Jump Jockeys

I had a fun lesson yesterday with two kids. Obviously being after school it’s dark when they ride, so my repertoire of jump exercises is being tested as I find ones which make them and the ponies think whilst not being too big, and ones which aren’t too spacious so doesn’t use the darker side of the school.

Last week I decided that I wanted to get the jumps flowing for my riders. One has a speedy pony so where he was over folding, and now is using his shoulders and upper body as brakes is now getting left behind, so it’s a fine balance that we need to rediscover; the other tries to micromanage and pins her horse down with her hands so restricts his jumping and then it doesn’t flow or look harmonious.

The obvious choice of exercise was without hands. Thankfully, we had the arena to ourselves so I didn’t need to worry about the increased speed by the end of the exercise as they had plenty of time and space to gather reins back and circle to bring the ponies back under control.

Once they’d popped through the grid of three cross poles on both reins I told them to knot their reins.

“Oh no!”

“No way!”

“He’s going to go so fast!”

“I don’t like not having control” (this came from the dressage dive, who I keep telling to think of being a little messy when she rides because then her pony relaxes and she gets better jumps)

Reins knotted, I sent them straight through the grid with both hands out to the side. I told them to let go of the reins over the first jump, to try and keep some semblance of control on the approach, and then to circle until they brought the canter back to trot.

The first rider, where he’s been consciously not over folding has been a little slow giving with his hands over the fence, so has been getting slightly choppy bascules. This exercise allowed us to work on finding the fine balance between not over folding and encouraging the pony to accelerate and flatten the canter on landing and still allowing him to use himself properly over the fence. After a few tries this rider was starting to get the feeling of the right balance, and when we took back the reins the pair looked much better.

My second rider, by not holding onto the reins, gave her pony a much nicer ride through the grid, which enabled him to jump more freely and rebuilt his confidence because I don’t think he was that happy with being micromanaged. It also taught his rider that he does know his job, and the fences can flow. Which built her confidence because she had more faith in her pony and in her jumping ability. She was able to replicate this afterwards when she had her reins again.

Both of these riders managed to achieve this relatively quickly, so I decided to try out another exercise.

For the boy, it was more just having fun. End of term-itis is kicking in so I wanted the focus to be more on fun. For the girl, I wanted her to sit lighter after fences because her tendency to sit up quickly, which she needs to do a bit of in order to stop her pony getting too fast, comes with her also sitting heavily into the saddle which I think upsets his sensitive soul.

So I put their stirrups up eight and ten holes respectively.

There was quite a lot of banter by now: the boy in his jump saddle was quite happy and set off to trot and canter in jockey position. His core is a bit weaker so he did sneak in a few little rises, but I didn’t want to put his stirrups up too high so his balance wasn’t disturbed. I removed the knee blocks from my other rider’s dressage saddle, and she found it slightly easier then to ride light seat, but the high cantle stopped her really crouching low over the wither. She did start to find her balance on the flat, and I thought her pony looked a bit freer over his back with her out the saddle too.

Then they popped through the grid a few times in both directions, working on keeping their seat light yet still folding, or at least differentiation between their position on the flat and over the fence. The key here is to have a strong core, and to adjust the upper body without sitting heavily into the saddle or losing your balance. I’m a big believer in using the upper body after a fence to rebalance the canter and reorganise, yet both kids are still finding the balance between sitting right up after a fence to discourage their ponies from accelerating away and sitting deep into the saddle so their bums are driving the ponies forwards. With short stirrups it’s hard to drive!

The ponies started to soften over the fences, and use their backs a bit more. Where we’d worked without reins you could see that my riders were less reliant on them for either brakes or balance.

I was planning on leaving the lesson there, but they were keen to try no reins and jockey stirrups. I should have said no, and finished when we did, but I thought I’d run with their keenness.

