Steph wins her biggest class with Mr Hyde, and thinks she may have found her next dressage star...
I did my first Intermediate II with Clyde (Mr Hyde) at Vale View EC in Melton Mowbray – and he won the class, bless him, with a score of 67.72%. He didn’t really make any mistakes and I was in shock when I came out of the arena. It was judged by David Trott, who is a list one judge, so it was great to get a good score from him.
We did the Prix St Georges first, and got about the same mark. David said Clyde's hind leg in canter needs to be more through and under. I think it’s because PSG feels feels easy to him, so I don’t really ride him – I just sit there going ‘la la la’ - but in the Inter II, it was more like ‘oh my god, I’ve got to do all this and I don’t really know what I’m doing!’. Everything happens so much quicker, so I rode him more forward and together. David said the test really suits the horse, as it enables him to stay more engaged.
When we arrived I said to my husband Simon, 'Please let it be in the international arena', but it was in the national one, which means the ‘bogey monsters’ are much closer to the arena! There were plastic chairs and lots of coloured mucking out buckets, which are his nemesis as he thinks they’re going to eat him! There was even a dog bed near the arena – I just thought, ‘please don’t let my changes be towards that!’
He was tense in the corners where the bogey men were, but I got him back quick enough to do all the movements. Luckily he got everything, and we scored eights for the piaffe. Richard Davison, my trainer, always said he has good natural piaffe, but until you put into practice you don’t really know.
I’m so pleased with him, as it was his first outing at that level, and it’s given both of more confidence. So I might do the High Profile show at Bury Farm at the end of the month – although I’ll probably get about 58% now!
When you go out locally you’ve only got one judge, but at the bigger shows there are a group of judges. Because my horses are bit marmite-like, I’m guaranteed to get at least one judge that doesn’t like him, which pulls your marks down. When I went to Hartpury Premier League with Clyde and I thought he’d done really well, but he only got 60.8%. So I’m on the back foot about it all and I’m scared to be too hopeful.
That said, there have been changes to the FEI test and there is more emphasis on the piaffe now when scoring, which suits us as that’s his strong point. I really don’t have to do anything – he gets a good mark for going into and coming out again, and good marks for the actual piaffe as well. But we will wait and see – anything can change between now and then!
Mr P is enjoying his retirement. I rode him yesterday and he was a complete twit – turning into a bucking and broncoing nutcase every time he touched a blade of grass. I’m just going keep him ticking over during the winter and then decide what to do with him. I’m not even going to clip him this year as he hates it, so he’s going to be a woolly mammoth. I’m just going to let him chill – that’s what retirement all about!
I had some lovely news the other day as someone contacted me via Facebook, with photos of him as a baby. I took one look at them and just knew it was Rimmer – and his mum had a massive white face!
They’ve got all his papers as well, which is fantastic as in the 15 years I’ve had him I never knew how he was bred. I didn't really knew how old he was either. He was sold me to as a four-year-old, but the vet said he was three. So I’ll get to find out his real age too. Apparently they’ve got a five-year-old relative of Mr P, who is a chestnut roan, so I can’t wait to see what he looks like.
Speaking of babies, Clooney, our four-year old, has been very naughty recently. I half own him with a friend, Julie Harris, and he’s been testing her out! She hacked him out by himself for the first time and he was a very good boy, but then the farmer moved his cows and Clooney decided he was not going past them. Simon or I would have stayed up there day all if we had to – but she turned him around and brought him back home.
So I frogmarched the pair of them back up to moor and I chased him past the cows with a lunge whip. He set off at a spanking trot and I shouted to Julie: ‘Don’t you dare stop that horse till you’re back in the yard!’
Now Clooney has to lead out on hacks. He doesn’t want to, so we stick Rimmer or Clyde right behind him and every time he stops they nudge him up the backside to get him going again. He only really needs a tap on the bum to get him going forward – we just need to convince Julie that he’s not going to buck!
In the meantime, I think we might have found my next international Grand Prix ride – he’s a donkey with very large ears that Annabel fell in love with on our holiday. We went to Majorca for a week, and he was in the villa next to ours. Annabel would call for him and he'd eeyore very loudly and come galloping over. The only problem was we conditioned him to expect treats, because everytime he saw the kids playing in the pool he stood there calling to them for more carrots!
Coming back to this weather was a bit of a shock – it was in the mid 20s over there and when we drove back from the airport on Saturday it was three degrees! Winter seems to have arrived at last."
