Our blogger Alice Oppenheimer does dressage in a hurricane, trains with Charlotte Dujardin and achieves a personal best...
With the Regionals fast approaching, we were still trying to get Socs (Tantoni Sir Socrates) and Bracks (Headmore Boadicia) out beforehand to get them ready. We went to Wellington to practice the music tests on Mum's birthday, but unfortunately Socs didn't really want to play, and we later found out he had hurt his back. Thankfully Liz from Jenny Hadland and Co came out to fix him the following day, but Wellington was a write off for him.
Bracks however went well and I was disappointed that she didn't get a higher score, but it was still a good run through. With it being Mum's birthday, her best friend Anne had cooked a lovely lemon drizzle cake that we enjoyed in the lorry, and we had a lush meal in the evening, even though we were a bit late after sorting the horses out from the show.
We also had a show planned on the day the hurricane struck and, although we made it there with Socs and Donna (one of the liveries) they cancelled it when we arrived. The judge was very kind however and said that she would still judge the four of us who had got there, so at least Socs and Donna thought they had done a test!
Charlotte Dujardin finally made it down to give me some training, having had to change the date a couple of times. Her other half, Dean, also came down with her this time as he had been promised he could go to the rugby with Anne's husband, Charles. They had a fabulous time even though someone had tried to pick a fight with Charles, but it did give us something to giggle about over dinner.
I had a pretty good time at the Regionals. Bracks was awesome in the Prix St Georges Freestyle, coming second with more than 75%. Annoyingly, due to withdrawals, only the winner qualified but Bracks must be a dead cert for a wildcard with that score. Socs was very nervous as he hadn't had the best preparation with missing shows, but he still managed to finished second in the Medium Freestyle with more than 76%, and third in the Medium Open with 70%, qualifying in both. If he can get those scores with tests that are far from his best then imagine what he can achieve when he is on form! So it looks like I will have both horses going to Hartpury for the Championships.
I also took Del (Headmore Delegate) to Sparsholt for a ride round the Grand Prix as he hadn't competed since Bury Farm at the end of last November and I wanted to take him out before we contest Addington CDI in March. I am thrilled with how much he has come on over the winter and was feeling confident we could aim for a good score. He was very chilled and warmed up well even though he hadn't been out for a while and I was really happy with the test. There were still a few little mistakes but I had so much more power and he felt a lot more confident at the level. We came out with 72.5% which is a personal best for us and with still more to come we are very excited about the coming year."
H&C's web editor Victoria is hoping no one asks her to do a 'neigh nomination'...
"I was massively relieved to escape the dreaded 'nek nomination' - the social media storm that saw people down alcoholic drinks and risk their safety all for the benefit of a video camera and their friends' amusement.
'Neigh nominations', where horse owners pick their horse of a lifetime and pay tribute to them on their Facebook wall, seems a much sweeter and generally safer pastime.
But I'm still praying no one asks me to do it.
You see, picking just one horse or pony from my life would be incredibly difficult.
I haven't had one stand-out superstar. I haven't had one horse who took me to Badminton (dream on) or won thousands of pounds of prizemoney. I've just had a motley collection of equines, ranging in price from freebie to cheap, and each of them has played a very important part of my equestrian life.
There was Jacinta, the naughty first pony, who was bought for me several months before I was born. An angel on the lead-rein and a devil off it, she taught me resilience. Especially the day when I fell off seven times in the space of an hour.
Then came Miranda, the bombproof second pony (yes, I did get it the wrong way round). She taught me patience, built my confidence, and turned her hoof to everything from showjumping, cross-country, Pony Club Games, showing, polo and horse trials. I'm pretty convinced she could do the whole of the Pony Club Dressage Test 1976 with very little input from me, she did it that many times.
Shamein was my next pony. A 14hh part-bred Arab, she had the pretty dished face, high tail carriage and sure-footedness of the breed, with none of the alleged flightiness. She'd win at local level in show hunter ponies, show ponies and part-bred Arab classes, while never being true enough to type to win at county level. Still, she won the riding pony championship three years in a row at my local agricultural show and helped me reach the dizzy heights of a photo in my local newspaper.
