Monday, 9 October 2017

Day 2 of the Crash Diet

Well, the good news is, I've lost nearly 2 kilos already. Yey! And I'm feeling pretty feisty. And not hungry quite all the time. In fact, not even hungry much of the time, though I'm keeping as busy as I can and drinking lots of water. I am, however, starting to feel wistful for chips, and cakes and ice cream....But that's what got me here in the first place so I know sugar is the devil!

Spring is a crazy time on a horse farm - any farm, I'm guessing. The grass is growing which is awesome, but so are those hooves! I've been trying to trim a horse per day and it's hard work. I'm especially trying to get them all up to date before the weather dries up and their hooves turn to solid rock. I struggle with hard hooves as I just don't have the strength or endurance to rasp them forever. I don't own any nippers (though I'm seriously considering buying some!) and I try hard not to let their feet get long enough for nippers to be useful. But there are a couple of the paddock ornaments that are probably a bit far gone now....need to get on top of them!

Our first event that it looks like we'll actually make it to is the Irish Draught and Sport Horse Show in just under two weeks. Annie the big legend will finally be getting to go out and show those prissy show horses what a real Irish eventer can do (which will probably include winning exactly zero prissy show horse events, but potentially taking out the 'Working Hunter 100cm' class because we are the only ones in it). I need to dust off the fancy pants gear and I'm hoping I actually squeeze into it all by then given the current starvation regime!

Wagga Dressage the weekend after that we're I'm judging and riding the big girl. I really like the Wagga vibe. Probably since I went to uni there for a couple of years and had the time of my life!

Then we're heading to our first HRCAV (grown up pony club) event just up the rode. The ARCs run these great 'jackpot' weekends where you ride a couple of dressage tests on the Saturday, then a couple of SJ rounds on the Sunday. Points are awarded and you win a rug. A RUG. Woo! So, Annie and I are going in our first one and I'm quite looking forward to it. No plaiting allowed (not ALLOWED, I tell you!) and I get to wear a groovy club t-shirt rather than stock and jacket. Loving it already.

Lots of dressage judging in the next few weeks too. I'm really hopeful I finally get to complete all the shadow judging and sit-ins required to upgrade to the next level of judge. Fingers crossed - it's been a loooong time coming. Lots of support from the Jindera and Wagga Dressage clubs has been an absolutely fundamental factor. It makes a huge difference!

Then it's getting my country on in November for the Stock Horse boys' shows. There's a couple of them on before the end of the year so I thought I'd take the two colts and just do the led classes. It's interesting, the ASH community seem very keen on starting 2yo horses and riding them a lot. The ridden classes all start at 2yo and there's even campdrafts and other events for horses under 3yo. I really don't understand this mentality - the horses are not even close to being mature enough for that level of riding and work at 2yo. I'm sure there are lots of injuries in the 5yo and up ASHs. Come to think of it, you don't see many ASHs over 5yo for sale. Not real quality horses that would have been out doing shows and drafts as babies.

Maybe I should do a research paper for the ASHS....in my spare time!

Speaking of spare time, we are now very close to announcing the new business venture. I hope to get that all nailed down by the end of October. Exciting!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

And another reboot ;)

So, it's been almost exactly a year since my last post. And it's been one hell of a crappy year! This will be a far more regular blog, I promise, though it may be taking in more non-horsey topics, which I will get to in a minute.

Moving to a whole new state where you know no-one, have no riding facilities and no money is pretty must the hardest thing you can do when all you want to do is what you were doing before! I fell at Lynton Horse Trials a year ago, tore the ligaments in my ankle (very painful and slow to heal) and then found that my confidence was really messed up. I basically struggled to get on and ride the whole year, and haven't jumped a jump since. I even sat out of the Lucinda Green clinic. Not good, right?

I am slowly getting into a better place. I have done a couple of Manu Mclean clinics which always help my self-esteem. I am definitely aiming to do the Lucinda clinic next February, and I'm now a member of an Adult Riding club down here (my god, ARCs in Victoria are huge - like Pony Club for grown ups!).