"One week Mr P is doing the grand prix at the Nationals and the next he’s giving pony rides!"
In her latest blog, Steph Croxford talks about her horse of a lifetime, Mr President...
"So, Mr P has been retired from top-level competition, after competing in his last ever Grand Prix test at the National Dressage Championships. Not a bad way to go out! We scored 65.6% and came 14th, so he didn’t disgrace himself and it was nice to be able to do adequate job and say ‘thank you very much', but now he’s going to have nice life at home.
I made sure his retirement wasn’t announced until after he’d done the test – so I could do it professionally and properly, otherwise I would have been blubbering rather than concentrating on what I was doing.
The crowd started clapping when we'd finished, so I thought I should get off to let Mr P take it all in. I didn’t realise the significance of getting off him and rolling up my stirrups for the last time – I was quite overcome with emotion.
I didn’t think we’d get to nationals this year, but British Dressage called to say we’d got a wild card after our performance at Keysoe, where we scored 69.82%. Well, I nearly fell on the floor, as I never thought we’d make it there in a million years. I just felt there was a reason why we’d been given this opportunity, it was like someone was telling us it’s the right time to retire him, and Simon agreed, so that was how we made our very tough decision.
There is nothing wrong with him, but for the last few months he’s been missing changes more, and he’s just feeling older now. I don’t want to force him to do it and to be kicking him down the centre line for the sake of it, and scoring 59% – that’s not how I want him to be remembered.
In a way it’s like a weight has been lifted, as it’s hard to know how long to go on for. I didn’t want people saying behind my back, ‘they’re really slogging that horse’ or ‘why don’t they downgrade him?’.
It’s great that we’ve been able to retire him at top level – fit, sound and really enjoying himself.
So now he’s enjoying life at home – and it’s great to see him happy as Larry galloping around his field like a lunatic. He’s being ridden four times a week and is still schooling because it what he enjoys. So he’s not properly retired – he doesn't know how, as he’s a worker. And if there is a pick-your-own test at a local show, or a demo, we’ll go out and do a few tricks.
The kids have already been taking advantage of his senior status, and getting on board. What a different a week makes - one week he's doing the Grand Prix at the Nationals and the next he’s giving pony rides around the school!
I was planning on using him as a schoolmaster, but I can’t get the insurance. It’s such a shame as it’s a waste of a good horse with a lot of potential to teach people as he’s so safe – I wouldn’t trust him with my kids otherwise.
I’m also thinking about jumping him again as he’s not done it in 10 years! What if his bones don’t take it? But it will only be little fences around the school. Annabel, my six-year-old, has already said she wants to go over a cross pole with him, but I told her she needs to master sitting trot first!
It was because of his incredible jump that I bought him, all those years ago, as a three-year-old. I remember when I went to see him – I thought he looked like a right donkey and I made Ian Smith (who was selling him) get me another horse out! But before I went, he persuaded me to take a proper look at Mr P and he changed as soon as went into the arena. I thought ‘oh my god he’s got funny trot!’. I didn’t know it was piaffe at the time!
Then he popped over a 5ft spread, so I bought him because he could jump, even though was ugly as sin. I even tried to get his price down, saying ‘I’m not paying £2,500 for that!’. But Ian wouldn’t budge. Luckily I decided to pay up – and the rest is history.
I’d never done dressage before Mr P and I always felt I was playing catch up with him. He just found it all so easy. Scale of training? What’s that? We always thought of dressage as doing circus tricks!
I knew he was something special from Advanced Medium upwards when he could knock out changes as our get out of jail card! I used to go to Premier League shows and people would be huffing and puffing, but it always felt really easy to us.
It’s also his huge personality that makes him so special – he oozes attitude. It was as if he was saying, ‘I know I’m wrong for this, but I don’t care. Look, I can do it!’
He was the ugly cousin, and people were always shocked when they saw him the arena.
He came to me too early in my career really, because if I’d had the knowledge I’ve got now, just think what he could have done. Richard Davison, my trainer, always said he had potential to be one of the top 10 horses in the world.
It was like finding a Picasso in the attic – he’s one in a billion. I’m always comparing him to other horses – even with Mr Hyde, which is really unfair, but I know I’ll never find another horse like him."
Mr Hyde relaxing after a recent competition. Is it us or are grooms getting younger?!
Steph Croxford is confused about what dressage judges want after some mixed reviews...
