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!"
H&C's web editor Victoria shares her reflections following the Crabbie's Grand National - a race that always attracts some criticism...
"The Crabbie’s Grand National is a race like no other – and a race that splits opinion like no other. The Aintree spectacle is watched by millions (600 million worldwide, according to estimates), a sporting event that enthrals the nation, an annual occasion that has been part of British sporting history since 1839.
But it’s a race that also attracts fierce criticism, both outwith and within the horse world. Often, it has to be said, the loudest critics are those who pay little attention to racing any other day of the year, apart from the Cheltenham Gold Cup perhaps, another race that dominates the media headlines and therefore comes under similar criticism.
Personally, I like watching all equestrian sports, including racing, but I’m fully aware that not everyone does. My views are along the same sort of lines as those of respected charities like World Horse Welfare, which promotes the ‘responsible use of horses in sport’ and seeks to constantly improve welfare standards throughout the equine industry. I don’t want to see any horses injured or killed in ANY sport, including racing, but I also accept you can’t eradicate risk completely. Horses die every day, out in fields and stables, on hacks, at local shows and at major international events - sad, but true nonetheless.
There are people who think recent safety changes made in racing are dumbing down the sport. At the other end of the scale, there are those who think any sort of horse riding is cruel and humiliating, and that horses should be allowed to roam wild. Everyone has their view point, so where do you draw the line? Ban the Grand National? Jump racing in general? Point-to-pointing? All Flat racing? Eventing? Polo? Showjumping? Endurance? Dressage? Showing? Schooling? Hacking? All horse sports contain some degree of risk, so at what point do you decide whether an equestrian activity is ethically acceptable or not?
What’s so different about the Grand National?
The Grand National is 4miles and 3½ furlongs long, with a total of 30 jumping efforts. The fences are different to traditional birch steeplechase fences – they are bigger, and consist of a plastic core topped with layers of spruce. But it is not the only long distance race in Britain. For example, this weekend's Coral Scottish National and the Midlands Grand National, held in March, are both over 4 miles long. Nor is it the only time the Grand National fences are used in racing. At Aintree’s April meeting, horses in the Topham and Fox Hunters chase will jump over the exact same fences. But with a maximum of 40 runners, it’s the biggest race in the country in terms of field size.
Is it dangerous?
Any horse activity involving galloping and jumping at speed contains a degree of risk, and there have been a number of fatalities in the race in its history. Two horses died in 2011, which led to a number of safety changes being made to improve safety. In 2012, a further two horses died – but one was fatally injured while running loose, and another was brought down, making both accidents very difficult to prevent or predict. The following year, ahead of the 2013 race, a number of other safety changes were made, including moving the start of the race and modifying a number of fences. Since then, in the past three runnings of the Grand National, no horses have been killed in the race. Of course that’s no guarantee there won’t be another fatality in future, but it’s a clear sign that things are moving in the right direction.
What sort of horses take part in the race?
High quality staying chasers, and by that I mean steeplechasers that are used to running over longer distances. They have to be at least seven years old, and have a minimum rating of 120. How do they get this rating? By their past performance in a number of other races. The Grand National is a handicap, which means that the best rated horses carry more weight than the lower rated horses to give the latter a better chance of winning. So by the time the horses reach the Grand National start line, they will have several years of experience of jump racing under their belt. There were 98 entries for this year’s race, of which less than half were allowed to race. This is based on the ratings, meaning only the best of those horses get to line up for the race.
Think of four-star eventing. All of these horses have started at the lower levels and shown the ability to move up the grades in order to gain enough points to compete at the major events. It’s the same with racing.
Why do the horses have to gallop and jump for so long?
Compare racing to athletics. Usain Bolt runs over 100m and 200m – in racing terms he's more like a Flat sprinter, who runs over five furlongs; Grand National runners are more like long distance runner Mo Farah. These latter horses are able to stay long distances, ie they’re blessed with stamina and staying power ahead of pure speed. Obviously, a horse racing in a 2m steeplechase will go faster than one in the 4m+ Grand National, while a horse in a Flat sprint race will be going much faster still. It's horses for courses. In horse sport, for example, a warmblood could go on to excel at dressage, showjumping or eventing – different horses have different skills, strengths and abilities, and the same applies in racing. Grand National horses are asked to gallop over long distances and jump big fences because that's what they're good at.
