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Review of 2013

In typical Shoestring fashion 2013 has been another year of ups and downs. The year started with 3 horses, Pip who was being aimed at Intermediate, Sarnie who was coming back into work after a long lay off and Impy a nice young Master Imp mare to produce.

The main excitement at the beginning of the year was the arrival of the new lorry (thanks to Mr Mortgage!) Built by a local company Harley Horseboxes we have been really pleased with it. The fact that it is an HGV means we don’t have to worry about how many horses are on board (only takes 3 anyway) and we can fill the massive under floor storage without worrying we are going to be over weight.

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Sarnie was given the all clear to start competing again although she needed some jabs in her hocks for mild arthritic changes. The aim with her was to bring her back to full work and then see how she was enjoying things as to what work she would do. I never intended to get her back to advanced level eventing but if she could jump round a intermediate again I would be very pleased.

Finally it was in February Sarnie made her return to competition with a low key Express Eventing competition at Colraine. She was clearly pleased to be out which showed in a typically Sarnie like dressage which put us out of contention of any rosette! However the jumping element she found easy.

Pip was fast preparing for her first event of the season at Moreton. She was showing a very good aptitude in the dressage boards so we affiliated her and started doing some BD classes. She won tests at Colraine with 70% and had good results at subsequent shows. So followed 3 separate mentions and 2 pictures in Horse and Hound for our dressage prowess something I never thought would happen! She eventually ended the season with 71 points in not a huge number of outings.

The first event came round quickly and we made our first trip to Moreton. A nice event with a good cross country course and an ideal warm up for the season ahead. A good day with scores of 32 dressage, one down show jumping and a clear cross country with 8 time faults was a very solid start. Our entry for our first Intermediate at Gatcombe was made.

It was at this point the good old British weather kicked in. We had another prep run scheduled at Aldon and the forecast was not great. The course was lovely but the rain and hail came. Making it impossible for horses, eventually the event was cancelled the first time in Aldon’s history! A very non plussed Pip was taken home again having stabled overnight and even been tacked up for dressage.

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The decision was made to carry on and do our first intermediate at Gatcombe however the rain never stopped and this too was cancelled.

With Gatcombe cancelled Sarnie did her first competitive BS class in 2 years winning the 1.05

Matters refocused on heading to Bicton for our first Intermediate. However April turned out to be month of the crocked horse. We had a really good cross county schooling session at Bicton with Caroline Creighton. Pip suddenly felt really like an intermediate horse flying the huge intermediate fences and making the technical fences feel easy.

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Sadly she managed to sustain a nasty over reach which required a veterinary call out. The vet was due to recheck a few days later which was very handy as by then Sarnie was also hobbling lame to the extent we x rayed suspecting a broken leg! Although an irritation within a month both horses made a complete recovery and were back in full work.

Impy meanwhile was a bit of a disappointment. Despite her great breeding and lovely temperament she just lacked a bit of natural talent that was going mean she would rise up the BE grades. The sad decision was made to sell her.

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Having missed runs at Solihull and our second attempt at an Intermediate run at Bicton in May we got our season back on track again. A late entry (waiting for vet go ahead) to West Buckland meant we ended up in a very competitive Open Novice section. It was my first visit to this event and the course seemed strong but rode beautifully.

Pip produced one of her best performance to date finishing 9th with a 33.5 dressage and double clear just adding 4 time penalties.

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So at last we were heading for our first intermediate at Pontispool. Even this wasn’t without last minute dramas! A bad rash down her side and under her saddle was hot and sore and really needed some steroids to clear up. However with the drug testing rules we had to sooth it as best we could and try and control it until after the event.

Review 2013 7Our dressage was a PB despite a rise in level leaving us in the top 10 in a very hot class. After the struggle we had with Sarnie and her dressage it was a wonderful change to be competitive at this stage. However in contrast to Sarnie Pip has not got the same natural carefulness as Sarnie show jumping. The track at Pontispool was long, huge and technical. I was actually quite glad to survive the course although my natural competitiveness meant that I was frustrated with the 4 fences down.

Cross country wasn’t the biggest but it was technical and when reported in H&H was said to be not good for first timers. My biggest worry was a double of triple brushes early at 4 on 2 strides. She coped well with this and flew round the course clear albeit with 20 time penalties. We still finished in the top 15 so all in all very pleased.

