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Venues that are hidden gems


Fleur in her new Kate Negus bridle

So we are approaching the new season and although I am working hard on getting Fleur eventing fit after a quiet winter where I only managed to ride 2 or 3 days a week my intended first run Larkhill seems like an age away. I would normally have tried to enter some earlier events but I just don’t see the point given the current weather and ground conditions. I know Larkhill well as it is my local and if anything in the country will run it will be there so I thought it a sensible event to aim for; I will also unsurprisingly be using a super ballot when I enter as I reckon they will be heavily oversubscribed. I can also see Aldon running in the area but with the hills I don’t think our fitness will be up to scratch in time as otherwise I would be heading there as it is a lovely event.

Fleur’s fitness is coming on nicely, she has had her pre-season MOT (teeth, back, vaccinations) and she is insisting on getting jumping early and is regularly popping the fencing (into a pretty much bare bit of grazing!) as and when she pleases. Duvet days have become unavoidable if we want any grazing for the spring/summer so the icevibe boots have been out whilst mucking out to keep her legs from filling. Now it is light enough to hack after work we have been braving some fearsome weather conditions in more recent weeks. I think the near hurricane force gales just over a week ago were a particular ‘highlight’ but we survived I wasn’t blown off her and will only be fitter for it, it’s resistance training after all?!

I have somewhat spoilt her though and bought her a Kate Negus bridle. She used to have a beautiful Tolga one which you can’t get in the UK but she broke it just over a year ago at an event which I had to replace there and then with a cheapy one from the onsite saddlery if I wanted to go XC! That cheapy bridle stretched massively (hence was cheap!) and so decided to splash out on something quality. The new Kate Negus Grand Prix shaped and padded headpiece is just like the Tolga one she loved so was an easy choice and I think she looks rather fetching in it as well. I will be sure to update you all as to how we are getting on with it but so far great quality, great fit, great service and most importantly a happy horse!

A hidden gem of a venue?

A hidden gem of a venue?

So yes no competitive outings for Fleur but I however have been keeping myself busy from a photographic point of view. I am taking photos at Altogether Equestrian shows which are lovely quiet friendly shows.

I do feel sad that venues like this are often overlooked by people when actually they offer some great advantages. These are the shows which are not as slick and high profile as the big venues but that is their selling point. There are no shiny brand new fences but what they do have is safe and well built and they have a great big indoor and nearly as big outdoor warmup both with good surfaces. In my opinion it is perfect for youngsters to get show experience without the pressure and for older horses whom are perhaps a little err fresh after a winter break to get out at the beginning of the season because there is always a relaxed air from the organisers and other competitors.

The other weekend was a showjumping show and it was refreshing to see the 3 stops and your eliminated rule relaxed where appropriate to allow competitors on young and green horses to complete the course. I have been in the situation a couple of times including with Fleur where she needed to learn that 3 stops (or 2 depending on rules!) doesn’t mean that’s it as believe it or not horses can count and although clear round courses help, horses recognise the difference when there is a bell and as a rider you will ride differently even if subconsciously. I can remember back when Fleur was about 5 she had totally thrown her dollies out the pram and despite having been jumping age classes I had to drop her right back down to basics and rebuild her confidence. She would jump at home perfectly but at a competition it was blowing her brain. I took her to a lovely low key show and entered her in the smallest class she was eligible for (about 2ft3!) knowing we were in no danger of pothunting. I think in total we had probably 12-15 technical refusals (read napping sessions) but I stayed calm and waited for her to choose to go forward so the judge let us continue and we completed the course. It was a turning point for her that day and I am eternally thankful to that judge who even commented over the tannoy “I’m sure you know you were eliminated but I thought she needed to complete the course”. Had it been a busy high profile venue they wouldn’t have been able to let me continue due to time constraints but that is why I didn’t choose a busy venue.

IMG_2991When producing horses (and riders) we have to be careful to select appropriate venues and finding gems of venues like this are vital especially in the early stages whree maintaining and building confidence are key. whether it is to do a dressage test that may involve more stopping and spooking at banners but you can then follow it up with a second test an hour later which shows great improvement because the judge has allowed the 30 seconds additional halt at H snorting at the dragons in the corner in the first test. Or the showjumping round where the horse inspects every fence first hand before going clear in the next class. Granted we wouldn’t want these shows to become a victim of their own success becoming hugely busy and lose that charm and relaxed nature, but I definitely feel not enough people utilise the smaller venues and instead head straight out to the larger venues and risk brain overload for horse and rider.

Being the photographer for shows like this is also proving quite educational. Other than the judge I am the only person to watch every single test and round, I enjoy checking whether or not I pick the best test from a class and award a similar percentage in my head and whether I can identify the fastest jump off round. Reassuring to know generally I do agree with the judges 😉

A real gentleman's moustache!

A real gentleman’s moustache!

As you can imagine the demand for photoshoots in winter is low as the weather, mud and hairy horses don’t really create the best look! But it is reassuring to be booking up my summer for the year though, even if I did scare myself at the prospect of having only 3 completely free weekends between now and the end of October between work, eventing and other commitments, I am seriously considering renaming my blog to a diary of an Equine photographer! I have been spending my time glued to my computer developing and perfecting my editing techniques to create what I hope will become my distinctive style. I have so many new ideas for the coming year I just can’t wait for the weather to improve but for the mean time if you follow my facebook or twitter you will see more photos like the above and the perfectly styled moustache!

So weather gods please stop raining we really really really have had enough now for a while at least anyway. We all want to get eventing and I would far rather to be standing out at events in the sun with my camera rather than shivering soaked to my skin.

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