From the sublime to the ridiculous - next came Cracker. At eight years old, he'd raced 19 times and broke down in his final steeplechase, requiring 18 months in a field recuperating. When I got him, he only knew how to stand still and gallop (and he wasn't very good at the former). I was a stroppy 15-year-old, straight out of ponies. In short, it was a terrible idea.
These days, I know plenty about ex-racehorses and understand if you take him in a horsebox he'll come out expecting to run in the 3.15, but in the mid-1990s retraining racehorses was far less common than it is now. I took Cracker to a Pony Club rally and couldn't even get on him. Our partnership had not got off to a good start.
Yet within two months he was competing, and he started winning nearly every dressage test we entered. He was doing Elementary within six months. He did Pony Club teams, finishing second in the Area dressage behind someone on the British pony team (thereby curtailing my dream of ever making it to the Pony Club Championships!) Together we qualified for the British Dressage regional championships and the Scottish championships, even though we failed to shine at either final. Cracker cemented a love of chestnut ex-racehorses that remains to this day.
Tricky came years later, after Cracker retired and work had taken me hundreds of miles away to London. Four years old, he'd raced a few times on the Flat and come through the Darley retraining scheme.
While Cracker had been sharp, spooky and highly intelligent, Tricky was laid back and straightforward. He went to his first dressage competition and acted like he'd been doing it all his days. His first forays into jumping - hesitant and ungainly - didn't fill me with much excitement. Four years down the line and he's a very different horse - he loves jumping and he's bold, scopey and athletic. With Tricky, I did my first British Eventing affiliated events, something I'd always dreamed off but never been brave enough to do.
And now there's Rosie, my third chestnut ex-racer. She's just five and is the gentlest, sweetest mare. She's still so green and babyish, and we've only just entered our first competition in a week's time. Will she be my horse of a lifetime? Far too early to tell, and she'd have some pretty tough competition. But there's moments where I sense flashes of potential and I can't wait to discover what she'll enjoy doing and what she might be able to go on to do.
I'd hate to pick just one of my horses. They may not be superstars, but they're all incredibly special to me. Through them I've learned so much and sampled so many different disciplines, and that's been so important to me in my career as an equestrian journalist. I've enjoyed reading other people's 'neigh nominations', but picking my favourite horse? Neigh, thanks."
In his first blog for Horse & Country, Michael Scudamore looks forward to a very important week in the racing calendar...
"I write my first blog at a very important and exciting time in racing, the Chltenham Festival is now less than a week away. This covers four days of the best and most intense racing the sport has to offer. It’s a very important time for owners, trainers and jockeys whose whole seasons can depend on these four days.
For my yard, it is a busy and fun week. I try to go every day as it is nice to meet up with existing owners and hopefully be introduced to a few new ones. The yard is about half an hour drive from the course, so we are often busy with friends coming to stay and owners coming to see their horses exercise before heading off to what will hopefully be a profitable day at the races.
This year we are hoping to have one runner - a horse called Next Sensation. He has won three of his last four starts and unseated the jockey (my brother Tom!) in his other. He is currently second in the betting and therefore goes there with a good chance.
For a relatively small yard like ours, it would be such a good advertisement and thrill, to have a horse run well at such a big meeting. At the moment we are just doing his final few bits of work, making sure he is fit, and fresh enough to hopefully put up his best performance to date. It’s a nervous time counting down the days, watching him closely in all his work, taking blood tests and tracheal washes to make sure everything is 100% for the big day. The plan will be to run on Friday 14 March, which is Gold Cup day.
Elsewhere in the yard we have had a quiet period of the last month or so with lots of frustrating abandonments due to wet weather. Last week however saw a bit of a turn around and we were able to have a few runners again, with Christopher Chua finishing a close second at Kempton on the 27 February being the best of these.
Thank you for reading my first blog! Have fun at the Festival , if you are going, and wish us luck..."
Yazmin confesses to loving a bit of bling on her riding hat
Yazmin has been pondering over equestrian fashion this month - she's a fan of more elegant clothing, but she's not totally averse to a bit of bling...
