“The snow is melting at last, and I have seen grass for the first time in six weeks. I had forgotten how much I had missed it! It’s still cold at night but the temperatures during the day are enough to get the snow melting. There is still plenty of snow on the hill and the tracks up there are only just becoming passable with a Land Rover. We have had a digger in to clear some of the bigger drifts, one of which was almost up to the roof of my Land Rover!
I can feel the coming of Spring, though, and a couple of days ago, saw some lapwings in a field where the snow have receded leave patches of grass. It will not be long now before they return to nest and raise their young. I also saw some packs of grouse returning to their home territories as the snow melted to leave some heather sticking through. I saw one pack of 150 and another of 200 grouse. With the heavy snow falls the grouse move to lower more clement slopes but are desperate to return home just as soon as they can. The sight of 200 grouse flying together from one hillside to another is a truly amazing site. In Scotland we have a term called “hefted” which is normally used for sheep that grow up on a hillside and never move from it even though there are no fences to keep them there. They belong to that area and don’t want to move from it. The same is true of grouse, they seem to also become hefted to an area and only move from it in extreme conditions but the always return home when they can.
We had our last shoot of the season on Saturday. The last day is always the ‘Keepers Day’ where we ask gamekeepers from neighbouring estates to come and shoot as a thank you for the help they have given us on our other shoots during the season. It is always a fun day, where we split into two teams with one beating while the other shoots and then vice versa. I get plenty of comments of constructive criticism about my shooting ability during the season so it’s nice to have the boot on the other foot and watch them shoot for a change. Believe me, like most sports, it’s not so easy when you are the one shooting, so I take great pleasure in giving them plenty of constructive criticism back!
We all have lunch together, organised by my head keeper Donald, which is simple but excellent. Vegetable and pheasant soup, expertly made by Donald and a local speciality, called ‘Bridies’. These are specific to Angus (I think) and are a bit like a Cornish Pastie. They consist of steak and onion in a puff pastry case, but you can get different versions with mince in, etc. The local butcher, who we supply with venison, provides them all season for the beaters at our shoots. They are excellent on a cold winter’s day. I provide the Sloe Gin which also goes down well too.
Colin, my other keeper, has just presented me with the turkey I should have had for Christmas. He had bred four turkeys from eggs and matured them for Christmas, but I had already ordered one, not thinking all four would survive. Anyway, he killed it a few days ago, so I have hurriedly arranged for some friends to come to Sunday lunch. It looks fantastic and I am delighted as it’s one of my favourite things, but maybe that’s because we only have it once a year!”
"Friday brought the news that we have been waiting for: our 2010 legislation has been confirmed for semen eligible for EU export . We can go ahead and make plans for the client to bring his stallion.
The owner needs to decide if the stallion is to be available for natural covering, AI fresh or frozen semen before he commits to advertising for the coming stud season. If only frozen semen is available he needs to make it known when promoting the stallion for stud duties.
It is best to have the semen frozen the previous breeding season. Even the most experienced phantom trained stallion can need encouragement from a mare in season to encourage him to collect at the start of the breeding season, not to mention perform for the necessary pre-season swabs for the lab tests required by all stallions to use AI procedures. Given that the mare's cycle is largely governed by the change in seasons, January and February are not the easiest months to create the ideal environment for covering. Most collection centres will do everything possible to avoid disruption to your plans to have semen frozen, but some things are beyond even the most determined practitioners.
For semen eligible for international export the lab tests take longer and are more frequent. Once frozen, the semen then has to under go a 30 day post-collection quarantine at a DEFRA approved centre like ourselves before it can be used. More reasons why pre-planning is advisable.
We are currently freezing the semen of a stallion going to Germany in February. We have been very fortunate that this Romeo is happy to settle for little encouragement from a mare not currently in season, but this is not always the case. It is true that a mare can be encouraged to cycle by rugging up, leaving lights on and drugs, but all this would incur extra costs, take time and, at the end of the day, nature will have its way.
Sunday brought a wonderful surprise; the Oldenburger approved stallion Santana HFD performed a perfect line of 15 one times changes! During their training programmes, we like to know the stallions will accept training of the highest level and be able to perform the movements easily. This is hopefully a trait that will be continued down the gene pool to the offspring, plus it gives me a wonderful feeling of harmony and achievement.
Brian has been squeezing in some upgrades to the livery barn and has built them a lovely, rubber matted wash area over the weekend before the breeding season begins.
