Thursday, November 19, 2015


Last summer I was lucky enough to take a break from uni for a few months and get a job at a polo yard. In theory it was an awesome idea because I could spend the better part of the year on horseback and get a wicked tan. In reality it involved more than just riding horses and I have typically English skin which freckles instead of going brown. Because of this, I opted to enrol for summer school this year and knock a month or so off my degree in the long run.

I did want to document the whole thing last year for anyone who was interested in what is involved in the "day in the life of a" polo groom, but I ended up being far too busy to even think of stopping to take photos - or even update my blog for that matter!

This summer my old boss asked me to bring the girls in prior to him flying home from America for the season, and it prompted me to whip up a little post about what it's like to groom for a polo player.


The majority of the week is obviously spent at the yard, keeping the ponies fit and conditioned for polo. Most players will have a bunch of ponies in work (this season I brought eleven back in from turnout) and conditioning sets take roughly an hour - it therefore makes sense to work as many ponies at once as you can.

I only ever had four ponies at one time in a set, though it's not unusual to have five if there are a large group needing work. Polo ponies' legs have a pretty hard time as you can imagine, and so working them without a rider on board helps their legs out a bit too. Conditioning sets only ever involved walking around a hilly paddock and then trotting on the flat. All the cantering and galloping is saved for practises and tournaments.

In my case, yard days were always shorter than practise/tournament days. We'd start off nice and early at around 8am, and do conditioning sets until lunch. The girls get pretty warm and sweaty, and so they'd stay in the shed over lunch and dry. The afternoon was spent grooming before putting rugs on and turning out, rolling bandages and cleaning gear if need be. This is optional - but the afternoon can be the perfect time to smooch and just love on all the ponies because you're going to get incredibly attached to at least half of them.

Note: Polo players have a shit tonne of leather. Learn to love cleaning tack.

Farrier/dentist/clipping days obviously take a little longer, but as a general rule I'd get away from the yard at around 3 on most days.

Best thing about work on a 'yard day' - you get to practise your bandaging skills. When you leave, you're going to be able to wrap a horse's leg like no-one's business!


Practise days are long, looong days. They're basically just days where the club to which your boss belongs organise a few chukkas for everyone to practise. Obviously super useful since polo is a team sport (if you love team sports and horses, polo is for you!).

The pace is slower than a tournament - you have a bit more time to get ponies ready between chukkas and often will be able to watch from the truck. Tournaments are ran at a waaaay faster pace and you barely have any time to watch the game, so practises are a good opportunity to take a minute or two to watch and get your head around the sport.

Following the organised chukkas, players may take young ponies to the grounds to not only get them used to the atmosphere and being tied to the truck (polo ponies are often OTTB's and it is a completely different atmosphere at polo than at race days) but to 'stick-and-ball' them. This basically just involves cantering around very slow pace, maybe passing a ball between a couple of players. It should come as no surprise that ponies need to slowly get used to polo sticks and balls flying around them, if only for the sake of safety!

Depending on your boss, you'll probably be required to put a bit more effort in presentation than you would at home. My boss liked his mares really presentable, which is definitely a good thing, and they'd be groomed thoroughly beforehand with hooves polished and tails brushed out properly before being tied up. We also had boots over bandages for extra protection, and a good tip is to stick boots together with their velcro to avoid mad scrambling when you need them.

Once practise is finished, you may be required to do a conditioning set or two when you get home. Some ponies don't go to every practise but they obviously still need to be worked. These days are the longest of all, but less riding means you're legs/knees/bum will thank you.

You get the odd scrape here and there so it pays to really check the ponies over whilst you're hosing them following a chukka. Practises are probably the first time you'll use all of the gear on a pony, so they're a useful time to figure out where all of the straps go.


Tournament 'days' are usually weekends, so you need to be prepared to travel.

Unfortunately you don't really get much time to watch 'your' ponies play as the seven minutes between chukkas involve hosing and walking the previous pony and getting the next pony in line ready. It's a bit of a mad rush, more so if your boss wants to do a pony-swap mid chukka. Quite a few games my boss would play six ponies between four chukkas, which obviously increased the workload but is definitely better for the ponies.

Tournament days are brilliant because between all the slow paced stuff you forget that the ponies you ride everyday are incredibly talented. You get to see all the 'boring' conditioning type stuff pay off in the form of gleaming, galloping beasts running up and down a field. It's pretty epic.

The three nuisances above cause all kinds of chaos during sets, but do an amazing job out on the field.

Polo tournaments are excellent horse events - even though I'm not grooming this season, I'm super keen to go and watch a few games. The ground literally shakes and it makes you appreciate the work that goes into these ponies when you see one pull up from a gallop to do a complete 180 turn and speed off in the space of about a second.

Last season one of our ponies won pony of the match, and that's pretty neat because you get to present that pony in front of heaps of people who admire her. I got incredibly attached to every pony at the yard, and so I imagine it was a bit like watching your child nail his/her role in the school play. So proud.

Tournaments were my favourite part of being a polo groom, mainly because you can see what all the work you're putting in eventuates to. The only downside is that when you get home you can bet that you're going to have a craaaazy amount of gear to clean.


I think most riders at some point will work with horses, and polo would be a good option if you want to be a bit more hands on in all areas. You get a really good mix of riding/grooming duties whereas some jobs are more focused on ground duties and others you're paid just to ride (track work). The kind of work doesn't really 'ruin' your riding, it's often said that track riding gives you hard hands and influences a bad position, whereas you can ride however you like during conditioning.

Obviously you'd probably want to work in a discipline that you're interested in, but if you're looking for 'something different' then I would recommend polo to anyone!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Not good.