I am now a proud Australian Stock Horse breeder (Pine Hill Stud, baby) with my very own young colts standing next year. Though, I fell off one of the breakers and hurt my bloody back a couple of weeks ago, sheesh....

In the last year, amidst all the turmoil and, to be fair, loneliness, of leaving my friends and equestrian community behind in Canberra, I stacked on the weight. It's terrible! So, today I'm starting the crash diet developed (I mean to say, 'marketed') by Dr Michael Mosley, the Blood Sugar Diet. It is an 8 week torture fest during which I will live on 800 calories per day. But, I should lose about 15kg, re-set my blood sugar to normal levels, kick-start my metabolism again, and, most importantly, not look like a fatty on poor Annie. White breeches are unforgiving, people.

I plan to blog about it and share the torture. :)

I also have a busy few months ahead as I start a new business (details to come when they're finalised), take the ASH boys to my very first Stock Horse shows, take Annie to our first comps in over a year, and generally ramp up to Christmas. We have a little ASH foal due in 6 weeks, too. So, I promise this will not turn into an awful, over-sharing weight-loss blog. It will only be a tiny bit of that.

I want to blog about this because the equestrian community is all about appearances. We all want to be improving and doing fine all the time. We don't want to show we're scared, we feel fat or uncomfortable, or how intimidated we are by the pros and their bloody gorgeous horses. But we do feel those things - lots! And I want to share my experiences and do a bit more embracing of the amateurishness of those experiences.  I want to do a bit more showing how it really is, including the mis-steps, the bitching and the judging. Oh yes, I'm doing lots of dressage judging too - heh heh heh.

Until literally a month ago, I had this weird mindset of thinking I was a professional, that I had to be riding at a certain level, had to be going up the grades all the time. I had never questioned this - never even really acknowledged it. But, my unconscious seemed to have me pegged as a future Olympian (I'm not actually exaggerating here), and every time I didn't do well, I beat myself up for it. Which was obviously all the time, since I ain't winning no trophy rugs!

I stopped wanting to ride at all when I fell at Lynton. What's the point, I thought? And I was scared of falling. Really scared. I stuffed up the approach to a difficult jump and Annie just couldn't get high enough to get us out of it. There were a couple of things I might have done to avoid the same fall, but really it was just a mistake and they happen all the time. The prospect of making a mistake and getting seriously hurt still makes my stomach churn.

So, this blog will be my way of documenting my ordinariness. My life as an amateur, a grassroots competitor and an average punter. Don't get me wrong, I'm still competitive as fuck, but now I'm not focusing on 3*! And this blog will not be full of how awesome I am (well, not all of it, anyway :D), but will be full of honesty, self-reflection and journey. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Barefoot Eventer is back!

Hellloooo out there!

After the longest hiatus, I thought it was high time to kick off this little blog again. Barefoot adventures await documentation, and there's a whole lot happening horse-wise now.

So, Annie the superstar continues to go from strength to strength. Lucinda Green came again in February and taught us a few things! She's such a gifted coach, very encouraging and non-judgmental. I enjoy her lessons immensely!

Lucinda demonstrating something - could've been the 'tube.' Riding your horse between your legs and hands like they're in a tube.

Tackling the skinny oxer

And the normal oxer!
 We stepped up to PreNovice (EvA105) at the start of this year - probably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life to date! Of course, Annie was a pro (a green pro, but still a pro) and looked after her frightened little middle-aged rider. It was pretty awesome, and that heady mix of relief and elation after completing our first 'big kids' event is hard to describe.
Us on our first EvA105 run

But, then we moved. After thinking and researching for a year or so, we decided to move the family to Beechworth, Victoria, about 30 minutes south of the NSW/Victorian border. This upset the applecart in a big way, and led to a period of about 6 months without riding. A dark time, indeed!

