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).
Our blogger Jay Halim keeps getting soaked through, and hopes to find a new investor to help secure the ride on his top horse...
I hope you are all wintering well! It's that time of the year again, that we all want to get thorugh as quickly and as dry as possible. I am definately missing the luxury of having a indoor school! It's a little tiresome changing coats multiple times a day in an attempt to stay dry, and trying to keep my very fit horses concentrating so I don't get fired off! The lack of an indoor is amplified when I go to ride the young dressage horses in a lovely indoor school for the Bechtolsheimer family. No matter how smug I feel on those mornings, I am soon beaten down by the elements when I'm back at my own yard.
I am very much looking forward to the prospect of a new year. My team of horses seem - touch wood - to be in great shape and are feeling good. I have four four-year-olds, which have been backed and turned away, and a few three-year-olds to think about backing soon. It's an exciting time for me to see if I can now produce a nice end product. All of the homebreds seem to be lovely models and have good moment and a great jump. Last year's four-year-old Candy King is looking to show he has potential to be a top event horse. He was piloted by Laura Collet in the Burghley Young Event Horse final and will go on and compete in some British Eventing competitions this year. What the other homebreds will be I am not yet sure but I am hoping I can give them a good start regardless of which discipline will be there eventual forte.
Thanks to the powers of Facebook I am looking to have a very nice team of staff to join my super groom Stacey. We had an overwhelming amount of interested of people wanting to come and work, which was great. This, plus the prospect of some more sponsorship, could well lead to a bigger and better Team Tiger.
Trying to plan shows at this time of year is proving difficult, as there doesn't seem to be much on for my top horses nationally so I am trying to plan some internationals abroad. Lots of riders from this country head out to Spain and Portugal for four or six weeks, which is a good kick start to the year and a great chance to clock up some world ranking points. Sadly I don't think I could be away from my responsibilities at home for that long at the moment. It's now crucial for me to gain world ranking points as it will help to get into the bigger and better internationals. This is why so many of our top riders are going abroad more and more. Last year the UK did host more internationals than before, which is a great step forward for British showjumping, but I am not sure that this is enough to keep up with the rest of Europe.
So my first big challenge for 2015 is to try and find some investors to help keep one of my existing horses on my yard. Abrisco has been with me for little over a year now and has picked up some amazing results during this time, including finishing second in the Grade C final at the Horse of the Year Show, winning at CSI international 2* and 3* shows, placing at a CSI4* and winning numerous national qualifiers. He even jumped clear in his first 1.50m class, which is impressive as he has spent his early life being produced as an event horse. He has plenty of talent and I would really like him to stay in my team of horses.
This year I would like him to continue gaining milage and would like to compete him in shows such as Bolesworth, Hickstead and the Global Champions Tour in London. Not only is he a talented prospect for me he is a horse that I really love, so if anyone out there has some spare pennies please let me know!
Have you ever watched a slow-motion video of a horse jumping? This footage shows eventer Tracy Garside and her gelding Dunauger jumping the famously huge Cottesmore Leap at Burghley.
The footage is being analysed by the Royal Veterinary College's structure and motion laboratory, which is investigating how animals move and how they interact with their physical environment. See how this horse tackles this huge cross-country jump, and find out more about the RVC's research here.
A new campaign is calling for more women to get involved with sport, but horse riders already know the benefits of just doing it...
"Along with the new year comes the usual advice and features on how to be a better you in 2015.
Magazine cover lines scream at us be a thinner, fitter, more fabulous version of ourselves. Such demands can sometimes be motivating, but more often than not they simply set us up for failure.
What if we’re already the ‘best’ be we can be, but that still isn’t good enough?
So it was refreshing to receive news of a campaign aiming to get more women and girls active – whatever their age, shape or ability. ‘This Girl Can’ shakes up preconceptions about girly-girls with tag lines such as ‘sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox’ and ‘I kick balls, deal with it’.
The accompanying video shows women of all sizes, shaking their (sometimes ample) booty. There are wobbly thighs, sweaty cleavages, mascara smudged sweaty faces and cellulite. And lots and lots of women having fun. Frankly I had to sit on my hand to stop myself punching the air in jubilation and shouting 'hell yeah'!
Because contrary to popular belief you don’t need to be a size 12 or less to enjoy moving your body. All you need is the right frame of mind.
But no matter how many women and girls watch this video, most will turn off the computer and turn on the TV. Starting a new exercise regime is always daunting – especially if you don’t conform to a standard size.
According to research by Sport England who developed the campaign, two million fewer 14-40-year-old women regularly play sport than men. They hope ‘This Girl Can’ will change the way women perceive themselves and exercise.
There is one sport that attracts more women than men – and that is riding. According to the British Equestrian Trade Association women make up over 73 percent of the equestrian community.
We already know the joys of moving our bodies, getting out in fresh air and hanging out with like-minded female friends. Horses are a reason to get out of bed in the morning, no matter how much your head hurts.
Whether you are into high-adrenaline equestrian pursuits such as eventing, or you love a gentle plod around the countryside, riding gives you a glow from the inside out.
