"My season with the Osborne Scurry Group kicked off in usual style at the Carriage Driving Fair. It’s the country's biggest one-day carriage fair with demonstrations throughout the day from all carriage driving disciplines, including my scurry competition. With loads of fantastic equestrian trade stands I took time out between the competitions for some well earned retail therapy (I narrowly resisted the temptation of a new carriage and harness!) and had a wonderful lunch in the food court that this year, for a change, was bathed in lovely warm sunshine for superb dining al fresco.
Ok, so I finished in last place, but I was thrilled to bits with that. Why? My new Pony Carlo, who is to be the new “Touch” in my well known pony pair “Touch & Go”, had only been with me for six weeks and had never driven indoors, but he was totally brilliant. With all the loud music and cheering crowds, in the first round he was understandably a bit hesitant - he didn’t like the bright red car parked in the corner of the arena as advertising one bit (that made two of us!) but by the last round (we did four) he was like a seasoned professional. So I am very excited for the coming season now.
Next on my scurry agenda was the training day at Ryefields Farm, which is the Osborne Refrigerators practice, training and a pre-season party. It was great fun and I went along to help a new driver Harriett Barker who lives near me as she’s starting to scurry this year. Her pair are called “Bob & Weave”. Go Harry!
Jeff Osborne cooks a BBQ in a huge barn for us all and this year, for afters, he did toasted marshmallows. I think he used a flame thrower! But they tasted amazing, if a bit gooey!
The day after the party it was on to the Family Fun Day at Southsea, Portsmouth. My first chance to put Carlo through his paces outdoors in a huge flat arena, and he was great, again a bit hesitant in the first round but confidence was building all day, and I can't wait for the HOYS qualifiers to start. I also took Carriagehouse Insurance “Rough & Tumble” along and they picked up where they left off last season, they were incredibly fast, winning the first heat and coming second in the next heat.
So a good day was had by all? Well till we left for home it was! On leaving the showground in the horsebox, we were immediately stuck in traffic, so just as I am climbing through from the cab into living to get my iPhone out of my coat pocket to do some Facebooking, Paul sees a gap in traffic, puts his foot down and catapults me through the cut through like a bullet out if a gun! I land on the folding stool, it doesn't fold, so I do a front somersault landing flat on my back feet near the horse area door completely winded. Eventually I stand up and then realise the stool had dug into me while I was hurtling over it. Oops and ouch, broken rib!
Oh well as long as its okay for Surrey County at the end of May I’m really not bothered as the ponies are going so well and the good thing is that wine helps with the pain!"
"Welcome to my first H&C blog! Spring is finally here, and the season is almost underway. Once all the fun of the South of England Carriage Driving Fair is over in April, the eleven HOYS qualifiers start with Surrey County show, continuing at a rate of knots through to the Osborne Scurry Final qualifier at Dorset County in September. Then comes the big one, HOYS, in October.
We all begin our quest to qualify for HOYS at the Surrey County Show in May, probably the biggest one day county show. The next day we travel to the Suffolk County Show, without a doubt one or the very best shows we go to, an immaculate showground, where the stewards are polite and considerate. It's a real pleasure to compete here!
On to Royal Bath & West and then to The South of England Show. Next the Hickstead Derby, need I say more? The Hickstead main arena, something no other showground has to offer, without question the most exciting outdoor arena to scurry in, it’s massive, and the scurry course winds its way around the permanent jumps and the famous Derby bank, the roar of the crowd from the two enormous grandstands can be deafening, I have driven many times in this arena and for me it remains awesome!
Then to Royal Norfolk, another lovely show, with a wonderful main arena, very large, very flat and drives very fast! As I live in Kent, this county show is my local Show and I feel very at home here as so many friends and family visit. The New Forest show is next, set in the delightful county of Hampshire, a three-day show packed with all types of carriage driving, you could spend the whole show just watching harness horses at play.
Back to Hickstead now and the Royal International Horse Show, a grand title for yet another superb Hickstead event. Long tall jugs of Pimms, strawberries and cream in abundance with polo matches taking place as well the fashion girls are out in force, all this plus the special atmosphere of the Derby meeting in June. Wonderful!
Just two more Horse of the Year Show qualifiers to go now; if you don’t have your HOYS ticket by now then start to panic! Edenbridge & Oxted show has two full days of all the things you would expect at a big county show but more compact, another very enjoyable, well planned show. The last chance to get your ponies to HOYS, Dorset County Show, the pressure is on! So now this is it, HOYS, it’s said to be the greatest equestrian show on earth and speaking from experience I can only agree. The roar of 6,000 spectators as you burst through those big black curtains into the glaring bright white light of the main arena is like nothing else I’ve experienced, it is without doubt the most thrilling, exhilarating, exciting (and terrifying) experience you can imagine, all rolled into one.
We'll be blogging throughout the season, so we hope you enjoy our updates. Bring it on!"
Melanie Hook wrote to us about the need to train our horses to be safe and sensible on the road.
"I wish people would take more responsibility for training their horses for today’s roads. As harness horse trainers, we teach young horses to be safe, confident and happy in traffic.