Hello to all my readers, I hope you have all survived this awful weather we have been having and still managing to ride. I have been very busy organising my new business venture, which I hope to tell you all about soon - can't wait to reveal all. I also want to say thank you so much to everyone who read and shared my last blog, it's overwhelming to get so much support.
Like many of you I'm sure, I have a real interest in equestrian fashion. With riding clothes, it's not just how they look and how comfortable they are, but it's also about how technical the fabrics are and whether they allow you to perform at your best in the ring. There's so many brands out there, from the ultra-traditional ones to the uber-modern bling ranges! Personally I prefer to look smart and elegant with simple touches, however I have to confess to loving my Kep Italia hat with Swarovski crystals on the front, which glistens when I am riding at an indoor show under the spotlights!
I'm lucky to have a fantastic clothing sponsor in Cavalleria Toscana. I have to say I love the classic and elegant look of their clothing, and they are specially made for us riders so the materials are breathable and stretchy. I love the way they incorporate the latest fashion trends into equine clothing - my latest show jacket is in a military style and it is so cool. It is not yet available in shops so for now I think I am the only rider wearing it!
I'd love to hear your views - please do comment and let me know whether you love or hate bling. You can also click here to read my interview with various top riders to find out what they think of the latest fashion trends. I guess us riders are lucky that there are so many different brands out there, so there's something for everyone's tastes!"
Are you somebody who loves bling? Or do you like more traditional, classic look? Our blogger Yazmin Pinchen asks some fellow riders for their views...
After my blog about my equestrian fashion tastes, I thought I'd ask a few of my Facebook followers for their thoughts.
One lady wrote "I think horses are beautiful animals and when they jump their movement is amazing - so no bling needed." I have to say I agree! But for another commenter, bling was okay if used in moderation. "I think a little bit of bling on a browband is nice but some people take it to an extreme and it ends up looking tacky! Nothing beats a nice classical look," she wrote.
It seems like opinion is divided, so I asked a few Olympic riders to see what they thought.
Reed Kessler, USA
"Classic always! It's the American style, clean cut and not too flashy. This is a sport and while it's great to be stylish, it's more about the riding than the fashion for me."
Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, UAE
"I believe clothing, whether it's equine or not, can effect your mood in a positive or negative way. So I prefer a bit of bling and something with a twist."
Julia Hargreaves, Australia
"I like classic with a tasteful touch of flare at times. Not much bling, if any... I think everyone should be able to show their own style, without anything too crazy - as long as people keep it relatively flattering."
Morgan Barbançon Mestre, Spanish dressage rider
"For me, it depends. I like simple but with a touch of bling but not too much that it makes it tacky. I think bling is feminine so it can be nice, but to much bling kills the look!"
Dexy, the horse who inspired Alice to become a dressage rider
Dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer says a sad goodbye to the horse who got her interested in the sport...
We had some very sad news as Dexy (Dacapo II), Mum's first dressage horse and the reason I got into the sport, passed away. He was happy when I gave him his stable toy at 7.30pm in the evening, but by 1am he had come down with colic and we decided it would not have been fair on him at his age to refer him, so we said goodbye. He was very special and it was a hard goodbye, and the yard felt rather empty afterwards. We owe him a lot and will continue to progress as a result of his legacy.
With the British Dressage Winter Regionals coming up in the not too distant future, I've been out competing. Both Socs (Tantoni Sir Socrates) and Bracks (Headmore Boadicia) have qualified so we are concentrating on taking them to a few parties just to blow off the cobwebs. We took them both to Crofton for their first show, and Socs was first to go in the Medium tests. I was just looking to have a good run round as he hadn't competed since the Nationals the previous September, and it was also his first show in a double bridle. He did go a bit rusty in the ring, which led to mistakes, but he still scored more than 70% so it wasn't too bad. He was a bit more on the ball and back in the game for the second test, which was also the Regional test, and produced what I would call a stomper! There were still a couple of small things but overall the test was much better, so I was very disappointed when he was only awarded 67%, I thought it was an easy 73%.
I then jumped on Bracks for the Prix St Georges. She hadn't been out since Hartpury last July so I thought she might be a bit over the top. She was quite electric but surprisingly rideable, doing all the a Grand Prix work over the winter has really settled her. I was thrilled with the test, again it wasn't perfect but considering everything she was amazing to score 68%. A good day at the office.