I absolutely hate that I have to write this post. They say that 70% of success is just showing up, and so deciding today that I'm not going to show up to the Flaxmere PC ODE this weekend was a really tough decision for me to have to make. Even more so considering the reason I agreed to scratch from Horowhenua's cross country phase was that I knew I had Flaxmere coming up.

The entry is paid for, my horse is going beautifully (toxin binder and new arena- you rock my world!), the weather forecast is gorgeous and I have actually learnt my test well ahead of time.. so what's the problem, right?!

The problem is that I am a 'yes-man' and I always bite off more than I can chew. When I was asked to bring the polo horses in for my old boss and exercise them for the next fortnight, I absolutely couldn't say no. My head was saying no, no, no!, but I just pushed those thoughts aside and figured I'd make it work somehow. 

So it turns out good intentions don't always pay off.

I started working the girls last weekend, and clearly underestimated how physically tiring it was. After an accumulative four hours in the saddle on top of other jobs like grooming out eleven winter coats, tacking up, cleaning up etc I'm pretty tired by the time I leave. I then have three of my own horses 'on vacation' to care for which involves more changing rugs and moving fence breaks to give them more grass- all before heading off to groom, ride and feed Oscar.

Then there's two dogs to walk when I return home, on top of general household chores like laundry/cooking dinner/doing dishes and vacuuming because we have four indoor pets so the vacuum is absolutely a daily essential (lol!).

On top of all the physical stuff which is the perfect justification for the amount of sugar I've been eating, there is office work to keep up to date with and the small fact that I'm literally right in the middle of my end of semester university exams. Womp, womp, womp.

The reason I have agreed to withdraw (L is obviously the driving force/devil on my shoulder behind the decision as he'd much rather be at golf- insert heart break emoji here) was because studying in the evenings when I'm exhausted and in desperate need of relaxation is doing nothing for my ability to focus and retain information. Being the good adult that I am, I am putting my study before recreation. Though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't secretly hoping to be run over at which point I would probably thank the kind stranger. Getting run over would mean no exams, right?! hahahahahaha.. going crazy in my tired state. Responsibility sucks. I get that everyone is busy and I should probably get over it, but the anxiety of not achieving academically is sucking the fun out of everything else and so something had to give somewhere. I had totally psyched myself into telling the polo horse owners that I actually had bitten off more than I could chew, and was oversubscribed as it was... But I will always put everyone else's needs first, and so my horse show is a no go.

I am feeling incredibly sorry for myself, and looking to the right at my competitions calendar and seeing 'Scratched' twice in a row really hits me in the sad feels. I always tell myself that it is what it is and not to make a deal about it, but perhaps it's a good thing to feel overly disappointed as it might mean I start to prioritise what I want in the future. Initially I had agreed to make myself available for as long as they needed me at polo, but having sacrificed my show I have put my foot down with a firm hand. No more oversubscribing myself because whenever I try to please everybody, I am always the one that ends up disappointed.

So there's Flaxmere's recap post. I'm off to finish up some study notes for my exam this afternoon whilst drowning in self-pity hahaha. At least we have a practise cross country day on either the 11th/18th November (whichever fits best) to prep us for Clareville Horse Trial to look forward to, right.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A place to ride..

Finally, after so many months of waiting and my fair share of winters (and autumns and springs if there's enough rain) having to turn my horse out, we finally have an arena at the grazing. Nothing makes you appreciate an arena like having to ride in paddocks for three years.

& this one is enormous.

- No riding for the next few days as I'm waiting for the courier to deliver a fresh batch of toxin binder, but once that arrives we'll be away!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Horowhenua PC ODE

The ODE this weekend was not my favourite, I must say. We ended up withdrawing just before cross country started so unfortunately didn't get a finishing score for the event.

They say that pictures speak a thousand words, and so I'll let my horse show you himself how he was feeling about the day. The ears, eyes and nostrils say it all really, don't they (#allofthemonsters!).

Although I can't blame him, the whole weekend had been gale force winds and sideways rain. The kind of wind that blows bits of your roof off and tips your horse float over. Seriously, imagine your trailer just parked up, and then a gust of wind rocks up and tips it over (didn't happen to me but someone posted a photo in one of those horsey Facebook pages for riders in my area). That's the kind of wind we're dealing with. Add rain to that mix, and a horse that's high on spring grass and we have a situation that's challenging at best.

However! I was way too excited not to have a crack at it, it had been 56 months since our last ODE after all. So no amount of crappy weather was going to deter me. Plus, we were on super late for dressage so it wasn't like we had to face the horrible conditions at some ungodly hour of the morning or anything.

We arrived at the show grounds and my horse was completely unsettled to begin with. The dressage was on the other side of the property and way out of sight, so I wanted to jump on straight away and head over there.

The dressage test was 'L4' from the 2009 book, which I was stoked about because that is one really nice test to ride! Oscar was so incredibly tense slash downright rude during the warm up - snatching the bit, nose diving and snorting. It was horrendous. He was completely braced against me, and every time I put my leg on to bend him around it, he would just throw his nose up and canter. I think he got a shit tonne of rain up his nose because he wouldn't stop blowing it! I sent L back to the car to keep warm, he was saturated and there was no point him getting sick to watch a not very nice test.

There were moments though where Oscar tried really hard and was listening to me. With the wind howling and rain just hammering us, I'm really stoked that he did at least try to behave. Our actual test went along the same lines as the warmup - mostly tense, braced against me but with moments where he tried to be a good boy.

He switched legs during one of the canter movements and switched back again - flying changes are the current party trick! There was also a corner of the arena that was completely flooded so you couldn't see the sand underneath, and the pipes had blown over so the arena wasn't even rectangular. For a spooky horse he did very well!

