“It’s been a very busy week at La Granderie. We were visiting for the weekend and the first two days of the week, to play hostess to the associates of the FENCES sales for their regional selection event for la Manche. FENCES is one of the elite young horse sales organizations in France, and is owned by a group of guys who are all well-known and influential in the business.
One of the associés FENCES is Bernard Le Courtois, who I think I have told you about before. We’re clients of Bernard, and I guess he has taken a bit of a shine to us and decided he wants to be helpful, which is all to the good in my book.
The aim of the regional selections is to provide an assembly point for folks in different parts of the country to present the horses they would like to have sold at the FENCES sales, which take place in September in conjunction with the young horse championships at Fontainbleau, and November.
You cannot imagine the weeding, raking, sweeping, wiping, pruning and primping that went on in the days leading up to the visit. I even learned to ride the lawn mower – my new favourite pastime. We had no idea how many people to expect; it could have been a dozen or it could have been 50.
As it transpired, it was a very small turn out, but that was fine. There were a couple of good horses there, including an Iowa mare from our barn, that Pierre is working for a very nice guy who works for Equidia, the French horse sport TV station.
There was an unbelievable young stallion by Hurlevent Brekka that popped right over the barrier set up to divide the school in two – as well as the electrified ribbon on top of it; he must have cleared five feet, easily. The first time he did it, the door to the school had been left open, so he just waltzed out into the yard by himself! Needless to say, once he had figured out he could do this, he could think of nothing else, so everyone agreed to put him away and look at him again at the next viewing, which will be in St Lô in June.
The associés FENCES liked our indoor school a lot, and the coffee, water and little biscuits didn’t hurt either. So I think we will see them back next time, and perhaps with a bigger crowd of exhibitors.
Of course, sod’s law would have it that four foals arrived in the 24-hours either side of our world premier event last Tuesday. I passed the foaling boxes on my way back from dinner at Florian and Nathalie’s last Monday night, and found my mare Grace with a new baby on the ground. I raced back to their apartment and everyone came out to see the new arrival. Fortunately everything had gone well, and we had another pretty bay filly to our credit. I headed off to bed, satisfied that all was in order.
Not wanting to be outdone, the chestnut mare in the box next door decided she would also produce her foal some 30-minutes later. I had just turned out my light, so Pierre didn’t come and get me up, but I learned the next day that he and Sophie had hit the hay at around 3.00 am.
As if we didn’t have enough going on, on Tuesday Sophie found our mare Mamzelle had foaled down in the field at about one o’clock in the afternoon. She and Pierre managed to get the mare and the foal - another bay filly… it’s all we’re doing this year - into one of the boxes along the side of the barn and all seemed well. Enough excitement for one day!
After the FENCES event was over, I packed up the car and headed towards Caen and the ferry home. We were sitting at dinner at about 9pm when the phone rang. It was Pierre asking for Chantal’s home number, because her mare had just had her foal too. It never rains, but it pours!”
Sharon was disappointed not to ride across country
"I had a great night’s sleep and woke up feeling good. Sometimes you wake up with serious nerves on cross country day, but I didn't this time. I was very happy with the course and didn't feel the need to walk it again.
I went shopping as a kind of therapy, but I usually hate shopping. I didn't feel nervous until the first horse set out, as I always do. William (Fox-Pitt) made it look as easy as ever, and the first few riders were riders running two horses and generally make it look easy too. After these have run, the faults start to come, although this time they didn't; the course was perhaps easier or softer than in previous years and the time was not so tight, sadly. Those of us with good XC horses like a challenge! The ground was also very good – a little firm, so this helped the time too.
I felt very relaxed going up to the start box as my warm up had gone well, and Tankers Town really is one of the best XC horses in the sport and was as fit as he could be.