On the bright side, I finally got to the bottom of Uno's issues (see previous blog posts if you're wondering who the hell Uno is!). Rose had a gorgeous little colt called Onyx around Christmas last year.
Onyx about a week old

But Onyx started to suffer some problems very quickly. He had a muscle hernia to his offside flank (not uncommon according to wonder-vet Ian Neilsen), but experienced a slight fever and inflammation around his umbilical stump. Within three weeks he was dead lame on a hind leg. His joints became enlarged and he was very sad.
Onyx about a month old, having been shaved, x-rayed and osteo'd within an inch of his life!

The vets agreed he was suffering from physitis (inflammation of the growth plates caused by an imbalance of calcium to phosphorous in Rose's milk), but even after changing Rose's diet, he continued to show marked lameness. It would be another 6 or 8 weeks of expensive 'treatments' before wonder-vet Ian came out and said, almost nonchalantly, "It's still physitis - you need to wean him."

So, the poor little bloke got weaned at just on 4 months' old. Two things happened - the first was we moved to Beechworth and I took him with Annie to keep him company. The second was that Annie adopted him like her own, making it impossible to ride for months! It really helped his mental health, though, as he had a foster mum to make him feel safe.

The physitis disappeared within 3 weeks. Amazing!
Onyx at about 7 months old. Completely recovered!
This means we need to think carefully about breeding from Rose again as she seems to have this milk imbalance. Ian surmised that it was Rose's milk that caused Uno's difficulties, as physitis greatly increases the chances of fracture and injury to joints. At least we know now, but such a shame.

Since we've moved the herd as increased quite a bit. More on our new fur family in the next post, or this will be a whopper! The new farm is over 90 acres, with lots of rocks and undulating country. Perfect for barefoot!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Vale Uno

Uno, as many of you who read my little blog will know, is the son of the massive but gorgeous Rose, by a lovely Irish Sport Horse stallion, Highland McGuire. Uno managed to fracture his knee through the growth plate on the outside of the joint around two weeks of age and was not well managed for the first two weeks following the injury. There's more on that in the posts I wrote at the time in 2013.
After a year of intensive treatment and therapies, including body work, chiropractic work, monthly and sometimes weekly trimming and lots of love, it became clear that Uno's knee had not healed well and he was in apparently chronic pain.

Uno getting a massage from our wonderful friend Tatjana.
He was taken to Canberra Vet Hospital and the amazing Rebecca Walshe gave him a thorough examination, noting initially that his knee joint mobility was extremely limited. He could not bend the knee beyond about a 100 degree angle - no pain shown, it just wasn't happening. X-rays showed the fracture had essentially 'blown out' and a large piece of bone was now sticking out from the side of the knee. He had other changed to the joint that were not particularly obvious on the x-ray but Bec just kept shaking her head and saying, "That's not how the knee is supposed to look!"

I asked Bec what she thought his pain level was like. She and I have made some hard decisions before and I trust her implicitly. She also knows I'm a realist and I don't keep horses alive when their quality of life will be poor. She said his pain is probably quite chronic and as the arthritis in the joint progresses it will become more acute. We talked about managing it, but give his overall sensitivity to drugs (he scoured and became ill at the drop of a hat!), the fact we would just be delaying the inevitable, and the expense involved, it seemed a pretty pointless exercise.

I was taking him home to bury him. I can't describe the sadness I felt at this information. He was really the loveliest person and carried lots of hope and dreams for the future on his bony shoulders!
Uno on his last morning


The photo below shows the knee. The midline is obviously not straight and the 'knob' on the lower left part of the knee is where the bone fragment had come away and was essentially floating out on the edge of the knee.
 

This hock on the same side as the injured knee was continuously puffy with no heat or lameness shown.
I called the wonderful Robyn Larson-Shelton from Equine Miracles who has been my horses' bodyworker for over six years now. She had helped me treat Uno's initial injury and had worked on him his whole life. It was Robyn that triggered the decision to take him to CEH for a review and x-ray. When I told her the news she was upset but we made the decision to see if the vet who came to euthanise Uno would amputate his off fore and off hind for Robyn to dissect to see what the joints actually looked like. Then Uno could be contributing to learning into the future and his life wouldn't be wasted quite as much as it felt like it already was.

