Dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer has been spending the short winter days training the youngsters and taking on some new - rather muddy - challenges…
“Now that we are well into winter and the days are getting colder and shorter (groan), the competition season has got quieter for me, particularly as I already have Socs (Tantoni Sir Socrates) and Bracks (Headmore Boadicia) qualified for every class we are aiming them for. This means that it is a fantastic time for training the horses and teaching them new things, which I love! It's what keeps me going through the winter - I'm not good with cold.
I did have one competition, the High Profile show at Bury Farm with Del. It was a very late test; we weren't in the arena until 9.15pm, so I was hoping Del would still be up for it in the dark and cold. He had been a lot more confident at home in the Grand Prix work and I was hoping we could transfer it into the ring. He warmed up well but was a bit nervous at the start of the test, but the hard stuff was much more established. There were also a few rider errors where I'm a bit ring rusty. Nevertheless, we still scored 68% to finish fifth, and when I can ride with more power the scores will rocket!
The following morning I had to motivate myself to run the Grim challenge. This is an eight-and-a-bit mile run around Aldershot army vehicle training grounds through puddles and mud, under nets and over obstacles. My personal trainer (and so-called friend, not sure after the run) had persuaded me to do it. It was incredibly difficult, especially as I'm not a natural runner, but we got round in a time of 1 hour 18 mins. I was pleased as the only time I stopped running was to wade through the waist deep puddles. Gemma is all up for doing it next year but I'm not so sure. I did get a t-shirt for finishing however, but I could be heard complaining that "we had to pay for this s***", but it is something that I can add to my list of achievements!”
Dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer has had a busy few weeks - with a trip to Italy, a successful competition at a famous indoor show, a masterclass under some very watchful eyes, a new puppy and a new sponsor!
“Last time I wrote was just after my holiday to Tenerife. Just as soon as one holiday was over, another came along and I was straight off to Venice with my friend Kerri. We did lots of touristy things like catching a water taxi into St Mark’s Square and visiting the Basilica. We also went on a bike ride to one of the nearby villages to visit Villa Pisani in Stra. We had a very enjoyable ride and the castle was amazing - though when we were walking around the rooms we heard a child screaming, even though there was none around. I'm sure it's haunted! We also tried some wine tasting and shopping, but unfortunately the weather ruined our last couple of days and meant we couldn’t go on a planned boat ride. I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back to Italy.
When I got home I had another quick turnaround as Del (Headmore Delegate) and I had been invited to compete in the Mount St John Future Dressage Elite Championship at Bimingham’s NEC. There was a lot to take in, from scurry ponies and the King’s Troop, to miniature horses in their tiny rugs and bandages. We even saw one competitor straightening her Fell pony's feathers with a pair of hair straighteners! We were drawn second to go and I just wanted to get in the arena and enjoy it. I'd decided I was going to go for it with a difficult Freestyle test and, although Del was nervous, my trusty Nupafeed helped him to stay with me and he answered every question. We were rewarded with 74% to finish a very close second behind Michael Eilberg. I couldn't have been happier with Del.
With the winter now drawing in, it means less competing and more time to train and teach the horses new things. Though I did have a small outing recently when I was asked to be a guinea pig at the List 1 and 2 judges seminar with Del. It was being taken by Stephen Clarke, our most renowned international judge. I was a bit nervous having to go in front of all of our top judges, but didn’t have to ride the entire test, just some of the movements. Stephen gave me some good advice on improving the canter pirouettes and piaffe and passage, and he praised our changes. He was very complimentary about Del, and said he was very exciting for the future.
Kate (my sister) and I also picked up our puppy. As we have moved to a new house, we didn't have any pets with us as Stitch and Hector (the dogs) and Ricky and Spot (the cats) had stayed next door at our parents’ house. Stitch had had a litter of puppies with a very cute Norfolk terrier, so we had decided to get one and opted for 'his first born son'. Charlie is mega cute and looks quite a lot like Stitch. Hector thinks he is fab and plays with him, but Stitch is a bit nervous. I think he didn't want the responsibility, he would rather be an absent father!