"We recently went to Fry’s dressage in Yorkshire with Clyde (Mr Hyde). He got 65.8% in the Prix St George and came fourth, which I was a bit disappointed with. In our previous outing, a list 1 judge gave us 67% in the Advanced Medium and just under 70% in the PSG, so we came back brimming with confidence. But now we’ve had it whipped away again.
Simon and I didn’t think his test was that different this time, so how did we drop nearly five percent? And the horses that he normally beats were ahead of him - I don’t know what went on.
We did the Advanced Medium the next day, which I didn't think was as good. He was more tense, as he knows when the changes are coming, but we got 67.89%. Just goes to show, what do I know about dressage?!
There was more confusion at the Hartpury Regionals last month. I took them both in the end because we got a call the night before to say they had space for Clyde in the Inter 1. I’d given him the day off, but to be fair to him he handled it really well. Our school is 37m long, so we can only do five two-time changes, so when we got to five and I asked him for two more, he went “oh god”. That was our only mistake, but they really didn’t like at him so we only got 60.88%.
I then took Mr P in the Grand Prix, who felt like lazy mule in comparison – I had to kick him around the test - but he got 67.66%!
In the Inter 1 we had a difference of 30 between the different scores, while in the Grand Prix there was a difference of 40. I’m really confused now – I don’t know what they want!
The good news is that Rimmer is being ridden five times a week, hacking and schooling, and he is completely sound. I don’t know what his lameness was all about.
I’m thinking of dropping him down from the Premier League, though and just doing local shows where they have a ‘pick your own’ test, so he feels like he’s still doing it! I’m also toying with the idea of using him as a schoolmaster and giving lessons on him. I’ve put a post on Facebook about it and I’ve been inundated with requests, so I need to be careful who I choose - they’ve got to ride at least Elementary level.
I think it will help with his arthritis to keep him training – and also his brain. Rimmer is such a do-er, if I give him four days off he’s a raving lunatic! The day he retires will be the day he dies, as he doesn’t know how to do nothing.
Unfortunately I’ve had to retire Freddie, though, as his breathing didn’t get better. I couldn’t believe how quickly he went downhill – and the medication he was put on made him worse. So he’s in the field now having a lovely time.
In the meantime we’ve gone out and bought another one from Ian Smith, which is where Clyde and Rimmer came from. This one is an Irish cob x Hackney x Dutch warmblood! He’s black, with a big head, no neck, no bum and he’s scrawny. I look at him and think “what have I just bought”, but he moves well!
He’s only four so he’s at a breakers yard at the moment. Hopefully he’ll start putting on weight and filling out this winter and we’ll aim at the five-year-olds.
We called him Clooney, to go with our two-year-old, George! He’s been working hard recently, bless him, as I had the whole of August free with no Freddie to compete. So George has learnt to lunge and long rein, and has had a saddle and bridle on, and I’ve even laid across his back. We’re just playing, but it means that by next year he’ll be, “whatever”.
All the puppies have gone to their new homes – we could have sold them three times over! People keep putting pictures of them on Facebook, and its lovely to see how they’re getting on.
I wish I could says things are quieter without them, but with Annabel and Ben off school it doesn’t feel like that! So they've been coming to shows with me and scooting around the place, causing havoc.
It's not all horses though, as we’re off on holiday on Saturday for a week in cottage by the sea in Northumberland. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!"
Steph's children, Annabel and Ben, enjoying the new puppies – well someone's got to look after them!
Steph Croxford wonders if she might have to retire two of her dressage horses...
We’re just back from a lovely holiday in the south of France. Annabel had her sixth birthday while we were there and Ben was three yesterday; they are growing up so fast, so it was great to spend time together as a family.
So much has happened since I last wrote, I don’t know where to start… The Nationals feels like an eternity away – Clyde (Mr Hyde) did well, bless him. We were second to go, which didn’t help our score, so we only got 64.8%, but he everything he was supposed to and he coped really well with the atmosphere in the Prix St Georges to music, so I was very pleased with him.
He also did his first Inter one at Fieldhouse last month – I wanted to have a play at Inter two, but my husband wouldn’t let me! I’d ridden the test two weeks earlier in our school which is 37m long and it’s a 60x20m test, so trying to fit it all in was a bit tight and stressy to say the least. Relaxation wasn’t high on our agenda!
I said afterwards that our test was going to be car crash, but we had so much space and time in between the movements, that he went really well and scored 67.8%, which I was so chuffed with, especially as it was our first time at that level.
I’ve not been able to campaign Clyde at the Premier League shows this year, as we can’t afford to have two horses at that level. So generally we enter Mr P and if he doesn’t go for any reason, then Clyde goes instead.