Review 2013 8Sarnie meanwhile was on good form show jumping. She won a competitive 1.10 at Colraine and then we headed with both horses to Bicton for the Devon area show. The nice thing about competing here was that it could be combined with some cross country schooling. As I was jumping both horses in the 1.15 I jumped Sarnie first, it was a big class and because of this they made it 2 phase with the jump off immediately after the first round.

She jumped a super double clear with a competitive time. I then jumped Pip who had a time penalty but with only a 1/4 of the class left to go we were still in the lead with Sarnie. So she was tacked up again as she hates to miss a prize giving and we were sure we would be somewhere in the prizes.

She won the class, there were only 4 double clears and she won by half a second.

Both horses then cross country schooled and it was nice to get Sarnie out on the cross country course again.

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The following weekend Sarnie managed to win another BS class making making it 3 wins in 3 weekends and contributing £130 to the Shoestring fund.

The end of June saw a very busy weekend with both horses eventing. Pip was on first with her second intermediate run at Salperton. Looking back on the year for me this was her best performance. It is rare I walk a course and decide it is impossible to get round but when I got to the middle and found a huge jump out of woods with a drop on landing to a narrow triple brush (pic left) I was very concerned! I went and watched to see how it should be done and yet half the class had problems so my confidence did not increase!

The dressage was an irrelevance on this day but 34.1 was pretty reasonable. The show jumping was huge and in an undulating ring. It was more of an advanced intermediate track than a Intermediate one and as this is our weak phase I was a bit worried.

Whilst she didn’t feel that she found it easy she tried hard and we had just the two fences down a big improvement on the previous event.

Cross country she gave me the best round she had to date. She made mincemeat of the huge fences stayed straight at the combination that caused so many problems, sadly we didn’t stay clear with a mistake when we were nearly home at the water. She left a leg over the big log going in and unseated me, by the time I had regained my balance we had sailed beyond the b element without Pip even realising there was one! As Salperton is considered a good track for those upgrading to advanced I was over the moon with the performance.

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Review 2013 12So having arrived home late that night it was a quick unpack and repack for the riding club open area horse trails the following day with Sarnie.

I was so excited to have Sarnie back out and about again. Perhaps I should have realised she was not firing on all cylinders when she produced a polished dressage test to take the lead with a 27. Show jumping was tiny as against what she had been jumping and she jumped round clear but lacking any sparkle.

Cross country was BE100 level and should have had Sarnie bounding round yet she was quite backward and lacking enthusiasm. We still finished clear but she didn’t make it feel like a course that a horse with over 90 points should have bounded round in her sleep. She also had a small nosebleed when we finished. She won the class yet I was left feeling depressed as the Sarnie I knew was not firing properly.

There was a lot of soul searching on the Sarnie, she was blood tested and that came back clear. I was aware she was stiffer as she got older and needed regular jabs in her hocks and SI joint to keep her going. What was the point of continuing to do this as we were unlikely to progress from the level she had reached. The thought of loaning her out was considered but at the end of the day would I trust anyone enough to look after her and know what she needed and pander to her whims? With a heavy heart we decided to retire Sarnie or maybe a better phrase is to change her career. We hope in 2014 to put her in foal and have baby Sarnies!

So there was a big hole to fill and only Pip to do it as Impy had moved onto pastures new. The plan was to find a young horse to bring on but with a very small budget this was never going to be easy.

Review 2013 13July saw a busy month with a trip to Twesldown for the Intermediate. I travelled a long way in the hope of finding good ground as the sandy tracks at Twesldown however I was really disappointed to find the hardest ground particularly on the racecourse area and no ground preparation. I understand since there are reasons they can’t work on the ground but it has certainly put me off returning again.

We then headed to Hatherleigh but just in a volunteer capacity. I was health and safety officer and also in charge of cross country jump judges on the day. Such a lovely event and so sad that due to low entries it is another one that is lost from the calendar.

More volunteering followed at Dauntsey where I was again the health and safety officer and combined this with some scoreboard writing. In all I did 7 days volunteering this year.

We also entered the novice class at Dauntsey and had our best result at this level. We were in a very strong class won by Andrew Nicholson and full of professionals. To finish 4th in such company was a fantastic result.

We did a 31.5 dressage, jumped clear in the show jumping and stormed round the cross country to finish inside the time and on our dressage score.

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Review 2013 15We were eventing again at Aston in a final prep run for the 1 star at Blair castle. We were back at Intermediate at what turned out to be a very technical course with lots of accuracy questions.

I was slightly disappointed with a 37.3 dressage but really pleased with a good round show jumping for an unlucky rail down. Cross country was super she coped really well with the technical cross country and jumped a super clear round.