Finally, I am pleased to announce that I have a new sponsor. Hampshire Stone is based in Lasham which is not far from us at Headmore. They produce granite and marble work tops for kitchens and bathrooms and they wanted to support a local, up and coming sporting talent, having been inspired by the London Olympics. In their words, they are “proud to recognise all of the hard work that goes Alice puts into achieving her goals and she has proved to be just as passionate as us in pursuance of excellence.” I look forward to working with them, and have my fingers crossed for a lovely new kitchen in the future!"
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."
Alice reflects on a fun-filled girls' holiday in Tenerife...
The end of the Nationals also marks the end of our summer season and with it the opportunity to give the horses a well deserved break. This also means that I have a chance for a bit of a break as well. We had organised a girls holiday to Tenerife so on Monday lunchtime, straight after the Nationals, myself, my sister Kate, my best friend Amy and Charlotte Dujardin made our way to the airport all packed and raring to go.
We spent a fair bit of time sunbathing and lounging by the pool, although we did also organise some activities for the rest of the week, we - Char and I particularly - are so used to being active and riding all day that we struggle to sit still for too long!
We decided to take a trip to Playa Das Americas on the Wednesday to do some watersports. We started off by parascending, which I hadn't been so keen on, but actually wasn't too bad. Following this we went onto the flyfish - for those of you who don't know, this is basically a massive inflatable that you have to hang on to while it is towed by a boat at speed. We laughed so much and Amy accidentally kicked me off, but karma came around as she did a rather unceremonious dismount not long after. It was a wonder Char hadn't been 'bucked off' as well as she was laughing so much at Amy she was crying! The final activity was the jet ski and I was sat behind Kate. It was a bit hair-raising as the sea was very rough, and I got a fair few facefuls of sea water, but we had an absolute blast.
Thursday brought with it another chance to get absolutely drenched as we visited Siam Park, the largest water park in Europe. We went on every ride, even the big one where you drop a vertical slide of 28m, although Amy wimped out of that one! The best part was that you could go on a lot of the rides as a foursome, so everyone got to hear Amy scream like a baby! And considering the size of the park we didn't have to queue for long either, although we did have to walk around all day with no shoes on, so, in Char's words, we were all laminitic by the end of the day. Once we were reshod, however, we were fine! That evening we had an absolutely amazing meal courtesy of the Empire British Steak House. We ate waaaay too much and drank the most delicious cocktails, and they were thrilled to have a double Olympic gold medallist at their restaurant.
It was no rest for the wicked as we had an early start of Friday in order to get to Loro Park as it is situated on the North of the Island. It is essentially a zoo and we got to see some amazing animals, like white tigers, gorillas and meerkats (yes we did call them Aleksander and Sergei) as well as some shows that they put on with the more intelligent animals. We had another lovely meal that night at the Friends Lounge Bar and Restaurant, the highlight of which was the deep fried ice cream! Insane!
On Saturday we had a trip to Puerto Colon to go out on Freebird Gold, a catamaran, to hopefully see dolphins and whales in the wild. We came across the Pilot Whales not long into the trip. It was amazing how close we got to them and there were so many of them. We then found out that the other catamaran had come across some dolphins, which was very lucky as they are migrating south at the moment so hadn't been seen for a few days. They were absolutely beautiful and also very fast and I felt priveleged that we had been able to see them.
On Sunday morning we took a trip to Los Cristianos market, which is the biggest market in South Tenerife, to try and bag some bargains. I did buy a few things but Char was by far the best for bartering them down and between us we got some good deals. We then had another afternoon by the pool before dinner and some champagne to toast our last night and fantastic holiday.
The flight wasn't early on Monday so we had a lazy day sunbathing and going in the pool. We spent a lot of time with the lilo which always creates laughs, paticularly when I'm involved! I think I got dunked more often that I actually got on it! It was a lovely way to end our fab holiday, and we are already talking about what to do next year, any suggestions would be gratefully received."
Alice has had a busy but productive week at the Espayo National Dressage Championships…
“After months of preparation the week of the Nationals finally arrived. We did have six qualified, but unfortunately only four made it to Stoneleigh, as Mischief (Tantoni White Mischief) chose the worst timing ever to throw a splint and Roxy (Headmore Roxanne) overreached badly in the field the day before we were supposed to leave, typical!