On Monday, I picked up a voicemail inviting us to take Mooiman HFD to the local stallion show at Myerscough International Arena in February. I will consult my diary but I hope we can go; it is nice for local breeders to get a chance to see the only fully approved KWPN dressage stallion competing at international Grand Prix with the first part of the qualification secure for the World Equestrian Games. Our local breeders are very important to us."
“This week I had much fun working with the Whitgift School 1st XV rugby team who are enjoying a great season and are through to the final stages of the National Daily Mail Cup. As well as being a talented bunch of individuals their success is in no uncertain terms boosted by their team spirit – a vital component of a team’s mental strength on the pitch. This got me thinking about how we use our relationships with other riders to boost our own performance. We may consider our sport to be largely individual, but research supports the idea that the high levels of camaraderie found in equestrian sport is central to our motivation to challenge ourselves and achieve great things. If this is the case, is there anything we can learn from successful teams that may help us perform better as individual riders?
I have found tremendous benefits in establishing a “team atmosphere” amongst training establishments/yards that would otherwise just be a collection of individuals. Think about the last time you performed really well in competition, in particular how excited you were when you rode through the finishing line or out of the arena. The first thing we want to do is relay the experience in every last detail to the nearest unsuspecting bystander who has no choice but to share our enthusiasm. This is an important psychological process and in fact we don’t always make the most of it. The legendary Clive Woodward (who steered England to victory in the rugby World Cup) said that after a bad performance rather than reliving the match by analysing it to the death he would tell the players to go away and do something different for the weekend. However, after a good performance he would get them all around a table the next morning to discuss the game. This took advantage of the fact that all the players would actually enjoy this. After all, who doesn’t like talking about their most memorable and successful experiences? This is also a powerful way of reinforcing feelings of confidence and fulfilment, making them more likely to go out and win again!
“Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you”
As riders we may not necessarily feel like part of a team but we can still take advantage of the same principle. Studies have found that the world’s best performers tend to spend much longer thinking about their good performances compared to those who are less successful. Conversely, the less successful performers tend to be more pre-occupied with things that went wrong. This only serves to reinforce the behaviour that led to their bad performance, making them more likely to do the same again!
If you like music then there’s a great way of using this principle to influence your future performance in a really positive way. Pick two to three tracks that you enjoy listening to with a happy melody and positive lyrics. Within 24 hours of a really good ride, sit down in a quiet place and start listening to your chosen tracks. Imagine being back at the beginning of the ride, noticing in particular what you saw, heard and felt. If you felt a little nervous, acknowledge this as controlled excitement towards the challenge ahead. Allow yourself to get immersed in the music as you re-live the whole experience in your mind. Having completed the performance in your mind make sure you remember how good it felt, turning-up any feelings of satisfaction and fulfilment. By doing this a number of times your brain will start to associate the music with powerful feelings of focus and confidence. By listening to the same tracks prior to future competitions your mindset will automatically switch to these more resourceful feelings, allowing you greater control and consistency over your performance. Be sure NOT to listen to these tracks at any other time as this may dilute the effect!
As you look ahead to what you would like to achieve this season, take a moment to consider the experiences and the people that have got you to where you are now and decide how best to incorporate them (and perhaps others) into your plans for getting even better. We all have our equestrian heroes, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that they have never been one-man-band. Like any player within a successful team they have probably acknowledged the strengths of those that surround them and made them feel a part of the team by sharing their plans and goals.
Good luck to ‘Team You’ and please feel free to contact me through my site if you would like to discuss the benefits of performance psychology. It would be great to see you at my next presentation in Gloucestershire on 4th Feb or Workshop on 27th Feb in Suffolk. Click on the link to my weblink below or join my Facebook page to find more dates.”
“The last few traces of snow disappeared earlier this week, which should have enabled Ruby’s training to return to normal. Unfortunately, for two main reasons, that has not been the case.
Firstly, I went into hospital a week ago, had to stay there for two nights and have two to three weeks recuperation ahead of me.
This means that my husband, Tim, has taken on all dog-walking and, where time allows, training duties, as well as keeping me company in hospital, keeping our home in order and ensuring the shelves and fridge are well stocked.
So, in those first few days, Ruby was reasonably well-exercised, but received limited training with just the one visit to town during the week.
Once I returned home, the plan was for Tim to be able to increase the amount of training, which would also help ensure that Ruby had the experience of being worked by someone other than me.