The girl did it very well, and was pleased with herself. I think she had a lot to consider from the lesson and knows now that her pony is more than capable, but she needs to learn to take off her dressage hat and put on her showjumping one, which is a little bit more relaxed and laissez-faire. Unfortunately, my other rider bounced off over the last fence. Squashed pride and end of term-itis meant this was a bit sore, but he remounted and popped through the grid with jockey stirrups and reins. When I debriefed him after I think he understood that it was just a wobble due to lack of core stability (despite the no reins work, when he had the short stirrups he was giving with his hands but leaning on them as he folded over the jumps, showing that there’s more work needed to get him really secure over fences) and balance, rather than him or his pony doing wrong. I think he took a lot away from the lesson and I look forwards to hearing about his jockey riding on the gallops next week!

Riding like a jockey is so helpful at improving balance, and strengthening the core and thigh muscles. I think going to the extremes of a light seat will help my young riders learn to sit lightly whilst keeping their shoulders back on the approach and getaway of fences, which will hopefully help courses flow and for them to influence the quality of the canter without getting heavy in the hand and blocking their ponies shoulders from jumping. You can see in the first picture below, that the jockey is limiting the speed by his position and shifting his upper body back, and in the second image he is opening up the canter. For my two riders, they want to try to imitate the first picture on the approach and the second picture over fences to really help their ponies out.

Chasing The Wind – a Book Review

Some of you may remember last year I reviewed the fourth book in the Aspen Valley series, Making the Running, by Hannah Hooton.

Well, a couple of months ago I was asked to be a beta reader. This means that I was one of the first to read the book, compare the alternate endings, and provide feedback. 

Now the book is officially finished and available to buy (links at the end of the post). I can provide you guys with a review and recommendation.

Chasing The Wind is the final book in the Aspen Valley series. Set in Somerset, the series revolves around racehorse trainer Jack Carmichael, his family, his horses, his staff, and his career. The book got off to a gripping start, with the tragic death of Jack’s two-year old daughter, Gabrielle, in the hands (or hooves) of a racehorse, Shenandoah.

Simultaneously, young journalist Lucy Kendrick, arrives on Jack’s doorstep. Already the reader can smell a rat, as we see the edges of her web of lies in her shadow, suggesting that all is not what it seems.

The book follows Jack as he tries to come to terms with his loss; tries to make amends with his devastated wife; battles the horse racing authorities when his reputation is threatened;  finds the perpetrator within his closest; solves the enigma that is Lucy; and all whilst planning his revenge on the unbeatable Shenandoah at the upcoming Grand National.

I would class this book, as with the others in the series, as a romance book, with the backdrop of the horse racing industry. It’s got plenty of witty, comedic moments, memorable and instantly recognisable characters, and is easy to read and to pick up, making it perfect bedtime reading with a mug of hot chocolate.

It is also definitely part of a series. Whilst it can be easily read on it’s own and thoroughly enjoyed, previous protagonists pop up throughout.

What I particularly liked about this book, compared to the previous ones, is that it brings in a few technical elements – having a horse x-rayed for kissing spines, a common complaint of the racing industry, and jump schooling to improve a horse’s technique. To me, it makes the books more realistic and well researched, if not slightly idealistic.

The book has many sub plots, and a couple of traps to fall into, and I was kept guessing until the end. When I thought I knew who Lucy the journalist was, another suspicion was raised. 

I will admit, that when I read the ending -which I will not reveal – in the beta version, I was slightly disappointed. It took me from the highs of reconciliation to the lows of retribution. For the end of the series I felt there was something missing. I voiced my opinion in my feedback, and I have to say I was thrilled by the improvements.

In the final version of Chasing The Wind there is an epilogue, which cleverly ties up the series whilst leaving the door ajar if Hannah Hooton decides to revisit Aspen Valley in the future.

The books are available from AmazonNookiTunes, and Kobo

Making The Running – A Book Review

Some of you may remember my blog a couple of weeks ago where I alluded to having some exciting news – My Childhood Library – and now I can reveal all.

I recently received an email from Hannah Hooton, author of the Aspen Valley books, asking me if I would be willing to review her new book, Making The Running, on my blog. Now, this was quite exciting for me. Firstly, I love reading so to be given an excuse to read even more is brilliant. Secondly, I had already heard of Hannah Hooton and had enjoyed the books I`d previously read, so it was a win-win situation.