This might be the case at Hartpury Premier League next week, as Rimmer (Mr P) went lame at our last competition at Somerford. He’d gone great there a couple of weeks earlier when we beat my instructor Richard [Davison] with a score of more than 70%. That was a bit of a shock and I don’t think it will ever have happen again!
But when we went back it was on a different surface. He warmed up fine, but as soon as we trotted into arena I knew something wasn’t right. I spent the entire test asking myself if he was lame, or was I being paranoid. I didn’t know if I should retire or not, but I thought I’d try the canter work, which he did it ok and only missed just change. Then he started to loosen up as the test went on and his extended trot felt better.
But when we got him off the wagon at home he was hoping lame. So we gave him couple days of and then trotted him up on the road and he was totally sound. So where do we go from here?
We’ve ummed and ahhed and have decided to enter him for Hartbury. If he’s not 100% before hand we will pull him out and drag in Clyde, or if we make it to the show and he's not right then we’ll put hands up and say ok, it’s his time to retire him.
We still managed to get over 63%, which isn’t too bad with a three-legged horse! I haven’t even read the result sheet yet, I looked at the first bit which said the extended trot was irregular, and then I couldn’t face reading anymore!
I suspect it could be the traveling that’s causing it, because he’s fine at home. I also wonder if we’ve softened him up too much as I’ve always ridden him with bandages on the front legs. So now I school him in bandages but he hacks out in brushing boots to strengthen everything back up again. Touch wood he’ll be fine – he’s great now, and was powering along the road yesterday.
Sadly we’ve also had problems with Freddie, and it looks like we might have to retire him. He qualified for the Shearwater Six-Year-Old a few weeks ago, but his cough is getting worse. I thought it was hayfever, but he’s had £600 of drugs thrown at him and even been on a ventilator but nothing seems to help.
We live near a quarry and I wonder if it’s a reaction to quarry dust. So he’s been sent up to friends for a month to see if living somewhere else helps. She told us that they when he got there he just lay down in the field.
I feel a bit lost with only two to do every morning. I’m not sure what to do with myself. People keep offering me horses, but I’m not ready to think about that yet. Beside the ones I like are generally £25,000 so I don’t we’ll be buying anything like that!
Some good news is that our schnauzer Maisie had her first litter six weeks ago. She lost one of them, but I’m glad to say we have five healthy and very lively puppies, tearing around the garden as I write.
Maisie is like a teenager mother! I have to tell her to go and feed her babies, and just looks at me like ‘whatever!’. I have to make her stand there while they have a drink from milk bar.
It’s a good job our other schnauzer is around, as she's acting as aunty and doing everything for the puppies but feeding them. So between them they’ve got a good shift system going! We’ve found lovely homes for them already, so in a couple of weeks time things will calm down a bit for us all, although there never seems to be a quiet day in the Croxford household."
Tinker and Maisy (left), who is hopefully expecting puppies in early May
I’ve taken my young horse Freddie out to a couple more unaffiliated tests. He got 72% in the Prelim and 73% in the Novice, so we’re definitely heading in the right direction. I think he won the classes, but that’s not the whole reason for doing it. He was fine about getting on the lorry this time - thank goodness! It was so embarrassing when he wouldn’t load at our last show. There must have been something that he didn’t like for some bizarre reason as, touch wood, he’s been fine since.
We did have another incident with him though, as he got both his back legs stuck in his haynet. He managed to rip off an 8-inch x 3-inch piece of skin from one of his back legs, which was pretty horrendous, but he’s a tough old thing and 10 days later he was fine.
He’s working at Elementary/Medium at home now so I’ve been looking at Six-Year-Old tests and might have a play at one of them. There’s one in June locally, so I’ll be aiming him for that. I also plan to affiliate him by then, as I want him to start taking him out at Medium level.
I can’t believe I’m thinking about June already when it still feels like winter, but the dressage to music clinics are proving so popular that Julie has got me booked up till then. I don’t event know what I’m doing tomorrow, never mind in June!
That said, we've booked a weekend in France for the children as it’s both their birthdays in June. We asked Annabel whether she wanted a party or to go to France, and she chose the later as she likes practicing her French - even though she’s only five! Simon’s parents hire a farmhouse near Nice each year, which has a pool and tennis courts, so we’ll be staying there.