But 'things' happen for a reason as they say, and I guess that was the case this year. As I was about to enter the start box from the front (as it can be difficult from the back) a finisher came just at the wrong moment – with five seconds to go, I had to go through the back and this was my downfall. Jasper (Tankers Town) panicked and wouldn't go into the box and the rest is history – 2009 Badminton was not meant to be. I can't describe how devastated I am especially as with a usual double clear I'd have been very well placed. That’s life – it happens. I had a nice afternoon watching the XC with my family afterwards – there was some very good riding and good results."
Note from the Editor: Those watching Badminton's cross country phase will have seen Jasper (Tankers Town) refusing to enter the starting box. Unfortunately, this resulted in Sharon's elimination from Badminton 2009.
“I’m writing this from my bed inside the lorry at Broadlands Country Fair. It’s 5-30am - far too early to be this wide awake! The dogs have been up for at least an hour, playing in their living quarters. While it is always great fun to take one of the puppies to shows with us, the downside is that as soon as they wake up they cause havoc.
I can’t see into the back from my bed, but I know that it will be the puppy, Taff, and his uncle, Jasper, that are leaping around making all the racket, with the occasional “Don’t touch me” growl from Apollo, who, like myself, was fancying a lie in this morning as we are away from the hustle and bustle of home. No chance!
This pack interaction is great for puppies, as they get the chance to learn the social skills that so many of our dogs miss out on. How to play, bite, inhibition and not to jump on Apollo when he’s having a lie in are all social skills that are good for the puppies’ education.
Social skills around humans are equally important; I worked with some clients this week whose young Labrador was showing early signs of fear aggression to humans, as well as the normal obedience related problems that owners have with their young dogs.
While chatting through the problems that the owners were having with the young dog, they told me about an incident that seemed to have been the ‘trigger’ for the fear aggression. Three months earlier while sat in the lounge of their house, the couple heard a noise in their kitchen followed by an alarm bark from their then seven-month-old puppy. The gentleman went to investigate only to see the puppy cowering in the corner and a burglar in the kitchen.
The ensuing confrontation and struggle saw the burglar needing hospital treatment and subsequently being arrested. Unfortunately, the puppy was kicked by the intruder and was left somewhat traumatised by the whole occasion - not to mention how upset the young couple were left feeling.
For obvious reasons, the puppy was now nervous of strangers and within weeks learned that if you bark and growl at strangers they back off and leave you alone. You can then quickly maneuver yourself behind your owner, who then followed this up with some gentle praise and a stroke. While this praise is a natural reaction from the owners and seemed the right thing to do, it has in the puppies mind served to reinforce this behaviour and unfortunately it has now escalated.
Between us we decided that this very nice little dog had experienced a really rough start in life, but what was needed now was some really positive leadership from his human leaders and work on obedience training linked to retrieving is now the way forward. Just five minutes of this type of training had the young dog growing in confidence and enthusiasm
The positive leadership allows the dog to relax; you take charge, the fear aggression starts to disappear because you fill the dog with confidence, the retrieving exercises change his state of mind with so much enjoyment that the tension and fear just slip away.
The moral of this story? Firstly, crime does not pay and secondly, just like us, dogs will follow good leaders. Think positive, think like a dog!”
"I was up early as I had to work Jasper (Tankers Town) first thing by the main arena before the dressage starts again. The weather was hideous – gale force winds and freezing cold rain - we were both perishing! Winter-like weather is not conducive for a good mark.
After working Jasper, I went back to the stables and had a big breakfast and then changed for my test. Jasper looked beautiful thanks to my hard-working grooms, Elodie and Sophie. He worked in very well; he was quite bright, but still very obedient. As soon as he went in the main arena, he lit up and was a little tense but not too bad. The first part of the test was very good, and we scored marks that reflected this. Unfortunately, in the halt and rein back he lost concentration for some reason, but carried on well and did some very good canter work.
I think the judges were slightly slow to up the marks again, and the result was a 54. Not my best mark, and I was a little disappointed but the XC will be a real tester and hopefully give me the opportunity to make up lots of places again. I walked the course again – this time with Yogi Breisner - to clarify my thoughts about which route to take and exactly how to ride the fences. I am very happy with the course and I hope all goes to plan tomorrow.
