Summer is well and truly over now and it’s wet, cold and muddy!!

The end of the event season didn’t go quite to plan basically because the weather meant that all the events I had planned to do in the autumn were cancelled. After the excitement of winning at the Pony Club Regional Championships, Felix and I went to Pontispool for another BE80. It was a very warm day and we weren’t competing until the afternoon. We did quite a good dressage test although I was a bit disappointed with my score as it wasn’t sub-30 but we were still in the top 10. Felix had an uncharacteristic 4 faults in the show-jumping, but it was my fault as I didn’t have Felix sharp enough in the warm-up – I think we were both feeling a bit sleepy as it was so hot! I wasn’t going to make the same mistake for the cross-country!! I made sure that I had got Felix properly listening to me in the warm-up before we went cross-country and we had a good round, although the ground was very hard and we did get some time penalties. Unfortunately  no rosette, but I was still very pleased with Fe.

Our next event should have been the Horse Events Unaffiliated Eventing Championships but unfortunately this was cancelled due to the very wet weather which was a real shame. Hopefully it will be re-scheduled in the Spring. I wanted to do just one more event before the end of the season so we planned to go to Bovington but unfortunately that was also cancelled due to the weather! So Felix’s last outing before his winter break was a dressage competition where we did a Novice Test and Felix got to show off his medium trot (something he had been wanting to do in all the dressage tests at events in the summer but wasn’t allowed to!!). He did a really nice test and scored 70% which I was really really pleased with! Felix is now enjoying a well-earned break in the field. He has been amazing this year and has helped me have a fab first season eventing, 10 events, 2 wins, 6 top 10 placings and always in the top 15! He has been a complete super star and winning a BE Event and the Pony Club Regional Eventing Championships were just amazing experiences. Thank you Felix!

Chico spent the summer concentrating on his dressage and we were lucky enough to qualify for the U21 British Dressage PetPlan Regional Finals at Bicton. We had a really early start in the morning to get to Bicton for the arena walk at 7.30am but when we got on to the motorway it was closed due to an accident!! This meant that we got there with just 5 minutes before the end of the arena walk! It was a crazy rush but we did manage to walk around the arena once! We then had time for a quick breather before it was time to warm-up. Chico loves his dressage as he likes to show -off and he did a really nice test to score 69.7% (so nearly 70!). We were in 3rd place for ages and I was so excited that we might get to do the mounted prize giving, but then one of the last horses to go went ahead of us so we finished 4th and just missed out on qualifying for the nationals. It was so disappointing, but hopefully we will get a wildcard to the Nationals…fingers crossed!

Smartie did his very first one day event at the end of the summer. I was so excited but also quite nervous as I didn’t know how he would behave, but I need not have worried as he was a superstar all day! He did a really lovely dressage test to score 25, then jumped a lovely clear round in the show-jumping and a super clear in the cross-country, although we did have time penalties as I didn’t want to push him as it was his first cross country round. We didn’t get placed, but I was just so pleased with how he had performed and behaved at his first one day event! I am so excited about eventing next season, I think he is going to be good fun!! Smarties last outing before his break was also a dressage competition. We did 2 Prelim tests and got a 4th and 2nd. His first test was a bit tense but his second test was so much better and he got his best score yet of 68%!

Now all the ponies are out in the field having a well-earned break from ridden work. The plan is to bring them back into work at the beginning of December after they have had 5 weeks off. This also means that I can have a bit of a break from mucking out etc although not a complete break as I have been offered the ride on another pony with the view to eventing her next season. So whilst Felix, Chico and Smartie have been on holiday I have been getting to know Bracken and so far it’s going really well. We have done one show-jumping competition where we finished 3rd with a lovely double clear and over the next few weeks I am going to take her to some BE training sessions and get to know her better. I am very lucky to have been asked to ride her and fingers crossed, we will have a great BE season together next year, so watch this space!

This striking, 16.3hh, six-year-old Thoroughbred has recently come to my yard for  some TLC and pre-training. This handsome horse arrived with me from Ireland just over three weeks ago, looking pretty light, weak and a little sorry for himself. Having raced in August and been ‘spelling’ in the interim.

pre-trainer racehorse

He had all the usual checks – vet, teeth, wormed, physio, etc – then I set to work. In addition to a varied routine of ground work, lunging, ridden and pole work for approx 45-minutes a day, he’s been having four feeds spread over the day, each comprising of two-scoops of Dengie Alfa-A Original with the recommended quantity of Dengie’s Performance+ Balancer, which he loves! Plus ad-lib hay and turnout, when possible. The pictures show the improvement in his coat and skin as well as his overall condition, muscle development and tone – he’s looking fantastic!

He’ll now spend a further month or so with me pre-training before a return to racing probably after Christmas; hopefully he’ll be seen in the winners enclosure soon!

Pre-trainer racehorse fed Dengie Horse Feeds

Well, the end of the 2019 eventing season has come around and it feels somewhat like a damp (or let’s face it, completely deluged) squib. Our big hope and ambition for the year – getting to compete in our first international – has not been realised and it is hard to look past that disappointment to all the great strides forward we have made.

Way back in August we were all geared up for Somerford and feeling ready to take on the two star challenge, eeking every inch of pleasure from it that we could. The tack was cleaned, I’d learnt every footfall of the dressage test and Somerford put some sneak peeks up of the cross country that had me super excited. Then I got a call from the dressage steward that I wasn’t needed as a volunteer on the Friday because the national classes were all rained off. I spent the Friday morning watching the rain fall, hoping that the weather was being kinder 4 miles away. It was not. I have had events cancelled before and it is always disappointing, particularly for the organisers who have put in so much hard work in preparation, but this was a harder blow than most. After eight years of sweat, tears and thankfully very little blood, we were on the verge of our international start and then just like that it was gone. It would be fair to say I did not handle it well, not helped by there being no show jumping that I could re-route to and no obvious way to re-plan my next events, and I realised just how much it meant to me.