Suzanne from CEH came out with a truly awesome Vet Nurse (who's name I never remember but I love her!). It was a horrible grey cold day to fit our moods. Once Uno said goodbye to my son Ben, and he was put to sleep, the grizzly but unbelievably interesting work of removing the two legs began. Suzanne gave me some fantastic insights into where the foreleg muscles attach into the shoulder, what muscles and tendons move which bones and was really interesting. Thank you, Suzanne, you made a horrible day into a valuable learning opportunity.

As an aside, Suzanne told me donations of horses for learning opportunities is rare and I was somewhat disappointed to know I could have actually donated Uno's whole body to vet science. Something to bear in mind if you need to euthanise a horse....

The dissection of Uno's joints was a revelation and a real confirmation I had made the right choice. His elbow and knee joints showed advanced arthritis - he had the knees of a 20 year-old, not a yearling, and it was clear he would have been in significant, chronic pain. Interestingly, his hock joint also showed evidence of an OCD - osteochondritis dissecans - which is essentially a piece of cartilage that had come away from the joint and was floating around. It can occur through injury.

I have included pics below of the dissected joints for those of you that are interested. They are graphic, however, so don't view them if you don't want to see that kind of thing.
Uno's muscular development was fairly poor and he was always very tense through his neck and withers.
Saying goodbye to his buddy Ben, my 4 year-old son with Down syndrome

Graphic pics

The off elbow joint. You can see the advanced wear of the cartilage and right into the bone. This would have been very painful
The elbow. The pink groove in the joint is simply not supposed to be there.



The hock. Robyn is pointing at a fingernail-sized piece of cartilage missing from the joint.
The knee. The piece of bone on the extreme left that isn't attached to anything is the fractured fragment.
The lower leg through the knee joint. The hole at the top is where the tendon passes.

So, Uno has gone and is no longer in pain. We planted an orchard of fruit trees (lots of apples which he would have loved), and he was joined by his mate Phoebe, our wonderful dog, who we lost to aggressive cancer only a couple of months later.




If you have any questions about the pics you see, please ask away. I will pass them on to Robyn if they're beyond my expertise. Or you can attend one of Sharon May-Davis' workshops on anatomy and ask her!









Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hello again!

I can't believe how long its been since I posted an entry on my blog. It's been a long winter and I think I started to run out of things to say! Then, of course, lots has happened, meaning I got all procrastinatey about writing because I imagined it would be a behemoth of a post! So, strap yourselves in....

The last post I started writing was about Uno. I made the decision to put him to sleep a few months ago. He was in chronic pain and would never get better. I will finish the post devoted entirely to him and post it soon - the photos of the joints we dissected are unbelievable. I knew when I saw those photos that I had made the right decision.

On to happier things. Annie and I finally broke through our depressing bout of coming dead last in every event by coming a rather amazing 4th in one of the EvA95 classes at Canberra Horse Trials last weekend. After a great clinic (perfectly timed, I must say!) with Manuela Mclean a couple of weeks before, we finally scored a top ten dressage test. Annie was great and it was one of those weekends where everything just came together.

Showjumping was a little hairy but I think the main problem is I let her get too long and flat as the round goes on - that, and I need to ride her in the Peewee bit! She gets so heavy and dead to the hand when she's jumping. I think she genuinely enjoys the jumping and cantering - she certainly feels happy about it!

One of these days I'll drop some money on a decent photo of us at a comp and post it. :)

We've had some interesting hoof issues lately, though. Annie had to go almost 8 weeks without a trim as our current Wonder Trimmer Shelly went overseas on a much-deserved holiday. While Shelly was away, Annie's feet got a little long, but not too bad, and even more interestingly, she developed two small splints on the inside cannon bones just below the knees. They are gradually shrinking now she's getting her monthly trims, so I am confident the splints developed as a direct result of unbalanced hooves and long toes. Just goes to show how important it is to keep the trimming very regular in our performance horses.

