Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Yorkshire Training Weekend and Sherbourne Castle Country Fair

Well we had an absolute monster of a weekend at the end of May - I feel exhausted just writing about it!  It started on the Friday afternoon when Becca and I set off with all four of the horses up to North Yorkshire.  We were on our way to spend the weekend with Hannah Dawson, who I met back in September when she came down for a vaulting lesson with me and Tinker.  Hannah is a very established clicker trainer and Becca and I were keen to learn more about this method of training - as we've always gone for the 'make it up as you go along' approach!  However, setting off on the journey we had forgotten it was a Bank Holiday afternoon and consequently spent a looooonng time sitting in triffic traffic.  Boring!  I spend a lot of my time driving backwards and forwards to North Yorkshire as this is where Ben (my boyfriend) lives, so I sort of knew where we were heading which always makes a journey easier - not so for Becca who got quite irate with the whole thing!  We finally made it up there and having settled the horses were treated to a very lovely meal cooked by Hannah and her boyfriend Dexter, all very civilised!

In the morning it was down to serious business.  We started off talking through the theory of clicker training and how it could help each one of our horses, who are all very different, and what it was we wanted to achieve with each one.  It was fascinating talking about all the different training methods and experiences we'd all had with our various horses - I'm more than sure we could have talked all day!  But it was soon time to put it all into practise and see what the boys made of it all.  

We started of with Casper.  I wanted to work on him to be able to concentrate more and not be so easily distracted by everything going on around him.  He does his tricks beautifully at home but as we discovered back in November if I take him out of his comfort zone away from other horses he gets very bad separation anxiety and cannot calm himself down enough to concentrate on what it is I'm asking of him.  So, out of the paddock away from Tinker and into the barn with him!  And he was not happy!!  He ran around like a total mad brain and wouldn't settle at all.  Tinker didn't help either by being an idiot and whinnying back at him - not conducive to calmness!  After a little while he settled enough to start doing some basic work, and he picked everything up really quickly!  We worked with him for a little while before putting him back out with Tink to think about what he'd just done.  

Then it was Navvy's turn.  At home Navvy is quite bargy and pushy, so Becca was wanting to work on manners with him and also how to progress with his tricks.  Hannah recommended starting with the barrier (just a couple of rails) in between them to try and deflect the pushiness.  However, Navvy totally surprised us by being very wary of the barrier, almost as if he couldn't believe we'd done such a thing to him!  He was very quiet and a totally different horse from what we were expecting.  Becca then did the work without the barrier and Navvy was very responsive - and the politest he's ever been!

We swapped backwards and forwards between Casper and Navvy for most of the day - and couldn't believe the change in them!  Casper became more responsive and picked new things up ever so quickly, and Navvy also really concentrated and was polite for the whole day - result!!  Although we both know our horses really well the work we did throughout the day seemed to amplify their personalities.  Along with Hannah's insights we picked up aspects of their characteristics far stronger than either of us ever have before.  By the evening all five of us were really tired - and then it was Tinker and Ronan's turn!

We bought them into Hannah's arena where we set up the 'Pony Playground'.  This consisted of a lot of 'toys' to try and engage the boys a bit more.  The problem we've been finding with both of them is that they lack enthusiasm (they've both been doing it a long time now!), so we were trying to encourage them to play and just enjoy themselves.  The toys included a pedestal (Tinker's personal favourite - he kept just wandering off to go and stand on it!), a rug, a giant gym ball (football size for horses!), an umbrella, some tarpaulin and a little jump - all good fun for horses!  Ronan thought the whole thing was wonderful and played with as much as he possibly could, chasing Becca around and generally having a whale of a time!  Tinker is much more reserved and as a result I sometimes wonder if he's only doing what I ask him because he feels he has too rather than because he wants to, and that he really couldn't care less about the whole thing!  However, Hannah had a different take on him and made me realise that he does engage totally with me, just in a very quiet understated way.  I must be more considerate towards him!  We had great fun playing with them with all the toys, and adding their tricks in as and when.  Because they were enjoying themselves they really worked hard at their tricks - for the first time in a long time!  Both Becca and I certainly have a lot of work to do to maintain their new found enthusiasm!!