Eventually, Mum and I formulated a plan. She bravely suggested that it wasn’t that important to wear a tailcoat this year and I quickly rebuffed that notion. We decided against trying for Osberton three day without having first done a short format international, and instead started aiming for Bicton. We entered Frenchfield and then Allerton Park intermediate novice, cracked on with jumping the 1.15m tracks at British Showjumping and progress was good. We even started to have a little play with flying changes since we’ve finally started to get a half decent quality of canter and if you can’t have fun trying to be Charlotte Dujardin then what’s the point?! Even though at one point I was doing twenty circles of counter canter as Corey wondered what on earth I was asking for whilst my instructor despaired at my ability to tell my left leg from my right leg…

Brook Howells and Templebrook Boy at Frenchfield Novice Dressage

So we travelled up to Frenchfield in Cumbria and oh what a beautiful event. I had to stop halfway round my course walk just to take pictures of the view! However, I didn’t realise that there was a problem brewing. He’d not been checked by a physio for a while for a variety of reasons, not least that he’d been feeling great so I’d not prioritised it. I hadn’t thought much of him feeling a bit lacklustre schooling in the week, because I thought once warmed up he worked hard and felt good. He warmed up ok at Frenchfield and did what I thought was a lovely test, with a few annoying errors but overall a good quality. Turns out my feel was off kilter too; I got one of my worst ever scores and when I watched the video afterwards I couldn’t disagree with the judge who had clearly spotted he was backward and lacking impulsion throughout.

Similarly, at first I felt positive about the show jumping, which I rode reasonably well and was pleased with myself for getting the rhythm back after I started to lose it part way round. But I should have taken more heed that he struggled over the oxer in the warm up and then wasn’t meeting the fences quite right in the ring. And then, warming up for the cross country he was taking me forward but hesitated at the practice fence, all the time with an uneven contact down the reins. I knew something was not normal at least, I wondered if he was ok, but then told myself he was jumping so I needed to stop dithering and get on with it. He set off with joy and forwards drive, but felt unsure of his stride to fence 3 and from that point on I was having to ride him hard to get him over every fence. He wasn’t meeting the jumps well and not “taking them on” as usual. We jumped into a one stride double on the top of a hill and as I sighted the second part I had no confidence in Corey’s ability to make the distance so circled away. Instead of questioning why as a partnership we’d suddenly lost the harmonious ‘attacking’ approach we’ve spent so long cultivating, I cursed my stupid dithering and pointed him back at the fence. He wasn’t convinced I really meant it and ducked out. I wasn’t having that, so third time of asking we jumped it. We continued round the rest of the course in a similar vein; no more stops, just nothing feeling easy or rhythmical. I have never had to work that hard round a course on Corey and by the end he was pulling left so strongly that I was having to hold my right reins with both hands just to keep him straight. There were so many warning signs that I wish I hadn’t kept going, even if I know so many of those warnings were not so obvious in the heat of the moment and I was being determined to overcome my history of ‘wimping out’.

Brook Howells and Templebrook Boy, cross country at Frenchfield Novice

We headed back down the M6 in a very introspective mood. What was wrong? Where did we go from here? Was it all falling apart? We managed to get a physio to him later that week and were not surprised to hear that he was very sore in his back. Bless the little Cobstar for trying despite what must have been considerable discomfort. He’s even still got his ears pricked in all the photos. We withdrew him from Allerton Park and took the hard decision to call an end to the eventing season altogether. If there had been more of the season left we would have kept him in work and built him up for another event, but with darker nights, a waterlogged field and only a few weeks of eventing still to run (and in fact with many of them falling foul of the weather gods anyway), we couldn’t prepare properly for Bicton. However much we want to do an international, we want to make sure we do it right. The tailcoat will stay in the cupboard until next year.

So Corey is turned away for the winter and has gone feral. He must have heard us talking because the day after we made this decision his winter coat was in full bloom. We had a couple more rides and a play over some grids and a small show jumping course to finish with some fun. The spring that is back in his step has made me determined to never again dismiss him feeling lethargic. And I’m trying to look back over my season at all the positives. Cruising round nearly all of Lincoln like it was a pre novice track, taking on the big questions at Kelsall with bravery and conviction, getting a lifetime best result at Llanymynech and finally feeling like I can enjoy it all without being scared of getting eliminated every time. My 2019 record has a disappointing number of errors on it and whilst I feel to some extent it doesn’t reflect the season we’ve really had, I do think it shows that there is a lot to work on. We came out fighting this Spring and Mum has written a brilliant plan to do the same in 2020; with the same determination but a more meticulous attitude towards everything that goes into the Corey-Brook partnership. It might be far simpler to take up a sport with only one body to keep fit, but I’m inclined to think it would be far less fun.

Brook Howells and Templebrook Boy walking into sunset

I’m sad to say however that this is the last blog I will be writing on my eventing exploits. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the wonderful Dengie team for so long and have enjoyed sharing my journey with you all. But I am very conscious that finding time to sit and write is increasingly difficult. I’ve not even been riding the last couple of weeks but between the children, Corey and work, my brain just runs out of space. Thank you for reading, and from all of the Supercobs team, farewell.

Where has the summer gone? It has flown by and now I’m back at school! It was a great summer though and I have had a good time with all the ponies.