In the meantime Sarnie having spent 10 years with us being pampered and never having spent a night out in her time with us has been abandoned to the field. I was lucky the weather was hot and I had some fresh grass I could turn her out on. She quickly settled to the relaxed lifestyle and much as I hugely miss riding and working with her I am positive we did the right thing.

Meanwhile plans were in place for a mammoth journey from Cornwall to Scotland. Blair Horse Trials is know to be one of the best on the circuit and we had always fancied a trip at least once to the event.

It was also a great opportunity to catch up with friends at Avonmill Equestrian (who had sold Pip to Cornwall) and stop there for a few days to allow Pip to recover from the 600 mile journey.

Best laid plans and all that! We certainly didn’t expect to do half the journey in separate transport following the lorry breaking down at Birmingham. Arriving at 1 am after a 15 hr journey was good for neither the humans, dogs or most importantly Pip! The recovery time was much needed and the hospitality we received really appreciated.

The event at Blair Castle was everything we hoped for and more. A fantastic event in a beautiful setting with helpful organisers and a great team of volunteers.

There were over a 100 entries in 1 star and an atmosphere that Pip had never experienced before. I had hoped for a better score in the dressage but actually the 56.9 still squeezed us into the top half. It also allowed me the chance to dust off the tail coat again.

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The cross country course seemed nice however the main worry was the 8 minute distance combined with the huge hills. Although I expected to see these huge hills even I was taken aback by quite how testing they were. We were fortunate that the ground came up nearly perfect which at least meant that we weren’t further tested by holding ground.

She stormed round I was behind on the minute markers for much of the way but the final two minutes were on the flat parkland and I took the foot off the brake and we stormed home comfortably inside the time. Sadly the cross country was not particularly influential so we did not move up many places.

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She sailed through the trot up and we were met with an influential show jumping course. I was really pleased with her round of one down and jumped very well considering her first 3 day.

We finished 28th with over a 100 starters so I was well pleased for our first 3 day together. We made it home under our own steam too!

Pip had 10 days off while I was starting to struggle more and more with pain and weakness in my hip. A referral to a hip specialist was made and I was later to learn that I need at least one more operation early in 2014.

The emphasis changed and preparations began for the CIC** at Gatcombe. I have competed here before and it is always a great first time course at this level. Typically as was often the case in 2013 this turned out not to be the case and whilst it wasn’t the hugest course there were some very technical combinations.

The tails had another outing and a slightly improved dressage score despite the increased level was really pleasing.

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Strangely despite running on the same day show jumping took place after cross country. Before cross country I went to watch the pros to give me confidence, however, as out of the first 10 only 2 went clear that didn't work! It wasn’t our best round and she was sticky in places but we completed only to find we had been given a stop for a hesitation at 4. I appealed using the video evidence and the stop was overturned.

The less said about the show jumping the better. Now 3 months later I am still sore about making the stupid mistake of missing a fence and getting eliminated! Harsh lesson and horrible to have an uncalled for E on her record.

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So that was put behind us (sort of) and we approached our end of season event. Very exciting as it was Dauntsey’s first run of their intermediate track. Wow! It was huge big and bold but not too technical. We had a great run but an early misunderstanding at 5 and 20 penalties was rather a let down. It did mean we could cruise round the rest and have a really nice round to finish the season.

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So the season concluded I was able to reflect on some real positives. Pip had shown herself to be more than capable of completing a 2* and to have thrived on the demands of a 3 day event. We had gained more points and finished the season with 15 points.

Review 2013 22So Pip was allowed a few weeks rest and relaxation meanwhile I set out on what was to be a fruitless search for a Sarnie replacement. I had a really enjoyable trip to Goresbridge Horse Sales in Ireland but nothing quite matched my requirement (certainly not within the budget!). It was an interesting trip and I certainly would not be put off returning in the future.

Sarnie meanwhile has accepted her new life in the field. She was perhaps less impressed as the weather changed and she wasn’t brought in but she has grown a thick winters coat and adapted. We are still deciding on a suitable husband but it is likely to be a TB in order to give her a little more gallop and stride.

I can assure you whatever she has (even if only has 3 legs and one eye) it will be the best foal ever and there will be one very proud mummy.

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To finish the year we won another award. At the ERA (Event Riders Association) ball we were announced winner of the ERA / Shearwater award for "the rider who has used Social Media best this year"

So we finished the year with some good training sessions and looking forward to 2014.

A huge thank you to everyone that has helped me this year I am very grateful for all the support I have received.