By now it was really quite late, but Hannah bought out her pony Toby to show us what clicker training can achieve and what he can do.  Coming down the yard he really didn't look very impressive - he's a twenty-one year old small cob, and looked like a little old man!  However, as soon as he started working the transformation was amazing!  Hannah was working him at liberty and before long she had him trotting around her on a circle, performing shoulder in, with a beautiful collected outline and really working up through his back - no more little old man!!  All this was done with nothing but voice and body language, and was just beautiful to watch.

By now it really was very late, and as we hadn't let up all day we were all exhausted!  It was pizza and chips before bedding down in the lorry again - tomorrow was a full vaulting day!  We were due to have two three hour sessions, with six people in each class.  First up were the more mature group - a bunch of lovely ladies who mostly wanted to work on their confidence and feeling more relaxed on the horse.  We did lots of barrel and walk work with them all - and then came the canter work!  Despite some of them saying they wouldn't be cantering (Hannah's mum Rachel included!), by the end of the session all of them had!  The looks on their faces as they were cantering around on Ronan was brilliant - some of the grins were just huge!  They all did fantastically well, and I gather that they are all keen for another go!  After lunch we had the more confident group so we were able to push them a bit.  Given that Hannah had already had a lesson we really pushed her and by the end of the session she was mounting and standing in canter on Tinker - no mean feat I can tell you!  I also have to mention Elaine, who having tried a flank off on the barrel just went for it and did one off Tinker at canter - I hope I'm that active at 63!!  We had a lovely day again and met some brilliant people, in fact the whole weekend was really interesting and we were hosted amazingly by Hannah and her parents - we will definitely be back!!  (One slight issue though...  The Yorkshire wind was really strong all day, and on the way back both our faces were just glowing red - we'd both got really bad wind burn!  We both spent the next couple of days looking really embarrassed - which in itself was embarrassing!!).

No rest for the wicked though.  No sooner had we finished the afternoon session than we were on the road home (along with a delicious packed lunch from Rachel - thank you!).  The idea was to truck on home, hopefully arriving at about 11.30pm, then unload the horses.  Ronan and Tinker to stay in the stables with Navvy and Casper going back out in the field.  Unload the lorry, reload the lorry with all the show kit, snatch a few hours sleep before getting up again at 4.30am to load up and set off for Sherbourne Castle down in Dorset - phew!  And that's exactly how it happened!  Tim arrived at Becca's shortly after we did, and with his and Bryn (Becca's boyfriend's) help we soon had the lorry sorted.  I slept really well although when my alarm went off again at 4.30am it felt like I'd only been asleep for a few minutes!

We arrived at Sherbourne to friendly faces but a very grey sky.  Luckily the rain held off until we'd got the awning up and were able to get the horses under cover.  I think they were just as tired as us and were quite happy to just stand munching away on their haynets.  Then the rain set in.  It was that horrible persistent drizzly rain that just seems to soak you right through and chill you to the bone - so much for a sunny May Bank Holiday!  Nevertheless the show must go on - and on we went!  Despite the horrible weather the show went through really well.  We were quite concerned about the roman riding as not only was it raining but also the arena is on quite a slope - cantering down hill standing up on two horses in the rain is not much fun!  We needn't have worried though, Tinker and Ronan looked after us so well, they just went beautifully steadily and the whole thing went without a hitch - they really are fantastic horses!  We put into practice what we'd learnt over the weekend with trying to engage them before their dances - and the results were two very good performances from them!  Happy days!