Why are the horses ‘forced’ to do it?
One of the comments I’ve seen a lot in a few days is that horses don’t have a choice to race. But the concept of ‘choice’ when it comes to horses is incredibly tricky, and could be the subject of many a thesis. Given the choice, my ex-racehorse would probably opt to spend her days doing nothing but eating, sleeping and roaming around the field. Unfortunately, I come along and ‘force’ her to do dressage, jumping, a little low level eventing, hacking and schooling. Would she rather just go out for a straightforward gallop instead, as she did in her racing career? Quite possibly, but how can we truly know?
Some of the best horses in the world in dressage and showjumping, for example, may not love their jobs and choose to do them if they had the ability to make decisions. Even those horses going out for a nice leisurely hack around the countryside may not see you approaching with a saddle and bridle and think, hurrah, exercise! Then there’s other horses who love work, who neigh with delight at the sight of you appearing with your grooming kit and riding hat, who kick their stable doors if they think they might not get taken on the horse box to go to a competition.
In eventing, some horses will shoot off out of the cross-country start box the minute you allow them to; others maybe need a nudge or two with your legs to make them move. Do these horses have a choice of whether to go? Incidentally, I’ve been to hundreds of horse trials and I see no difference in the way a horse generally looks at the start of the cross-country, to the way they look at a start of a race. Both sets of horses tend to be on their toes, ears pricked, alert. They’ve done this before, they know their job, and they’re raring to go. Of course, in a race, there’s the aspect of ‘herd instinct’, when horses will gallop with the others because that’s what comes naturally to them. But then some racehorses become wily – think of Mad Moose, for example – and decide they don’t want to go with the others, and will plant at the start. And it is very hard to persuade a racehorse to race if he really doesn’t want to.
Why do they whip them?
In racing, as in many other equestrian sports, the riders carry whips. The difference is the design – modern racing whips have a long, soft, foam pad, that is designed to make a loud thwack but not cause pain. Not only that, a jockey must adhere to strict rules about use of the whip, including how many times they can hit the horse. Often, when you see the jockey waving the whip, it’s not actually coming into any contact with the horse.
So why do they need to use a whip at all? Well, that could form a whole other lengthy blog. The jockeys ride with short stirrups and can’t use their legs to the same extent as other riders. The whip is used as a back-up aid when jumping. It helps to keep the horses straight so they don’t drift left or right, which could potentially cause accidents. And some horses are more naturally competitive than others. It may not sit comfortably with everyone, but the whip encourages the horse to keep trying, to stay on instead of dropping back, to go for the chance of victory. Again, in this regard, racing is no different to any other top equine sport.
It’s all about the money, isn’t it?
The say there’s one way to become a millionaire in horseracing, and that’s to start with several million in the first place. In jump racing in particular, a tiny, tiny portion of participants are making a significant profit – for many, it is just a very expensive hobby. The Crabbie's Grand National comes with a £1m prize pot, but this is very rare in the sport.
The Grand National is also one of the most gambled upon races in the world, with millions of pounds placed on the race in the UK alone. And yes, many of these ‘casual punters’ who put some money on the race might not care much for the horses involved and might be more interested in their winnings than anything else. But on the other side of the coin, a proportion of money taken by UK bookmakers on horseracing is paid to the Horserace Betting Levy Board. The Levy Board then takes this money and spends it on things like prizemoney, improving racing, research and development. In the past 15 years, a total of £27million has been spent on veterinary research, helping to benefit not just Thoroughbreds but all breeds of horse in Great Britain.
What happens to racehorses after they retire?
Some will go on to second careers, some might go abroad, some go point-to-pointing (amateur racing), some are retired to pasture or will go to stud, and the whereabouts of some racehorses are unknown. Sadly, a proportion of ex-racehorses will go to slaughter or end up in the wrong hands. But this is the case across the whole horse world, and is more prevalent in the thousands of low value indiscriminately bred horses and ponies up and down the country. After the credit crunch in 2008, the racing authorities took steps to reduce the number of Thoroughbreds foals being born, to prevent an oversupply of racehorses. Sadly no such restrictions on breeding exist outwith the racing industry.
