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Part 3 - Playing at Attington

Posted: 3 Apr 2018 - Comments (0)
For the Thursday and Friday of our stay away we continued to be based at Attington however with Austin at Burnham Market there was no more formal training. The facilities are amazing and I was lucky enough to be able to try them out in full.

You may remember that on our last XC clinic with Fliss she was rather reluctant to get her feet wet! It necessitated me leading her in and getting my feet very wet. So on the Wednesday evening I took Fliss onto the fabulous all weather cross country. I led her in hand with a lunge line and this time with me having suitable footwear for paddling! I led her in and out the water and then gently lunged her in it to get used to the splashing. I also popped her over the open ditches being careful not to be jumped on. The following day after I worked her in the morning I tacked her up again in the evening and did the water again only this time in the saddle, I got her used to walking in and out then progressed to trot and canter. Finally on the last day I brought her down again and repeated the water exercise but this time also adding in some cross country fences, at the end of the session I even had her popping a small log in the water. Really good progress and extremely pleased. You can see the progression on the video.
I was also lucky enough to have access to the onsite gallops, a round track of nearly a mile. Fliss was taken for a gentle circuit round and gave me a good feel and a nice stride when I opened her out slightly. Ellie was worked a little harder to bring her fitness on and went a couple of times round once at a fairly good speed. I use Runtastic App on my phone to record distance, time and speed to give me a good idea of the work we have done.

All in all a fantastic stay at Attington, great training with Austin and fabulous facilities to continue the horses education and readiness for the season. It was such a shame that we couldn't finish the week with a BE run at Goring. However there are numerous show centres in the area so we organised to take both to the nearby Cherwell Competition Centre on the way home for some unaffiliated show jumping. Report on this in part 4 tomorrow.

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Part 2 - Lessons with Austin O'Connor

Posted: 2 Apr 2018 - Comments (0)
For the second part of the trip we moved to Attington the base of Irish Olympic rider Austin O'Connor. When Austin first came to the UK he was based with the Wiegersma's at Tregembo in Cornwall, this coincided with my blossoming interest in eventing and I was trained by Austin whilst he was in Cornwall. He left 20 years ago and I have followed his career with interest.

After he left I was then trained by Caroline Creighton until she passed away a couple a years ago. To be honest although I have had some super trainers since then I still have been struggling to find my 'unicorn' trainer. With Austin based near Goring it seemed a great opportunity to see if we could hook up again and I was delighted that we could book a couple of lessons with each girl before he left for Burnham Market.

Fliss was first up and our work on the flat started in the same way that Christop Hess had worked us the day before. More forward with a softer hand and this then became the theme of my jumping too. The two key phrases in my training with Austin with both horses was 'soften the hand' and 'quieter'. He was very much into the horses learning to think for themselves and given the time to jump. In the video you will see we had a pole down from a very dodgy stride which I immediately apologised for and was sharply told off that it was the horses job not mine.

This video shows how we worked through the session working on quietly to a single fence and then keeping her quiet through a related distance.
In her second session we started in a similar way encouraging her to trot into a fence and make a shape. We then focused on a simple grid and getting her to quietly jump through. Austin was more than happy if she chipped in, it was up to her to work her way through it and for me to sit quietly and let her. He also encourage the use of my voice if she started to quicken too much. The video is much shorter as the rain came in and only allowed a little at the end but you will get the idea.

Austin loved Ellie and certainly got the best out of her. Again by riding very quietly and letting her use her jump she surprised even me. Also perhaps the old trust in Austin had never left as he put up some quite hefty exercises to jump out of trot and then quietly out of canter which I may not have the faith to do with other trainers.

This is the video from the first day where you can see how well she is jumping.
An interesting point Austin picked up is how if I have a choice I will always come in from the left rein and turn left after a fence, so I was encouraged to go right more often.

Sadly there is no video from Ellie's day 2 lesson as the rain was hammering down but we had a cross country lesson on the fabulous all weather arena. I explained to Austin my struggle such as the importance I give to 'seeing a stride' something I find particularly hard with Ellie. He watched me jump a few simple fences with my usual fiddling! Again everything was stripped down and I was told to have a softer hand with a longer rein and then to ride quietly not interfering and let her work things out. Well I felt this was a recipe for disaster but followed his instructions to the letter and wow she was soon sorting herself out and jumping superbly including over decent triple brushes and decent sized fences. We had one minor blip where she stopped at a decent sized fence straight into water, a smack was appropriate but then I was told to come in again quietly and let her do the work not overriding. She went brilliantly and I certainly had a huge grin on my face and very few dodgy strides.

Austin gave me that bit of magic with both horses that made a huge difference. I will be making the effort to go up to him 2 or 3 times a year if I can to ensure I am working in the right direction.

Part 3 (Playing at Attington) and Part 4 (Cherwell jumping) still to follow.

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We are back - Part 1 - The BHS convention

Posted: 1 Apr 2018 - Comments (0)
Got back late last night from a week away with the horses in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Sadly the original plan was to finish the week by commencing our eventing season at Goring Horse Trials, the weather put paid to these plans as it has much of the March season.

So we travelled to Gloucestershire last Sunday to stay very close to Hartpury, big thanks to Hannah French for putting us up and her hospitality. Both girls had a light schooling session when we got there on the Sunday and I had a lovely hack on Monday with Ellie. The big event though was the BHS convention at Hartpury. We had been chosen to be 1 of 4 demo riders for the session with Christop Hess.

It was a big atmosphere for an inexperienced horse. A relatively full seating area, loud speakers, clapping as well as students watching the other side. We were able to warm up a little in the small adjoining school and then we entered the arena 1 at a time to be introduced. Fliss was on her toes but help it together really well and we all walked and trotted round whilst Christop talked to the audience. He then assessed the horses going round before giving each combination his undivided attention for 10 minutes or so.