I've got a lovely little Quarter Horse type staying with me at the moment while I ride him and sell him for our local Riding for the Disabled. He's been barefoot probably his whole life (he's 14 and from the Kimberley in Northern Australia where he was a station horse, we're told), but is the most sensitive of all the horses at my place with his feet. He is very short and mincey over gravelly or hard earth while Annie and Andy the dressage pony are quite happy cantering around on gravel. Particularly Annie who now has true 'rock-crushing' hooves after a year without shoes.

I will be very interested to see what Shelly thinks of his feet and what we might be able to do to improve his comfort-level.

Some pics from the last couple of weeks:
Hay-high was a feature of our winter and you'll note both horses standing square and engaging their backs as they eat their hay. This contributed to both horses' strength under saddle.

Annie about a month ago looking fit and shiny as we headed into an unseasonably warm spring.

Annie's dainty hooves post-trim. The near fore appears to be a little later than the off fore and we're keen to see if this will balance up over the next couple of trims. Might be a consequence of the long lapse between trims over winter.

It could just be the way she's standing, but the near looks very different to the off. Might be a bit of both!
So, next comp is Goulburn next weekend - hopefully our last EvA95. We're looking to make the step up to EvA105 at Silver Hills in three weeks. Our super showjumping coach Ben Netterfield managed to slam himself into the ground at speed while paragliding a month ago and will be out of action for the forseeable future (love ya Ben!), so we've been taking a bit of an ad hoc approach to jumping training for the last month. Will see how that pays off!


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Our first Prelim at Equestriad April 2015

Well, after a long gap in blog posts, I am finally getting around to adding a few big ones about major happenings in the last couple of months. Annie's first EvA95 and our first appearance at Equestriad in Camden was definitely one of those!

I had never made the trek up to Camden and was assured that, a) it was a real family event and would be perfect to take Charles and the kids to and, b) it's a really great course and a good one to upgrade at. Both were not entirely true but it was still a really awesome weekend of eventing at probably the biggest event in the Southern Hemisphere!

So, with kids in tow, we set off for Camden very early (but not disgustingly so, thanks to a really nice dressage draw time) looking nervously at the weather given it was supposed to rain pretty much all weekend and the maximum temperature was about 29. In April?? Thank god I clipped her the week before!

The event is literally ENORMOUS. We pulled into one end of Bicentennial Park and had absolutely no idea where everything was and, more importantly, where my dressage test was! Turned out it was about 2km away....need some signage, people! But I was fine. It was poor Charles, pushing a pram containing the 2 year old with the 5 year old moaning along behind, I was feeling for!

The humidity and heat when we arrive was quite overwhelming. I was dripping with sweat before I put my jacket on and it really didn't get any better. After warming up by walking the couple of kms to the dressage arenas, Annie warmed up really well - pretty calm to start with. It was interesting that, as we got over to the arenas, she started to get more and more tense. There was certainly a lot to look at, with cross country jumps right next to the arena and lots of people swarming over the cross country course situated a hundred metres from our arena.

I got lucky in that the arena next to ours had finished and I was able to use it to warm up in. After five minutes of lots of transitions and changing direction and gait, I felt like I had Annie's attention back. Then I went over and walked and waited next to the judge's car. Big mistake. She was back to 'tense giraffe' mode after just a couple of minutes of not working. In hindsight, I think that waiting and talking to the judge is a mistake for this horse. It's not a requirement and I think just trotting and cantering around the arena is something worth trying for next time.

So, the test was pretty tense. Not much else to say. Not many 'mistakes' but the whole quality of the test was pretty tense. We did score 8.5 for the free walk, but I have come to expect marks like that for her walk as it is really very good.

Showjumping in the stifling heat was mercifully quick. The course was actually a bit smaller than I would have liked. She's becoming a bit careless about smaller jumps and we had the first jump down which was a bit of a disappointment. It certainly cost us a few placings as the majority of our class went clear. If I'd been in one of the other EvA95 classes it wouldn't have been so bad - for some reason heaps of others had rails! Ah, well.