Before that we’ve got a big family event over Easter as my brother is getting married in Lowestoft. Annabel is going to be bridesmaid and I’ve got to get my son Ben a suit, and make sure my husband gets his hair cut as it looks like a mop at the moment. I’ve been shopping for a frock but I’ll still look like a man in drag! Somehow I look even worse in heels and I’m definitely not wearing a hat!
The big boys are keeping me busy too. I took Clyde to Myerscough Regional Championships for the Advanced Medium open, Advanced music and the PSG music. We used the Advance Medium as an arena warm-up, so that he could have a good look around. He was a bit tense and spooky, as expected, so we only got 63%, but in the Advanced he got 70% and just missed out on qualifying. And we won the PSG music, so now we’re off to the Winter National Championships next month. I was so shocked! Clyde went from zero to hero in 24 hours!
It just shows what acclimatising him to a new environment can do. I now know that he’s a horse that you need to take to a competition a few days before the main event if I can afford it.
I also took Mr President to the Myerscough Premier League, where we did the Grand Prix. Talk about a car crash! I’ve been doing Grand Prix for 10 years with him so how I can still forget where I’m going I do not know. Half way through the trot you had to halt and do a rein back, but I decided it wasn’t important and just missed it out!
One of judges said “halt steph”, and I went “oh god!”. The humiliation of it!
Mr P also had his tongue stuck out at the judges all the way round. He still got 65.6% and came fifth, so we didn’t totally disgrace ourselves. At 19 he’s still really up for it - he dragged me around the test and loved it out there. So I’m aiming for Keysoe Premier League next.
In a couple of weeks of time I’ll run through another Grand Prix with him at a pick your own test, just so I’m not so damn rusty when we get in the arena next time.
We could have even more on our hands in eight weeks time, when we hope to hear the patter of tiny paws. Maisy, one of our schnauzers, has been to find a boyfriend. She really wasn’t keen at first and I’d decided she was gay! However, it turned out all she wanted was a nice experienced man! So we’re hoping she’ll have a litter at the beginning of May. Watch this space...."
"We had a lovely Christmas, with just the four of us, although Simon and I were completed exhausted by the end of it as we had already travelled around the country to see both our families.
We always try to get up early to do the horses before the kids get up, but it didn’t work on Christmas day. Annabel called down, “mummy has Santa been yet?” So we let her climb into our bed with her stocking full of presents and she waited to open them while we mucked out, bless her!
It took then virtually all day to open their presents, while I stood by with a pen and paper to make sure I knew who had given what. We didn’t get to open ours till around 8pm! I got some nice fluffy boots for the yard, a riding coat, a watch and autobiographies by Miranda Hart and Dawn French, as well as the usual things like more pyjamas!
It’s back to work with the horses now, and they’re all going really well. Clyde [Mr Hyde] qualified at Bishop Burton for the regional championships in Advanced Medium, Medium Freestyle and PSG [Prix St George] to music.
Mr P is still a bit hyper since being clipped before Christmas, but I took him to do a local Grand Prix and he did a nice test and scored 67.7. He had a lovely time and I think we won, but I don’t tend to hang around to wait for the results at local shows!
We also took our five-year-old Freddie out to his first unaffiliated show. We did a Novice and Elementary test at a Trailblazers and managed to score 65 in the novice, even though we almost dived out of the arena.
Poor Freddie had never been in arena before and he didn’t understand the white boards. As there is a gap at A he went to the left, I yanked to the right, and we ended up landing in middle of them. One of the white boards flicked him under his belly and he leapt and did huge buck - I lost my left stirrup and nearly came out the side door. I thought we’d end up being disqualified, but luckily I stayed on. We only got three for that movement, although Simon somehow missed it all.
I said to him, ‘did you see that?’ and just said said: “See what? I was reading!” So I must have looked quite composed when he looked up again.
In the Elementary Freddie had worked out the boards by then and we got 67.6, which I was so pleased with as he was only backed in July.
We did manage to disgrace ourselves trying to get home, however, as Freddie wouldn’t go on the wagon. He was rearing and managed to get away from us in the car park. We must have looked like a pair of complete amateurs and various people offered to help. It was quite amusing getting all sorts of advice from fellow unaffiliated competitors on how to load a horse! I’ve no idea why he did it as he’s never done it before and has never been nappy. We had to use the bridle in the end.
When we finally got him we unloaded him and then put him back on and he walked straight back up! We’re planning on taking him out to do another unaffiliated Novice or Elementary next month and we’ll definitely take a chifney we us!