To finish the day, I then went to sign photos at my sponsor Ariat's stand and caught up with another sponsor, Bucas. "
Sharon points out which line she'll take on the fence
"I enjoyed another good night’s sleep - I'm really enjoying the lie-ins! I had breakfast and then schooled Jasper (Tankers Town); once again, he was very good but bright, which is not a bad thing. Today I walked the XC course for the first time – it looks good. I like the course, it looks decent enough but not overly big. There are a couple of bogey fences – the sunken road and perhaps the hexagon hedges, as there are now two of them. I think the problems will be evenly spread though.
I worked Jasper again and he’s getting better each time. Then I walked the XC course again with a few people on a 'private' course walk. In the evening I, plus family and friends, had a meal courtesy of the ERA (Event Riders Association). It was not a late night though as I have an early dressage in the morning."
“Yesterday evening we went to see the field where Pierre has put the colts for the summer. He has a piece of land that he bought before we met, about 12 hectares in all, and just about 15-minutes drive away. It’s a bit marshy, as is much of the region, but during the summer it’s fine and makes a great “boys camp” from May to October.
The technique consists of separating the colt foals and the two-year olds that have been left entire, and getting them off the property for the summer months. The rationale is two-fold: first, it frees up more land for hay making, and second – and perhaps more importantly – it averts the risk of them getting in with the fillies. They do start to take an interest early on, and an electric wire and a ditch don’t serve as much of a deterrent to a motivated youngster with mischief on his mind.
We have two of our own out in Pierre’s field, and one more to join them when the swollen fetlock he’s currently suffering has subsided. Pierre has a two-year-old and a 2008 foal of his own, and there are five on livery, one two-year-old and four of last year’s foals. They’ll come back into the barn in October or November, but for now they’re pretty much left to their own devices, and checked once or twice a week.
When we got out there, we found that some of the colts had gotten themselves on the wrong side of the tape that divides the field in two, so Pierre had to round them up. It was quite an impressive sight watching the herd following him down to one end of the field, because they followed him at a canter; fortunately, he stayed comfortably six or seven lengths ahead!
I saw Lagune’s foal for the first time on Friday. Very sweet and quite close to the blood, although she has a bit of a chunky head when viewed in profile. Sometimes they grow into their features though, so I am not too worried. This is Lagune’s first foal, and she is being quite foal-proud, but you can still go right up to her without a problem, and on the whole she seems to be getting into the swing of it quite well.
Meanwhile, we’re having a bit of a traffic jam in the maternity ward, with six mares currently in the pre-natal “holding tank”. Among our mares, the next cabs off the rank are Jalousie, Mamzelle and Grace. My neighbour Chantal has her mare Melodie with us, a Le Tôt de Sémilly mare with a very nice way about her, and there is one more on livery and one of Pierre’s also out there in the home paddock. So there should be lots more news on that front in the next week or so.”
"I’m glad to report that our piglets are settling in well. They now recognize that the sound of a rattling bucket and a shout of “Pig, pig, pig” means food, and come running. They will also take apple, pear and banana slices from my hand – very gently – and two of the three will accept a brief scratch. Strawberry, who is a strawberry blonde as opposed to ginger, is playing hard to get, but she’ll give in eventually. Meg, one of our collies, decided to join us in the pen, but the pigs ganged up on her and she soon skedaddled.
The lambs are growing well. The long awaited rain has brought the grass on now. We don’t have a lot of ground and have to make the best use of what we have, so the sheep have been grazing the roadside of our track. This means that we have to park at the end of the track and bring the shopping along in a wheelbarrow. Roadside grass is so much tastier than field grass – and you get to browse the hedges too!
We’ve managed to get quite a lot of vegetable seeds sown but are now held up until we get more netting in place, otherwise the hens scratch everything up. We may fence the vegetable garden over the winter as putting up nets and so on is a real pain.