When I got back to the float, L was feeling really guilty for not watching and had bought me a coffee to warm up - too cute. He looked miserable, and considering he spends six days a week out in the elements with horses, I felt really guilty for dragging him along on a day like that. I offered to scratch  from the rest of the event, but he said I had to do the show jumping. Went from hella cute to hella not in about five seconds. He quickly hurried me along with switching from dressage to jumping gear and then all but chased us out to the jumping arena. Oscar was shivering underneath me, so I really need to remember to add his waterproof exercise sheet to our show box.

I warmed up and saw that there were three jumps causing heaps of problems on the course. Oscar was jumping exceptionally well though and I was spotting strides for the first time ever. Don't know where that trick came from but huzzah! There were nine jumps on course, and L told me to take number five slowly as a few horses were slipping and/or stopping at it.

When my number was called and I got into the ring, I was so excited! What on earth self?! You finally learn to spot a stride and then you get excited about show jumping?! The bell rang and if horses had business pants, Oscar whipped his on! He just felt so chipper and confident going into all the jumps, was super tidy and straight and with them cute pricked ears that he wears on cross country. I had a smile on my face the whole way around the course.

I lost a stirrup coming into jump five, of all jumps, and didn't manage to pick it up in time. There was a sharp right turn into jump six, which was an oxer and part of a one stride double. Despite fumbling my way through the turn to get my stirrup back, Oscar kind of presented himself at the fence and popped over neatly. That jump had also caused a few problems when I was watching the course earlier, but Oscar wasn't fussed in the slightest. Such a champ! The fact that I can count on one hand the amount of times I've schooled show jumping in the last four years, but he still got on with the job in trying conditions is a huge testament to the kind of horse he is. I complain that he spooks at his own shadow, but I am so, so proud of his bravery and honesty when it comes to jumping. Maybe it's having something to focus on that stops him spooking, but he's just a different horse over fences.

We had a clear round, which bumped us up to third equal (I'm back number 98).

L said he was too nervous to take photos - aha! but they wouldn't have been great anyway thanks to the weather - though the rain had slowed to a drizzle by this point and we managed to get the photo of the two of us above. He looked truly miserable, freezing and tired. I was so proud of Oscar that I honestly didn't mind scratching from the rest of the show, despite being in third place and knowing that Oscar would have tackled the cross country course like a champ. Cross country is easily his favourite phase, and Horowhenua have an awesome course.

It goes from being out in the open, into a forest trail of sorts.

I would have loved to do that course, and the trees would have provided some shelter which would be well appreciated. However, both of my boys were saturated and cold and I felt really selfish keeping them in the rain for several hours whilst we waited for our turn and then prize giving. Like I said, it's our first ODE in 56 months and so just completing the dressage and a clear show jumping made for a nice outing for Oscar and a bit of a confidence boost. He was brilliant at our XC practise the other week, so now he's had a go at all three phases we're more than ready for Flaxmere in three weeks.

Flaxmere is in the Hawkes Bay, which is notoriously hot and sunny with brilliant weather - so hopefully it comes up with the goods!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

5 ways to get the most out of your pony club experience...

First, let me start by saying that pony club is potentially one of the best organisations ever and every pony-crazy kid needs to be given the opportunity to join! Seriously, if you have a kid - sign them up, they'll create a bunch of memories that they'll treasure forever.

The only thing that could beat pony club rally was pony club camp; which was most likely the highlight of every kids' calendar! Although every past and present member will tell you something different when you ask them about their pony club experience, chances are they'll all answer with a smile on their face (.... like the time I let my mumma ride my horse after I'd finished, and she used a water trough to climb on up. Needless to say, she ended up in the water trough, in front of about fifty other members - great memories ha...).

Really, you can't go wrong when it comes to joining a club - fun and friendship are all but guaranteed! However, there are certain things to bear in mind if you really want to get the most out of what is sure to be an awesome experience...


You will most likely find that there is more than one pony club near you. I can't tell you how much it will benefit you to visit, and if possible, try each club out. Most NZ pony clubs allow you to attend one, two or even three rallies unmounted at the very least. Some even let you participate mounted. Quite often the first club you visit isn't the best fit for you - they all have different instructors taking their rally groups, so watching the rallies held at the different clubs in your area will give you a good indication of which club can offer you the most.

Pony clubs also come in different sizes and structures. Some children will be more comfortable in a smaller club with fewer members, whilst other children will thrive in the larger clubs. Some clubs also cater for adult members, with their own designated adult rally. These clubs are fantastic if you want to participate in pony club either alone, or with your child!

Finally, the different clubs in your area all have different facilities. This may include such things as an arena or two, availability of show jumps, a cross country course catering for all levels, or even grazing for members' horses.

Either way, trying before buying can save you the stress or disappointment of discovering the club you joined is not really the right one for you.


To really get the most out of your club, you need to participate. It's no secret that pony club involves a significant time commitment, and most clubs will require you to help a certain amount of times - both in working bees and on event days. You will always take more away from your club than you'll ever put back into it, so painting jump poles at a working bee or being a jump judge for half a day at an event is not too much to ask. Nobody wants to look back on themselves or be known as the adult/kid that never helped!

If every member puts in a solid effort, a club continues to grow and improve. That increases the chances of new members joining and more event entries, which both bring in money to the club. More money coming in means more money available for spending, and guess who gets the benefits of that? That's right you lucky devil, so don't be afraid to get stuck in.

Helping out is also a fantastic opportunity to socialise with other club members and make new friends. Horse-riding friends are the best kind of friends, no question about it. It's quite likely that the person painting poles besides you is going to be the person causing havoc in the nursing home with you in the future!