We’ve got another youngster called George, who is a two-year-old by the 2011 Dutch harness champion, Waldemar – he looks like Mr P in harness! As far we know he is the only Waldemar youngster in the country. He’s also half brother to Cizandro, who is up for KWPN horse of the year against Valegro.
George looks like a calmer version of Clyde, so we’re hoping he’ll be like him but with a more sensible head. It’s quite exciting to see how he comes out, but for now he’s just eating grass, chilling out and enjoying life.
"Since being clipped Mr P has turned into a complete lunatic!"
Clyde [Mr Hyde] is still going really well. Julie Geraughty, who I run the dressage to music clinics with, put together some music for a Prix St George (PSG) test at Bishop Burton. I thought we’d just have a little play, but we ended up scoring 71.25, which was a bit of a shock! The nearest score to us was 66-something, so we won it well. I was thrilled.
We also did our first ‘proper’ PSG a few weeks ago at the High Profile show at Vale View in Leicestershire. We scored 64.6 and came 10th out of 24, so we certainly didn’t disgrace ourselves. But what I was most pleased with was that Clyde really tried, and he let me ride him.
We’ve finally clipped Rimmer [Mr P], and ever since he’s been a complete lunatic. We always clip him as late as possible as he hates it, but he was a shaggy monster and we’ve got a competition coming up. I told him he can’t go out in public looking like that, so we pined him down and clipped him.
I think he thinks he’s off to Olympia as the only time we ever clipped him properly was for that show, but it’s just a little tootle out to do the grand prix at Field House in Uttoxeter.
I’m also going to start doing some stuff with our five-year-old Freddie. I’m taking him to his first unaffiliated prelim on Sunday (9 December), or we might do a novice. I just pray he stays straight going down the centre line!
The other five-year-old in the family, has no intention of ever doing a dressage test. My daughter Annabel is not remotely interested in horses and during the week I take her to ballet, swimming and tennis lessons. But she is very good about coming to shows at the weekend and never moans. Mind you, the Nintendo DS helps!
She just did her first ballet exam and got 84 per cent, so her teachers were really pleased with her. But I reckon Wimbledon is calling – or at least it better be – as I drive her all the way to Derby every week for tennis coaching. There are no decent coaches around here, and the club she goes to is really nice with a great coach.
Annabel is so excited about Christmas and has been going on about putting the Christmas decorations up for weeks. I said that as soon as December was here I’d get them out. So I’ve spent all day putting them, with my two-year-old son Ben ‘helping’ me.
We’ll be at home for Christmas, with just the four of us, which I’m really looking forward to. And we’ve got a couple of pantos lined up for the kids, which they love.
The horses will get Christmas and Boxing day off, but then it’s business as usual as we will be building up for the summer regionals in the new year. I’ll be aiming to qualify in the advanced medium and PSG, and if I do that then I’ll have look at qualifying for the PSG to music. That's the fun bit!
I might do the Addington high profile show, but I haven’t decide if I’m definitely going yet, or which horse to take. The prospect of Addintgon car park in the middle of January doesn’t really appeal when I could be sat by a warm fire instead. It’s not got any qualifier classes so part of me thinks, what’s the point? It all depends how enthusiastic I’m feeling in the new year.
In the meantime I’m keeping up my lessons with Richard [Davison] to keep me and the horses ticking over. In my last lesson we went from medium to grand prix in 45 minutes. Suddenly we were doing two time changes! Poor Clyde had a bit of a shock, but he slept well that night.
It's been a busy few months. I took Mr P to the British Dressage National Championships, where we made a lot of silly mistakes that we wouldn’t normally make, as we were a bit ring rusty. I asked for piaffe and he said, ‘what?’ He never normally misses on the one-time changes – although five is often the bogey one – so I was counting, three, four, five, six… When I suddenly thought ‘ohmigod, I don’t know what leg I’m on!’ We still got a respectable score of 65.7, so didn’t disgrace ourselves.
We didn’t come down the night before the competition, which in hindsight was a mistake. Mr P had to travel from Yorkshire to Stoneleigh, and then warm up and do the test all on the Saturday – and he was knackered. He’s 18 now, so I think I need to re-assess things.
I’m not saying he’s ready to slow down yet – Mr P isn’t a horse you can retire as he’s still so switched on. And as long as wants to keep doing it and go down that centre line we’ll carry on. At the moment he’s definitely still up for it – he dragged me down the centre line at the nationals – and as long as feels this good it’s not fair to say ‘we’ve had enough of you now’.
