Para rider Erin Orford has been busy with a few international competitions - with Rio Paralympic selection firmly in mind...
"I can’t believe we are already in May – despite what the snowfalls a few weeks ago might suggest! We are recently back from the first international competition of the year with Pimms, and it was a pretty successful one at that. As I’ve been a bit useless (apologies) I’ll bring you up to speed with the year so far.
At the end of January, Nirvana Morroko made his comeback into the arena after I spent last year focusing on Pimms. I’ve been over the moon with his attitude and behaviour, and although we were both a little ring rusty, he’s showing some nice consistency and his percentages have gone up each time out. A totally different type of horse to Pimms, it’s been really good for my riding as they both have totally different strengths and weaknesses.
With Rio getting closer (eek) we have had quite a few talks covering everything from the set-up, the venue, food, accommodation, accreditation – anything you could think about has been thought of. One of the days I attended was for all of the riders on the long list for all of the equestrian teams (Olympic and Paralympic), which was conveniently located at my local gym Bisham Abbey. It was quite a powerful environment to be in with all of us working towards the same goal, whatever discipline and I think it highlighted just how lucky we are as athletes to have all of this support behind us so that we can concentrate on riding.
The two internationals in April (Deauville and Waregem) were to be used as the first phase of selection, and it was decided that the Grade 2s would go to Waregem, Belgium. I hadn’t been to Belgium since 2012 and since then they had changed venue so this was going to be a new competition for me. Last time we went abroad with Pimms things didn’t exactly go to plan and although it was right at the beginning of our journey together and she had performed brilliantly ever since, there was still a lot of pressure for us to prove that had been a one-off.
We have since had a year together and with my trainer Stephen’s help, we’ve grown as a partnership and in the lead up to the competition, I felt quite prepared and was actually looking forward to going away. The journey over isn’t too bad and Pimms arrived with the other squad horses pretty full of herself and raring to go – just how we like her! We had two training days before the competition started, with one chance to ride in the main arena. All GB horses sailed through the trot up but the commentator was a little confused when Pimms was listed as a black gelding, but he had a great sense of humour and received a lot of laughs when he announced that the horse must be transgender!
The venue was lovely, very flat and quite close together, which meant limited walking (always a bonus) and Pimms felt fab in her first walk in the main arena. She has grown so much in confidence and seems to really enjoy the big atmosphere now, which is a great feeling when you’re on top and you feel the trot get bigger but trust that she’ll stay with you.
Pimms got better each day finishing second in the team and the individual behind Paralympic Champion and fellow Brit, Natasha Baker, with 70.9% and 71.5%, before scoring 74.9% in our first debut of our new kur by Equivisions, Julie Geraghty. A huge thanks to Julie who worked incredibly hard to get this ready for us in time despite my constant last minute changes – thank you! It was a great week and lovely to have Pimms’ owner Annie and Jess, who travelled out to see her compete alongside doing a fab job on her hair and make-up! A massive thank you to trainer Stephen who was out there with us along with Mum and the amazing support Team GB support team who travelled out.
I’m really pleased we could show our consistency with three scores over 70% but there’s still plenty of work to do before our KBIS semi-finals at Wellington at the beginning of June. I also have an exciting announcement that I am now a NAF supported rider! Having used their products for a number of years I am delighted to join their team and I’d like to thank them, along with my other sponsors and supporters for joining me on this journey.
Scurry driver Chris Orchard reports on her first outing of this year, and all the fun of the fair!
"After a mad flurry of bathing and clipping ponies, the first outing of the season was upon us in March. It was the wonderful Carriage Driving Fair at Merrist Wood College, Guildford, which was arranged and run with incredible professionalism by Brockham Harness Club. The weather was kind to us, a bit cold but at least a dry day.
The variety of Carriage Driving disciplines demonstrated at the Fair was comprehensive. In the 'Suck it & See' sessions, complete beginners could have a go at Carriage Driving with some top class guidance. Then there were displays from all the driving sports, from scurry driving - featuring myself and some of the other Osborne Scurry Group competitors, including Jeff Osborne himself - through private driving and trade turnouts, and from junior young drivers to the impressive Horse Fours galloping through the obstacles.
The fair also took in some non-driving equestrian displays as well along the way, such as the beautiful Ridden Lusitano display. The attractions even included rides on an original London Horse Drawn Trolley bus, very impressive.
So with all the fun of the fair behind us, on to the first competitive outing of the season at the Southsea Rural and Countryside Show in Portsmouth. The sea breeze must have given my boys a helping hand to a resounding Championship win, a great start to our 2016 Campaign for our HOYS places this year, we're starting as we mean to go on.
We are now looking forward to all the great shows again in 2016, this will be Orchard Scurry Teams 17th year of Competing in Scurry, long may it go on."