In 2000, the charity Retraining of Racehorses was set up to encourage people to rehome ex-racers. There are now more than 10,000 horses registered as being in second careers, in anything from eventing to polo, showing to endurance and nearly every other horse sport in between. Owning and competing a racehorse is now a common and popular option for horse owners, and the opportunities for such horses are growing all the time.
People in racing don’t care about the horses
Would anyone really want to dedicate their lives to racing and horses if they didn’t care at all? A trainer might have a yard full of horses, and a jockey may ride multiple different horses per day, so the likelihood is they can’t develop a deep loving affection for every single one, or have the sort of bond that a one-horse owner might aim for, but that isn’t to say they don’t care. And those stable lads and lasses who look after the horses on a daily basis, who feed them and muck them out, who take them to the races, who lead them in the paddock, who get to know their characters - to suggest they don’t care about the horses would be deeply unfair and inaccurate.
What about this year’s Grand National meeting?
Balthazar King took a heavy fall in this year’s Grand National and is being treated for suspected broken ribs. These require time to heal, but he should make a full recovery. The winner, Many Clouds, looked a very tired horse after the finish line. But he had run a long distance on a warm day, he set a very fast time, and he carried the second-heaviest weight of the day. Within minutes of being taken to the quiet, covered cooling down area he looked brighter, and an hour or so after the race he was towing his handlers round the racecourse, looking full of energy.
However, promising novice hurdler Seedling did have a fatal injury in the first race on Saturday, while the decision was made to put down the popular chaser Balder Succes on Sunday after he was injured during a race two days previously.
So what more can be done to reduce occurences like these? The overall fatality rate in racing has dropped by one-third within the past 20 years. The industry is incredibly thoroughly regulated. Racehorses are among the very best looked-after horses in the country. On course fatalities are meticulously recorded, trends noted, and jumps altered. At Aintree, the recent changes are definitely helping. Jockeys are being encouraged to pull up if their mount has no chance; loose horses are channelled away from the other runners into pens so they can be easily caught; and the immediate after-care of the horses has been radically improved.
It would be a wonderful thing if the people and animals we know and love could be guaranteed a long and happy life, dying peacefully of old age, but this is an impossible dream. All we can do, in racing as in all equestrian sport, is to aim to keep improving and evolving, to strive to reduce risk and to continually monitor the sport, in order to pay back the extraordinary debt we owe to these brave and wonderful horses."
International showjumper Yazmin Pinchen has just returned after seven weeks of competing internationally with rather a lot of horses and dogs...
I am finally home after a long seven weeks away competing!
We started our trip in Vejer for the Spanish Sunshine Tour, bringing with us a total of 10 horses and two dogs! I drove my car down with my mum, it was 1,400 miles altogether and it took us two and a half days. But it was a fun drive, Mum and I saw some lovely places and stopped at a beautiful beach in Biarittz one evening and gave the dogs a run.
When we finally arrived at the huge showground, the sun was shining and there was so many familiar faces. We had fantastic permanent stables with a tack room and feed room. My grooms were happy and so were the horses.
The villa where I was staying was beautiful, right on the beach and just a short drive to the show. I went to ride all the horses and get to know my way around the show. There was eleven different arenas to jump in, some grass and some sand, which is fantastic for the horses. The horses never got bored as they were forever jumping in different rings. The young horses jumped during the week while the older ones jumped over the weekend.
I couldn’t complain one bit about the show, all the horses went incredibly well. The course builders started us off with straightforward tracks, which was perfect for the younger horses and also those jumping for the first time this year on grass. Later came more technical tracks for the Grand Prix horses, and the time allowed became stiffer each week. I was having plenty of clears and places in classes, but it wasn’t till the third week when I got really into it. I came second in the big Grand Prix with Van de Vivaldi. I was absolutely delighted, there were only five clears and two double clears, which were myself and Janika Sprunger. I actually had two time faults in the jump off but I was second to last to go so I had to secure a place by going clear. It was a great line up with four girls in the top places.