At pony club you are going to meet a lot of people. Everyone you meet is going to have a different way of doing things, and not one way is the right way - not even yours! The girl who rides her horse with no bridle, and the girl who rides her horse in a pelham are both riding different horses and it's none of your concern what they're doing. Do your best to avoid discussions about another horse, rider or combination - you're all there to have fun with your horses, and that is the main thing.

Also, understand that your club works hard to provide the best instructors they can for you. Your instructor can see things from the ground that you can't see from the saddle, and chances are they'll have a bit more experience or knowledge than yourself. You and your horse will really start to develop as a combination if you are able to trust in the knowledge and guidance of your coach, even if it feels difficult or scary at the time.

Unless an instructor gives you advice that is detrimental to you or your horse's wellbeing, or puts either of you in danger, try not to question or argue with them. If you have any concerns the best person to talk to is the head coach, or the club president if need be.


There is absolutely no reason why you should spend your pony club years 'contained' within one club. The NZPCA spans the whole of New Zealand, and to really get the most from your experience you're going to want to interact with as many other pony clubs and their members as possible. The best way to do this is to get onto an area team! Some area teams compete in regional competitions, against the other areas within a region, whilst other teams compete nationally.

Obviously representing your area or region is a huge privilege, and something that everyone should aim to do because the experience is entirely worth all the hard work you put in. Being on a team requires you to travel, often with your team mates, and is a great chance to make lifelong friends. Chances are, making a team will be one of your favourite pony club memories in the future - so be ambitious!

Another amazing thing about pony club is that there are so many riders competing in different areas, at all different levels. Nowhere else in the equestrian world are you going to be able to regularly interact with such a huge range of horse-people in one space- make the most of the opportunity and find the people who inspire you. There is usually one or two riders at any club that will motivate you (and I'll bet you my last dollar that they're not the kid sneaking off when it's time to help at the working bee!). It never hurt anybody to find someone to motivate them, so make the most of being able to surround yourself with the people who are where you aim to be.


For most people, pony club is a brief period of their lives where they really get to enjoy their horse or pony with a bunch of good friends. It's a time of both endless opportunities and lots of guidance so to get the most out of it, you need to make the most of it.

Befriend everybody, but only let a select few influence you. Try out for everything and anything, you never know how good you are until you try. Sign up for every camp, day trip, outing, whatever... sign up for it - unless you've got a tonne of homework or something because... school is kinda important.

And most importantly, take a heap of photos! Make a Facebook photo album, print them off or flood your Instagram feed - having a bunch of photos to look back on will trigger #allofthememories and remind you just how awesome pony club really was!

I only got to attend pony club for a couple of seasons and so when a friend of mine signed her kids up, I was more than happy to help out! If you went to pony club, is there anything you'd add to that list?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Solway Practise Cross Country Day

I mentioned that the XC practise day was unfortunately rained off the other weekend, but the Pony Club rescheduled for the following Sunday - which was really fantastic of them!

The North Wairarapa Pony Club have some awesome grounds in Solway and a neat selection of jumps. We paid a $25 fee and then had unlimited access to the flagged cross country jumps, and a selection of five or six show jumps. I left Oscar in a day pen with a hay net whilst L and I walked the course. I wanted to practise a ditch/trakehner jump, water and a couple of logs.

Whilst there were no ditch/trakehner type jumps flagged for practise, we made up the 'scary jump quota' with a wide tiger trap fence, a brush and the water jump wasn't the most inviting. I'm really unfamiliar with what a pre-training course looks like now, after being out of the game for so long. So I kind of just picked my fences and course willy nilly. There was a house jump that, despite being super colourful, looked friendly enough. It was in the open, away from spooky tree branches and facing towards home. I kind of just waved at it and told L that I would pop over it on my way around. My course consisted of sixteen jumps, in this order:

  1. Tiny wooden ramp
  2. Tiny coop
  3. Inviting pre-training roll-top
  4. Brush fence between two trees
  5. Tiny log drop into a sunken road
  6. Up a bank and a tiny drop down off of it
  7. Hanging log followed by a one stride to..
  8. Over a tiny log and straight into the water
  9. Pre-training ramp 
  10. Pre-training solid fence (can't actually remember if this was a log or a coop, or what)
  11. Scary tiger trap/box
  12. House jump
  13. Ramp
  14. Ramp
  15. Staircase combination (two steps)
  16. Tiny log type fence between low hanging branches

I honestly believe my horse knows when he's jumping and when we're doing flatwork - I change his bridle, bit, saddle and boots when we jump and so it's not farfetched to think he knows that when he's wearing a grackle noseband and fulmer snaffle, we're either going to work at pace or over fences. Therefore as soon as I hopped on and took a contact he was bouncing off his hocks, snatching the reins and shaking his head. Experience has shown that the best thing to do when he is wound up is to canter. And canter and canter, until he's settled. Just keep working that canter because Oscar is that boy at school who is always running around trying to rough and tumble with the other kids and is distracted at the drop of a hat - the only tactic with these kinds of critters is to tire them out. Well, try to. 

Anyway, L had kindly sacrificed his one day off to drive me a long way to the practise XC day, so I was really pushing myself to get around the course in record time and get back on the road to get home in time for him to go fishing for the afternoon. 

I probably should have worked harder to get my horse softer and back on his haunches more, but as soon as the worst of the head shaking was over I popped on over to the show jumps. The course was tiny! I hate show jumping though and was desperate to get out onto the cross country course so I didn't bother adjusting them - such a wasted opportunity, but I guess I'll just have to deal with the consequences of avoiding practising show jumping if they arise. 