Off to walk the cross country while the kids and their ever-suffering dad munched on some afternoon tea and watched the EvA80 horses do their cross country, especially the water jump. The course proved to be unexpectedly technical for a Prelim course and would require a bit of jumping, especially for the young horses. I was both really excited to be jumping a course that wasn't 90% logs with the occasional ditch or rolltop, and also a bit worried about just how straight and confident Annie was.

The rest of the very busy Saturday was really fun. Catching up with friends, watching some of the best riders in the country do their thing and then watching the 2* and 3* showjumping under lights that night. What a difference the lights made to the horses (and probably the riders). The rails were certainly falling! We left during the 3* as the massive thunder storm promised by the BOM rolled in. We headed back to the comfort of our outrageously expensive hotel room and left them to it!

Cross country was a complete blast. The footing was very slippery after the downpour overnight, let alone the big rainfalls the area had been receiving over the weeks before. I rasped about 8 notches/hooks into each hoof, front and back, though we don't quite yet have enough wall to really work with in this regard. I'd like a good 8mm to 10mm but we have about 5mm right now. That will obviously change with time!

Annie was a machine. The only hairy moment we had was the little steps early in the course (fence 4ABC) where she was completely distracted by another horse coming down the course on the way out to the flat half and missed the first step to sprawl a bit. But she picked up and kept going. Silly girl.

The going was treacherous in places and many combinations fell or had near misses. The turn from 5 up the hill was simply awful and we had our own near miss there. But as far as technicality went, Annie made it seem easy. The water was ridiculous - heaps of people all over the place, Shane Rose driving a massive piece of machinery right next to the approach for the drop into the water...but Annie, after slowing down to a walk to make sure she got a really good look at everything (despite quite a bit of kicking on my part!) popped down into the water and splashed through to go out over the rolltop, then round the corner (now pulling and being a bit of a tool) to pop over the bounce of logs. Pretty good really.

We got time penalties, but practically everyone did. I don't think Annie found the going any more slippery than the shod horses with studs in. Overall, I was pretty stoked. Lots to like about this mare!

The only downside I'm noticing from the notches/hooks in the hoof is the need to rasp them off within a day or two. I really couldn't without bringing her wall to short for comfort (and frankly, I don't have the physical fitness!) so the end result is the breaking off of little bits of wall as the 'cleats' succumb to the pressure. It is all cosmetic at this stage, and I'll be interested to see if it's a real problem over time. I'm thinking of using only one hook in each hoof when the going is not too bad, but the going at Camden was awful and I needed all the traction I could get. Watch this space, as usual!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Sydney Three Day Event 2015

Ok it's been a hell of a long time between posts. I've almost been intimidated out of posting again because I have so much to write about!! So, I'm using my whirlwind visit to Sydney Three Day to ease myself back into it....

I was lucky to win a VIP ticket to watch the cross country at the Sydney International Three Day Event over the weekend just gone and decided to drag my erstwhile husband along for a crazy 24 hour trip into 'serious eventing' world. Add on a last-minute decision to take Jedi up to James Arkins' place near Moss Vale while we were just going past and it was a pretty nuts adventure!

That being said, I had a really great experience and came away feeling both energised and inspired to do more and be more. I'll start at the beginning....

Before last weekend, I had never been to SIEC. I know, for those of you reading this who are eventers in the Canberra/Highlands/Sydney region, this seems unbelievable. But, I've never been - it's unbelievably expensive to compete there and I've never felt the need to go to the S3DE before. Which is odd, because I've been to Melbourne 3DE!

So, to actually go to the home of the Sydney Olympics was really exciting. It's every bit as great as I thought, but also a lot smaller than I imagined. And a LOT hillier!

We turned up pretty early on Saturday morning. It has been raining cats and dogs in and around Sydney for the past week or two and the ground was sodden. I was really interested to see how the going would be after so much rain and, while it turned out to be way better than I thought it could be, it was still influential. More on that later....