Felix has been feeling fantastic. Last time I blogged we had done our first 3 British Eventing events, we then had a short break from eventing to concentrate on dressage as we were selected for our Pony Club Area Novice Dressage Team. Last year our team just missed out on qualifying for the Pony Club Championships so we were really hoping we might qualify this year. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, Felix did a nice dressage test, but it wasn’t his best and we finished outside the top 10. I was a bit disappointed as it would have been amazing to go to the Pony Club Championships.

The following weekend we went to Chepstow for another BE80 competition. It was an amazing day! I rode Felix a bit differently for the dressage. The weekend before at the Area dressage I didn’t really put any pressure on him, I just let him do a nice, safe test. When I was warming up at Chepstow Mum told me to ask a bit more of him rather than just accepting his nice, relaxed way of going. Felix responded well and went into show-off mode which the judge obviously liked as we did a really good test to score 26.3! We then showjumped clear and stormed round the XC to finish on our dressage score and win the section!! It was amazing, I never thought I would win a BE event in our first season!

Our next event after Chepstow was the Pony Cluc Area Eventing which was held at Nunney. Felix did another good dressage test, but we then had a 5 hour wait before we showjumped because the air ambulance had to land for someone who had fallen in the show-jumping. Thankfully the rider was okay and the competition was able to carry on, but it was quite hard to get going again after such a long wait. Felix show-jumped well, but did have one pole down which isn’t like him. We then went XC, it was a tough course and I was quite nervous but Felix flew round to go clear, which meant we finished 4th and qualified for the Pony Club Regional Championships!!

We did one more event before the Regional Champs which was at Oxstalls. It was a lovely event. Felix was quite cheeky in his dressage test, he even had a little buck in one of the canter transitions and jogged in the free walk so he didn’t achieve his usual sub-30 score! We then showjumped clear and we had a great ride around the XC inside the time to finish 4th which means we have qualified for the Horse Events Unaffiliated Championships!

Maisie Randle and Felix at the Pony Club Regional Championships

Pony Club Regional Championships at Bicton was our next event. As Felix had been a bit cheeky in the dressage at Oxstalls we had a couple of lessons with my dressage instructor before the championships to remind Felix how to behave in the dressage arena. It worked! He did a fab test to score 27.1, the only sub-30 score in the section! The showjumping was big and caused plenty of problems, but Felix was great and jumped clear. I was in the lead going into the XC and this made me really nervous! It was a big and quite technical course with lots of combination fences and because it was a Championship it was quite a bit longer than other courses we had done. But I need not have worried as Felix flew round which meant we won!! I was so excited, I have wanted to win a sash for ages and we did it!! Felix is just amazing!!

After the Pony Club Championships Felix had a week off as I went to Burghley Horse Trials. It was great to watch the competition and to meet fellow Dengie brand ambassador Lucy Jackson. After a couple more events Felix will be having a longer well deserved holiday out in a big field with his friends!

Maisie Randle and Lucy Jackson

As I have been so busy with Felix it has been quite hard to fit in much competing with the other ponies, but we have managed to do some. Chico has been doing some dressage and we had managed to qualify for a Pet Plan Area Festival which was exciting. At the Festival Chico behaved very well and did a nice test, but I made a few mistakes which lost us marks. We still managed a score of 66% though which means we will be going to the Area Festival U21’s Final at the beginning of October which I am quite excited about!

Smartie was the lucky one to go to Pony Club Camp this summer and he loved it! He was so good and coped really well with staying away from home, something I was a bit worried about as he can get a bit stressed and anxious about change. It was a really fun week and I felt like Smartie and I came on a lot together.

After camp Smartie and I did a dressage competition, we did a walk and trot test which he was a bit tense in, but then we did a Prelim test and he was much better. We are now getting ready to do our first little one day event, so watch this space!

Another exciting thing to happen this summer was our broodmare Annie had a lovely colt foal and I watched it all! The evening before he was born Mum thought that Annie was behaving like she might foal that night so she said she would wake me up if she did. I didn’t actually go to sleep as I was waiting for Mum to come in and tell me it was happening! It was so exciting and amazing to see a foal being born, I couldn’t believe how big he was! We have called him Nemo and he is quite a cheeky character! He is already trying to take his Mum’s food so obviously likes the Dengie Diet!! I can’t wait to see him grow up and ride him in the future.

Well, that’s all for now. Next time I blog the eventing season will be over and it will probably be cold and wet but at least Christmas will be coming!

Maisie meets Nemo the foal

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. Unfortunately I managed to get a virus 6 weeks ago and it has made me dizzy and have chronic fatigue…not great and very frustrating when all you want to do is ride and compete!

Having fallen off at Aston between jumps I decided it wasn’t really that sensible to carry on Eventing while I was ill, so the horses have all been having a bit of an easy time since! They are all still in work and I have to say rather bored of not jumping or competing, but they are all well! Hopefully I will be back in action soon!

I have however had a good catch up with Dengie Performance Horse Nutritionist, Claire Akers who came to check in on Candy and ensure she was okay and still her enjoying her food! Claire also had my haylage analysed to check that all the horses were getting the nutrients required from it and to let me know if I needed to add any additional supplements to their diets! The team at Dengie are so helpful and approachable; they can never do enough to make sure my horses are on top form with their diets -I am very lucky!!

It was fab to be able to have the time to watch fellow Dengie ambassador Lucy Jackson win the ERM at Millstreet International Horse Trials – what a great result that was really well deserved! Hopefully I will be able to compete again soon and give you a more interesting update.