Because the jumps were so teeny, my horse didn't even look at them. Being the kid who likes to rough and tumble he's usually ready to give anything a go - in reality the practise is mostly for my sake. 

The biggest jump, feat. me riding like it's twice the height, because... show jumping.

L was chatting to a client the first time I went over the course, so I had to do it one more time for his pleasure. Oscar didn't pull me around the turns so much the second time, so hooray for small bonuses. We then went straight out onto cross country where my horse proceeded to jig and get excited. He absolutely remembered what cross country was all about, and he was loving it! I'll let the ears and eyes in the photo below do the talking!

I'm biased but, my goodness, is my horse cute or what?!

So Oscar was super excited immediately when we got out onto the cross country course. I clicked him forward into a canter and set off straight away. The first jump was a tiny wooden ramp that we got too fast into - come to think of it, we got into most of the jumps a little fast or flat. We had a sweeping u-turn to the second jump, which again was tiny. You can actually see jump number three in the photo above, the roll top that looks to be behind the coop. We had to cross the gravel footpath after jump number two, and my horse slowed down to a trot by himself - clever cookie. Despite getting slightly strong, he doesn't lose his mind with it. 

Jumps one and two were so tiny - not sure if they'd be pre-intro or intro level...

I'm doing some crazy release over jump number two, the only explanation I can offer is that I was half halting vigorously coming into that fence and after working hard at not sitting on the handbrake when jumping, I overcompensated.... severely.

Jump three went without a hitch, but jump four was well off course and was heading towards these massive wrought iron gates leading off the property. Oscar slammed the brakes on about four strides out, and I only managed to trot him up to the brush fence by flapping my legs and clicking the whole way up to it. You can see how deep he got to this jump, I literally had to ride him every inch forwards. iPhone zoom leaves a lot to be desired...

I circled and re-jumped this fence from a canter the second time around which earned Oscar #allofthepats. He loves being told how good he is. After jump four being so hairy, I decided to canter Oscar through the sunken road before circling and jumping down onto it, just to get him going super confident again. 

Then it was the tiny drop off of the bank, to circle around over the hanging log and into the water. The log was no issue, but the water jump was less than inviting. It was murky and dark, and Oscar had to go over a log to drop in. He actually ran out for the first time ever! He had no clue that trick existed until that jump when he was like 'uh huh, no way!' and ran sideways past the water. I am a little unforgiving with horses that run out. Stop, sure. You can pause, hesitate and look before popping over the jump - but running out is a different kettle of fish. 

I probably should have walked him through the water and then asked him to jump into it, but when I made a second attempt over the log and into the water he just hopped in.

Such a champ. We turned left on exiting the water and came full circle to the hanging log. You might be able to make the footpath out from the photo above, it runs parallel to those trees. We headed up there for the next jump and unfortunately left our photographer behind.

The rest of the course went without a hitch - Oscar seemed to find his stride after 'defeating' the water and just felt so bold across the rest of the course. Our twelfth jump was the house, and as we rode up to it I remember thinking 'oh lord - that's huge!'. It was really wide, and if it wasn't a pre-novice fence then it was max training height. Oscar bashed his feet on it going over as it's the biggest thing he's jumped in forever. It felt amazing to jump something that required a bit of effort again though! 

We found our photographer again at the staircase. It's so nice having photos, even if they are blurry and taken on a cell phone. 

L takes his job as chief photo taker really seriously and even papped us walking back to the float once we finished. As per usual, my horse's tail looks magnificent. I didn't even brush it out!

I walked back to the float incredibly excited for the upcoming ODE. I'm nervous for the show jumping, but the cross country will more than make up for that I'm sure! L had somehow sneaked an apple past me whilst I was packing, and had stashed it away for Oscar once we finished. Once I had washed, dried and loaded up my horse he just whipped out this juicy little treat. He can be so sweet, especially for a male and even more especially for a farrier!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Let's go to the beach!

Last Thursday, as in the Thursday before last, I was somehow successful in winning the battle with L to float Oscar and I to the beach! It's not that I am violently adverse to driving myself and my horse there, but I wanted company for the first beach trip in a long time.

I needn't have worried! A few years ago (maybe five or six) Oscar spent a solid week or two on the beach, well on a coastal property, working on the beach during his stint as a movie star. As such, he's pretty comfortable with waves rolling in and sand for miles. Also, Manawatu beaches are a hundred times tamer than the wild west Auckland beaches he's used to.

Still, I packed up the dogs and my obliging other half and we headed out to the coast on a family adventure of sorts. Unfortunately, I come from a long line of people cursed with the inability to get out of the door on time when it involves more than just getting themselves ready. I knew high tide was around lunch time and despite being ready first thing in the morning, by the time we actually got our shit together we rolled up at Tangimoana around 11.30. Excellent, right on high tide.

Still, there is an (tide affected - thanks Coastal Environments paper at Massey haha) estuary at Tangimoana with sand flats on either side of the river mouth so you can ride on wet sand despite the tide being in. If you're unfamiliar with Tangimoana beach, there is a tonne of driftwood washed onshore. That beach is a driftwood graveyard.

Thankfully the estuary isn't as packed as the beach with driftwood, but there are still a few logs scattered around that make pretty sweet makeshift cross country jumps! And the bonus of a beach that collects heaps of driftwood is that it also collects heaps of sand, and that sand makes sand dunes! Yay for sand dunes. The Manawatu has one of New Zealand's largest dune fields, which means that we got to go for a little explore around them. My geography loving brain was in heaven - exploring coastal processes and landforms on the back of a horse was such a treat for me. Having L and the dogs explore besides us was hands down the best date ever, even if nobody else appreciated the geography in the situation haha.

