"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!"
Jenna Copley writes about her experiences with the British tentpegging team on a recent trip to Pakistan.
"So many people ask me 'what exactly is tentpegging?' The stock answer is that it is an ancient cavalry skill that involves using swords, lances and guns on horseback. However, I would describe it as probably the most fun you can have on a horse - it gives you an addictive high when you start hitting the targets.
Think mounted games (without the need to be flexible enough to vault!), and an almost childlike sense of fun. The use of real weapons also means this sport is one where the men are interested, there are almost equal numbers of men and women competing and you occasionally get to see the dishy Household Cavalry bachelors competing (the army announcers often handily point out when they are on the Tatler’s most eligible list).
However, it would be fair to say in the UK, the sport was dominated by women in 2012, and the boys will have to work hard to keep up in 2013.
On the 6-13 February I went out to Pakistan as part of the team of British riders taking part in a four nation challenge with South Africa, Pakistan and India. But India did not make it and so instead was replaced by a 'United Nations' team and Pakistan ended up with two teams, so was actually a five-team competition.
Pakistan may sound like a daunting place to visit, but we were well looked after by HRH Prince Malik Ata Muhammad Khan, a legend in his own right and a generous patron of the tentpegging (in Urdu “Neza Bazi”) sport.
I have to say Pakistan was bliss after leaving the ankle deep mud and freezing conditions of home. It was green, and warm with very few flies and almost no mosquitoes.
The horses were impressive, and we wondered why they often hobbled the back legs when on lines. We soon gathered that only stallions are ridden and therefore they are hobbled to stop them swinging round and kicking their neighbour. The amount of stallions kept in close proximity would be a logistical nightmare for the UK, but the Pakistanis had this down to a fine art.
The competition itself was fast and furious. All teams suffered the handicap of horses frequently changing, very few were static throughout the competition. Unlike showjumping, there was no warm-up and you had to jump on a new horse and run them when it counted, which meant the scoring was at times slightly erratic for all teams.
But the British acquitted themselves well with Jacky Chandler in the United Nations team bringing home a bronze in the pairs sword and a bronze in team sword.
Michael Smith and Gerald Nott brought home a bronze in pair lance and silver in team Indian file sword. Indian file is where you gallop one after the other and must pick up your allocated peg, without running into the horse in front or dropping your weapon!
Finally Tina Ricketts-Smith and I brought home silver for the Pairs Individual Lance and silver in Team Indian file sword.
This is the first time we have scored well in pairs, which is a big achievement as you are effectively competing against ten other pairs.
The real test is coming in March when the GB squad head off to India to compete in the FEI World Cup, where at the moment seventeen nations have confirmed participation."
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."
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I am writing this blog on a lovely Monday morning - I rode out first thing and got completely soaked right through. Not the kind of weather you expect to get in June.
Our new season is well into stride now. Although the proper jumps horses won't be seen till October/November time, there is plenty of summer racing on at the moment. I finished last season on 25 winners from 274 rides - and the most winners I rode for an individual trainer was four. It wasn't a bad total but nowhere near what I was aiming for, which means a lot more hard work to be done in the coming season. I'm really looking forward to it.
Just a couple of weeks ago came the sad news that Henrietta Knight was retiring from training. I've been very lucky to have had the pleasure of riding for Hen over the last couple of seasons, and she provided me with a very memorable day in 2010 when I was fortunate enough to ride a winner for her and The Queen. It was definitely an honour to have rode a winner in those colours. Hen had her last two runners at Fontwell last weekend and is now going to start on various new ventures. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her and Terry for all their help and wish them the very best of luck for the future.
The Flat season is in full flow, with Camelot a very impressive winner of The Derby. Royal Ascot is just around the corner, and there will be a very international feel to the week with horses from all over the world - and none more exciting than Black Caviar. The mare has run 21 times and is unbeaten, and she's due to run in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on June 23 - definitely a race not to be missed! I might take a social trip to Royal Ascot for one or two days, hopefully the weather will clear up a bit and it will be fun. You should try to come along if you can, it will be a great day out.
It's been a while since my last blog, with Cheltenham and Aintree both been and gone. I only had the one ride at the Cheltenham's Festival, and unfortunately it was the slowest run race of the week. This was not ideal for me, so I had to settle for ninth place. I guess I'm going to have to wait till next year for my first Festival winner. It was a great week, with the highlight for me being Synchronised winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His owner JP McManus puts so much into racing so it was great to see him win this race for the first time. Other highlights were watching Big Buck's win his fourth World Hurdle, and watching Noel Fehily - one of the nicest guys in the weighing room - win the Champion Hurdle.
Then last weekend was Aintree, again Big Buck's was awesome on the Thursday winning the Liverpool Hurdle and making it his 17th win in succession. He is definitely one of the best jump horses we've ever seen in training. On the Friday I had my fourth attempt at the National fences in the John Smith's Topham Chase and for the first time I got round! It is such a thrill riding over those fences and my horse gave me a great ride, jumping from fence to fence. I think we both really enjoyed it.
Then onto Saturday and the Grand National itself. Unfortunately the race has been marred by a couple of accidents (see news story here) which was such a shame as it was the closest finish I have seen to the race ever. It was an amazing spectacle to see two horses fight out such a close finish after four and a half miles. Both Neptune Collonges (1st) and Sunnyhillboy (2nd) deserve so much more credit for their efforts than they are getting, because people are letting other issues take away from what a great race it was.
On a much happier note, between Cheltenham and Aintree we had The Lesters. For anyone that doesn't know, these are the Jockeys' awards, and the evening was held in the Hilton in Birmingham on 5 April. I like to take my sponsors every year from mayiclaim.co.uk as my way of thanking them for their kind support throughout the season, and I think yet again they all had a good night. With no racing the next day, it gives all of us the chance to relax, enjoy the evening and let our hair down a little. So many stories, so little time!
Hopefully it won't be so long till my next blog, and hopefully I'll have some winners along the way.