It seems many carriage drivers try to avoid traffic, rather than training their horses better. We even encounter other harness trainers who don’t believe in training horses for traffic. But we all know vehicles can be found in fields (combine harvesters, scrambler bikes and so on), and not everyone has the luxury of their own manege, fields, or access to off-road tracks.
When we're out driving, motorists will sometimes beep their horns in greeting; sometimes out of ignorance. Part of our training for harness horses involves me driving past with the horn blaring. In our opinion, if horses have experienced it during training, they are prepared should it occur later on in their driven career.
I’ve seen a driving horse bolt because a car driver was crawling along parallel to the horse’s quarters, brushing the hedge on the side of the road and making a noise. The driver assumed it was their speed that caused the horse to spook and so pulled out even wider, exacerbating the problem and causing the runaway. You can’t say to a motorist “You passed too wide and too slow!” when this is what we tell them to do.
There are organisations that offer road safety training, however these are mainly focused on the human rather than the horse itself. I agree that there are inconsiderate car drivers just as there are inconsiderate cyclists, carriage drivers, riders, shop assistants and bank managers. Regardless of how polite you are, there will always be someone who is rude for no reason even if they do know better.
I’m not saying we should stop educating motorists that horses are unpredictable and to pass wide and slow. We don’t want to encourage drivers to act recklessly - not only for our sake, but for that of other road users. But we should look at improving our horse’s behaviour too.
The sad truth is that the less people drive on the roads, the less motorists accept us as “road users”. This means they are more likely to get frustrated when they do see us on the road. I believe we should all strive for the highest possible standards, not only in competing, but in driving out on the roads."
Would you like to write a one-off blog for H&C? Is there a topic in the horseworld that you really want to rant about? Something you want to get off your chest? Is there some aspect of horse-ownership that really makes you laugh? We'd love to hear from viewers who want to write a one-off guest blog post about everything and anything. Send a max of 400 words to email@example.com, and we'll choose the very best to use on our site.
Carriage Driving's Gary Docking wonders where all the good grooms have gone?
Another day, another duck shoot - or so they say! All my show horses have returned home and are looking well, clipping and dodging the showers have been the name of the game, and at long last we are all semi-naked and ready for work! It's always so very interesting to have the horses back from their respective owners with great expectations for the coming season, some lacking discipline, some returning like the day they went...
Our great white hope is Striker, the current British Driving Society Supreme National Champion. He lives with us all the time so is very interested to see who and what has made the cut for the 2012 season, he seems too look them over with a mixture of distain and old school charm as they clatter off the delivering lorries.
Is it me or is there a severe lack of real grooms? Young people seem to be in education for years and years and then come out the other end qualified to teach or be a equine nutritionalist or an equine behaviour specialist! What is that? And why? If we are not careful we will have a generation of educated idiots and not a soul who can plait properly or sweep the yard. Grooming professionally is a rewarding and talented job so why has it been so dumbed down and made to sound un-career worthy and below the salt! I would give my right arm for a REAL groom, dare I say old fashioned, that knew bandaging, how bad the colic needs to be before calling me, the vet or the owner, and an interest in my yard and the horses on it.
Everybody at this time of year has the best possible horse for the forthcoming season. The way it goes, its colour and movement are much bragged about and listened to in every market and sale yard. Whether we see all of these animals reach their potential is another matter, but the anticipation is worth the gossip and makes everyone go home and try that little bit harder. Schedules are piling in, I have a fair few judging commitments this year so this gamekeeper is putting on his poaching clothes and thoroughly looking forward to it.
"I'm pleased to say I survived Christmas with the family (there is a reason you move away from home!), but since New Year we had three days of the worst storms in years battering West Sussex. Two days without either electricty or phone - both my mobile and my landline were down - was totally unbearable, and if one of you says we never had all these mod cons years ago I will actually scream. We live in the present, and life today revolves around communications and the ability to boil a kettle without first chopping wood.
A lovely little box
I've sold my lorry and am looking for something smaller. Fuel and running costs have played a big part in the decision, besides which the client list is not as long as it once was. The global financial situation (I hate that phrase!) has not really improved, and the buying equine public are simply not buying. I have an awesome (another word I hate) client base for next season, with great horses to match, but they are not quite so plentiful as they were. Travelling the southern part of England looking for a lorry has proved both costly and time consuming, with lots of misleading ads. 'One lady owner' - I presume they mean one per year? Living areas like pig styes, horse areas like cattle trucks, and the overall appearance of a Ne'er-do-well.
The boys and more
All horses look as fat as seals and well, the American Hackney pony Hartland Glittering Gal (now there's a name) is a great tease, keeping the boys on their toes. The Donkey, yes he is still here, is wearing a rug. You heard it here first! His 'busy' Christmas, with bookings for personal appearances and as a goodwill ambasador for the yard, didn't really take off even with the addition of antlers and hoof oil. There ia always another year! March and April are all booked up with each weekend accounted for with either an after dinner speech, lecture demo, or teaching so plenty to look forward to. Next will be the final fitting for the new harness, I'll find the elusive lorry, sharpen the clipper blades and we'll be off! Oh, just a minute - it's only the first week of January, I'll have wait a month or two yet..."