Once I was dragged away from my explorations we'd done exploring, it was time for a little cardio on the sand.

(I wish I had the technological skills to have all of the above photos equally square and in a visually pleasing grid - alas, my talents don't stretch to HTML!)

I was so blown away, in a good way, with Oscar's behaviour on the sand. We cantered around for a while meandering between bits of driftwood, and even jumped over a few of the more solid and safe looking pieces. Despite being on his own out on the coast (during movie making he was amongst five other horses at all times), he never once tried to bolt back home or get strong or snarky to pull up.

We had a short gallop both heading out to the coast and heading back home, and even when we picked up a bit of speed going back towards the float he was easy to slow down and halt. He might be a bit of a spookster but on the whole he's just such a cruisey horse. I haven't had an opportunity to gallop him literally in years!- and it was something I definitely wanted to do before our first event.

Once I had finished riding, L and I tried to get a photo with Oscar and the dogs. It proved to be way too difficult, and despite the estuary being super handy for riding when the tide is in - it's not very picturesque. The day was overcast and pretty grey, so we just walked back to the float where we had two cold drinks and a bag of doritos waiting. Such a great day!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

DSRC Autumn/Winter Dressage Series; Day 2 of 3.

There was a little bit of pressure on for this weekend, especially for test two.

I had stated in my May goals that I wanted to ride well into my corners in my dressage test, and score above 65%. With that in mind, and armed with my Equicoach tips, I saddled up and prepared for my first test.

I gave Oscar a small feed in the morning with a dose of magnesium in it as he was a little flighty around the hose the day before when I hosed his legs. Grass is also sparse at the moment so he got a small haynet with baleage and hay mixed in- just to line his stomach and keep him chirpy for the day. I think feeding before a show is something I might try more often, I can't imagine operating on an empty tum and my horse seemed better for having something in his.

It seemed to do the trick as he was lovely, much better than last month in terms of not spooking. However, he got a bit of a fright from a clydie warming up beside him which meant for a bit of tenseness in the second half of the test. A couple of late transitions resulting from a lack of preparation on my behalf meant that we finished sixth in this test (1B), with a 64.84% - 0.16% shy of the 65% goal! On the plus side, our centre lines were better this time around. He wavered slightly just after G, so we only managed a 7 - but I was pretty happy with the more forward energy this time around.

Usually I trot the whole way around the arena and right after the judge beeps the horn will maintain the rhythm and enter from a trot. This time around, the judge beeped around B, and I down transitioned to walk. I lined up my entry from the walk and asked for trot right before entering the arena. The down transition was a last little chance for me to settle Oscar, and although it broke the trot rhythm and lovely working trot, our walk-trot transition is good enough that I can get away with doing this and not compromise the forward trot that helps get a straighter line.

Second test, 1D, was even better than the first. This surprised me for two reasons, there was more pressure from me to do well to achieve my goal of 65%, and Oscar had wound himself up being tied to the float for an hour. I thought our first test would have broken 65%, and when it didn't I began to get a little concerned.

I needn't have worried. Oscar appears to be finally settling in the dressage arena, so much so that he behaved impeccably in our second test. There are a few kinks to iron out, circle shapes and sharper transitions, but overall he is feeling less overwhelmed or bewildered or whatever he was feeling!... and more confident to go forwards. He was doing so well that I forgot myself for a minute and rode another course error!! Gahh! I've done two course errors in my life, both at the last two competitions. Let's not make a habit of it!

When the judge beeped me, I was so frustrated with myself I wanted to ride the centre line, salute and leave. However, I regrouped, focused on where I went wrong and we set off again.

We were one of the first combinations to go in this class, and so instead of waiting around I packed up straight away, thanked the organisers and left. One of L's clients had agreed to pick up my test sheet for me and snap chat it through.

About an hour later, she snapped my test through and I was absolutely stoked to see that we had beaten 65% and gotten 71.79% in the second test - with my course error! Woohoo! I was not expecting that score at all, despite my horse feeling really good in his test. That put us in second place, and earned us a blue rosette which the organisers kindly posted to me.

Our best mark was in test 1D, where we got a 9 for the centre line. Throughout the day I practised what Jane had suggested, focusing on the three outcomes from the show that I had anticipated earlier (one outcome was that I wanted to perfect our centre line). This method obviously works and I'm excited to see if it changes my show jumping nerves!

Now i'm feeling better about our dressage, I can start to focus a lot more on our show jumping!
Thank god for winter series' when you're as rusty as me!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recap: Lesson #3 w/ C

Last Friday I had my third lesson with C.

I love C's teaching style and can't wait to finish uni and be able to afford lessons on a weekly basis - just two and a half years to get through; eep.

This week we wanted to focus on canter work, but in light of my poor scores at the DSRC dressage show, we opted to work on transitions instead (with a little bit of canter work thrown in too - I wasn't getting out of it that easy).

In my first two lessons we did a LOT of transitions, but mostly within the gait. We've also done a lot of shoulder in and counter flexion within the gait too for strength building, so it was nice to work on something different.

Oscar has NEVER had butt definition before, C is working wonders with his strength!

To begin with Oscar was behind my leg, he was off grass for most of the week due to the not so great weather and the knock on effect was a horse not so full of himself. I once made the mistake of nagging oscar with my leg when he was tired in a lesson. C rarely gets strict with me but she quickly told me off and made me kick him hard on the girth and leave him alone. It's really difficult not to nag subconsciously. When you're riding a horse you're controlling a lot of what he is doing, and some of what you do comes without thinking - little kicks included. It's quite a different concept asking the horse something and then letting him get on with it. Should be the norm, but it isn't. I think we do it to humans too - micro managing or something? Got to work on that.