In my last blog I spoke about my ’mojo’ coming back, and how I hoped that Arlo would behave at the BD Youth Home International. Well, I wasn’t wrong; not only did he behave, he was on fire, the ‘party trot’ came out for every test, and we even had a small audience of admirers by the second day of Team Tests! I think I better start at the beginning, which was nearly two weeks previously…

We were leaving the North East of Scotland for the far and distant land of England on the 17th of July, and as I knew it would be a long time before I would see home, I made my Dad take me up one last Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000ft, of which there are 285). We saved this for the 16th July, and chose a beautiful rural one in The Glen of Dee. We biked through our 12km approach through one of the most scenic parts of the Cairngorms and began our climb. The top was almost clear, with only a little haze due to the glorious weather, and we had the whole mountain to ourselves, it was the perfect last day in Scotland, so thank you Dad for keeping your promise!

The 17th July saw an early start, and we needed to take both cars as well as the lorry as I was to be staying in England for a year, the lorry was staying with me until after Sheepgate U25’s and mum and dad needed transport back hence another car. This all meant I was doing my first motorway drive. I am proud to say that I managed the full 10 hours to Richmond EC (new record time!) perfectly fine, although I was a little nervous travelling down the A90 at first, but settled into it well. Arlo travelled well which was a welcome relief to the three of us as this was his first long trip since he arrived in October 2017 from Holland.

I was competing in the Northern Area Regionals as I would not be in Scotland for ours. I had allowed an extra day before the Regionals for Arlo to rest after his long journey, I stretched him off, and he felt very good, but he was very excitable. After our little episode at the Pony Club Champs last year where our confidence was at an all-time-low and I ate mud, I became a little nervous that we might see a repeat as he was full of himself, but Mum was right beside me and kept my head in the game and we put that ghost to bed for good. I had been working very hard on his and my fitness and we were ready for 13 days of adventure. I felt we were on the up so I held Arlo’s hand and he held mine.

Day One of the Regionals brought the Medium Silver. After a morning of watching the PSG and Inter I classes with Mum,  I got to catch up a little with and watch my fellow Team Dengie rider Hannah Esberger-Shepherd. I was in a fantastic frame of mind; I was going to enjoy every stride, I’ve always enjoyed competing at Richmond Equestrian Centre. We achieved 66.4%, even with a major mistake where I was too quick to tell Arlo off when he was behind my aid (learning curve for me). However, we finished in 8th place in a strong class so that made my day. His lateral work felt so good and he kept his mind in the game.

Day Two brought the Elementary Silver competition and my fellow Scotland U25 rider Carla Milne was also in the class. Carla and I were second and third on in the class, meaning we got the chance to set the bar where we wanted it. Carla rode a lovely test, and so did Arlo and I. I was so pleased with it although a touch behind my leg, we rode a mistake-free test to achieve 68.33%, and a mere one mark behind Carla. This put us into 5th place, despite two judges having me in 4th, but that is the way it works and Arlo will never know the difference. The best part had to be that Arlo trusted me in a strange and spooky environment and gave me everything he had. It felt good to have two Scottish U25’s in the top ten.

BD Youth Home International was 5 days away, so to save travelling 10 hours back home only to travel 12 hours back south a few days later, we stayed with a good friends near Ripon. We were warmly welcomed onto the yard at Bogs Hall and had a super isolated stable and paddock in a lovely setting where Arlo got a mini holiday of hacking and stretching, and I acclimatised to the heat and let my hair down. One of the things I love about Arlo’s Dengie diet is that I don’t have to worry about ‘upping or lowering’ feed all the time as it is fibre based. My absolute favourite product though (and he adores them) is the Dengie Grass Pellets as they are fed very wet so they really help with hydration and with apples and carrots in them he is a happy ‘pony’. Arlo got an hour or two of turnout, including immediately after his pre-show bath. My theory was a ‘sun-dried pony’, Arlo’s theory was ‘challenge’…thank goodness I put a fly-rug on! We were both well rested, mentally and physically massive thank you to my Northern Region Friend Abi Ingledew and her family.

Thursday, aka the hottest day of the year reaching 38 degrees, was the day we had to travel. After seeing the forecast, we took the decision to shift the itinerary two hours earlier. We safely arrived at Arena UK near Grantham at about 11am, just as it reached the mid 30’s. It was so hot, that Arlo was sweating in his stable. We gave him a couple of wash-downs so he had something to evaporate off his skin to cool him without him dehydrating himself again. Mum and Dad also struggled quite a bit, but still managed to get the job done like the legends they are especially as getting to sleep was not easy in those temperatures! I was very grateful for my holiday fitness programme, where my 35 day gym/pool programme for the run up to travelling south payed off greatly. For that period, I was averaging 3 to 4 workouts a day with riding. I was aware it was hot, but I drank electrolytes in my water and slapped on the sun-cream (I am a redhead and there are three stages of tanning, white, red or charcoal). We were the first from the Scottish Squad to arrive, which meant we could set up a gazebo and help when everyone else arrived.

When Friday dawned it was a little cooler, but was still comfortably in the late 20’s. Arlo still felt good, but I wasn’t going to push for too much, as this was primarily to let him see the arena, and we still had four tests to ride over the next two days. It turns out that he likes to show off more than we gave him credit for. When I said ‘This is an opportunity for you to relax and familiarise yourself ’, Arlo replied ‘Let’s psyche the hell out of them!’ We achieved a personal best of over 73% in the warm-up test to win the class by over 4%, with a beautiful comment from the judge, who wrote ‘a pleasure to judge’!! Thank you to that judge – comments like this, when you are bringing on a horse mean a lot.

