We’ve come a long way in a year

If anyone would have told me in July that Arlo would be a different horse in October, I may not have believed you, but miracles do happen! Arlo’s behaviour away from home is coming on leaps and bounds; at The Pony Club Championships in August, I ate mud and Arlo performed the wall of death, but only two ‘big trips’ later, he didn’t put a hoof wrong!

The Pet Plan Area Festival Semi-Finals ran very smoothly for us as a team, well, after the journey down anyway. It has become a theme that whenever we make the journey to Morris Equestrian Centre, a journey that should take five and a half hours, we had inclement weather! On our way down this time Storm Callum made his presence known, extending the journey to seven hours, but a smooth run home which we completed in a record five hours and ten minutes!

I hadn’t been to Morris in a year, and with it being my favourite venue north of the border, I was very excited. The main arena is very atmospheric, which provided Arlo with a legitimate excuse to perform his ‘fire breathing dragon’ impression in the arena walk. Thankfully every other horse was behaving so he followed suit, and from that momentary point onwards, he was a dream.

We were equally matched in my elementary section; all the other Under 21 riders were not on warmbloods, but their horses were more established, stronger and more predictable!

I rode my test very accurately, but sadly this ended up decreasing my score, as Arlo was a little stiff after the journey and struggled to maintain his balance on my ‘German Corners’. He was foot perfect, apart from one cheeky flying change (sack the rider!) where I asked for too much. We achieved a respectable 65+% across three judges, two of which were List 1, and some encouraging comments. However, they also highlighted my weakness; the contact.

The only person who can solve it is me, not even Arlo can help me on this one! Where I became cautious of having too strong a contact with previous horses and ponies, it is now inconsistent. I am not really giving Arlo anything to go into, but I have not made my job easy; my hands seem to be a bit ‘divorced’. I have no idea how I managed it, but my left is too strong and fixed, whereas my right is too weak and inconsistent. However, we love a good challenge, so with a bit of hard work, I will be able to show the judges a marked improvement by the time we attempt our first Winter Regionals together next February.

The contact is not our only winter focus however. I can kiss goodbye my stirrups for November to help my seat with his huge trot, and Arlo can say hello to his body-building program. Arlo can do flying changes all day long; his weakness at the moment is in the lateral movements. While his natural balance and expression are good, he does not yet have the strength to pull it off for extended periods of time, or at least not without the help of a feed bag rustling in the wind! The program is simple; almost all sessions will revolve around stretching, with the first focus being the leg yield. As he is ready, we will introduce the next lateral movement, then the next until he can move sideways freely and correctly. We hope that this will make our transition to Medium level smooth. With the help of other techniques, including regular stretching from the ground, we are hoping that he will show the first signs of a well-muscled horse by next year. As always, I am under the watchful eye of my trainer who will keep us progressing forward to meet our goals.

So we will hope that the arena, which has the best drainage and fantastic floodlights, is not outsmarted by the ice for the second year running. Everyone knows that plans can always change with horses; un-controllables such as weather, unwanted surprises and of course that dreaded slump, can extend our plans, but Arlo continues to amaze us through all of this. I can almost see my face in his coat, there is a visible improvement in his muscle development, and he is becoming ever more trusting of me and ‘Nanny’ (i.e. mum or the sweetie lady!) every time we take him off the yard.

So for the meantime, we are making the most of the daylight combining hacking into Arlo’s routine, which he adores when Larry (mum’s 18.2hh superstar) accompanies him, before winter comes, because it is definitely on its way, and this time, we’re ready!