More than capable of doing the job when the pesky rider leaves him alone.

Transitions wise, we figured out two things.

1. I ask for transitions too late, so when I think we're a stride or two early, chances are that's on time.
C popped a rock on the arena fence as a 'transition marker'. At the rock we had to either go up or down a gait, mostly between the trot and canter, but we threw in some walk transitions too.

I love working on accuracy stuff because obviously it is clearer to you as the rider when you get it right. Sometimes working within the gait I just have to trust C when she says we've got it, then remember what it feels like.

2. Our transitions themselves need work. If C wasn't completely happy with a transition we had to do it again. And again.. and again if need be. Which is great because I like consistency. No point settling for average when you want 8's (and dream of 9's) on your test sheet.

To combat Oscar's tendency to come above the bit, C asked that I have him super deep before a transition. 

Not sure these boots iz my colour mom!

It's not a permanent thing, just riding ugly at home so we can look good in the dressage arena.
Riding quite deep is a sneaky little trick to stop the horse looking like he comes above the bit - and works a treat when riding a transition away from a judge. As you demand good transitions throughout your training - you can eventually stop riding so deeply beforehand.

The concept seemed to work as the test over the weekend had lovely comments from the judge on all of our transitions!

Also note that he is not on the forehand when I ask for more flexion. In fact he is stretching over his back to come up and over his wither. Excellent exercise for suppling too and building a strong top line.

I think my next lesson will be a jumping one next Wednesday, I'm having to really force myself not to book in again with C before the usual three weeks!


I'm having major trouble with my blogger comments. I can see two on my previous post and it won't let me view them on either mobile or desktop, via blogger dashboard or direct link. I see your comments sitting there and it drives me insane - hopefully I can figure out what's going on soon!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

TP Autumn/Winter Dressage Series; Day 1 of 5.

Before I dive into my recap of this weekend's dressage show; I had another lesson with C last week in preparation. We worked through the previous weekend's tests and addressed transitions - I feel a tonne better about them already. More about my lesson later though, for now I want to focus on this weekend!

In my previous post I had set myself a goal to practise different ways of warming up at a competition, with hopes that Oscar would be less tense in his tests. So this weekend I had planned to both play with the warm up, and beat last weekend's 'high score' of 63.08%

We repeated test 1A from last weekend, and did test 1B this weekend which is new to us.

I was a little more assertive in my warmup for test one instead of doing my usual conservative riding. I didn't really give Oscar much opportunity to look around. He was much better as a result, and despite spooking a few times, as noted in the judge's comment below...

.. he settled much quicker than usual. The transition work with C earlier in the week paid off for us, and we got good comments on all of our transitions. We did what we came out to do and beat last weekend's high score of 63.08%, marginally, and got a 63.65%. Not even a full point, but I'll take it.
The class was much bigger this time around, and we managed a 5th.

The spookiness is exhausting. I don't really know how to stop a horse spooking - I can't anticipate what he's scared of in the first place! The first spook in this test was at a flower pot about a third of the way through our test. We'd passed said flowerpot twice already, and the other eleven (there was one at each letter marker) with no drama and then out of nowhere he took an aversion to it. Bloody horse.

Second test was our lowest score from both weekends. 
It was held in the indoor arena, and there was no option to warm up in there. Horses had to be ridden individually over from the outdoor arenas to do their test alone. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this - I'd even argue this was the norm in countries like England - it is very unusual in New Zealand, and something Oscar has never been asked to do before.

Upon learning where the second test was held, I anticipated all the spooks and began riding like a tense clown myself.

Bloody rider.
Test two, needless to say, was abysmal. I got so distracted with the crappiness of our performance that I lost track of where we were in the test and earned a 2 point penalty for a course error. Ugh, first time ever. I rode over to the judge when she rang the error bell, and thought we'd been eliminated. Note to self: course errors do not equal elimination!

By some miracle, we got 55.77% which is still over the halfway mark. I had expected much worse, and the face below doesn't do justice to how much of a scaredy cat Oscar was being.

I think the saving grace was the second half of the test. I just thought 'screw this test, I don't even care anymore. We'll just become jumpers!', and the subsequent shift in my riding seemed to help Oscar relax marginally.

There were heaps of other horses that were twice as scared as Oscar - as I said, indoor arenas are pretty rare in New Zealand, and especially for a level 1 test - so I couldn't be too disappointed with our test. Next time will be better, right?!

Hopefully we can do some Wairarapa dressage too on top of the Dannevirke series and Tielcey Park. I really want to be happy with our level 1 performances before the eventing season kicks up again. Horse trials are expensive, and even more so when you're a student, so it will be nice to know that we can enter a competition without spooking our way through the dressage tests!

* I am fortunate enough to have a really kind and talented photographer friend whose photos I have used (with permission) in this post. If you're into equine event photography at all, give Taylah Brown Photography on Facebook a like!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

DSRC Autumn/Winter Dressage Series; Day 1 of 3.

My weekend freed up significantly since we weren't able to make the cross country practise yesterday (Saturday NZ time).

Instead, I only had to look forward to the dressage today.

I bought a new Gateshead rug combo with tail bag recently for Oscar, it is gorgeous and has little peeps of green with yoshi like dinosaurs printed on it in random places like the neck rug straps and shoulder gussets and all over the tail bag. I brought a second set for the stable in blue, but with little Snoopys instead of dinosaurs. They are SO cute - I need to get my horse to model their cuteness!

The material the rugs are made from apparently keep your horse super shiny, and well..