British Dressage Youth Scotland Squad

That afternoon, all the Scottish Squad horses sailed through the trot-up, despite Arlo growing to 19hh and dancing at the end of the reins! The opening ceremony was brilliant and wow, do the Northern Region know how to host a Home International! Everyone was on good form and the laughter flowed and the squad bonding (of our two teams) was working its magic (we have two brilliant BD Youth Ambassadors in Scotland and they are so supportive), the whole region was looking forward to the next two days. In the back of my mind though I would be lying if I didn’t say I was ecstatic about my win in the warm-up class, but also worried that Arlo and I had peaked on the wrong day.

I spent time with my Dad, who teaches psychology in the work-place on the side of his key role, discussing and preparing for Saturday. My psychology is a carbon copy of his, so briefing, debriefing and preparing my Game-Frame with him works very well. After an intensive couple of hours planning my mind-set, we derived the key phrase ‘Ride the Blueprint.’ I was worrying about uncontrollables such as other riders’ performances, so he helped me shut everything else out, including the competitive nature of the competition so that I could stay in the ‘First Zone’ of focus for my test. After we had discussed my underlying fears that I had to win for the team and banished them, we started preparing the blueprint for Saturday’s Team Test, and rehearsing it. We used old test sheets of the test I was riding and videos, my training notes and videos from my trainer Jennifer Johnston-Harman and our knowledge of Arlo’s current frame of mind and performance. We broke down every movement to plan how I was going to ride every aspect of the test.

Saturday saw the three of us work like a super-team. We were efficient and Mum and Dad ensured I only needed to focus on getting me and Arlo ready. Dad and I ran through our blueprint again and refreshed our key psychology points, giving me a feeling of order and preparation. Arlo felt so ace in the warm-up, offering me everything, yet I was careful to save it for the arena. At present, he can hold an uphill frame well for about 10 solid minutes, so I had to make sure there was fuel in the tank for the test. When I dropped my whip before entering the arena area, he fell slightly behind my leg, but he stayed focused and was still keen to show off! We turned down the centre line, and it was like he said; ‘Hmm that last horse was good, but I’m going to show them how it’s really done Mum.’ And he did. We danced and flowed our way into the lead on 72% where we stayed. The other three team members of the Scottish Macbeth Team also pulled seriously strong scores to put Scotland Macbeth Team in the lead overnight.

Saturday afternoon also brought a dream I had waited two years longer than we should have for (due to losing a horse); riding a centre line in tails. The test was not what it could have been; Arlo forgot how to change and do a walk pirouettes or perhaps I forgot how to ask correctly (!) but his lateral work felt so good. What went well, went very well. Mum joked afterwards that I like giving the judges an opportunity to use the full range of marks, and this test ranged from a 4 to an 8. But we must remember, this was only our 5th Advanced Medium test together, so not too bad!

Being overnight leaders is tough psychologically, you have to put it aside and plan the ride for the next test. Dad spent time with me intensively debriefing the day’s performance, both physically and mentally. It was obvious that Arlo was at peak, and ready to strut his stuff, so I just had to ride my blueprint and shut everything out. I imagined I was riding in my trainer Jennifer Johnston-Harman’s arena and I had her in my head, a tool that I don’t normally use but really helped me banish any worries good on Sunday. We stayed up and socialised for a little bit, but my head was in the game, and I was keen to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is the cornerstone to my performance and I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t prepare every little detail. So I caught 40 winks.

Much like Saturday, Sunday brought endless rain, so my dedication to training in all weathers paid off once again. It was like Arlo knew he was on his game, and he came out of his stable with an expression that said ‘Veni Vidi Vici’, not in arrogance, but in confidence. Any nerves dissolved as our minds merged in the warm-up. I felt like I could have ridden a Grand Prix! For the second Team Test, we were in what I believed to be the spookiest arena, but this was banished and as I went in Arlo brought out his most supple, most together ‘party trot’ and floated down the long side like he was Valegro himself. The bell went. We knew we could do it if we just communicated well – and we did. Beautiful extensions, supple leg-yields, accurate transitions, and most importantly, very bold medium canters (I could almost see my trainer clapping)! We finished on 70% to take the class again. I had won the Individual Elementary honours, but the Team Trophy was still to play for. Fellow team-mate Carmen Gammie and the pro that is Champagne Bubbles strutted their stuff to beat all the big horses on 72%, and the other two team members, Rose Foley and Eilidh Roberts pulled off high scores to widen the gap between us and the South West Donald Ducks who were strong chasers. We had won the BD Youth Home International for 2019. It felt amazing!

Matilda Haley

Yet for me, there was one more test; the Junior Individual. So I put on my tails and walked into the warm up with my head held high, we had never competed this test. The leveller came right here in this test though – Arlo felt amazing, everything apart from the walk pirouettes was neatly executed. Before I went in I heard the bell ring for the previous competitor who had made an error, instead of staying in my game, I started to doubt if I knew the test so I asked mum to see it again, no, I had learned it correctly. I learned a valuable lesson here though, don’t doubt yourself when you know you know it as I forgot it not once, but twice! Across three judges, this pulled us from a very respectable 65% to 62%. That number doesn’t speak to me though, we rode it, and Arlo pulled it out of the bag once more. We finished 5th in the Junior Test, but he doesn’t know that, all he knows is that his Mum is proud of him.

As if winning wasn’t enough, we did not travel home, but to Redditch. We have known for a while, but we wanted to arrive before we announced it; but I have secured a year’s placement with Eilberg Dressage and I have just completed my first week. I am absolutely exhausted, but I love every single minute. Let us hope that my next blog will say the same, if not better, about my time here with Arlo.