My main reason for going to the Nationals was to do my Kur test as part of a demo with Richard Davison. We had a blast doing it and after our grand prix test I was really pleased the demo went well. I chose Fatboy Slim for the music, which was a bit of a marmite moment as I knew people would either love it or hate it. We got a big cheer at the end, so I think it went down okay and we got everything in the right place.
I’m hoping to take Mr P to the high profile show at Vale View in Leicestershire and we’re also umming and ahhing about whether to take Mr Hyde to do a prix st george (PSG) there.
He’s going really well at the moment – we had another couple of goes at a PSG in pick your own tests. At Beaver Hall we won with a score of 69% and we also came fourth at Vale View with 67.8%.
I don’t want to get too exited, but I’m really pleased with him. He’s always been a trier and now he’s beginning to show he can cope in stressful situations and get reasonable marks. And at seven years old he’s still only a baby.
I’m teaching him one-time changes at the moment. He can do about 10 but they’re all on the same spot. It’s like he’s saying, ‘I can either go forward or move my legs – I can’t do both!’
The dressage to music clinics are still going well, which I do with Julie Geraghty from Equivisions. We did one a Brooksby Equestrian Centre recently and it was fully booked.
Before we meet our clients we ask them to email us their strengths and weaknesses along with their music tastes – so we have an idea in advance of what they want. I then put a floor plan together, although I often end up making changes once I see them ride as people don’t always tell truth! They either over or under estimate their ability.
During the clinic I spend around 40 minutes with each rider, and go through the floor plan with them before they ride through all the sections. We then video and time it, before it goes to Julie who finds the right music. And all for £150 – bargain!
"Artemis is known to be spooky, but Richard has worked incredibly hard trying to acclimatise him"
After much deliberation I decided to take Mr Hyde to his first Prix St George (PSG). It certainly wasn’t his best test, but he didn’t disgrace himself either. The conditions were awful – it was sweltering and there was no air to take away the horse flies, which were horrendous. Mr Hyde can be so sensitive, so he didn’t cope with them very well, but we still scored 63.85, which I was really pleased with.
We would have scored higher, but had two points deducted as it turns out I was riding the wrong test! Simon was reading it out and suddenly the judge beeped the horn. I didn’t know what was wrong as I’d performed what he was calling, but the judge said we were doing the 2000 test, and it changed in 2009! That just goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve ridden a PSG!
By that point I had no idea where I was going, but we carried on and managed to finish the test. It was a bit of a wing and a prayer, but the main thing is we got all the changes and the pirouette work.
It’s given me confidence that Mr Hyde can go out and do it now, although I don’t know what I’ve worrying about. We’ve done around nine advanced tests now and he’s only ever missed one line of changes. But every time during the changes I’m thinking ‘come on!’
Both the boys have had a bit of break since then, as I’ve been on holiday with the family. You wouldn’t think the Northumbrian coast would be a sun spot, but we had our own little micro-climate there, and the weather was lovely.
It was nice to have a non-horsey week. Our house sitter Tally always looks after the place while we are gone. This time, as well as five horses and two dogs to take care of there were five puppies as Tinker, our miniature Schnauzer, has just had become a mum for the third time. Tally is going to Australia for a year – how dare she! I don’t know how we’re going to cope – but I’ve begged her to come and stay during the nationals before she goes.
They are just a couple of weeks away now, so we’re in full gear mode with Mr P. It was a bit of a shock to his system after our holiday. You could tell he was thinking, ‘God, this is hard work’ and he was grunting like an old man. I think I was as well!
I’ve got a couple of lessons with Richard [Davison] beforehand. I’m supposed to be doing a demo with him at the nationals, but I can’t do the dressage to music as well as it’s on the same day. Rules state you’re not allowed to do more than one FEI test in a day – it might be seen as an advantage as I’ll have already been in the arena.
I’ll see how we go in the grand prix, and then decide. We might not qualify anyway – which means I can definitely do the demo. I would like to do the music test though, as Julie Geraghty has put together some Fat Boy Slim music and I can’t wait to see the judges faces: ‘Right here, right now, right here, right now!’
I’ve spoken to Richard about his performance at the Olympics. He was disappointed as in the grand prix special Artemis spooked a lot – he said it was down to the whirring of the cameras. Artemis is known to be spooky, but Richard has worked incredible hard over the last couple years trying to acclimatise him to situations like that. He did the world cup circuit, which is very intense, but it still didn’t settle him enough.
A lot of horses were backing off going into that corner. Canadian rider, David Marcus, was disqualified as his horse also spooked at a TV camera, which meant the rest of his team was too. To fly all the way over to the UK and not even have a chance to compete is so unfair.