However, a couple of hours after Ruby had been out on a gentle walk, she tried to stand and could not put her rear right leg down on the floor. It was if the limb had seized-up while she was asleep, and she had to hop on three legs to the garden to go to the toilet. She was not whimpering, but clearly in discomfort.
The problem did not improve in the following few hours, and we were concerned that Ruby may be in pain, so Tim called the Vet to discuss the symptoms.
With the risk of an injury such as a cruciate ligament rupture, we wanted to be sure that Ruby received immediate care, so Tim took her to the Veterinary Surgery for a full check-up.
As it turned out, the Vet’s inspection ruled out anything serious, and, believing it to be just a muscle strain, recommended a week of short walks on lead and a course of anti-inflammatory tablets.
It was such a relief that Ruby’s injury was not significant, and, a week on, I am happy to report that she is no longer showing any signs of the injury, and will start to build up the length of walk over the next few days.
So, whilst my recuperation will be quite slow, there is no doubt that Ruby will be back to her energetic best within the week!”
"There are at least 13 different wild species of duck and goose that are shot in the UK. The most common of these is the mallard. They live on a variety of waterways, lakes and ponds eating seeds, acorns, berries, plants, insects and shellfish. The male has a dark green head, yellow bill, purple-brown breast and grey body. The female is brown with an orange bill.
Other common species gastronomically sought after are the smaller widgeon and the even smaller teal. Ducks differ in flavour depending on the environment they are living in and the food they are eating. In most cases, inland ducks have a better flavour than those that live at the mouth of a river or on the shoreline, as these ducks tend to have a strong, fishy flavour. Wild duck is not as fatty as domesticated duck so it is still very healthy to eat. The skin crisps up well when roasting or pan frying to give a great flavor, but beware: do not over cook wild duck as it will become very livery in flavour and lose all its character.
Roast wild duck with a redcurrant glaze and citrus, port and sauce
The best way to cook wild duck is to roast or pan fry it, cooking it to no more than medium. When roasting a crown, it is best to cut down on cooking time and this allows you to use the legs for making a sauce. You cut a crown by performing the following:
Once the duck is plucked and clean, take your knife, pull the legs forward and place it just under the tip of the breast bone. Cut down, following the natural line to the backbone then cut through it. You now have the two duck breasts on the bone. By cooking on the bone we retain flavour, moisture and cut down on shrinkage.
This recipe serves four portions.
You will need:
Two mallard or widgeon (if you are using teal then allow two breasts per portion)
1lt Chicken stock
Three sticks of celery
One teaspoon tomato puree
Half a wine glass of port
Two dessertspoons of redcurrant jelly
1) Cut the ducks into crowns.
2) Season and pan fry the crowns so that the skin gains some colour. This is important when roasting any game bird as it spends very little time in the oven and will not have time to gain a good colour.
3) Place the crowns into a roasting tray on a bed of roughly chopped vegetables. For this, use two carrots, half the onion and two celery sticks. Leave this to one side for the moment.
4) In the same pan that you fried the duck crowns, add a little more oil if needed and allow it to get very hot. Chop up all the duck legs and the rest of the bones.
5) Fry the bones in the pan to gain a good overall colour, then remove from pan. A tip worth remembering is not to overload the pan. You should be able to hear the food frying in the pan. If it starts to bubble and boil, then you have overloaded the pan and nothing will colour. Better to fry things in two lots than trying to do too much.
6) Again in the same pan, add the rest of the roughly chopped vegetables and fry with good colour.
7) Once the vegetables have coloured, add the tomato puree and mix in. Cook for two to three minutes then add the port and reduce by half.
8) Add a little stock and bring to the boil.
9) Place the bones into a larger pan, add the vegetables and the rest of the stock.
10) Bring to the boil and then allow to simmer and reduce, skimming off any fat that comes to the top.
11) Heat the oven to 190° C and place the duck crowns in to cook for five minutes, then brush with some of the redcurrant jelly. Repeat this three or four times during cooking. Cook the crowns for about 15 minutes depending on the size of the ducks. Cook them to no more than medium.
12) Once cooked, remove them from the oven and cooking tray and place them somewhere warm but not hot to rest for 10 minutes.
13) Remove any fat from the roasting tray then place on the stove. Allow tray to get hot and start to sizzle then add the bones and stock.
14) Boil and reduce this for five minutes, then pass through a strainer and place in saucepan. Add the juice of one orange and half a lemon and a dessertspoon full of redcurrant jelly. Reduce down to a consistency of single cream.