The exam results are in from school for my Advanced Highers as well and I am really pleased with those. You can do well at your academics and your sport, people told me that one would suffer whilst at school, it didn’t but that was because I was determined to put qualifications in the Bank of My Future. I have a place waiting at Aberdeen University for after my Gap Year so I will see what this year brings. Thanks have to go to The Dengie Team who stood beside me when I lost Gari and kept their faith in me. To my school, The Gordon School, Huntly, who over the past six years have done anything they can to ensure I can compete and to Jennifer Johnston-Harman, my trainer of the last 2 years who has taught me to believe in myself and given me back confidence in my ability and moved me onto ‘bigger biscuits’.

And thus, I stood on top of the podium, both as an individual and with my amazing team-mates, and now I have started working with one of the most respected names in the dressage world. Arlo is turning into a performer, and we are turning into a formidable team (when our minds meet!).

Mum and Dad, your support is endless, and I owe every rosette and prize to you. Arlo, I love you more every day, not because you are winning for me, but because we almost speak the same language some days now. I know neither of us are machines, and we have many more challenges to come, but let us face them side by side. Dare I say it, but watch this space! We will ride with the same ethos at Sheepgate U25’s; not riding for the glory, prizes or scores, but for the love of the sport and the joy I get from putting my foot in the stirrup.

After I finally finished my GCSEs on June 17th we started packing for our first abroad international to Exloo in the Netherlands.

We began our trip to Dover and had a stop over at Parkers on the way, where we met with Maddy Frewin who was also going to compete in Exloo. Leo was very happy to spend some time in a field which is one of his favourite things and stretch his legs before we got the 2am ferry which was a cooler time of day to travel as it was so hot. Leo coped really well on the long journey and as we struggle to get him to drink whilst travelling, we gave him soaked Dengie Grass Pellets – the perfect mash to keep him hydrated. Leo isn’t the tidiest eater so the lorry was soon covered in green slop! When we arrived I gave Leo a walk in-hand and he had a good rest in his stable. The venue was lovely and was right next to a golf course so he had something new to watch. Trot up was first and Leo looked super shiny and healthy thanks to his Dengie fibre feed and later we had the arena familiarisation. As there were 35 combinations in the pony class, the arenas were very busy. In the team test I was so pleased as Leo really tried for me and produced some great work to get a solid score against such strong competition from the Dutch riders. In the individual test I rode Leo forward with more power to try and score higher marks which we did, but having 2 mistakes is so costly at internationals so we ended up with a very similar score to the day before. Even though we didn’t make it through to the freestyle I was so proud of Leo’s attitude at his first international abroad and the improvements in our scores and the quality of our work throughout the competition. We then began our journey home and this time stopped over at a lovely little yard in France near the Calais ferry so Leo could have a rest. It was a lovely surprise to meet Caitlin Clancy there who was on her overnight stop on the way to the CDIP in Leudelange, so Leo got to have a nice rest with his GB buddy Jacob.

We soon arrived home and Leo had a little break in the field before we started our training for Hickstead CDIP at the end of July.

Olivia Whitelaw and Friends at Hickstead

It was soon time for our next adventure to Hickstead CDIP which I was very excited about as so many of our friends were going to be there. Leo was a good boy for trot up as well as the arena familiarisation and in the heat he was so glad to have fans on his stable to keep him cool. He was stabled opposite a fellow dutch pony so I think he enjoyed his company! On the team test day we didn’t have the best test as Leo was spooked by someone ruffling their nappy bags, losing his focus and relaxation towards the end of our test. What would have been a great test sheet was soon accompanied by three movements being scored 2’s which with three judges was very expensive, so we didn’t have the best score! Next was the individual test and I was so pleased with the quality of work we produced in the arena and even with a few small mistakes we scored 69.14% to win!!

Prizegivings are Leo’s favourite, but unfortunately it wasn’t mounted so he had to listen to the national anthem from his stable whilst I ran around the arena as our lap of honour which was fun even though I may have looked a little crazy! As we were walking to the stables I saw Carl Hester by the warm-up arena so I had an even greater prize which was to have a chat with my idol who was also very pleased with our result. That evening was amazing as Caitlin and I sat by the main arena and got to watch the Grand Prix horses in their arena familiarisation and I have to say I rather fell in love with Laura Tomlinson’s black stallion Capri Sonne Junior, who was simply stunning to watch. We were on last for the freestyle – I absolutely love our music from Julie at Equivisions and was ready to have some fun with Leo. I was really pleased with our test in the international arena and to achieve an international personal best in the freestyle of 71.60% was amazing. To win the freestyle as well as the individual test was incredible and Leo was even happier as this time it was mounted prize giving so he got to have a canter round in his rug and was very intrigued with the prizes in the bag he had won. This was the best end to our pony career together and I am so so proud of everything Leo and I have achieved.

Next we will be travelling to Sheepgate U25’s Championships to support everyone and then I receive my GCSE results on the 22nd August, so we have an exciting couple of weeks ahead.

Olivia Whitelaw and Leo at Hickstead CDIP

It has been a rewarding summer so far, despite a couple of ups and downs. After Kelsall I had a weird sort of frustration and lack of motivation. I was looking at the season ahead in a different, slightly less optimistic way, which Mum figured out was because we’d hit a bit of a plateau. We have been training Corey for nearly 10 years, with improvements sometimes coming easy and sometimes slower, but we’ve always been moving up towards the goal of being solid at novice. Finally, we are feeling pretty solid at novice, and so the gains feel more marginal. It was harder to motivate myself for these little ‘wins’, but once I’d recognised what was the situation, and remembered how long I’ve wanted to be here, it feels pretty good. The next couple of months have shown me just how solid we are too.