Jenny Rudall has been to the press preview at The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials - in her new blog post, she fills us in with some insights from the day….
"Working in the equestrian media industry does have its perks, and the press preview day at Badminton is one of them. Who doesn’t want a sneak preview of the course and a free lunch in a 17th century stately home?
Having failed to make it in the past due to work commitments, I was very much looking forward to having a nose round the house that offers a most spectacular back drop to one of my favourite events in the equestrian calendar.
The house does not fail to live up to expectations, it’s simply jaw dropping and it took every part of my being not to sneak off for a nose round the other rooms to admire all the works of art. We had lunch in the room where Badminton (the racket sport that is) was invented. Not everyone can say they’ve done that. Well I thought it was pretty cool anyway!
Once the initial welcome was done, we were ushered out to the huge Mitsubishis so we could drive to go look at the course. And yep we could drive – four to a car and there was no way I was letting anyone else behind the wheel. Now I not only drove the car, but I also sat next to the MD of Mitsubishi at lunch and I still can’t remember the type of the car I drove. Needless to say it was massive, red and very fun. If it had been a horse I could probably have recited its lineage and competition history to you, but four legs always trump four wheels.
So the course is still as epic as ever and this year it runs the same way round as last year. Course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa said that he prefers the course this way round and wanted to break the tradition of alternating direction. He threw tradition out the window again by putting the Lake at the end of the course rather than in the middle. When asked by one keen reporter if the course looked softer than usual for a four-star track, Giuseppe defended his design by saying it was not as tough as two years ago but was stronger than last year. He also mentioned that it’s the weather that often dictates the course and if the conditions are difficult then only the best will succeed.
Trying to be the hard-hitting journalist that I am, always trying to bring the H&C fans the best insights, I asked Giuseppe what he considers the toughest question on the course. His response – "The question is the course, it’s a package". So there you go, there is no one fence to look out for the whole course should keep you on the edge of your seat.
For me the middle of the course comes thick and fast from the Mirage Pond at 14 to the Outlander Bank at 22, the questions are tough and there are some huge tests for the horses.
For anyone questioning whether the trek up to the Gatehouse New Pond is worth it, well my answer is most definately yes. Not just for the view of the park and the house but to see the horses tackle a birch drop into water, followed by a spread in a pond (now I’ve not seen a spread in water before) and finished off with a corner I could fit my house in.
It seems to me that the competition this year has been left wide open with the retirement of some the equine greats and William Fox-Pitt's withdrawal. Will that make it any less of a Badminton? Of course not, it just makes room for more of our four-legged heroes to shine. Will the unstoppable Michael Jung be able to take the crown? Now he would be a sensible bet but how cool would it be to see Andrew Nicholson lift the crown for the first time with Nereo, after the traumatic year he's had... Now that's a come back I would like to see.
This year the track maybe in the same direction as last year, but Giuseppe has managed to still produce a very different course. I for one can't wait to see how it plays out in a few weeks' time."
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Louise Bell brings us up to speed on her trip to Spain and her busy winter...
"It's been a very long, very busy but very exciting winter!
I have been non-stop with the hunting season as we have lots of clients who keep their horses with us at Sunrising House and hunt. But I have managed to squeeze my teaching and training in between.
I have been working hard with Michael Eilberg, who’s been helping me teach my boys the Grand Prix movements. Both W Get Smart and Into The Blue are naturals, taking on piaffe, passage and one-time changes as if they were born to do it! This is such a blessing as I know not all horses make it to Grand Prix.
My winter plan was to 'Train, Work, Teach’ and to get to Valencia CDI in March 2016 with the boys and take my young horse Zack as a training horse. Zack has a phobia of other horses in collecting rings and this was a good opportunity to help him with that.
I did my first ever middle tour with Into The Blue, and kept W Get Smart (Watson) in the small tour for both weeks as he spent most of his tests doing a levade out of the corners. Extended canter seemed to be a gallop and he acted as if no rider was on him at all. It was so frustrating but I had to take it in my stride and keep calm. My perseverance paid off as he finished third in the small tour final Inter 1 Freestyle and I was over the moon.
Into The Blue finished fifth in the small tour in the first week. In the second week in the middle tour he was a super star and came second and third! He gained 8’s for his piaffe and passage which was amazing. He made a few excitable mistakes at times but I loved every minute.
Zack coped so well with the other horses that I was able to enter the Classica. These are owners' classes at Advanced Medium and he came third, with only 15min to warm up.
The weather wasn’t great but the shopping at Carrefour was fantastic. I made some fabulous meals for us all out there and Michael and I did a BBQ fit for Masterchef!