There was some random showjumping going on in the indoor. Meh....moved on pretty quickly from that! Off onto the cross country....no idea where we were going....wandering....ended up on the road heading towards the steeplechase track looking uselessly at the S3DE site on my phone with only a vague idea of the direction we should be heading! Then, who should come cycling along behind us, but the lovely Sam Lyle. He not only remembered my name (isn't that the nicest feeling when someone remembers who you are when they must meet hundreds of people?), but also gave us directions over his shoulder after apologising for not having brakes on his bike. Luckily, he rode up a hill (which turned out to head up to the steeplechase track), managed to stop and eat the second of two bacon and egg rolls he was juggling as he chatted with me about the event and his horses and all that nice stuff.

Great start to our day. Thanks, Sam. :)

So, we get to see a bit of the course while we're walking up to our rendevous point at the water jump - one of two, as it turned out. The jumps were certainly big, but really nicely built and I was interested to notice that I no longer just stand mouth agape looking at the size of them, but have actually started to work out how one would jump such a thing. The line from 4 to 5 in the 3* looked pretty hairy, for example (a big table to a ditch with a big hedge behind it on an angle). The enormous table as jump 2 in the 2* looked just massive. But doable....

The water jump, when we got to it, was really interesting. It took me a while to figure out where all the lines were for each of the classes (there was a CCI and CIC for 1* and 2* as well as the one 3* class) and they all looked pretty technical, or at least difficult! This is the view of it from the VIP tent where we hung out:


The dude walking through the water with the bike is Shane Rose. The dude in the grey top and jeans is Stuart Tinney. Nuff said.

So, the green and white numbers were the two 2* classes and they had a pretty full-on bounce into the water. Funnily enough, the first half of the riders just made it look easy. Then there was a rash of refusals and near-falls. I suspect the going didn't help as it did deteriorate over the class, but I think a lot of it was psychological. More on that later too...

After helping set up the VIP tent (they weren't exactly ready when we got there!), we headed off to the start, following on behind none other than Mike Etherington-Smith (the course designer and designer of such hallowed grounds as Burghley, Badminton and Kentucky), and Wayne Roycroft (Olympic gold medallist and Australian coach, now TD extraordinaire). I was hyperventilating under my cool exterior!

The course walk was so interesting and I learned an enormous amount in just over an hour with these luminaries of the sport. Say what you will about the old white guys crusted on to elite eventing, they still know a huge amount and it was a gift to be able to hear it from them on Saturday.

Starting with the mounds that Mike had to take out of the course because of the going...(I took no pictures other than the one above. Just goes to show how enthralled I was!). They were just two hanging logs on top of quite prounounced mounds. The ground around them was a quagmire so that's why they were taken out, but I walked the distance for them to show how it should ride (got a gold star from Wayne *blush*) and they talked about how the terrain affects a horse's stride and how riders can tend to override or underride a fence.

Mike talked about the tendancy these days for horses to be over-disciplined and unused to getting themselves out of trouble if a mistake is made. He, like Lucinda Green, thinks horses are no longer being ridden on grass and different terrain that is not a manicured arena, to the detriment of horses then asked to gallop over cross country courses. I couldn't agree more and felt a bit smug about my complete lack of arena work. Which of course has nothing to do with the fact we can't afford to build an arena with a surface....

Then on to jumps 4 and 5, which I had thought would cause carnage but of course didn't at all. When I had looked at it on the way up to the water jump, I had assumed it would be ridden on a curving stride. Not having stopped to actually look at it as a combination, I hadn't seen the straight line that Mike intended the riders to take. When he pointed it out, it seemed so easy, so obvious. Well, not easy....but certainly not impossible or particularly frightening. Just big. BIG.