On another note, I have found a way to combat chill blaines. I suffer from them on my thighs so I bought some trim shorts. They are designed to increase circulation and make you sweat more when you exercise so you lose more weight, but I figured that they might stop my chill blaines. It works wonders and if it helps me lose weight even better!"
H&C's web editor Victoria has been enjoying reading your entries for our new blogger competition...
"If there's one thing horsey people like doing, it's talking about their horses. We all do it - as much as possible, to anyone who'll listen.
So I knew when we launched a competition to find a new monthly blog for the H&C website, we'd have a good response. But I've been surprised by just how good a reaction there's been - hundreds of you have already submitted your entries, and it's been so much fun reading them and hearing all about your horses. Picking a shortlist is not going to be an easy task.
There's still a week to go, so if you haven't got your entries in yet, here are some tips:
* The word limit is 450 words - no one really wants to scroll through acres and acres of text on screen. We're unlikely to check word length if you're fractionally over, but do try to write the required amount - if your first entry is really short, it will seem like you won't have enough to say to keep us entertained for the rest of the year
* The blog should be your story (or your horse's) so write in the first person. Aim for an informal and chatty tone, like your emailing your latest news and gossip to your best friend.
* Start with a strong opening line - we want something that'll hook us in from the beginning...
* ... Equally, end on a note that leaves us desperately wanting to read some more next time!
* We love it when our blogs get a reaction, but for this competition we're looking for someone to share their personal experiences, rather than tackle a different contentious topic every month. If there's something you want to get off your chest, consider writing us a one-off guest blog post instead.
* It doesn't matter if you have a personal blog - but your entry for the H&C competition must be original (ie not already published elsewhere), and the same applies to the rest of the year's blogs (if you're chosen as the winner).
* We're looking for someone who can write in an engaging, entertaining way. You don't necessarily have to be a stand-up comedian - sometimes it's those universal truths horseowners face that make for the funniest reading.
Entries for our competition close at midnight on Wednesday 12 February. One lucky winner will receive an outfit from Ariat worth £450, plus their blog will be published on the H&C TV website throughout 2014
Yazmin Pinchen and friends at the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai
Yazmin is keeping watch on the yard while she recovers from her knee operation, and she reflects on how young riders can make their mark on the world stage...
"Hello to everyone reading my blog! Since I last wrote, I have had a knee operation. I have a big plaster round my right knee cap, but I am fighting back to recovery as quick as I can. A few days ago I took off my bandage and it's looking good underneath with not too much swelling, so hopefully the doctor will be pleased.
I had to have the operation because my knee caps were moving and it was effecting me when I was riding, I would get a lot of pain which would sometimes restrict me from riding the amount I wanted to. In the end I decided to see the surgeon and the best option was to have a lateral release, which is basically when they make a small insicion in the outer knee to let the knee cap slot back into its ‘groove’. It is a painful procedure but I will be back in the saddle in no time.
Before my operation I was lucky enough to go for a week to Abu Dhabi for a short vacation. I didn’t want to come home! I did the winter season in Abu Dhabi last year with the horses, and it was one of the best experiences ever. This year it was not possible to go for the season, but being there for a week was great, I got to go to the World Cup show where I was third last year in the Grand Prix. Some of my best friends are there competing so I got to support them, and it was really nice to catch up with all our other friends out there. I was of course cheering on fellow British rider Alexandra Thornton, who was having a great time with her horses. I will definitely go back next year! The above picture is of me with a few friends in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It is currently the biggest building in the world – the view was incredible.
Since I am on bed rest for ten days, I have had plenty of time to catch up with my favourite programme, Masterchef Australia. I absolutely love it, I watch the episodes continuously all day and am driving my boyfriend insane! I have also been catching up with Horse & Country TV and watching my friends compete at the big shows. I would also like to share my condolences with Steve Guerdat for losing his top horse Jalisca Solier, it really is terrible news and I can't imagine how he is feeling right now.