On the final week the weather had turned really nasty, we had so much rain suddenly and all the arenas started to flood. The show did everything they could do maintain the arenas but the rain was defeating us. By the Sunday it was outrageous, the main arena was soaked and all the sand arenas had flooded. We had the final Grand Prix with big money that day so everyone was determined to jump. Luckily the show had great course designers and team management to organize the class to continue. Unfortunatly they did have to make the track slightly easier and less technical due to weather conditions, which did mean more clears, but it still provided a good class. I came fifth on Ashkari, we had the second quickest time but I had the last fence down. It was such a shame but I had such a good show I couldn’t complain. I will definitely go back there next year, my young horses came on so much there and my rider Alice Emsley gained a lot of ring experience ready to start her season off.
From Vejer we decided to go to Vilamoura in Portugal for the final two weeks, they had plenty of ranking classes and good weather. By the time we got there the horses were not as fresh as they had been on the last day in Spain! It was probably not our best last minute plan, the show was a nice place but the facilities didn’t quite meet up to the Spanish Sunshine Tour. I found the classes too small and built only for speed horses, which didn’t suit me at all. Having said that, the actual place was lovely, there was a beautiful marina with so many restaurants and bars.
I am back at home now, my horses arrive tomorrow and they will have a good three weeks off in the fields and then do some hacking before we start back at one of my favourite shows, Royal Windsor. This show has been upgraded to a 4* and I absolutely love competing there.
From there I will do some shows in France and hope to take more young horses. I hope everyone has been having many successes wherever you have been competing - hopefully see lots of you at Windsor."
H&C's web editor Victoria reflects on the latest Global Champions Tour leg in glamorous Miami Beach...
"You've got to take your hat off to the organisers of the Longines Global Champions Tour. The series, which was launched in 2006, has grown quickly and now features 15 events across 13 countries. The locations are always stunning, with beautiful backdrops forming the setting for some seriously top class showjumping.
The latest leg to be added to the schedule was on Miami Beach. As in, actually on the beach, with the sea just metres away from the arena. In terms of Global Champions Tour essentials, it ticked all the boxes - scenic surroundings, a glamorous city location, attractive to VIP visitors - but the Miami leg did much more than that.
Anyone who loves horse sport will know that our big events are among the best attended of any in the country. Think of Badminton and Burghley; Hickstead, Olympia and HOYS, all of which attract thousands of spectators each year. But how many of these visitors are total newcomers to the sport? Equestrian fans are a loyal tribe, we follow our sport, we attend our top events - but do we do enough to attract new fans to join us?
The Olympics certainly helped on this front. Demand for tickets - any sort of tickets - was so high, and the buying process so random, that plenty of people ended up with equestrian tickets that probably wouldn't have put horse sport at the top of their wish list. But it gave people a chance to see our best horses and riders in action, it took horse sport to the centre of our capital city, and it got people talking (the gold medals helped, of course). For once equestrianism wasn't on the periphery, for die-hard fans only, an exclusive club that outsiders couldn't begin to understand.
And that's what was so brilliant about the GCT in Miami. Imagine strolling down to the beach to spend the day on a sun lounger, and finding the world number one Scott Brash jumping his horse a few metres away! You could literally see right into the arena from the beach. Not only that, entry to the first three days of the new event was free, on a first-come first-served basis. How brilliant to give those with a passing interest the incentive to watch our sport. To give non-horsey people the chance to see those superb equine athletes up close.
Sadly, I wasn't in Miami - which was particularly galling considering my countryman Scott Brash did so well, with his compatriot Andy Murray playing in the Miami Open tennis final the same weekend. But I've visited there a couple of times and I think it's a fantastic location for showjumping, and another great addition to the GCT calendar.
At least I got to enjoy seeing all the amazing photos from the event (see our gallery below) and I can't wait to watch highlights this Saturday at 9pm on H&C (Sky 253 and via H&C Play, if you want to join me in watching). Sun, sea and showjumping - simply superb for our sport."
Rosie (far right) looking like she's standing still for a moment. Looks can be deceiving though. Image courtesy of Lynn Russell's team.
H&C's web editor Victoria has an educational trip to a showing Masterclass for retrained racehorses...
"Everyone thinks their own horse is beautiful, right? I'm convinced my mare Rosie is just about the prettiest equine to have ever graced this planet – it’s a horse owner’s prerogative. Yes, she’s a big, gangly youngster, she has no spatial awareness, her brakes leave a lot to be desired and she does a wonderful impression of a giraffe at times (usually in the middle of a dressage test). But for sheer angelic-faced prettiness, she’s right up there with the best of them.
