Times A Changing

The last thirty six hours has thrown the British equine world into disarray. Covid-19 has been coming a while, infringing on all areas of our lives, but now we’ve moved into unchartered territory.

We’d discussed it at Pony Club and Riding Club – talking about reducing the risk of infection at events and providing hand washing facilities. But it was business as normal with just a couple of adjustments to our routines.

However, on Monday the PM released a statement bringing more stringent methods into daily life – minimising social contact, reducing unnecessary travel, self isolating. This was closely followed by statements from British Eventing and Pony Club stating that all competition and training has been suspended. On Tuesday, British Dressage, British Showjumping, and British Riding clubs followed suit.

It’s incredible to think that there will be no equine competitions for the majority of this year, and is very disappointing for those who rely on it professionally, and who plan their training with a particular competition goal in mind.

Disappointing as it is, at least we are still allowed to ride. Italy has banned riding and high risk sports to reduce the number of accidents needing treatment in their overstretched hospitals. Phoenix was going to have a go at her first novice test this weekend. No matter; we will keep up the training so that she will be working at elementary level by the summer, and I’m still able to take her out schooling to get some cross country practice in and keep up her jumping training. The important thing is to find some alternative goals and aims to keep us motivated and to keep spirits up.

I made the suggestion to my riding club committee, that we should run our spring dressage competitions online. It’s not the same as going out to a competition, but it’s better than nothing and I think there will be lots of interest. Of course clinics are also being cancelled, so I think we will have to put our heads together to come up with some challenges we can give to members to help everyone keep in touch and motivated. Perhaps get everyone to share a photo or talk about their riding that day. There’s no restrictions on hacking, so perhaps we should make a hacking challenge?

With the Pony Club, I already have some ideas for the kids. They’re going to have a lot of extra time on their hands, so it would be good to give them some ridden exercises – a bit like online lessons – or stable management quizzes to keep up their knowledge. I’m keen that those working towards an efficiency test don’t regress or lose motivation due to tests being delayed and training cancelled. But we’re going to let everyone acclimatise to this new, strange normal, and then get our thinking caps on.

I judge for Demi Dressage – an online dressage competition for under 16s – and I think that will become really popular in the coming months, as a way to focus children on developing their riding. Already I’ve seen more and more online competitions cropping up, including jumping competitions. They’ve been in the pipeline for a while I think, but this current climate has brought them to the fore.

Finding the fun that we can do safely, will help us survive the emotional challenges the coronavirus brings. We’re lucky that equestrianism is an outdoor activity as even if competition venues close, we still have our riding areas at home.

With everyone being encouraged to work from home, I was starting to dread enforced time with an energetic toddler in an enclosed space. But we’re lucky enough to have a garden at least, and I’ve drawn myself up a list of jobs to do. Regardless of any quarantining, we will be spending more time at home, so it’s an ideal time to do the jobs you never get around to doing. Maybe that room will get painted, and the garden will be perfectly manicured?! Or perhaps we’ll actually eat those emergency tins of soup at the back of the cupboard?

I was very relieved when the BHS released a statement saying that coaches should continue to work where possible. I only interact with fit and healthy people outdoors, not getting too close to them; and by following the suggested hygeine and social distancing guidelines, as well as both sides reacting to the first symptoms, the risk should be minimal.

I think it’s important to maintain as much of a normal life as possible for our own sanity, whilst being sensible and sensitive to the situation. Of course, my work may not be vital to the infrastructure of the country, but horses are many people’s saviours. Their down time in a busy world; the thing which turns their day from doom and gloom to sun and laughter. Their coping mechanism for the rest of their life. It’s easy to overlook the importance of a good riding session (or any exercise) to someone’s mental health.

Just like many hobbies; gym classes, book clubs, sports clubs, social clubs. Not only do the clients need these to balance out their lives, but those who run them need the financial reward in order to feed their families. So yes, let’s reduce close contact with others, but in a world where everything’s at a click of a button, let’s make sure we continue to stay in touch with ingenious ways. Summer is coming; move clubs outdoors if possible; use online videos, conference calls, and social media to keep this side of life going.

It’s the start of a new normal, which will take some adjusting to, but hopefully by everyone being sensible (you’ve bought all your toilet roll now, haven’t you?!) and by keeping an eye out for others (we don’t know many at risk people locally, but I’ve offered to organise online shopping for my Granny, and plan to send her bits and pieces in the post over the next few months as well as regular emails to stop her feeling so isolated), we will survive.

Walking The Course

This has come up a couple of times this season, but unfortunately it keeps going to the bottom of my blog list.

So often when riders walk a course, especially eventing when there’s two courses to remember on top of a dressage test, they focus on remembering the order of the jumps and where they’re going. Sound familiar?

Inexperienced riders rarely pay enough attention to the tactical aspects of riding a course. Yes, they’ll think about which fences their horse may dislike, or the gear that they need to approach a jump in, but what about the factors on course which you can’t influence so easily?

Firstly, the ground and way of going. Yes, you can’t change the fact it’s rained and the ground is soft, almost deep. But when walking the course you want to take the ground conditions into account. It may mean you ride a wider turn so your horse is less likely to slip, or if you know your horse finds one type of going easier than others you adjust your riding to best suit them. For example, accept some time penalties and take a steadier canter to help your horse out. You also want to consider the running order. If you are running towards the end of the day you should be aware that the course could become churned up and deep in places. So adjust your lines to take this into account.

