After a good night’s sleep the start of the Island Project loomed - well, actually the only thing looming was lots of clouds and heavy rain! The days passed and the weather seemed okay to me, but the skipper of the boat said it was too choppy out at sea. Filming the project definitely adds to the pressure, I felt like everyone was hanging around waiting for me, even though it wasn’t my call. There was no way I was going to put any pressure on the skipper as the ponies' safety was my only concern. It looked like the weather wasn’t playing ball, I had no idea when I was going to be starting my adventure, the film crews left and the plan was they would come back as soon as I heard the boat could make the crossing.
As it turned out this was the best thing that could have happened, I spent the next few days exploring some of Connemaras incredible places. One in particular was so cool, Omey Strand, a tidal island that at low tide has the most enormous stretch of beautiful sandy beach. I took my four team ponies there for a bit of training, which was incredible.
I had planned to let the ponies meet for the first time on the island, so Evenos and Echo came back to the showground while my team went to the field for a leg stretch and some much needed grass. Just to give you an idea, Evenos and Echo aren’t wild, they are unhandled and untrained. When they were in the stables I was trying to muck out around them and I didn’t feel all that safe! They were quite nervous of the skip and tools.
When it was apparent that the island project was going to be delayed for some time I decided I would put all the ponies together for the first time. Evenos and Echo did pretty much exactly as I thought they would, with Evenos bulldozing his way into the middle of the herd and Echo staying well out of trouble, choosing the quiet side entrance instead! Wow, Evenos was a lot more colty that I had first thought, and I suddenly felt a bit worried. If he took over, would my plan have any chance of working?
The weather finally broke and the skipper gave the thumbs up to go. The film crews were back and we were ready. It was an early start, Jeremy and I picked the horses up and drove to Cleggan where the boat was coming in. Now, preparing yourself and four ponies to stand on the deck of a ship isn’t really possible, as there is simply nothing that compares to it! Fortunately, the ship was big enough that Evenos and Echo could stay in the trailer for the trip. I lead the ponies down the slipway and on to the deck. Calypso did her role perfectly and gave the boys confidence, within a few seconds I was sat on the pen holding my four awesome Connemaras as we headed off. It was a tad surreal seeing water all around you and other boats coming past! The trip took about 45 mins, the adrenaline really started to kick in as we got closer. But I knew I needed to keep my emotions well under control and stay super calm so the ponies didn’t worry. Just another day at the office!
The boat managed to pull up on the beach, so Jeremy and I carefully unloaded all the ponies and they made their way up on to the island. After unloading the kit it was time to say goodbye, and without a pony in sight the enormity of the task hit me. I was alone on the island.
The first thing to do was lug my kit up off the beach before the tide came in. Once I had done that I set up camp and started to filter some water that I could boil up to drink. The weather was amazing. I was self-filming the whole project so getting to grips with the camera work, close ups, wides, GVs (general views) and timelapse - the list goes on - did take a while.
There is a wonderful old saying about bolting horses in the UK: "We live on an island, how far can he go!” I suddenly remembered this old joke and started laughing. Just so you can really get an idea of the scale of the project, for a second close your eyes… go on! Imagine you're stood in the middle of a 70 acre field, now add mountain terrain, six Connemaras, two of which you know nothing about, no enclosure of any sort, not a headcollar or any way to hold on to the Connies, oh and now think about having to catch your own food and be totally responsible for your own safety as there isn’t a soul in sight.
Where to start… I first had to find the ponies! I set off up to the highest point, hoping I could spot them. Apart from a few hoof prints there was no sign of them, so I wandered around, exploring as I went. As it turned out the ponies had the same idea, I found them in this sheltered fairly flat spot, they hardly had two seconds to say hi to me before they were off. I followed them as best I could; they were clearly much better suited to the terrain than I was! I lost sight of them but could hear and feel the vibrations as they seemed to be using the spot in which I found them as a kind of bolt hole, they would go and explore an area then get so far before going fairly quickly back to the spot where I found them, they kept doing this so I thought this was going to be the place where I should do my initial training work.
I left the ponies and turned my attention to the food situation. I took with me rice and a flour/yeast mix to make bread. The island has a kind of lagoon area and at low tide I thought this would be a great place to search for some food. As the tide went out I found cockles to eat so my first meal was sorted. My plan before I went onto the island was always to have just one meal a day, splitting the time up seemed a good idea. At home I detest routine but on the island it became a good thing. I would spend the morning on the survival side, gathering food and water; I'd have my meal at about 1.30pm - 2pm before turning my attention to the actual task of trying to back these two ponies.