15) Remove the duck breasts from the crown and serve with sauce."
"This week has been really interesting; lots of different things going on, the end of the shooting season is rapidly approaching which means that lots of gundog people are thinking about breeding from their dogs. Our resident stud dogs are already busy ensuring that some of the finest ladies (dogs… actually that could still be taken the wrong way) in the South of England are ‘well looked after’ on their visit to us.
Breeding a litter of puppies is something no one should do without considerable thought. Rearing a litter of pups requires a lot of effort and planning. Having said all of that, it can be the most rewarding of experiences, but it will require you to be prepared to clean up behind messy puppies for at least four weeks.
Last week I mentioned how, what, where, when and why I had spent some time working with Grace and her cocker spaniel Ella (see last weeks blog), and this week I had an email from Grace that I thought was worth including because it details some of the handling and training methods we employed and of course everyone loves a happy ending. Well, I do anyway!
“I took Ella out today on a small shoot and she was absolutely FANTASTIC - didn't put a foot wrong, or squeak once! I did what you suggested and let her run free (ish!) to the drives, didn't make her sit - she didn't run in, she didn't squeak and she retrieved everything perfectly (I didn't let her go for any runners at all).... she was so good that at least three of the guns commented on her behaviour. She really was PERFECT all day - so thank you, once again for everything you did on Tuesday!”
If only all dog training was that straightforward and easy. All joking aside, most dog training situations are fairly straightforward - they just need for us to take a really considered approach to the training methods we choose to use. So if you are really struggling with a training issue, take a breath, take advice and be prepared to step back until you have really thought your approach right through.
It will soon be Spring, and the evenings are already starting to draw out, in no time at all you’ll be able to get out after work and enjoy some time with your dogs. Some of the best trained gundogs will have got a little independent during the shooting season and a little brush up won’t do them any harm as well as giving you another opportunity to further develop your own skills as a handler."
"The frozen start to the year finally releasing us all from its hold by the weekend. The automatic water feeders are back in action, pathways are clear and the arena has thawed. With three energetic stallions desperate for a gallop and a barn full of heavily pregnant brood mares itching for a leg stretch, Sunday was a relief for us all.
The stallions' intelligent attitude to work and training paid off; all of them were impeccably behaved with just the odd light hearted buck and bounce. They enjoyed working through the paces using rhythm changes to work the whole frame. It was nice to see the look of pleasant relief on their faces at evening stables.
The broodmares are all getting quite large and tired and were much quieter during their first blast of 2010. They just about managed a slow gallop to the top of the field then a roll upon roll upon roll expressed their relief to be out.
With the thaw came a welcome return to a normal working routine. The first of the 2010 stallions for semen freezing would arrive at the centre on Thursday. The owner wants semen for his own use so it's a straightforward package. This stallion has a busy competition season ahead; the owner does not want his breeding commitments to interfere with his competition plans. That's very wise, although there are many other very good reasons for freezing and storing semen.
Semen, once frozen, lasts indefinitely, so it's a sound investment should the unthinkable happen. It's a good alternative if injury prevents semen collection - say, a back injury makes jumping on the phantom painful. Some stallions can present undesirable behaviour and even be unrideable when breeding so if the horse is required to stay in training but also meet his breeding comitments, then frozen semen is a perfect option. Once upon a time, using frozen semen was a very unreliable option but nowadays the vets are much more experienced and have good results with frozen semen.
Yet to confirm is the stallion for semen freezing for international shipping use. A change in EU legislation is holding up the confirmation of a place for him. It is a slow complicated process working through the ministry dialogue. By Wednesday, we still could not confirm a booking date for this client - all good reasons for stallion owners to make their enquiries in good time, especially for specialist procedures.
We have been advertising for a rider/groom. This position also covers handling the breeding stallions for semen collection, working around and with the broodmares and foals. Every day when the yard work is done, we are busy sifting through the many applicants. You want to give everyone a chance but there is one position only and not everyone understands what the work really involves.
More and more people arriving on the yard ask when the foals are due and which will be first. It seems everyone is now thinking of the year ahead. It's nice looking forward to the babies - it gives you something nice to look forward to as we shiver through the last part of the winter months. I now need to make my competition plans with Mooiman known soon - decisions decisions!"
“On Saturday 16 January, I was in college for the final of the Foods From Spain ‘Young Spanish Chef of the Year’ competition. I have helped develop this competition over the last two years and last year it was won by one of our now ex-students at the college, David Powell.