The fruit trees are in full blossom and are looking lovely – I just hope the bees are in action. I’ve just joined our local beekeeping association and hope to get bees next summer when I’ve done my training.
We dispatched the last of our Hubbard meat chickens this weekend. I enjoy the end product immensely, but I don’t relish the killing. As we become more experienced, the process is smoother and our confidence grows – our main priority is to ensure a swift and stress-free end for the birds. So it was roast chicken on Sunday, curry on Monday and my favourite soup - cream of chicken with lemon and tarragon - on Tuesday.
The rain has also brought the weeds, so I’m off hoeing now – nice and relaxing before the sun goes over the yardarm and it’s time to relax.”
"I slept really well again and woke up at 8.30am – a very long lie in! I hacked Jasper (Tankers Town) around the park again – he's a bit more settled today.
I decided that rather than walk the cross country course, I'd work Jasper (Tankers Town) and go into the main arena for familiarisation. He worked well, but I still decided to ride him again after the trot up. The trot up went well, he's rather practised at these now! I practised some parts of the dressage test and it all went really well. My old groom, Sophie Smith, arrived to help and other friends and family are coming too, which is always good fun. I had a lovely meal in the evening and watched The Apprentice, which I find very amusing."
"Spring is a wonderful time of year as the grass grows lush to help our ewes and cows produce lots of milk for their young. Carpets of bluebells can be found in our woods and the cherry and hawthorn burst into flower. The harsh winter months have gone and summer is just around the corner.This year, it is predicted to be a glorious summer with plenty of sunshine and promising an easy harvest.
On the farm we have piglets galore. We breed Tamworths, one of the oldest British breeds, and Iron Age, which is a breed my dad developed for filming work. They look like a wild boar, but are quite docile. We also have Kune Kunes, the New Zealand bush pig, which are incredibly friendly and great as pets, and last but not least the famous Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs.
We sell sausages off the farm, but have recently made a connection with Lambourne butchers in Stow on the Wold who are going to start selling our pork, beef and lamb. Direct marketing to a butcher or off the farm is the only real way to make our rare breed porkers pay."
Sharon and Jasper (Tankers Town) will be competing at Badminton
“This week started off on a difficult note after the tragedy at Belton; I can't remember ever feeling so low. After a couple of days, I felt better but I was still slow and it took me longer to ride my horses.
On Wednesday, I took Jasper (Tankers Town), Joe (Jorrocks Curtis) and Harry (Azeb) for dressage lessons with Ian Woodhead. He is incredibly good on test riding and knows Jasper well, so I decided some input from him would be very beneficial.
I was up early the next day and schooled as many horses as possible before leaving for Addington with Jasper to compete and Bruno (Ultimate Opposition) to practise. The first test was Medium 73, which was in an indoor school. Jasper was good – there are always parts that can be better, but I am a perfectionist! I schooled Bruno between classes and he is settling so well now. Jasper did a better second test than his first I thought, but got a slightly lower percentage. He won both the mediums though, so the journey was worthwhile.
On Friday, Yogi Breisner came to give me some help. I jumped Joe first and worked on angles, which really helped him and gave me some great ideas. Jasper was superb and feels fully focused.
On Saturday, I left for Nurstead with Beanie (Breeze IV), Harry and Romeo (Romeo Z), who were all competing in the Novice. I like Nurstead cross country because it is so educational; there are lots of turning questions, angles and a steep slope with a fence at top and bottom. Harry and Romeo both did very good tests. Beanie had a fence down, but the other two jumped clear which left me in good positions for the cross country. Romeo jumped a super clear and won, Harry did too and was fourth. Beanie was also clear and finished just outside the placings, so a very good day.
I spent the evening with Harry's new part owners, David and Sue Howard, and we enjoyed a few celebratory drinks. Overall, I am getting very excited now – the countdown for Badminton is on!”