Because horses aren’t just good for the body, they’re also good for the soul. They don’t judge how we look – which is handy, as it’s hard to look your best when you’ve covered in mud or rosy red in the face after a long gallop.
Whether your jods are feeling a bit tight post Christmas, or you’ve already failed your new year’s resolution to not eat chocolate before 10am they really don’t care. As long as they get food, shelter, love and the occasional carrot, you’ve got a friend for life.
If you’re thinking of getting back in the saddle, but coming up with all the reasons not to – don’t. Watch this video and then watch it again. Be inspired, and take action.
Don’t wait till you lose that half a stone, don’t think you’re not up to the job. Because you are. The truly wonderful thing about equestrian sport is anyone – and I mean anyone – can give it a go. Age, ability and arse-size is no barrier.
Horses don’t see you for what you’re not, just what you are. And that should be sweaty, muddy and proud. This (horsey) girl can."
Steph Croxford plays tribute to the horse that changed her life, Mr President...
"We’re still in shock after receiving news from our vet that Mr P (aka Rimmer) has a heart murmur.
The news came completely out of the blue as he was only having a routine check along with his yearly vaccinations – and he was last examined in September when everything was fine.
I thought the vet was listening a bit too long this time, and then she said he had a heart murmur so loud she could hear it on the opposite side of his chest.
She graded it as a five out of six and said we had to stop riding him. To which I replied, 'But he looks amazing!'. We clipped him last week and he’s been dragging Simon around the moor and me around the arena because he’s so full of energy.
He’d been feeling so well, I’d even been planning to do the Grand Prix at Myerscough to let him have a blast to music. It was only a few days ago we were working on our pirouettes, two-time changes and piaffe and he went so well, it was like he was saying: 'I remember this! This is what we do!'
We could have an ECG to find out exactly how severe the problem is, but as my husband Simon said, he's nearly 22 and has had an amazing career, so what would we achieve by doing this? We both looked at each other and said this is it – it’s time for him to retire.
It’s the right thing to do, but I never thought in a million years it would be his heart that would be the reason.
The farrier happened to be here at the same time, so we took his back shoes off. It was a defining moment as he’s had a full set of shoes for 18 years. I couldn’t face taking them all off, so we’ve left his fronts on for now.
I feel like I've had the rug pulled from under my feet.
Rimmer has gone from being ridden four days a week to nothing, but we’ve got no choice. We’ve had to completely re-assess where we are with the horses. Now Rimmer is the nanny for the babies and Clooney has comes down for more work. So it’s a bit of a shock for him, too!
Rimmer is a total mud monster and having whale of a time, although last night he said, ‘I’m ready to come in now. And we had to say, ‘Oh no you’re not’.
But he’s got a lovely field shelter with a thick bed and George for company and more than three acres to play in.
We’ve said to him, go up there and knock yourself out, if you want to go nuts, its fine! If he’s a complete lunatic and hoons around and gives himself a heart attack, then so be it – we can’t do any more for him.
I know it sounds awful, but now I know he’s got fragile heart, I hope I go in the stable one day and he’s gone, so we don’t have to make the decision ourselves one day. That said, he could go another five years, and he deserves to have some wind down time.
It’s our responsibility to look after him just as well as we did when he was working. He owes us nothing and we owe him everything. We’ve had an incredible journey together. I wouldn’t even be in dressage if it wasn’t for him, I’d still be hacking round the moors!
Only the other day I was going through photos and found pictures of me jumping Rimmer around a cross-country course. I can’t believe I used to jump him! He was just a happy hacker and I never dreamt I’d be doing the World Cup circuit or be on Nations Cup teams.
We’ve learnt together and have come so far. He is so genuine and honest, it was like having Grand Prix horse reincarnated. I just put my legs on and he already knew what to do.
The highlight was at Olympia in 2006 when he made his breakthrough, and then we came third in the Grand Prix at the Nationals. But there have been so many other highs in our career, such as winning in Biarritz and Saumur, and being long listed for the Beijing Olympics - until an injury ended that dream.
There are so many times where we were so close yet so far, but for an amateur and a cart horse you can’t ask for much more.
We used to go into the warm-up with all those amazing horses and you could see people looking at him, thinking ‘who's that pit pony’, because he’s only diddy. But then they saw him move!
He thought he was God’s gift, of course, even though he didn’t have the looks of Valegro! I still remember at Windsor when I was pregnant and Richard Davison, my trainer, rode him for the first time to music.
I’ve never seen Richard look so white in his life – he was holding on by the skin of his teeth! Rimmer just said: ‘I know my job and get out of my face’ and it took a huge amount of trust to do that.
I was always a passenger and never the rider with Rimmer, and he looked after me. I would make mistake and he’d go, ‘I’ll sort it!’
You could put a doll on him and whisper in ear and he would just do it. The credit has always been with him and not me. He’s so honest and sensible and there was no malice in him at all. He was a Grand Prix horse that anyone could get on and ride. He was the bargain horse who became worth his weight in gold."