The competition was conceived to give young chefs an insight into the world of Spanish ingredients by not only formulating a menu from a set selection of ingredients but by also inviting them learn about the story, background and providence of Spanish food. The competition is made up of two heats; the first being a paper entry where the director of Foods from Spain (a Spanish government body set up to promote Spanish food in the UK) Maria Jose Sevilla and myself ploughed through the multitude of entries to select eight finalist that would go through to a cook-off final. At the final, each competitor would undergo a five minute interview with the panel of judges. Maria Jose Seville and myself were joined this time by Peter Gordon, a celebrity chef and owner of The Providores restaurant.
These interviews tested the knowledge the competitors had gained about Spanish food and the providence of the ingredients they had chosen to use in their dishes. The standard this year was impressive with finalists coming from all over the country. On the day, skill, knowledge, taste and presentation were all high on the agenda for each of the judges. The first prize was seven days including hotel and car hire in Spain and a three day stay at the famous El Bulli, considered the world’s best restaurant. Last year’s winner, Westminster Kingsway student David Powell, was on hand to tell of this fantastic place and what the 2010 winner could expect.
In fact, David ended up being at El Bulli for 10 days - an experience that I am sure he will never forget and that will stand him in good stead on his CV for the rest of his working life. The hard work put in by each finalist must be commended as the dishes were outstanding and so was their knowledge. Selin Kiazim was the overall winner, with Juan Camilo Sanchez Chavez coming second and Ben Murphy a close third. They all received a trophy and one of Peter Gordon's new signed Fusion books which has just been released in the UK. Competitions like this allow young chefs to develop and learn about ingredients and foods they may not normally use and I am very proud to be part of it.”
"It’s truly hard for non-anglers to realise the enormous waves of emotion that big fish landed and big challenges achieved provoke. Imagine this: one of your dearest friends catches the fish of a lifetime, a massive 98lb golden mahseer from a river deep in Southern India. It’s a fish he’s just wanted so long. He begins to cry. You begin to cry. We all begin to cry. Tears of the most profound sort - a mixture of relief, of congratulation and of sheer, unadulterated joy.
It happens again. Tom – perhaps forty plus years older - is struggling. Then, in one blissful morning he lands four mighty mahseer. Four fish for over a 150lbs in weight. Again, our emotions over-wash. This is fishing at its very peak. It’s like achieving a summit, a piscatorial Everest. The beauty of the fish. The magnitude of the success. As a kid, starting out on an angling life this is how you dreamed one day it just might be."
"What weather! I can honestly say I've not changed my clothes/dried them out so many times in one week. I'm really starting to wonder how the events will start on time with this amount of water, which is not good. Thankfully I had my ski holiday to keep my motivation up. I also have the most awful cold. I am never ill and I'm not a good patient. I have taken numerous Lemsips and tablets - in fact, I'm rattling along! I have been ill now for seven days, it's not left yet either! Definitely turned the corner now, but I think getting soaked each day doesn't help.
I've been riding as many horses as possible because of my week away. The girls have kept them going very well, and they're all in good form. I'm getting very excited about the season starting as the horses are going so well. My lessons and hard work is definitely paying off, my riding has without doubt improved enormously. So hopefully my results will show this in the spring!
After not riding for a week and then schooling 11 horses in one day, I was a little saddle sore! Even though it rained and rained, I still love riding all the horses as they are so lovely to ride (most of the time!). I have been working on their straightness and being more in the outside rein and with better balance. I understand much more now about dressage; I must admit it was my worst phase previously, but not anymore and I enjoy it more too, which makes the horses enjoy it too.
I still prefer jumping really, of which I did plenty this week at last. I made a straightforward grid with canter poles and fences to get the fizz out of them and practised my turns after the fence, obedience and softness. The next day I built a course complete with my fantastic new fillers, squirrels, mushrooms and flowers! Most of the horses were not too bothered by these but some were. I hope Ed will make me more as they are so spooky, but can never be spooky enough in my opinion. I think the horse are so pleased to be jumping again, they jumped out of their skins. I hope this form continues all season.
I was due to be a model on Saturday at Newbury for a charity but sadly I have been too unwell. Very disappointing as was a great night I hear. My modelling debut is still to occur then. There was no way I could go down the catwalk with these puffy eyes, I look dreadful. I hope however to look better tomorrow as Look East are coming to film me on my road to 2012."