Our plans to have an easy run round the BE100 Open at Bradwall to practice letting him jump out of his rhythm more were sadly scuppered when poor Bradwall was deluged – its hard to believe everything was so wet not that long ago! We rerouted to do some showjumping instead and after a good round in the 1.10m, had our first try at the 1.15m. What a difference 5cm makes! At 1.10m I’m confident and starting to refine my technique. At 1.15m I felt ragged and incompetent and it was all I could do to get round. I came out the ring feeling like my dream of doing an international competition was ridiculous since I couldn’t jump 1.15m without turning into a jelly and riding like one too. We know Corey can do it though so obviously its me that needs more practice!

Next was Llanymynech; an event I really enjoy and where I’ve had some good results over the years. I must admit feeling quite gutted when I saw pictures of the Chatsworth track, looking like Cobs and I could have smashed it, but I decided my guardian angel must have their reasons… Clearly not dressage related reasons though; Corey was tense and despite calming down somewhat in the warm up we made quite a few uncharacteristic mistakes. However the day got better; with minimal nerves we kept all the rails up in the show jumping and then I rode for, and got, the rhythmical cross country round we’d planned for Bradwall. We put in such a fluent performance in fact that we were inside the time for the first time ever at novice and achieved a lifetime best of 4th place! 3 points!!

At this point I’ll take the opportunity to apologise to anyone that follows my blog for the slow updates. I should have been blogging about my result at Llanymynech earlier, singing it from the rooftops in fact… all I can say is that my optimism for time and energy after a day at work was quickly proved wrong and anyone with tips on how to fit a job, two children and a horse into a single day please write to me! I’ve already got Al cooking my meals and have given up on the idea of a tidy house so maybe I’ve no hope!

After a great flatwork tune up with Paul Hughes we had another crack at the 1.15m BS at Cheshire Horse Show – this time feeling less terrified and having just 1 pole down; good progress. Then on to Brand Hall; which is the opposite of Llanymynech in that it holds quite a few demons for me (see blogs from 2016 and 2017 for proof!) that I was determined to scare off. We went for a “clear round” in the dressage and got a consistent test with virtually no errors. A confident round in the jumping for just one pole was good for a track that was causing many issues. The cross country excited me; it had questions and was challenging many people but I knew we could get round and enjoy it. For the first time ever I felt like I used to when I competed Danny – that we might not go clear but we could still complete and have fun. Well, we had an absolute ball. Corey misread the skinny into a wood at 8, stopping at the very last minute, but having been shown there were no gremlins behind it, he came back and jumped it confidently second time of asking. We cleared the corner at 9 and kicked on to jump the rest of the course without problems. It might sound counter-intuitive but I was over the moon. To be able to walk a really technical track without worrying I might get eliminated, to have a problem but get past it so quickly and to finish having so much fun feels like a massive milestone. I definitely feel like we have now “made it” at novice and that we are back to doing what we love most, eventing for the sheer fun of it.

Our latest run was at the Pony Club’s area qualifier round Somerford. They never make it an easy track there and I was hoping that it would both challenge me and give me the confidence to enter Somerford’s International class. Corey has started to struggle with tension in warm ups so we used this dressage as a practice for different ways of releasing his neck. He was so relaxed throughout his test that Mum cried (admittedly not that unusual).
He had one down in the jumping, and although it wasn’t as fluent as I’d hoped, there were a lot of things I did well and we’re moving in the right direction. We started the cross country a bit out of sync from each other but soon reconnected. He was convinced that I was taking him the wrong way because the course didn’t quite follow the normal BE route, yet he was jumping and trying his heart out. It was exactly how I think cross country should be; maybe not foot perfect but rhythmical and ‘making it happen’. The biggest question for me came at the water 3 from home; a hanging log dropping in to the pond, which was the toughest water jump I’d ever faced. You’ll all know Corey well enough by now that of course he didn’t even blink and I couldn’t help but laugh as we pushed for the finish!

So, after 10 years of training, very little blood but a lot of sweat and bucketfuls of tears, we have decided we are ready. The tailcoat is coming out the wardrobe, the FEI registration is done and Corey is taking me to my first international competition in over a decade. Nicki showed that Cobs is capable of getting a place at an international, and I won’t exactly be forgetting that possibility, but my overarching goal is to enjoy it. My colleagues think it very funny that this ‘international’ competition is 20 minutes down the road, but I doubt Harry Meade thinks Badminton is any less of an achievement just because he can hack there. I got frustrated two weeks ago that I don’t have time to school out all the imperfections, but that did me a favour. I’m not going to make everything perfect but I can (hopefully) make everything fun.

Brook Howells Templebrook Boy

Well what a week we had at Bramham Horse Trials. The event boasts a stunning park, immaculate organisation and a very friendly atmosphere.  We enjoyed a really super week of remembering exactly why we participate in this sport! All the best ingredients seemed to be there.

Stinky’s dressage was a fraction disappointing. Such is his maturity now in the dressage he didn’t need as much practising as I did before his test! So a touch flat and a couple of little mistakes left us on 33.

Thanks to the heavy rain on Friday and an enormous amount of preparation by the Bramham team, the going for Saturday’s 10m42s cross country was perfect. Ian Stark challenges bravery and accuracy and accuracy and bravery!!! The problems were scattered all around the course with very little let up, coupled with steep undulations making it a very senior test indeed. I set out allowing Stinky to find his feet being his first run at this level. After he hopped and popped his way confidently through the challenging combinations at 6, 8 & 10/11 I thought it was worth upping the pace to try for that elusive double clear in the time. He answered my every call and came home bang on the optimum! What a buzz! I’ve definitely never had a horse as fit or finish as full of running around a track like that. His Dengie fibre diet of Alfa-A Oil and Performance+ Balancer clearly suit him as he looks a picture of health and felt a million dollars from start to finish.