In the 18 months I’ve had her, since she came out of training as a Flat racehorse, I’ve occasionally considered taking her to do a showing class so I can have my theory about her prettiness confirmed. Then I quickly come to my senses, usually when I remember the aforementioned points about no brakes and giraffe impressions.
But when I saw the Retraining of Racehorses charity was organising a showing clinic with top producer Lynn Russell on Saturday, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to discover whether she was the equine equivalent of Miss World without endangering myself or everyone around me at an actual horse show.
At this point I’ll add that Rosie is rising six and has done a couple of BE80s and a fair bit of unaffiliated dressage. She shows some promise on the flat (occasional safari animal impressions aside) and she adores jumping. But I did showing as a kid and I think it’s a great education for a horse, not to mention a litmus test for an ex-racehorse. No matter how quiet and sensible they are, some horses will find the whole idea of cantering round an open grass ring with a dozen others far too exciting for words, not to mention the ‘having to stand still in a line-up’ part, coping with crowds and banners and loudspeakers, and so on.
The Masterclass started with an assessment on conformation, trimming and turnout. What struck me straight away was the sheer variety of horses. All of them were Thoroughbred, all had raced - with varying success - but they were all such different shapes and sizes, from the tall, rangy ex-chaser to the compact, chunky little Flat horse, and everything in between. Pretty ones, plainer ones, ones that needed condition, ones that needed the opposite.
We each had to bring out our horses in turn and present them in front of Lynn and the group, then walk and trot up our horses in hand to look at straightness and the activity of the pace. Finally it was my turn to bring my horse forward. “This is Rosie-who-doesn’t-stand-still,” I introduced, as my mare proceeded to fidget and barge instead of standing quietly. Lesson one – some more manners in-hand required.
The feedback was generally good, aside from that she was weaker behind than in front – unsurprising considering she hasn't stopped growing since I got her and now towers over 17hh – and needed to fill out a bit.
As well as assessing the group’s horses, Lynn also showed us a couple of her own winning retrained racehorses. Many of hers come from Ascot sales, and she was quick to point out that she doesn’t go there looking for an ex-racehorse that might show, but for a show horse that happens to be an ex-racehorse. There are loads of different showing series and classes for ex-racers, catering for differing levels, but at the major championships - the Tattersalls/RoR final at Hickstead and the SEIB championship at HOYS - only high quality horses qualify, and many of those are doing well in other classes such as hunters, hacks and riding horses as well as the retrained racehorse classes.
Our group then split into two and the first half rode, so the others could try our hand at judging. We were told what to look for – the quality and activity of the walk, trot and canter, the balance and the overall picture. Even so, the group was divided, with half preferring a bay and the other half opting for the chestnut. This judging lark isn’t as easy as it looks.
Then it was my turn, and after I eventually struggled into my long-forgotten showing gear and tacked up Rosie-who-doesn’t-stand still, and headed down to the arena. And then it started. Four horses in a big open arena = meltdown for Rosie. She drifted, she didn’t listen to my aids, she wanted to stop dead and stare at her surroundings. She wouldn’t go forward or when she did, it was rushed and unsettled. As always, the worse she went, the worse I rode, and vice versa. Cringe.
Eventually she started to settle. “Now this one is starting to look like she knows what she’s doing,” said Lynn to the group, referring to Rosie (or perhaps to me). We moved off into canter, where I just about managed to retain control for a couple of circuits. Whoever says showing was ‘easy’ should try controlling a fit Thoroughbred with attention-deficit problems during a mock go-round.
Somehow, amid all this excitement, Rosie managed to give the impression of having the best canter in her little group – result. Then we were lined up in order, and the mare-who-doesn’t-stand-still lived up to her new nickname. Fidget, fidget, paw, spin, for 20min, while the other four horses stood quietly and looked nonplussed by her antics.
The individual show didn’t get any better and we were moved to the bottom of the line-up in our mock class. It just goes to show, however pretty your horse or however nice it can move when it wants to, it doesn’t much matter in showing if your behaviour leaves a lot to be desired.
Saturday was a sharp reminder that showing is all about appearing effortless while actually requiring a huge amount of skill. It is about harmony, balance, seamless transitions, of doing a lot while appearing to do very little. It’s about having a horse with manners, movement, charisma and good conformation – not necessarily perfect conformation, but the best of all the other horses on that day. It is about having the entire package.