I did it this way around as it fitted in well with the routine the ponies had made for themselves. I knew I was going to have to work with them on a whole new level. They would now be travelling much greater distances grazing than they would at home, the consequence of this is they then slept a lot more at certain times during the day. I had to time my day fairly precisely around this to make sure I didn’t make them cross with me for ruining their sleep - I am super grumpy if someone tries to wake me up! I decided that roughly between 2pm and 6pm (depending on the weather) was ideal, any later and I would get into their most lively play time, which was from around 6pm onwards. Possibly not the moment to climb aboard!
After a few of days of drinking from a fresh water pool, (I’m not going to lie, the water was yellow and a bit gross!) I found one of the caves on the island had dripping fresh water from the roof that had about a 2m natural filter from the land above. I shot back to my camp and grasped one of my kit barrels; I was now feeling a bit hysterical not only the thought of much fresher water (it of course still had to be boiled before I could drink it) but a bath - OMG a bath! Even after just a few days the dread locks were taking over! It took nearly two days to fill the barrel before I had the task of rolling in out into the sunshine to warm a little, but boy was it worth it! The best bath I have ever had! A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Such a nice feeling to be properly clean. I was now totally LOVING island life.
Before I came to the island I had wondered if I should try backing a horse at home in the school at liberty (without any tack of any sort) but I am so glad I didn’t as over the next month I just learnt more than I ever thought possible. I had a rough idea of where to start. When I say I didn’t have any equipment I did of of course have the best equipment going - my four young trained Connemaras. The bonus was that my newbies understood the other ponies far more than any bridle or headcollar.
My team comprised Nahla (5yrs), Atlantis (5yrs), Comet (4yrs) and Calypso (5yrs) and I chose to bring these ponies each for quite specific jobs. Nahla was to be my chief translator, a super intelligent individual who is wise way beyond his years. Nahla on his own isn’t strong enough (in the mental sense) to mean anything to Evenos, so Atlantis is his right hand man, also a translator and the lead gelding. He had his work cut out with Evenos but Nahla and I had our own personal body guard, as he wasn’t going to be letting Evenos hurt his pal Nahla. I have just the one mare in my team. Calypso holds the herd together, she stops the bachelors from splitting, she also gives them courage, perhaps they don’t want to lose face in front of the lady they all love, as when she is there, they are all a bit braver. Comet is the youngest of the four, it sounds a bit ungrateful but he was there to make up the numbers. But he is so calm and solid, despite being only four, he adds to the weight of a team decision by outnumbering the newbies when they have herd ideas above their station!
One of my biggest worries on the island was that the combination of the new two ponies and them all being 'free' for such a lot of the time I would lose the attention of my trained ponies. With this in mind I decided that Evenos should be in the line-up between Nahla and Atlantis, where I could keep an eye on him. Echo should go on the other side of Nahla, as I knew Comet was very tolerant and again he would have Nahla and Comet on either side of him, which would be good for his confidence.
I didn’t have much choice but to start working with Evenos, as he would simply sabotage anything the other ponies did. Atlantis looked at me with this impression of 'what did you buy him for?' on his face! The others all seemed to roll their eyes at him because he was a relentless pain in the butt, but we couldn’t help but like him!
This blog could go on so I'll have to gloss over all the intricate details of the training, but the full documentary will be out later this year, so you can see for real then.
We were all super happy on the island, our simple lifestyle made us all very calm and relaxed, and we were definitely getting fitter too. Although the ponies could go off all the time, they found time to fit me into their schedule, every morning they would be waiting outside my tent.
Once the newbies Evenos and Echo had their places sorted, things started to go well. Evenos couldn’t get enough of it, I officially had my own island stalker! I had to now turn my attention to the task of getting on them without them wanting to run off. The thing about working at liberty is that you don’t have the luxury of making a mistake, so if I got on and they ran off or bucked, the challenge would be over as I had no way to correct my error. I started to think about how I could achieve this, and the first thing I had remembered was that all my ponies know how to lay down when I asked them to, so I asked them (during a natural nap time). Once they were laying down Evenos and Echo both started to look like wanted to as well, so I simply picked up Evenos' leg and he lay straight down on the floor. I stroked him and then sat on him while he snoozed with the others. This felt like the right kind of energy to be getting on for the first time! By the time I had turned around to ask the same from Echo he was flat out like a pancake! Which meant I had missed my moment with him for the day.
I did this for a few days before then working on actual cues such as stop, go, right and left. I used Nahla for this most of the time and I could soon feel they were getting it. Once Evenos and Echo would both stop with me riding Nahla just from me breathing out, I felt happy to climb aboard, which was thankfully non-eventful as they both just stood there! But none the less the most incredible special feeling I have and probably ever will have with horses.