When Mike talked about the going I was really impressed with how much thought and preparation he puts into it, and I assume all course designers and builders of that level are the same. To Mike, the going is everything. Without good going the whole course is stuffed. And, it wasn't the obvious 'going' that I thought he meant - the hardness or softness - but the consistency of the going. He scoffed at the idea that we were all freaking out about the soft going (as he said, this was pretty good going in the UK!), but he did talk at length about the need for the going to be as consistent as possible throughout the course. That horses get suspicious when the going changes a lot and a suspicious horse is not a good thing!

When we got to the water (photo above) he talked about the 3* jumps. They're the red, white and blue houses at the top of the picture, designed to be jumped on an angle, then down over the fish and exit to the right of the picture. It looked quite difficult at first glance, but when Mike explained the line he had in mind when he built it, the question looked completely doable. As long as you got the right line, and your horse did not deviate but jumped where you put it, the line to the fish was easy. Make a mistake and you will pay.

The other thing I learned at that jump is about the distance between two angled jumps. When I walked it (I became Wayne's designated walker after my gold star effort at the first jumps), I said it was one short stride. Not so, says Mike. When walking the distance between angled jumps you must ignore the front and back of the jumps but look to the middle of the effort. That is, don't think the stride is short because it'll ride pretty normal. And he was right. When the horses started coming over it, as long as they were placed in the spot Mike saw as the sweet spot (somewhat to the left of A which put you in the middle of B then on down to the fish), the one stride was easy. It was only when horses came in too far right they struggled.

The last lesson was at the second water jump. For the 3* horses, this was a big brush-type fence up the hill, then on down the hill to turn a little and jump over a hanging log on an angle out from the drop into the water, then two or three strides to a skinny in the water, then two or three to the bank up out of the water, then one stride to an angled narrow brush and away. The two things that struck me out of the conversation with Mike and Wayne at this combination were: a) the importance that big fence way up the hill has in preparing the horse for the water jumps down the hill, and b) the idea that this combination was essentially gridwork for the horses.

Wayne talked about using the spread fence further up the hill to open the shape of the horse up and provide some momentum down the hill. He says the tendency for riders to slow and hold the horses coming down the hill means they actually wash a lot of impulsion off when they need to keep a forward, active stride coming into the jump over the log into the water. It's not just a drop off a bank. The horses needed to jump over the log which means they still needed a bit of power. Interesting. He even talked about the shape the horses make jumping a jump like this and how that feeds into the design of the jumps.

The idea of treating a 4-element jump in water as a gridwork exercise was a bit revolutionary for me. It takes the complexity out of it and gives me some exercises to do at home. All combination fences are just gridwork when you boil it down. An opportunity for the horse to be left alone but kept straight and just pop through.

So much easier said than done!

Watching the horses go around the track was inspiring. I had a great little chat with Wayne and felt like a contender....heh heh. Annie can definitely do this one day and I'm starting to feel like maybe I can too. One day!

The going was quite interesting from a barefoot point of view. I am starting to work out the best and worst surfaces for the barefoot horse to gallop and jump on. Frankly, I don't think barefoot is a detractor from a traction perspective as the horses' hooves basically dug right into the grass/soil/mud and not having shoes on would have made no difference. Studs are helpful but I think the hooks I rasp in would be equally good. I will need to start really planning for soft going before events and making sure there's lots of wall available to rasp deep notches in.

But on hard going, barefoot beats shod hands down. The concussion caused by shod hooves is so damaging to the horse's legs and joints and barefoot is clearly preferable on hard ground. In slippery conditions like dry summer grass it's hard to see how anything would help - studs wouldn't pierce the hard ground and barefoot notches are probably more effective but there's not much that can stop the sliding once it starts.

Interestingly, Peter Gillis, a TD of note, who was doing the course walk with us, mentioned that horses actually need to slide a little when they gallop and the trend to put massive studs in is actually causing injuries and fatigue. Mike E-S agreed and said that, when horses are used to galloping and turning on different surfaces, slipping is really not something that concerns the horses. It's only the horses that have little or no experience off a prepared surface that really struggle. Noted.

So, look out for a few more posts coming by the end of the week. There is news! Some good, some very sad.