Nick Skelton said the same thing happened to him in the individual jump-off. When he came to the upright – all the cameras went off, and he had it down.
It’s an outside influence, so it needs to be looked at. I think there should to be minimum distance from the horses where they can set up the cameras. To make it worse they threw bits of fake grass over the top of the damn things to try to hide them. It would be better to leave them uncovered, so at least the horses could comprehend what they are.
I didn’t get to see the dressage, but took the family to cross-country day, which was just brilliant. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had a picnic in park and the kids loved it.
Simon’s parents have got a flat in London so we stayed there. We got a boat up the Thames to Greenwich and went through the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge and we did the London Eye the next day, so it was a proper London experience.
When we got the train back to Victoria, there was a sea of pink and purple volunteers everywhere. You only had to look slightly lost and someone came to help you out. It was an amazing couple of days.
As I write this, the children are playing in our new paddling pool out in the garden. The sun has finally come out and we’ve got a life again, after feeling like it’s the middle of winter. They’ve been out there all morning and are starting to look like little prunes! The pool is much bigger than it looked in the shop, and it took me an hour just to pump it up half way. I feel like I’ve done an aerobics class!
The horses have been enjoying the warm weather too and finally getting some sun on their backs. We’re quite high up here – around 1000ft above sea level – so it’s not too warm although the flies can be a pain. I’ve had to put their masks on for the first time this summer.
Both of my boys have been doing really well out competing, although they do have their moments. I took Mr President to Sheepgate Premier League in Lincolnshire last month as a late entry. He was so naughty in the first test took that I almost pulled him out of the rest of the show. He stuck his tongue out at the judge all the way down the centre line and then decided to do a medium gallop, so our one-changes were rather fast!
I was sitting there thinking this is going to be 59% and yet he got 68-something – obviously they were judging a different test to the one I rode!
The next day he was much calmer and we both worked out what we should be doing after our time off. We won two grand prixs and direct qualified for the national championships.
While we at that nationals we are also going to do a demo, as BD has asked my trainer, Richard [Davison], to do some demos there.
I took My Hyde to Sheepgate too and we won the Advanced test, which is great considering he’s only seven.
Hyde also qualified for the advanced medium at the regional championships at Frys two weekends ago. It was a flaming disaster! We got to Beverly, which is 50 minutes away, and the clutch went on the lorry in the middle of town centre. We caused a complete gridlock in the entire town and the police had to be called to try to sort out the traffic.
My friend Helen Lowe managed to pick me up with her lorry, and you should have seen poor Hyde’s face when he got out. He’s never seen traffic like it, or shops! We had an audience by that stage, with kids sucking lollypops watching.
I then abandoned my kids and husband in the lorry and dashed off to the show. They refused to move my start time so I only had three minutes warm up. Bless him, he still scored 65.53 which I was really pleased with and we came fifth.
As for my family in the lorry – the kids spent five hours travelling in the wagon from East Yorkshire and back again, and never got to see mummy ride. Once they got the wagon going, Simon drove it back.
I turns out one of hydraulic pipes had fractured so clutch fluid had been pouring out and there was none left. If the lights had been on green we would have been fine, as we could have stayed in second gear all the way to Frys. Life’s never boring here!
I’m thinking of doing our first prix st george with Hyde this Thursday – although I might bottle it. We’ve done a 102 a few times – and it’s not that different, it just has a few more changes on the diagonal.
The hardest thing will be my tailcoat, as he’s terrified of it because it touches him behind the saddle. I got on him on Saturday and schooled him in it and he was very calm, but it was a still day. So I got on yesterday thinking he’d be fine but the wind was blowing and he was like a rocket.
I’ve been discussing with Simon how we can fold it up so it looks like a normal jacket and then when I get on, we can slowly unravel it as I warm up. I could have a go and if ends up as a car crash we can always retire so no-one sees my score!
I’ve also been busy with a new sideline, as British Dressage have asked me to help them with dressage to music. I design the floor plans and Julie Geraghty of Equivisions does the music. It seems really popular and we’ve been inundated with requests. So I’ve been visiting colleges all over the UK, which is great, but knackering as I’m out at 6am start and not back till 8pm.
I’m looking forward to having some time off next week as we’re going down to the Olympics to watch the cross-country. Dressage is too boring and the kids can’t watch that for eight hours, so I’ve told them they can walk around Greenwhich park instead, and that there might be the odd horse passing through!