There are dozens of career options open to ex-racehorses, and it's a case of finding the right one for you and your horse. Some Thoroughbreds might take to showing instantly, others will take time. For Rosie and I, we’ll now go back to doing what we’re already doing, dressage, showjumping and low-level eventing, lots of lessons, lots of outings until she settles and matures. In time, when she becomes more established in her second career, I might have another go at showing, but we have a long way to go before we can give that impression of effortless to wow in the show ring."
Ever wondered what it's like to gallop across a frozen lake? Then watch this beautifully-shot film about the Snow Polo World Cup, held each year in St Moritz.
Directed by filmaker Xaver Walser, the short movie called 'Second to None' is a fascinating portrait of the only high-goal tournament to be held on snow. The players talk candidly about their attitude to the sport, their life as polo professionals and their unwillingness to accept defeat, interspersed with stunning slow-motion action footage.
What do you think of the film? Let us know by commenting below.
Yasmin is enjoying jumping in Spain on the Sunshine Tour
Showjumper Yazmin Pitchen is lapping up the sunshine in Spain, while the girls are on great form on International Women’s day, taking the top spots from the boys...
Sorry I haven’t written for such a long time, but things have been hectic. Organising 10 horses to come to the Spanish Sunshine Tour was hard enough, and being here with so many is keeping me very busy.
It’s a fantastic show and I will definitely be coming back next year. It's perfect for all the horses, but especially the young ones. They get to jump in different rings each week, from sand to grass. I have noticed a huge difference in them.
The show is so big so it doesn’t seem crowded and there are plenty of places to ride. They have a brilliant hack here all through the forest. We jump the young horses Tuesday to Thursday and the older horses Friday to Sunday, so when the horses aren't competing I can take them to the forest and relax their minds.
So far we've had an amazing show. It’s our first since Christmas and the horses are fresh and raring to go. My rider Alice Emsley is also out here with us, riding a few of the horses in the smaller classes and winning money each week. She is doing a great job and it really helps to have someone to help out with the riding.
The young horses have been jumping plenty of clears, which I’m really happy with. We always buy our horses young and it's lovely to see them coming through.
Yesterday was a great day for my team and me. I rode Van de Vivaldi in the 1m55 Grand Prix. I was at the very end of the class so I got to watch most of the competition go. There was only one clear after 30 had jumped, so I was starting to worry!
By the time I was up only three had gone clear, and I became the fourth. Then Janika Sprunger, who followed me, was the fifth. I couldn’t believe there were so few clear rounds, but the course builder built a very technical track with a tight time. I was so happy, my stallion jumped amazingly.
Michael Quirk helped me in the jump off and told me just to try and keep the fences up, as I was second last to go. I knew I had to go clear to be either first or second, so the pressure was on!
Janika Sprunger won the class, I was second, Holly Gillot was third and Ellen Whitaker was fifth. That meant three Brits in the line up, which was a fantastic result. It was also brilliant to see four ladies in the line up, particularly as it was International Women’s Day. It was a great result in a sport where men outnumber the women.
I couldn’t be more pleased with my horses and my team are fantastic at supporting me. We have two weeks left here, and I've qualified for the Invitational Grand Prix on the last week, although I've yet to decide who I will jump. Wish us luck!"
The UK Polocrosse team captain Debbie Harris is blogging for us in the run up to the Polocross World Cup. Read her latest update...
"It has been an exciting start to 2015! I have recently moved to a new yard in Gloucestershire where I provide full fitness liveries and coaching, so a lot of my time has been spent setting up and exploring the bridlepaths in the local area. Due to it still being the off-season the playing horses are still wintering out, looking fat and fluffy, but the youngsters are in full swing and all clipped out. I took them to Onley Polo Grounds where we had (a very chilly) training weekend with the World Cup team.
The main things we worked on at the training weekend were team tactics, and discussing the best ways to take on the opposing countries we will face in South Africa this summer. Not only were we practicing on horseback but we had personal fitness sessions working on our physical endurance and core stability as we very rarely have our bums on the saddle in the game of Polocrosse.