We were first to be worked with and the main thing he asked from us was a bigger more forward pace in both trot and canter with a softer more forward hand. In the canter he asked for a two point position to really allow the hind leg to work through properly. Very keen that the transitions particularly downward were forward to the pace not backward with the hand.

The only down side of the session was the failure of the zip on my boot!

I am attaching a video of the whole of our individual bit. Although the sound is not perfect you can make out and listen to what he is saying.

I was over the moon with her behavior throughout the day, I was delighted with the experience it has given her and will stand her in great stead for any future big events.

Part 2 as we move on to Oxfordshire to follow tomorrow.

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We made it - Horse and Hound

Posted: 22 Mar 2018 - Comments (0)
Lovely to open Horse and Hound today to see a little bit about Ellie and her recent success at Colraine. Always nice to have a mention but quite amusing that my infrequent mentions in the magazine have generally been related to dressage success!

Currently packing for an exciting week away with the girls although keeping fingers firmly crossed that the 'Beast from the East 3' does not return as won't be much fun in the lorry. We are heading for friends near Hartpury on Sunday before being a demo rider on a Christop Hess lesson with Fliss at Hartpury on Monday. On Tuesday we travel over to Oxfordshire to stay with Austin O'Connor for a couple of lessons and then go to Goring Horse Trials on Saturday.

Very excited to be having a few lessons with Austin, I trained with him when he was based at Tregembo with the Wiegersma's in Cornwall and found him a superb trainer. He has some fantastic facilities so should be a great experience for all the Shoestring team.

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Centaur Biomechanics - Lecture demo

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 - Comments (0)
On Wednesday evening as part of Russell Guire’s visit to Cornwall I organised a lecture demo at Tall Trees. It was a really interesting and informative evening with Russell updating us on a variety of research and showing some really fascinating videos which gave plenty food for thought. Overall it came over how we really need to regularly consider and take ownership of our own horses way of going and question whether it’s as good as it should be and/or whether there’s anything we can change to improve it from the point of view of both ourselves and equipment used.

Some of the forces that go through the horse are immense, a video of Big Star landing over a 1.60 jump at the Olympics showed huge forces travelling down the leg and through the fetlock.

I should have taken notes through Russell’s lecture but some of the key points I recall are :-

Bridles - Research is showing the influence bridles can have on the horses way of going. There are many pressure points on a bridle, including behind the ears, the headpiece and where the broadband attaches to the headpiece. The noseband can be influential, the maximum pressures come from a Flash nose band. Securing the brow band and not having nose band strap passing through headpiece or running underneath all help reduce the pressure - most of the pressure is on the side of the head where these sit. Grackles actually come out well comfort wise. The comfort of the bridle can affect the hind leg activity by 22% at elite level.

Girths - these can also have a big influence on a horses way of going. When using a short girth try not to have the buckle behind the elbow, 2 inches below the saddle is optimum height. Always ensure your girth is well maintained and again at elite level there is evidence that anatomical girths such as the Fairfax can improve performance including the jump. Also if you are attaching a martingale to a girth where possible use a strap to attach rather than put it around the girth creating a an uneven pressure. Mounting blocks - We all know it isn’t great to mount from the ground and Russel had an excellent video showing the stresses it puts on the back. However there is also an optimum size for a mounting block and for example if it is below 22.5 inches there is no noticeable difference to the pressures on the back. So the higher the better, I will certainly be looking at a bigger one for at home.

Terrain / Surfaces - Horses should be cross trained. It is not good for them just to be ridden on one surface but should have a mix of surfaces and terrains with schooling, field work, road work and hacking all contributing to fitness. Horses struggle to adapt to big changes in surface so avoid riding on something that changes suddenly from hard to soft. This for me is why I avoid fast work on the beach.

Remember a horse can feel a fly so think about their comfort. Russell gave an example of a bonnet that fitted under the bridle but affected performance as the raised binding added a pressure point under the bridle.

Clearly one of the biggest influences is the rider. It is important they are in balance with the horse and that the saddle they are riding on is fitted correctly. During the demo Russell asked riders to ride the centre line with their eyes closed. The riders without a visual aid to ensure straightness only had their seat and ‘feel’’ to keep straight. The horses were veering off the centre line demonstrating the riders weight was not central. Russell really encouraged the riders to develop a feel for how they were sitting and the balance of their weight to improve the natural straightness and as he worked with the riders this improved hugely.

Russell advocates riding without stirrups regularly (weekly at least) and working with a gym ball to improve core strength and balance.

If anyone gets a chance to attend a lecture, talk or clinic with Russell I would highly recommend it. In the meantime do think about how you, your tack and your training regime can be improved to help your horse.

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Biomechanics Clinic

Posted: 18 Mar 2018 - Comments (0)
This week as I told you in my last blog I organised another clinic and demo with Russell Guire from Centaur Biomechanics. The next blog will give you an overview of the lecture demo and some really interesting points Russell raised.

You may remember I had my first session with Russell in the summer last year. See 1st clinic for my blog from back then. Overall I was crooked, riding unevenly and was referred to a physio. The physio confirmed I had a 1.5 inch limb leg difference and gave me a programme of strength and conditioning exercises which I have been following as well as undertaking general fitness work at the gym.

I was reassessed in trot and canter with Russell taking slow motion video. He was very pleased with the improvement in my straightness a huge change since my last assessment.

The main focus of the session was then not to be tipped forward and he used the video to show me how much I needed to sit back and give the contact. It would be easier with slightly longer arms! The next video clip is one that Mum took when he was working with us showing what a difference the change in position made.

So another really valuable session and so pleased all the hard work I have put in as seen some positive results.

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