.. the proof is in the pudding. From what you can see of 'the pudding' anyway!
I will never worry about turnout again now I have these beauties, I feel like they must just groom away at your horse's coat all night long!

Anyway, back on track.

I entered level 1, which I felt a little guilty about as we've previously had a lot of success at level 1. This is going back a few years though. I needn't have worried as when we arrived there were some absolutely stunning horses in my class, and I didn't look like a ribbon snatcher at all.

In fact, we ended up coming third in the first test and didn't even place in the second.

Oscar warmed up beautifully, someone told L they thought that I would win which proved to be a little presumptuous haha.

We were working in an arena that was farthest from the warmup area - and Oscar got a little tense in his new surroundings. Usually I hate a judge that leaves you trotting around for ages before beeping you in, but today it may have helped. Nevertheless, we had a few settled moments scraping a couple of 8's for our walk, and 20m canter circle on the right rein.  We got our first ever 4 for a late transition to walk, but the majority of marks were an even split between 6's and 7's for a 63.08%.

We placed third in that test.

The second test of the day felt like it started better, but the judge didn't think so. We got a THREE in this test for a working trot over the centre line showing a give in the reins for 2-3 strides. The comment was 'good - but no give and retake shown'. I definitely gave my reins, but I'm wondering if the judge wanted to see the horse take the contact down and therefore lengthen my reins as a result. I kind of brought my hands forward to reveal if my horse was in self carriage or not (he wasn't - too tense), but was marked as no give shown. Hmm.

We got an 8 for our left 20m canter circle this time, but finished with a lower score of 60.38% on this test. The second half of my test, every comment says 'tense, tense, tense' so this is hardly surprising.

I got 'well ridden' in the rider comment and Oscar's comment was 'some lovely movements and shows potential.....' - you betcha he has potential! Today was his first day back in a rope arena after a four year hiatus, and the more we do, the less tense he will become. Next time will be better!

I have a dressage lesson on Friday, C is going to go over my tests with me, and then the Tielcey Park Stables winter dressage series starts on Sunday. The goal is to beat 63.08%!

PS: My horse is looking gooood lately!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dressage Lesson with C; Utilising Shoulder In

My second lesson with C was just as good as the previous. I really think I can strike number 29 off my 30 before 30 list now!

I warmed up alone this time - one downfall of having a farrier for a boyfriend is that they can chat and chat and chat, poor C got ambushed by L and by the time she had broken free I had warmed up.

She was really impressed with our improvements since the previous lesson - despite feeling like we achieve nothing without her help, we're obviously starting to get it. That meant we only spent a short period of time playing with transitions within the trot on a 20m circle and we could move onto a 'new topic'.

C noticed that Oscar was a little resistant, despite working better overall he wasn't using himself as well as he could whilst he was bracing against the bit, and so we spent some time trying to 'unlock' him. I'm sure I don't have to explain that a horse with tension in the neck, back or wherever, can't actually work properly or as well as he could do if he was loose, soft and relaxed.

So we worked on some techniques that not only relax and encourage your horse to soften, but still build strength. We mainly utilised the shoulder in. Now, Oscar does a lovely shoulder in - on a straight line. C prefers working on circles, making the exercises harder for the horse (and rider!) which in turn makes it much easier when we go to perform a movement that is usually asked for on a straight line.

Performing a shoulder in on the circle served to push Oscar's inside hind leg right underneath him, get him travelling laterally through his rib cage and off my inside leg. The extra inside flexion required in this movement did seem to work in softening. Obviously there was still a fair bit of pressure and release going on too, until he stopped bracing against the bit.

The right rein was worse than the left, which is unusual for us, and so at one point we got right down to the forelegs travelling on a 5m circle, at which point he kind of sat back, got off my hands and legs, and used himself properly. When he finally became submissive, we travelled out to the larger circle whilst in shoulder in and then proceeded to give him a walk break reward. Dis why I'm tired.

Standard facials for my lessons with C.

The shoulder in work took up a huge amount of time - the demands C puts on us are really starting to affect Oscar - positively! - but understandably he gets a little muscle sore and until he gets stronger and stronger, a bit of resistance is to be expected.

He didn't have that booty definition before!

We didn't have long to work on canter (that's for next lesson) and C didn't want to overdo it. However, we did have to combat Oscar's tendency to fall out slightly to the outside through his shoulder.

I have an awful tendency to use my hands together, and C is working hard to make me realise that each hand is independent and has its own use. I get it in theory, but putting it in practise is a different story! When I see Oscar's shoulder fall out slightly, it seems counterintuitive to bring my outside hand out too. And so I kind of cross it over into inside hands territory. It actually enables Oscar to fall out by doing that, as it brings his nose in.

So, big thing for me in the canter is to make sure I am aware where each hand is. I wish I had Patrick Swayze saying 'This is my dance space, this is your dance space' to my hands. Mmmmhmm.

Naturally, when I fixed myself, my horse came right too!

To build 'straightness' strength in the canter. C made it really hard for us- as she does.

First she asked for outside flexion on the circle, and then got me to push Oscar's hindquarters out - so when we were on the left rein, I actually felt like my horse was positioned to travel on the right rein. It was SO difficult! I'm definitely not practising that movement unsupervised.

All in all, it was another brilliant lesson. My favourite thing about C is that we never practise dressage test movements - instead we work on making those movements difficult, so that when I do perform one, it seems easy.

Mind my tilting forwards, but he is starting to get along freely off of his forehand.

Wednesday's jumping lesson with S was rained out, boo. However, we may potentially get out to a cross country course this weekend, have our first dressage tests in forever on Sunday, and I'm judging a Pony Club gymkhana ring on Monday. Plenty to keep me busy!