I have spent many an evening this winter with a young boy named Jack who has truly got the ‘Polocrosse bug’. Jack and his pony Mel had a great first season last year with support from many of our club players, but he has shown true passion and is always so keen to learn more even progressing onto learning complex tactics. He is now moving on to play my schoolmistress mare Vieri; she has seen me proud through many international test matches and brought on many people to play top level. I couldn’t bear to part with Vieri so it is a perfect match; for Jack to progress and to focus on improving his game, and for Vieri to enjoy an easier pace of life.
I'm now bringing all of the playing horses into work, so the hard work starts now. I am looking forward to the longer nights and it feels like the start of the season is just around the corner.
Look out for my next blog where I’ll be talking about the return of the famous ‘Creamy Mare’, my palomino wonder who won Best Horse of the season in 2014."
H&C presenter Jenny Rudall teaches a variety of clients at different levels. In her latest blog post, she ponders why everyone is so obsessed about their horse going "on the bit"…
"'On the bit'. Probably my least favourite term and definitely the one I hear the most when teaching, usually from people with little understanding of what it actually means.
Now I know I am opening myself up to a deluge of differing opinions on this topic but, from my point of view, I think we put too much stress on this 'magical' term instead of having fun with our horses and truly understanding the basics.
The number of times I have spotted riders merrily sawing away at their horse's mouth with their hands, and I ask them what they are trying to achieve by doing this. Most of the time I get the reply "I am trying to get him/her ‘on the bit’," and at that point, my blood starts to boil.
When I then ask what 'on the bit' means I am often met with silence or a mumbled answer along the lines of "I'm trying to get their head down."
Surely when a child thinks getting a pony to tuck its head in is more important than it going forward and being able to perform basic school movements, there is something wrong? Then when the children are given spurs as said pony now won’t go forward, I get really enraged.
When did riding stop being fun? When I was a kid, I did a bit of flatwork, played gymkhana games then we did a bit of jumping – often without reins or sometimes without saddles. It wasn't until I reached my teens that I started to learn the fundamental basics of working a horse correctly, but at this point I knew my figures of eight from my reverse half-circles, and I'd learned to sit a buck or two.
Obviously some children are set on the path to greatness and competing at a high level while the rest of us are still working out how to tie our own shoelaces, but for the majority of us riding is a hobby - and a hobby should be fun.
It is often the same with adults. We watch other people floating round the arena on their flashy horses and think that’s how we should be going with our own horses. But every horse is different and not all can maintain a Valegro pose. It takes time, knowledge and skill to get a horse working correctly and for him to build up the requisite strength, balance and fitness to maintain this outline. That's why you'll see a very different head and neck position between a horse working at Prelim level and one working at Grand Prix.
Looking for the quick fix, fiddling with the reins or dropping your hands down to your knees is not the way forward. Any good instructor should be able to work with you and help you to develop as a partnership by following the basic scales of training: rhythm, suppleness, connection, impulsion and straightness. Lunge lessons can work wonders, so you can start to understand how a horse feels underneath you when it works correctly, instead of focusing all our attentions on 'fixing' the head end.
Instead of 'pulling' your horse on to the bit, think instead of riding forward, forward, forward, into a secure and consistent contact. When producing a young horse, I don't put too much focus on its head position to begin with, but it has to learn to go forward straight away. And by 'forward' I mean a horse that reacts to the aids and stays in front of the rider's leg.
To me, 'off the leg' is a better concept to obsess over than 'on the bit'.
Think of your horse as being three carriages of a train. The rear engine pushes the middle and front carriages, with you sat on the middle carriage. It's your resonsibility to make the engine work - and you do that by using your legs, and maintaining a balanced seat and connection with the horse.
I spend my life going to top riders' yards (I know I’m lucky) and I promise you they will all say the same thing - get the basics right, and the rest will follow. Most of all, enjoy yourself and always look for positives in every riding session.
Rant over - now get out there and have fun in the sunshine with your ponies – spring is here at last!"
The event is open to anyone over the age of 16, and the riders compete to win a coveted 'Golden Button', with a number of categories within the race, including the first lady and the first veteran rider. The overall winner this year was Dominic Gwyn-Jones and Another Puzzle, while second was William Fox-Grant, one of the riders featured in this video (he rides the chestnut, the aptly-named Ferrari, while Toby Coles is on the grey).