Michael Eilberg won almost every class, and so he should the guy is a genius. His horses were amazing and it just inspired me to get better which is how it should be. Annabelle Collins and her husband Agusti from Barcelona Horses threw a great party for us one Sunday night. Thank you to them for being such wonderful hosts and great friends.
The trips to Spain may be long but it is totally invaluable experience for these horses and myself as a rider to gain confidence and knowledge of the job in hand.
Now for the rest of the season. I will be busy helping others with their showing getting my clients’ working hunter ponies/horses plus the show horses all ready for the ring and winning. So if anyone needs my help give me a shout. I will also run a few clinics so keep an eye out for those.
Auditions are open now for a brand new reality television show - H&C's Web Editor Victoria has some tips for those who are planning to film their auditions...
If you haven't heard about our new show, the Blue Chip All Star Academy (and if not, where have you been? We've been telling everyone!) then I'll bring you up to speed.
We're looking for a group of riders to appear on the channel in a new series. First, we're holding online auditions, open to everyone 18 or over by the 27 April. Then, we'll be inviting eight riders to attend a training camp (27-30 April), and giving all eight an amazing bundle of kit each, worth more than £1,000.
Our panel of judges will be picking an overall winner and several runners-up, who will then be asked to produce a series of regular video blogs for this website. Training, free products and the best exposure a rider could want - what are you waiting for?!
Anyway, the auditions are already coming in - check them out here. If you're thinking of sending in a video, here are a few tips:
* A microphone really helps when it comes to having clear audio - especially on windy days. You can pick up relatively inexpensive ones for less than £10 on Amazon.
* If you don't have a microphone, try to stand nearer the camera, if possible. If someone is filming you, they should ideally be less than 2m from you.
* Consider the framing of the shot. It could focus on your head and shoulders, or your full body - but try not to cut off the top of your head or your feet.
* Don't use professional music! We can't use it on our website because of licensing, so we won't be able to publish your video if you include songs.
* Check the background - things like bins, signs for toilets or bits of plastic bag stuck in a hedge can look unsightly and distracting. It might not seem much, but it shows attention to detail and will fill us with more confidence for your potential video blogging skills in the future.
* Equally, avoid obvious branding - if you're dressed like a walking billboard, or have a big sign promoting some company in the background, we won't be able to use your video.
* Talk clearly, but don't forget to let your personality really shine through.
* We’re not really looking for riding footage – though it’s fine to have a few shots of you riding if you’d like to showcase your skills in the saddle – but the majority of the audition should be you talking direct to camera.
* You can tell us about your equestrian experience, what makes your horse special, your partnership together or your future goals – or you can simply explain why you’d like to be part of this new show.
* Video edits are fine, when you skip from one clip to another, though try to make them smooth and seamless - a quick fade out and in can really help with this.
* Don't do anything unsafe, like jumping on your horse without wearing a riding hat. Definite no-no!
Anyway, hope that helps - any other questions, click here to visit our Blue Chip All Star Academy website. We can't wait to see your videos."
Showjumper Jay 'Tiger' Halim has spent the winter working on his fitness - amid socialising - but now he's ready for the season to begin!
I hope the start of the year is going great for all of you - all is well here at Shilton Edge Farm. After a three-month break from competing, we are now finally getting going again, with the help of 'Fat Amy', our new full-size horsebox (it has sides that 'pop out' - if you've seen Pitch Perfect 2 you'll get the reference!) At long last I have a six-horse truck, it's only taken God knows how many years!
I've spent the winter training hard and it's been nice working on a few weaknesses on my horses and myself over the last couple of months, as well as bringing on the young horses. But I am more than ready to properly get going competing again - although I have had some okay results so far, I still feel a bit rusty and not quite in the groove yet.
In my break from competing, I have become a equestrian ambassador for Tres Chelsea, a health and wellbeing clinic on Chelsea Bridge in London. They focus on services for riders, from physio through to nutrition, so I'm feeling very well looked after. I'm getting two lots of treatments twice a week, which is great as fitness is something that is really important to me, and I have definitely noticed how much my life has changed since I starting exercising regularly. Now with added guidance I can plan a programme that is tailored to my body and lifestyle, and will help me with those aches and pains we all get as riders (or just general old age!)
Popping into London a couple of times a week has had its downsides, however, as catching up with some old friends is not only proving costly but not helping me from a nutritional perceptive! I suppose as long as I get the right balance it's okay to indulge occasionally, after all life is for living and all about the joie de vivre! I've found a fabulous new countryside haunt too in Soho Farm House in Chipping Norton, so I can't escape temptation even when I'm not in London!
Right time to go, lots to do before the Blue Chip Winter Showjumping Championships at Hartpury this week, and I have a very busy couple of days there. Wish me luck!"