It was about three years ago when I first came across the series of Aspen Valley books, when I was off work injured and filling my days reading my kindle and doing jigsaws. Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I`ve read the rest of the Aspen Valley series to satisfy my OCD for reading books in chronological order, and so that I was fully prepared for the latest instalment this weekend.

To me, one of the signs of a good book or series is when you remember the characters and plots. Despite reading the first book “Keeping the Peace” more than two years ago I could still remember the protagonists` names and the basic storyline, which means that the subsequent books make much better reading, as the background and histories of the characters are familiar to the reader.

This Aspen Valley series centres around Aspen Valley Racing Stables and are, I guess, classified as racing romances. Now, I don`t know much about the ins and outs of horse racing, which is why I never started reading books by Dick Francis – probably to my Mum`s great relief as it means her bookshelf is still intact! However, Hannah Hooton keeps technical terms to a minimum, whilst explanations are succinct and clear. The books are light hearted and witty, making them easy to read in an evening,  and have plenty of modern associations – Fifty Shades of Grey makes one of two appearances…

Anyway, I`d better get on with this review! “Making the Running” starts in a different way to the previous books, in that the main focus initially is on romance and the horses take a back seat. I would describe the other books as horse racing with a hint of mystery and a dash of romance, whereas “Making the Running” starts as romance against a backdrop of horse racing, before the racing world steps into the limelight half way through.

The book follows Kate, a stable girl at Aspen Valley, and her relationship with racing manager, Nicholas, and his race jockey brother, Benedict. What I really liked about “Making the Running” was how, despite new protagonists the loose ends from previous books are tied up. For example, Jack and Pippa met in the first book ” Keeping the Peace”, and by this fourth book we learn that they are now married and have a toddler. This makes Aspen Valley a more believable place as, much like a soap opera, characters continue to play an important role in other plots.

As Kate discovers her feelings towards the two brothers, the closet skeletons of her teenage years come back to haunt her as she tries to help her younger sister and brother make the transition into independence. Meanwhile, to give the reader a good equine storyline Kate`s favourite Aspen Valley horse, d`Artagnan, is embroiled in some race rigging. Angry that d`Artagnan isn`t allowed to do the best he can at the races, Kate investigates the motives of Nicholas and Ben, as well as their relationship with each other and herself.

“Making the Running” has many more exciting racing scenes than in previous books. The fast paced descriptions made my heart race as I imagined the horses fighting it out over famous racecourses. The balance between the simplicity of describing the race and giving my imagination enough fuel to see the horses jumping the hedge, pecking on landing and jockeys scrubbing their hands was perfect. I was riding those races and, at the same time, jumping up and down on the siderail as my favourite passed the finish line.

As with all good novels, Kate builds bridges with her family, works out who she loves, and helps d’Artagnan in his racing career. The plot had a couple of extra twists though, which kept me on the edge of my seat until I had read 99% of the book and everyone lived happily ever after. Well, I assume so, but I guess Book Five will tell me that!

I can`t resist putting in my favourite quote. It, along with several others, made me giggle out loud – much to the amusement of the xBox-playing-other-half.

Saskia looked doubtful. “Maybe I shouldn`t encourage him. I don`t really fancy dating a Welshman.”
“Have you seen their language? It looks like a dictionary sneezed.”

As a reluctant Welsh-learner at school, I can fully relate to this!

Making the Running can be purchased through Amazon by clicking here, and I`m sure many of you will be interested to know the the first book, Keeping the Peace is currently available to download free.
P.S. if you don`t know the first thing about the world of horse racing then Keeping the Peace is the place to start, as it`s protagonist, Pippa, comes from London and doesn`t know one end of a horse from the other!

Hannah`s website is here if anyone would like more information about her or her books.

Word of The Day

Walk-Over – If only one horse should arrive at a race meeting to run for a certain race, it is allowed to ‘walk-over’. But in order to receive the prize money, both horse and jockey must conform to the orthodox procedure, weigh-out, mount at the appointed time, canter past the stands and return to the un-saddling enclosure, be unsaddled and weigh-in.