Lucy Jackson and Superstition at Bramham Horse Trials Water Jump

Di Boddy always builds a challenging and technical showjumping track and Bramham was no exception. Thankfully despite clears proving hard to achieve and a tight optimum time, The Greenlees family’s little brown pony skipped around and became one of only 3 horses from the 80 starters to finish on his dressage score!!! I’m still almost expecting to wake up and find that I was dreaming. My clever sister Sophie Lane produced Stinky from an unbroken 4-year-old to the Burghley Young Event Horse finals, and was instrumental in securing me the ride on our little star. I’m so fortunate that The Greenlees have had the patience to allow him to develop at his own pace, which will hopefully now pay dividends as we look forward to Blenheim and then Badminton, Bramham having secured his 2020 Olympic qualifications. So many people and so many factors go into a happy and successful three day event, it’s almost impossible to list them all. Suffice to say THANK YOU one and all, and may this be another step on an exciting journey towards the pinnacle of any equestrian’s dream…The Olympic Games.

Lucy Jackson and Superstition at Bramham Horse Trials Showjumping

Last time I blogged I was preparing for The Pony Club Dengie Winter Championships with Felix going to do the Intermediate Dressage. To be honest we really wanted to get to the Novice Championships as that is the level we are happy and confident at. The Intermediate test was always going to be a challenge for us, but we gave it our best shot!! I was so excited to be going to Addington Equestrian for the Championships and this time we were going to stay there the night before, which made it even more exciting.

It was quite a long journey to Addington, but Felix travelled well, arriving relaxed and happy. Mum took him out for a leg stretch and some grass whilst I got his stable ready. I then took him for a quick ride and to have a look at the arenas before giving him his tea and putting him to bed. I woke up really early the next morning as I was so excited. Fortunately Felix had managed to keep himself pretty clean over night so all he needed was a leg and tail wash and to be plaited up, then he was ready to go. I went to watch a few of the the other competitors in the Intermediate class before it was my turn…they were amazing and suddenly I felt really nervous!! The other competitors all seemed much older and riding big dressage type horses – Felix and I seemed really small and ordinary in comparison, I’d never felt this nervous before!! Felix warmed up really nicely and went in and did an obedient test, but it wasn’t our best and I was a bit disappointed. It was a great experience and now I know what to aim for next year.

With The Pony Club Dengie Winter Championships completed for this year it was time to focus on the eventing season ahead. This was going to be my first season doing some BE events as I am now old enough. My first event was at Port Eliot in Cornwall. We had been warned that the course was very hilly so I had been doing my canter work in a field on a hill. Mum had measured out a distance and I had been practicing going at the right speed as Felix tends to be a bit slow if he can!! The day of the event was really windy and we did wonder if it might be cancelled, but it wasn’t so off we went. Felix did a lovely dressage test for 28.5, a clear SJ and was clear XC with 9 times penalties (Dad thought we would get at least 15 time penalties as the course was so hilly!!) so we finished 8th in our first BE competition!! I was so pleased with Felix!

Our next BE event was Millfield. Felix did another nice dressage test, had one SJ down and did a lovely clear XC and we finished just outside the top 10 in 13th. We then went to Pontispool, it was a bit of a stressful day as we broke down on the way there and I wasn’t sure we were going to make it, but we got there just in time for my dressage test, phew!! Felix was as consistent as ever in his dressage and scored 32 which put us in 4th place. He did a lovely clear SJ round and was clear XC, but the ground was really hard so I didn’t push him and we got 9 time penalties which dropped us down to 11th place, but I was still super pleased with him! Now Felix is concentrating on The Pony Club Area Competitions. I am hoping that we will be picked for the Novice dressage team and the 80cm Eventing team – fingers crossed!!

Chico isn’t quite as reliable as Felix! He is either really good or really bad, but we have been having more good days than bad days! Our first ‘practice’ competition was a combined training where he did a tense but accurate dressage test and a nice clear SJ round, so we felt ready to go out and do a little one day event. We went to a small Pony Club One Day Event (ODE) where Chico did an amazing test and scored 24 with some 9’s and a 10! We had one fence down in the SJ because he was going a bit quick and then had a stop on the XC, but overall he behaved really well and didn’t have any tantrums which was really good. Thinking we were on a roll of good behaviour we went to another one day event, but Chico had other ideas. He did a nice dressage test, but after jumping 3 fences of the SJ course he decided he had had enough and had a tantrum in the corner of the arena so we had to retire. Back to Square One!! Since then we have been working on how to deal with his tantrums and riding him differently between fences. He is very very strong and forward going, but doesn’t like to be told how to get to a fence and if he thinks he isn’t being allowed to do it his way he gets angry!! Anyway, in between the one day events he has been out and done some BD competitions and has managed to qualify for an Area Festival at Prelim level so it’s not all bad!!

Smartie has just been hacking and schooling, he is only just 5-years-old so there is no rush for him to go out competing yet. His canter is still quite unbalanced but it is improving all the time. He is quite an anxious pony so we want to build his confidence and trust by keeping things simple and making sure all his experiences are good and happy ones. I’m hoping that I will get him to a dressage competition in the next few weeks to do a walk and trot test.

So that’s all for now…..hopefully next time I blog Felix will have been to the Pony Club Area competitions, Smartie will have had an outing to a dressage competition and Chico will be back in the good books.