We arrived safely on Thursday -in the rain - and settled the boys in ready for the weekend. The younger horses were all rather taken aback by the atmosphere but we did get some super work in the end! I also did an interview with H&C's Jenny Rudall, so everyone could meet our new edition, Hector. I will just say the interview is a must see as puppy Hector was amazing and very funny, but I won't say any more as I don't want to ruin the surprise before you see if for yourself. I also had a go at the heel kick challenge and, I'm very pleased to say, I didn't disgrace myself, although my friend Amy gave it a go and missed, which was hysterical! You can watch it all when Rudall’s round-up: Nationals premieres on October 14.
Robin (Headmore Dirubinio) was first on in the four-year-old class. He had been a bit overawed in the warm up but he behaved in the ring, albeit slightly tense, to finish fourth and qualify for the second round on Sunday. It was then Tank's (Headmore Wimoweh) turn in the five-year-old class but unfortunately due to his tension he missed out on qualifying for the final in a very strong class. I then had to do a quick change to jump on Del (Headmore Delegate) for the Grand Prix. After Hickstead I was just looking for a confidence boosting ride and I was thrilled with him, although I messed up both sets of changes, his piaffe - passage work was much more confident. Pat the horse, smack the rider as Charlotte would say! My final test was on Socs in the medium. He had been most taken aback by the atmosphere and got very upset as Steph Croxford's wonderful horse - Mr. President - had been retired and the noise was immense. Thankfully we managed to settle him for the test but he was so nervous I couldn't go for it.
I just had the four-year-old final on the Sunday, which meant that I could watch the wonder horse that is Woodlander Farouche do her advanced medium test. She is just phenomenal and I was a little bit pleased that Roxy hadn't made it there as I would have had to enter as they read out Farouche's ridiculous score of over 79%, unreal!
After the advanced medium class had finished it was Robin's turn.The atmosphere was electric as it was in the afternoon performance but I was thrilled with him and he managed to pull himself up to third, although he did get very worried by the applause so I took him out for the prize giving, but I was pleased as he also tried very hard despite being nervous. We just need to build his confidence now for next year.
The best way to sum up would be pleased with the horses but disappointed with the placing, but it was a good experience for all of them so roll on next year!”
With a break from competition, Alice turns her attentions to a spot of training and judging...
Things have been a bit quieter after all the Regionals, so it's meant I've had more time to do some other things aside from competing.
Dengie Horse feeds came down for the day so I could give the lesson to their Pony Club winner. Luckily the weather was good and I think the winner (and all of her family, who came along to watch) enjoyed it, and hopefully learnt something!
Following the lesson, Mum and I gave a masterclass on how we back and produce our youngsters to get them ready for their first show. We used Roxy (Headmore Roxanne) as a model for the photos as we knew she wouldn't mind me getting on and off, leaning over and being lunged etc for a while as we went through the whole process of backing. It went very well and I'm looking forward to seeing the resulting article. A lot goes into preparing horses for their first show, so hopefully it will be a good read.
I also judged at our local Pony Club one-day event - I started out in the Pony Club and I like to be able to give something back when I can. I really enjoyed it and the standard seems to go up every year, which is fantastic to see.
With the Nationals looming, we have also been trying to get the qualified horses ready to go. Every horse is different - some need quite a lot of competing whereas others don't need to go out very often. We took Socs (Tantoni Sir Socrates) to Wellington for the Medium music class as he benefits from going to a few parties. It was quite difficult test for Socs as I used Wizard's Advanced Medium CD, but Socs answered every question to score a massive 78% to win and qualify for the regionals. A good final outing before the Nationals!
As I mentioned previously, preparing horses for big shows is a bit of a balancing act. Some horses need to compete quite a lot to stay arena sharp whereas others are better if they are a bit fresher. We took Socs out as he used to get very excited at shows and he has only settled as he has done a lot of competing, while we decided not to compete Roxy as she is on a day later at the Nationals and is more experienced. We would have liked to give Del (Headmore Delegate) a run - as he had a nervous test at Hickstead - but we couldn't find a show at Grand Prix.
The four- and five-year-olds don't compete as much as they get tired, but they have a slightly different format at the Nationals as they don't do a proper 'test', so it's not as important that they have been ridden round some tests. It is a case of working out what is the best option for each horse to try and ensure you get the best test when it matters!