On the island the weather was my biggest challenge. I joked before I left that in Devon you can get most things done with 'two dry days' - well in the whole month I had about four nice hot days so it was a case of trying to make the most of the time I had. As you can imagine at home you can ride in the rain as with tack the horse doesn’t get to choose whether to be ridden or not, but on the island, when the rain was lashing the ponies would find a sheltered spot and that was that for the rest of the day.
The weather made staying motivated a challenge, one day I went in my tent at about 4pm as I had been soaked all day, this was a big mistake as from 4pm until the following morning is a long time! After this I made myself, regardless of the weather, stay out of my tent until at least 9pm. I would go fishing or go and watch some of nature’s natural entertainment. The crabs as the lagoon filled with water would all come out and start fighting, (velvet crabs are the ones to have your money on... Aggressive little monkeys) or watching and listening to the oyster catchers were hilarious - they chitter chatter non-stop.
After my third week Jeremy was allowed a visiting order so he could help film some of the horse work, I wanted to be able to document it all, but everytime I set the camera up the ponies would either move off or more often than not would go over and knock the camera over!
The Connemaras made me laugh a lot; I would often 'park' my trained ponies in one spot so I could work with either Evenos or Echo. Sometimes it felt like my trained ponies were saying “oh for goodness sake, she wants you to turn right… no, the other right! If you hurry up we can be back grazing in five minutes!” Evenos and Echo seemed to grasp it all really quickly and before long I had right, left, stop and go. I could park them in twos, threes and even ride the newbies with my team ponies alongside.
I couldn’t believe just how quickly the time flew by, never a truer saying than doesn’t time fly when you're having fun! After my month was up I sat waiting for the ferry to collect us, the ponies loaded up, all six on deck this time, it was about 9.30pm at night, the boat headed west into the sunset back to Cleggan, about 15 mins into our journey we had a large pod of Dolphins swimming alongside us. All six Connemaras stood so calmly on deck, not one seemed to think it was odd to have a dolphin popping up next to you! A fairly tale ending to our perfect adventure.
We all had a couple of days rest in Clifden before heading home, the six Connemaras made the trip home perfectly happily and are now all home here with me in Devon.
I have had such an incredible response to the island project and so many kind messages. I even had a message from Monty Roberts saying he was fascinated by the project and would like to come and meet the island ponies and I! I saw a demo Monty did when I was about 14, and while I have always been feisty and independent and never followed anyone’s methods, I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for what trainers like Monty and Pat Parelli have done for the world of horses. I shall really look forward to meeting Monty and chatting over our ideas.
The one thing I have learnt is it is so important to never stop dreaming and always try and improve!
Finally, thank you to my amazing sponsors - without their support this adventure would never have happened: NAF, Mole Valley Farmers, Ariat, Irish Horse Gateway, Horseware, Berghaus, Power Traveller, White Boarders and Denny Diving."
Check out this archive video from 1968, featuring showjumping from the Royal International Horse Show. These days it's held at Hickstead, but back then it was held in Wembley in London. It features footage of some of the day's star combinations, including Marion Coakes and Stroller, the pony sensation.
Scurry driver Chris Orchard goes so fast at Hickstead that her stand-in groom nearly loses his head...
"The things you hear at Hickstead! At the end of June I went to the All England Jumping Course for the famous Derby meeting. My number one fan Woody - the Easibed mascot - told me he fancied a go at scurry grooming, so we met up on the Driving Ground while I was warming up Carriagehouse Insurance "Touch & Go" for the Celebrity Scurry, which is held just before the Equestrian.com Derby.
Woody was thoroughly enjoying the speed and excitement of being a Scurry groom, when he yelled in my ear: "Chris, if we go any faster my head will fall off!" Scurry grooms say some strange things amid the adrenalin rush of galloping at speed, but I've never heard that one before! I ended up laughing so much I was crying.
The Celebrity Scurry was great fun too. Paired with Hickstead director Charlie Bunn, we had a brilliant fast round, hurtling round the fantastic main arena with its perfect ground conditions to finish in fifth place. Charlie is very good at the leaning and I think I may be asking him to stand in if my groom lets me down for any of the competitions this season!
Straight after the Derby we headed off to the Royal Norfolk show, where we won the Scurry Championship with a super fast clear round. Woody says it's all down to the extra training he gave us at Hickstead, I'm not too sure about that though!
Next stop for us now is Kent County Show and I am still chasing my elusive HOYS place, I have been so close at all the shows so far, it must be within reach soon. If you see us please remember to cheer loudly - as the ponies do go faster when they hear you!"