Although I am not riding, I luckily have fantastic grooms and riders to keep the horses going while I am off. Our main rider at the stables in England is Mia, and she is great she’s really soft in the hand and works the horses how I want them to be worked, so I really like her style of riding. Along with Mia is my show groom Danny, who is from Spain. He rides a few to help Mia out as we have eight horses in work each day. He really knows what he is doing, he has a lot of experience in the horse world. Last but not least I have Lynsey who works on the yard in England, she sometimes comes to shows but she prefers to stay at home. She is really great, very reliable and does the work properly. Next week Mia might take a few young horses to a local show to prepare them for Arezzo. We will go to this tour in Italy in March which will be my first show back.
I was also interested to read an article by Graham Fletcher about giving young riders more of a chance. Being the youngest British rider to have ever competed at a 5* FEI Nations Cup team, I can say it was the scariest competition I have ever done. My Nations Cup debut went really well until the end of the round, my horse Van de Vivaldi saw something he didn't like and refused at the penultimate fence. Although the majority of people saw this as an elimination and a bad round, I felt it was a learning curve and a great experience. My horse jumped an amazing round clear until then, and I felt I rode really well for my first 5* Nations Cup. It destroyed me getting eliminated, I felt like I had let the team down and it still upsets me now. I must thank Tina Fletcher, a fellow team member, who made me feel a lot more positive after feeling so low. I really look up to Tina and appreciated her taking the time to comfort me.
I would love to do a team competition again and I hope my time will come soon. In his article, Graham talks about the need for young riders to get into shows like Olympia so that we can learn how to cut it at the top level. It would be great to be selected for shows like this, it's an important confidence boost and help us climb up in the rankings. I am lucky enough to get invitations to a few big shows but most of the time I have to contact the show directly to try to get a place, because it is difficult to get in being a young rider. There must be a way to get us young riders into more top shows, especially in England in front of our home crowds. I'd love to know your thoughts - how can young riders have more of a chance to get experience at the top level?
I wish you all the success at any shows you are doing, and I hope you enjoyed my blog this week. Until next time, I'm keeping keep my leg up and rested!"
Olympic eventer Sharon Hunt explains why she's more than happy that her horses are fresh and full of enthusiasm...
The start to 2014 couldn't have gone better, except I suppose for the weather. We have been lucky over in East Anglia, I think we have missed a lot of the rain but still I have been soaked numerous times already this year. I am delighted to announce that I am now one of two Under-18 coaches for the Eastern Region for British Eventing. This position is a new venture for me, I am thoroughly looking forward to working with the junior riders and helping Coach them both at home and at events. This position will mean I will have a very busy season as I have an ever increasing string again of my own to event, so I will have to be incredibly organised! I enjoy new challenges so off we go.
I attended as a guinea pig the Coaching Forum for British Eventing with Yogi Breisner and Nick Burton. This was in between the gales last week, so we managed to actually get to Stow On The Wold for a very informative day of training. I jumped Harriet and Loughnatousa Monika, who were both delighted to be out. I took Veyga for the flatwork session, who was decidedly fresh. One spectator commented on the fact that they were a little frisky at times, to which I replied if they are not fresh and keen now, what will they be like by October! It is a very long season for the event horses and I think it's necessary for them to enjoy their job. I would feel I hadn't done my job well if they didn't enjoy their work.
It was good to see Veyga's photo and a write up in Horse & Hound last week, which is great for her owners David and Sue Howard. Their horses (Loughnatousa Fabio and Loughnatousa Venture) should have a very exciting season ahead, the three of them are very talented horses. We have another lovely team of staff for the season, a very happy team which makes such a difference for not only the horses but the rider and owners too. Nothing better than when everybody pulls and works together. You have to have a real passion for working with horses and these girls certainly have that.
I have sold a couple of horses over Christmas, I had always intended to as they were bought purely to produce. I am lucky that they have gone to fantastic homes, I think it is very important to match the right horse and rider as this is a priority for the purchaser. Hopefully they will go on to be very competitive with their new owners.
I am now starting to get the horses fit and ready for the season which is not far away. My first event will be at Oasby, only five weeks away! We are very busy at the moment as we are moving yards, still very local to my base now, but an amazing new yard and facilities, but more on that next time..."
Steph riders her first Grand Prix test with Clyde, while Mr P comes out of retirement...