It is also important that the rider (ie me!) is ready as we can get ring rusty and lose confidence as well. Hopefully we are all set, and with six horses there at least I get a few bites at the cherry!"
It's been a busy month for Alice Oppenheimer, with a new home and a new puppy...
"We have been very busy with things that don't include horses. With no shows now until the lead up to the Nationals, we have been able to organise the other things that have had to take a bit of a back seat.
Firstly, Mum and I had a bit of a roadtrip up to Northumberland to collect our new puppy. It seems a bit crazy but there is a story behind it! We had met a Lucas terrier up at Sheepgate earlier in the year and he was a lovely dog who reminded us very much of our dog who we lost early last year, Scrappy. Then when we were at Hartpury having dinner with Tank's (Headmore Wimoweh) owner, Joanne Graham Whelan, we were chatting about dogs as she does a lot of showing dogs and she mentioned that she had a friend who had just had a litter of Lucas terrier puppies. We were lucky enough to get one but it did mean that we had to go quite a long way to pick him up!
We left on Tuesday lunchtime with the sat nav saying six-and-a-half hours! It wasn't too bad, although we were both quite stiff when we stopped to swap driver and then again when we arrived at Joanne's house as she very kindly said she would put us up for the night as it was too far to go in one day. It also meant that we could deliver all of Tank's prizes that he had won at Hickstead in person which was lovely, especially as we could watch the videos of him together after a very enjoyable barbecue where a reasonable amount of champagne was consumed to toast Tank's Hicktead results!
The following morning we got to meet Joanne's other horses, which include her show cob, Vincent, who was lightweight show cob of the year last year, and also Rosie, her event horse. I also had a little sit on Rosie to try and help her dressage as she had an event at the weekend. After a very enjoyable brunch Mum and I left to pick up the puppy and make our way home.
He was even more cute than I had expected and he was so well behaved on the long journey back, he literally just slept! When we got home he fit right in and we christened him Hector! He is exceptionally cute and a bit of a menace, but Stitch is enjoying having a new friend to play with.
My sister and I have also finally moved into the bungalow where our Granny used to live. She passed away in February and it has taken six months and a lot of work from everyone, particularly my Dad, to make it ready for us to move into. It's amazing what a lick of paint and some new carpets can do. We were also lucky enough to get some freebie furniture, a set of matching sofas and a chair and a lovely pine dining room table and chairs, winner!
It is also lovely that Kate and I can have a bit more independence and space, hopefully it will make working with Mum easier now that I am living seperately. Hopefully Kate and I won't end up at each other's throats instead!"
Alice Oppenheimer makes the tough decision to retire her top horse...
"It is with immense sadness that I have had to retire my beloved Wurlizer (Wizard) from competition. Although he is only 13, he has pastern arthritis which is very unforgiving. Hopefully he will be able to enjoy some years as a schoolmaster and a guinea pig at demos. All the while he is happy and comfortable enough, he will continue to enjoy his work until he no longer wants to.
He has given me so much joy and success over the years. from winning at the Nationals and Winters to taking me to a Young Rider European Championships and finishing as my first International Grand Prix horse. All of which I never imagined would have been possible.
It is heartbreaking that he can no longer compete, as he loved his parties more than any other other horse I have known, but I take delight from the fact that his final appearance in the ring was at the Nationals last year where we had an amazing time, finishing ninth in the Grand Prix and seventh in the Kur.
He is an amazing horse and I have said for years that if I never did another dressage test on him he would still owe me nothing and that holds true now more than ever. I don't think I will ever have a bond with a horse quite like the one I have with him, I'm sure everyone who has seen us at shows and at home will appreciate quite how special it is, he is a huge Mummy's boy.
As long as I can keep him happy in his retirement I will be happy. And every horse who I ride now and in the future will have Wizzy to thank for everything he taught me, he has shaped my riding and helped make me the rider I am today. Any future successes I may be lucky enough to have will still be attributed to him in so many ways.
I would like to thank Sara-Jane Lanning, Nicky Barrett, Charlotte Dujardin, Erik Theilgaard and everyone who helped us along the way.
A friend once said to me: "You will never love a man like you love that horse" to which I replied: "I will never owe to a man what I owe to that horse!"
Thank you and love you my gorgeous Wizzy Woo - I promise you will be spoilt rotten until the end of your days."