Riding Camp

In recent years horse-loving adults have been taking a leaf out of their kid’s books, and started going camping. It’s like Pony Club camp, with as much fun, and more alcohol.

My riding club runs a summer camp as well as dressage and showjumping mini camps during the year, but this year was the first that I managed to go. I wasn’t sure about going until after Easter, when I’d got on top of Phoenix’s tension issues, but I decided it would benefit both of us.

Camp started for us on the Friday morning, with a jump lesson. We were with the green horses, and Phoenix was one of the most experienced horses, but this suited us both as I was definitely uptight and unsure of how she’d behave at a busy venue. I wanted a quiet, calm lesson to settle us both. The lesson focused on quietly approaching small fences in a steady rhythm, and calmly riding away. Phoenix was great, and it did the job of setting us up for the weekend.

I spent a lot of time in the run up to camp worrying about how Phoenix would cope with being stabled and ensuring she ate sufficient forage. I was really pleased that she seemed to settle immediately into the stable, and started munching on her haylage. I planned to hand graze her as much as possible, but the fact that Phoenix was so chilled definitely helped me relax.

Our second lesson, on Friday afternoon, was flatwork. We worked on shoulder fore in trot and canter, and I felt that Phoenix had an epiphany on the right rein: riding right shoulder fore really helped her uncurl her body and improved her balance on right turns. She had previously been resisting my attempts at creating right bend and scooting forwards in panic as she lost her balance, but she seemed to thrive off the challenge of shoulder fore, even managing it in canter to my surprise.

I was up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning so had the pleasure of waking up the horses. It was cross country day, and I was thrilled with how Phoenix took on each challenge. Considering that she’s only been cross country schooling twice and seen some rustic fences on sponsored rides. We had a few stops, but it was as though she needed to study the question as when I re-presented she locked on and flew it confidently. We focused on Phoenix not rushing or panicking over the jumps to build her confidence. I wanted her to have a positive experience, and then I can develop her confidence over steps and through water over the summer. Phoenix was the bravest of our group too, getting up close and personal with the life size model elephant!

I spent most of Saturday afternoon hand grazing Phoenix and chatting to friends. The part of camp that I was most enjoying was the uninterrupted time I had with Phoenix. I wasn’t against the clock, or distracted by my little helper. I felt it really helped us bond. She’s still very aloof, which made the little nicker she gave every time I came into sight much more rewarding.

Our camp also had the weighbridge come, which I found useful for getting an accurate weight for Phoenix for worming and travelling. She weighs 495kgs, which I’m happy with. There were also off-horse Pilates sessions we could join in. Under the impression that it would be a light workout to take into consideration how much riding we were doing over the weekend, I signed up for two sessions. A minute into the plank I was regretting this decision …

On Sunday morning we could choose our lesson format. I opted for another showjumping lesson as I felt that was most beneficial to us. After all, I have regular flat lessons and have a progression plan in that area, and with a showjumping competition on the horizon, my choice was obvious really. Phoenix jumped the course confidently and boldly over all the fillers. It was the biggest course I’d jumped her over without building it up gradually in height and “scare-factor” so I felt it was a good test for her, and a positive note to end camp on.

It’s easy to see why adult camps are growing in popularity; I felt I came away from camp feeling like I had a better relationship with my horse, with a few new exercises to work on, and some new training goals. It was great being surrounded by friends, getting support, encouraging others, and putting the world to rights over our banquets (that’s the only way to describe the quality of the catering!).

I’d better start negotiating childcare for next year’s camp!

Electricity

” I can’t really explain it, I haven’t got the words. It’s a feeling that you can’t control.”

With the soft thud of hooves we reach the edge of the field. A green carpet glistens in the morning spring sunshine in front of us, far more important than any red carpet in the world. I pat my bay companion, who swishes his tail in anticipation. His ears flick forwards and back, waiting for my signal. With a squeeze of my calves, he jumps forwards, long neck stretching out. I stand up in my stirrups and crouch forward, feeling his body bunch and stretch as he gallops powerfully out of the shadows.

“I suppose it’s like forgetting, losing who you are. And at the same time, something makes you whole.”

Wind whistles around my ears, whispering promises of summer. I blink back tears as the cool air buffets my face. With a whoop of glee, I crouch lower, urging him to go faster; scrubbing my hands up and down as the long black mane whips up to greet me. A spurt of speed and we start our ascent, the field rolling away neither side. The spring sun warms my back. A grin breaks over my face as my worries leave me, soaring high above me amongst the singing skylarks. I forget about yesterday. About today. Nothing seems to matter now.

“And then I feel a change, like a fire deep inside. Something bursting me wide open, impossible to hide.”

I blink. In front of me are a pair of white delicately fluted ears, curving inwards. The short strong neck of my first pony supports my upper body as I lean forwards. Out of the corner of my eye I see my friend, balanced expertly over her shining, mahogany gelding, opening . Suddenly my snowy white pony gathers himself and I feel the power of my first galloping strides. His neck stretches forwards, I thread my fingers around his long mane, as the ancient, impressive oak looms. I guide my plucky pony around the dust bowl below the heavy branches, neck and neck with our opponents, and look towards the finish line – the top corner of the field, shrouded by high, wild hedges.

“And suddenly I’m flying, flying like a bird. Like electricity, electricity. Sparks inside of me and I’m free. I am free!”

Back in the moment. Two fluffy bay ears, tipped in black, nod in front of me as my best friend gallops on. He snorts loudly, his breathing louder than before. I raise my upper body, steadying him. We’re nearing the end. The woods are in sight. The gallop turns to a canter, I sit back into the comfort of my leather saddle, sitting tall. Like a child flying a kite, I try to bring my spirits back down to the solid green earth. With a shake of his head, we trot. I exhale, trying to keep hold of that elation within me. A squeeze on the reins and we walk, his flanks heaving rapidly. He licks his lips, flicking saliva in the air; he wants to go again. So do I! With a laugh, I pat his shoulder and look over my shoulder. No one’s around. With a swing of his haunches, we set off again into the sun.

“Electricity sparks inside of me and I’m free! I’m free!”

“Oh, I’m  free!”