Unfortunately, for the first time ever, Ronan was unable to do the second show.  A combination of the extremely hard ground we've had recently, a lot of different work and lots of travel had all combined to make him really stiff and slightly lame, so there was no way Becca could risk him by doing a show.  So it was Tinker and me on our own!  We hastily cobbled together a solo show with the available costume and music, added in the skipping, and hey presto a new show was born!  The arena was quite large so I had to make everything even larger than usual, and in trying to make the strip fill the long duo track all on my own I got so carried away I actually ran out of music!!  The arena was really slippery, I was skidding about all over the place, especially on my mounts and dismount-remounts, but good old Tink caught me on every one and I managed not to fall over!  Same can't be said for Tim, who's body went one way and feet another doing a spectacular fall whilst carrying the pom-poms early on in the show - he looked like some sort of crazy pom-pom explosion as he went down!  Despite the horrible weather the crowd were amazing during both our shows, cheering away from under their umbrellas, and it really does make all the difference.  Thank you Sherbourne for keeping our spirits up!

It was finally time for a very bedraggled and tired Jive Pony team to head home.  Having eventually arrived back we all fell out of the lorry, sorted the horses out, before heading back to our respective homes and, finally, beds.  It really was monster of a weekend, but  a thoroughly enjoyable one!  As we were so busy we hardly managed to get any photos, but please click here to see the ones Hannah took.  (I'll add ours when we find the camera card!).

We've got another busy one next week as we're off to Bolesworth Castle up in Cheshire for a four day duo at the Bolesworth Show Jumping Classic and Country Fair.  This is organised by the same team behind the Champion's Tour we did over the winter with Geoff Billington and Ollie Townend, so we're looking forward to catching up with a lot of familiar faces.  I'll let you know how we get on soon!

Lots of love,

Rosie xx

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Essex Young Farmers Annual Country Show

A couple of Saturdays ago we all set off in the lorry for the Essex Young Farmers Annual Country Show.  Having wiggled our way through a lot of very small lanes we finally arrived on site, and Amy was there to meet us again.  We then spent the next ten minutes following various different young farmers around on their quad bikes before finally finding our pitch and being able to set up.  We were right next to the main arena - which was absolutely HUGE!!  Turns out is was 120 by 60 metres, which is far bigger than we usually work in - we were convinced we'd get totally lost in there and nobody would be able to see anything we were doing!  However, having marked it all out later it didn't look too bad, still just massive!  As Tinker has a history of picking up speed if he's got a lot of space to do so, I was feeling slightly apprehensive to say the least!  The arena was also on a slight slope, with lots of little ruts all over it, and as the weather had been so dry the whole thing was as hard as concrete - not ideal!  

Our first show was scheduled for 10.30am, so it was going to be an early one.  It takes Becca and I about two hours to get ready for a show as we have to brush the horses, warm ourselves up, do our hair and make up (make up especially takes quite a while...), tack up the horses, warm up the horses, get changed into costume, then finally last minute adjustments - and away!  It was during the getting changed into costume part that we realised a horrible error had been made...  To set the scene: My long black boots are on their fourth season now and had been understandably looking a bit tired.  So I'd spray painted them black to give them another lease of life.  As I pulled the boots out of the boot bag I said to Becca 'Wow, since I sprayed these boots they look really new - almost as good as Amy's!' (Amy has a brand new pair).  Then the realisation dawned.  They were Amy's boots.  Amy is a size four.  I am a size six.  Oh dear.  I managed to squeeze one of the boots on and took a tentative step in it.  Ouch.  Becca then tried to put the other boot on to see if she could wear them instead, but couldn't get her foot past the ankle, so it was back to me.  I got it on and then we all burst out laughing - I looked like one of those old fashioned Chinese ladies with bound feet, they looked far too small for my body!  I could just about walk OK, but as for vaulting and roman riding - who knew?  We'd just have to find out!!