Christmas feels like an age ago already, but I’m still in shock from one of the best presents I’ve ever had. Normally I get practical pressies like scissors, but this year Simon excelled himself and gave me a poster of mine and Mr P's life history.
Poor Clyde (Mr Hyde) has a lot to live up to, as I rode Rimmer around Grand Prix tests for 10 years. So I find myself thinking: ‘Why don’t you react immediately? What is your problem?!’, while Clyde is thinking: ‘I don’t know what you want mother!’
We took him to the High Profile show at Addington last week and he went really well. We scored 67.19% in the Inter II and came fourth out of very strong field. Everybody and their dog were there, but he was brilliant and coped much better than we expected, although he did have a stressy moment when he was warming up.
The Prix St George (PSG) prize giving was going on at the same time, so there were lots of horses flying around. At one point he couldn’t do any changes, and was doing ones all over the place. I thought ‘oh dear, this is not looking good’, but he came back to me in time.
We did the PSG first as a warm up – it’s never been his sort of test as piaffe and passage are his party pieces and he was a bit tense in couple of places. But he worked quite well, and got 66.9%. The second time in the Inter II he was much more chilled – but he really tried in both tests, and I felt he was with me.
I went to Vale View at the weekend as I’ve just found out there are two different Inter IIs: the FEI one, which we thought was the only one for Premier Leagues, and the new British Dressage Inter II. So last week I was maniacally trying to find somewhere to have a go at it, as it’s completely different! If you can do a BD Inter II you may as well do a Grand Prix!
We found one at Vale View, and also decided to have a go at the Grand Prix. We got 71.34% in the BD test, which surprised me because we’d never done it before and Simon was reading it out for me, as I had no idea what I was doing.
In the Grand Prix he mucked up his two-time changes as we can only get seven in our arena at home, but in the new BD test and the Grand Prix there are nine. We got to seven and he thought he was finished and gave me load of one-time changes instead! Even though we made a couple of green mistakes he still got 66.49%, which has given me hope for when we get it right. I’m only going to do pick your own Grand Prix tests from now on, as I don’t want the points, because it will rule me out of PSGs and Inter II’s. That way we can keep practicing until we can do a decent Grand Prix and come out in the summer and go ‘Ta da!’
I was beaming after that show, but then I had a lesson with Richard Davison yesterday and realise I know nothing about dressage and am crap. Everything I did was wrong, wrong, wrong. I felt like I should have got a report card from my teacher, with ‘must do better’ written on it! Perhaps it's time to take up showjumping...
There is no doubt that Clyde was made for dressage, however, as we found a fab video on YouTube of a horse that we think he must be related to. The horse is in harness and he is just the spitting image of our Clyde. It looks like it was filmed back in the 60’s so it’s possibly his great granddad.
Our youngster Clooney is also coming along well – his napping problem has completely gone now that Simon is hacking him out. However, Julie who part-owned him is still completely terrified of him, so we’ve ended up buying the other half. We need another horse like we need a hole in head, but as Simon said we have already put in 90 percent of the hard work with him, so why sell him and let someone else take the credit when he comes good. I hate it when he’s right!
He’s as ugly as sin, but I think he’s got something. The other day he started passaging down the road when a dog came up behind him, and then he piaffed in the school by mistake when I asked him to walk on.
Julie is still coming up and riding, but she rides Mr P now and is loving it. I rang up BD and asked if I could down-grade an international Grand Prix horse. They said I can drop him down to Elementary level, but I told Julie she can do Advanced Medium at the lowest! She’s now panicking about what people will think. But Mr P’s fan club won’t give two hoots if he gets 50%. The fact that he is fit and healthy and enjoying life is all they care about.
Having someone come up and ride one of my horses is such a help – I don’t care which one! And Rimmer isn’t ready for full retirement just yet, and will love going out competing again. So it’s a win win situation.
Now that we own Clooney out right I can take it slow as I don’t feel any pressure. We might take him out this winter to get him used to the environment, and then start competing in the summer. He’s like Mr P, so I think when get to Advanced Medium he will just take off. But we are just going to play it by ear and see how he feels. For now the focus is on Clyde, and Rimmer will tag along with Julie."