Terrain. Some events have more undulating terrain than others, but as you walk the course you should be looking at all the twists and turns of the ground, and plan your ride so that you take the route which will enable your horse to stay most balanced and rhythmical. For example, a jump may be positioned at the edge of a hollow, so depending on how your horse copes with downhill, you may want to ride a longer line to the jump to give them more time to rebalance the canter after the downhill slope. Whether you are jumping uphill or downhill will also affect how you ride the fence. Going uphill you may need to put your foot on the accelerator a bit more, particularly if it’s towards the end of the course. Going downhill, you’ll need to ride a smaller canter to help keep your horse balanced and off the forehand, which will affect their take off point. Incorporating the terrain into your tactics for riding the course can make all the difference to going clear or picking up penalties as your horse will be better placed to jump confidently and successfully.

The weather conditions. One of my lasting memories of eventing Otis is when we were going cross country at 4.30pm in September. Invariably we’d been delayed, so it was after 5pm, and I was galloping up the hill directly into the evening sun, with a large table at the top. God knows how I managed to get over it as I was very disorientated and nearly steered into the hedge, but Otis got me out of trouble, as always. I hadn’t clocked the impact of the setting sun on my ride, and after that event I was always much more considerate of where the sun would be when I would be jumping, rather than where it was when I walked the course. It’s the same with shadows; if a jump is under some trees, check where the shadows are going to be. It takes horses eyes longer than ours to adjust from light to dark, so again you’ll need to adjust your riding line or gear in order to give your horse the best chance of seeing and judging the question. Equally, if it’s raining or windy, you’ll firstly be questioning your sanity, and secondly, need to adjust your riding whether you’re cantering into the rain or wind, or away from it, as your horse will find it harder when against the weather so will need more positive riding from you.

My challenge to you is the next time you are at a competition, or cross country schooling, to start to take into account the weather conditions, terrain, ground, and shadows, as well as trying to remember the order of the jumps. You should start to feel that although you are making more micro adjustments to your canter, and riding less direct lines, your round will flow more and the jumping efforts seem easier.

Eventing

event

So, this week I read in Horse and Hound, the Bible of all equestriads, that BE is increasing prize money next year… but also increasing entry fees and membership. So, naturally, I thought I had better give my views.

Eventing is the one thing I really enjoy doing with my horse and now, at seven years, he`s ready. However, the big off-putter to me at the beginning of the year was the cost of eventing. I mean, after all, it`s much cheaper to stick to dressage. You only need one saddle for starters! But I was hooked two years ago when I rode a friends horse at my first event. This year I had made some new associates, who were keen eventers. From a privileged background, but very pleasant and helpful non the less. I didn`t have my own transport (the joy of passing my driving test after 1997) so was thrilled when I was offered a lift to Aston-Le-Walls to do the unaffiliated BE80. These friends also helped me in the training build up. I knew the theory, the BHS made sure of that, but it`s a bit different putting it all into practice. So off we went, both horse and rider travelling well, with no forgotten kit (helped by my numerous lists dotted around the house/car/stables/trailer) and we completed with a reasonable dressage score, clear showjumping and a few cross country time faults.

So from there I lined up a list of BE90s that we could go to. Then I had to start narrowing it down because, financially, it`s not viable to go to more than one a month. Lets add it up for a moment; £60 entry fee, £10 start fee, depending on where you go diesel lets say £40. That`s already £110. Then there`s obviously the photo you need to buy after, the bacon roll because it`s just not a competition without a bacon butty. And then on top of that the equipment (I mean, if you didn`t event, would you really need three sets of boots, bandages, jump saddle and dressage saddle, as well as the cross country colours and tweed outfit?) It doesn`t bear thinking about really.
But I enjoy it which is the main thing.

Let`s get back on track though; these ODE`s that I`m entering are unaffiliated. This means I don`t have to pay membership of £145 a year. Neither do I need to register my horse at £100 per annum. Now who, except those born with a silver spoon in their mouth, can afford this fee? Let alone when the fees go up! This will lead to eventing becoming an elitist sport, with semi-talented, but super rich people buying top class eventers and winging them round courses, interfering with the horse and causing an accident. Which is what we`ve seen a lot of in recent months. It means eventing is getting a reputation for being a dangerous sport, and course builders are leaning towards bigger and scarier cross country courses, which makes inexperienced riders panic, and instead of an event being a display of a well rounded horse, it is a “slap dash dressage test and as fast as you can round the cross country course” competition.
At least at the lower affiliated levels.

This hasn`t put me off eventing, it does however frustrate me that I don`t have a hope of doing really well for myself because I can`t afford to go beyond the unaffiliated level, neither can I afford a string of horses for each event. I think British Eventing need to rethink their policies and who their target audience is. I know there are hundreds of amateur riders who would love to do low level eventing but cannot justify the cost.

Next season I personally plan to continue to go to unaffiliated BE events (at least I know then that they are built and run to a great standard) moving up to BE100, but I already know that I will only be able to do a maximum of six or seven events as that`s all my overdraft will allow! It`s time for eventing to have a shake up!