Good old show adrenaline - I never noticed the boots once!  The whole show went through quite well considering everything we had to contend with.  Aside from the boots there was the hard ground (which turned out to be slippery too - Tink skidded a couple of times!), the wind, which was quite strong and nearly had me off during the shoulderstand in roman riding, and the fact that throughout the entire show we only had one microphone between the two of us.  This was by far the biggest problem as the whole show is scripted for the commentary to bounce backwards and forwards between Becca and I - which we couldn't do!  It was the start of the show that was the worst - I went to open it with the usual 'Good morning ladies and gentlemen', only to realise to my horror that nobody could hear a word I was saying!  Becca then had to do the introduction, but as I always do it she doesn't really know the lines and if you're not expecting to have to do it you get completely thrown!  Anyway, we managed throughout with just the one mic - but it wasn't easy and I think we were both quite glad when the show was over!  As we exited the area I jumped of Tinker, only to realise with a massive jolt that my feet had just spent a very active thirty minutes in boots two sizes to small for them - they hurt!!  Good job Alex is a farrier - I needed him to pull the buggers off me before spending the next half hour walking around in bare feet to try and get some life back into my toes!

Time for the second show soon came around, and Amy was going to be doing the show on Ronan.  The wind had picked up and was literally blowing a gale through the arena - should be fun with the pom-poms!  Although the pom-poms were difficult, they were nothing compared to our long skirts.  The wind just picked the skirts up and made it virtually impossible to do the strip.  Having finally got rid of the long skirts (which practically blew into the next county causing Tim and Alex to do much running and fetching!) the wind then spent the entire show doing a very concerted and highly successful attempt at keeping our skirts up around our ears, with our frilly knickers on view almost permanently!  There was a large contingent of the audience who found this hilarious - and what could Amy and I do other than grin and bear it?!  Thankfully we both had working microphones, but that was about the only thing that went right!  

During the first section of vaulting I was in shoulderstand when a combination of a gust of wind, me momentarily losing my balance causing Tinker to loose his, and the skiddy ground caused me to fall out of the shoulderstand.  There was a moment when I thought (as I was halfway down to the ground) I could get it back and throw in a dismount-remount (tricky on the outside of the horse but possible).  Then my feet hit the ground and I lost it!  I hit the deck with my knees and hands, skidded a bit, before looking up to see Tinker disappearing off into the distance without me.  The crowd gasped, I jumped up and shouted 'well that's not in the script!' before running round to meet Tink who had stopped on the opposite side of the arena.  I jumped on and carried on vaulting, but it's just so embarrassing - I hate falling off!  It's the first time I've done it spectacularly in a show since the Cheshire Game Fair, way back in 2009, which was another show where everything seemed to go wrong!  This show didn't get any better either!  Towards the end of the roman riding Amy lost her balance (again, the wind was ridiculously strong) and fell down in between the horses as I was getting on.  I don't know how she managed it but she fought it and fought it and somehow managed to scramble back up onto Tink.  By this point we were way behind on the music so we had to miss out the final switch and finish on the opposite horse to usual.  This meant Amy was up on Tinker instead of Ronan, but she coped really well and we finished in style!  I think we were both really glad when that bit was over!!  The rest of the show went through without incident and we both breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over!

We weren't the only ones affected by the wind.  The Bolddog Motocross team, who had performed some amazing jumps and stunts in their earlier show, were unable to do anything in the afternoon as it was simply too dangerous for them to perform their jumps with the wind blowing as strongly as it was.  This was a huge shame, but it made Amy and I feel justified for finding our show such a struggle!  It was definitely one of the more difficult days - but at least it didn't rain which is always a massive bonus!  After the show we were approached by Marie, who we'd met last summer up at the Northcote Heavy Horse Centre, where we spent a very hot day teaching!  Marie was lovely and took a few photos of the shows which I've put up here, as we hardly managed to take any ourselves!  

Next weekend we've got a bit of a monster.  We're off up to North Yorkshire on Friday with all four of our horses for a clicker training day on Saturday with Hannah Dawson, which we're both really looking forward to.  Then on the Sunday we've got a full day of teaching before heading home in the evening.  Then we'll unpack the lorry, repack it with show kit, get a few hours sleep, before heading off down to Dorset and the Sherbourne Castle Country Fair on Monday.  Phew!  I'll let you know how we get on!

Lots of love,

Rosie xx