Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Kiwis Clean Up At Highclere Horse Trials

NZB Land Vision | London 2012 Bound
Apart from my own competition experience at Highclere this year, I went back on the Monday to watch the remaining Intermediate classes and the first running of the Advanced classes, which with 3 full sections and the World Equestrian Games only weeks away meant plenty of top classes horses out for last chance prep run.

Highclere is one of those great tracks when you can be guaranteed a good testing run without blowing the brain of your horse. In the five or so years I've competed here I've never seen an overly technical track, just good galloping, big-ish fences, and a real fitness tester. Rain earlier in the week meant good ground, which considering it's all short downward slopes and long hill climbs is a godsend as when it does get soft here the ground becomes spongy and saps energy. I love it, and it always rides better than it walks.

The place was awash with national team selectors, which produced a real buzz, especially around the Advanced dressage, tucked away in a corner of the park with plenty of flat ground to practice on. It was so busy up there you had to watch where you walked for fear of being mown down by a WEG hopeful, one lady on crutches nearly lost her 'good' leg as she tried to pass in front of NZB Land Vision.

Highclere Horse Trials 2010: Photographs And Video

Whilst I upload more video and prepare a blog post, here are a number of photos from Highclere Horse Trials. You'll also find a some video footage on my YouTube Channel.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Highclere Horse Trials: We Made It To Our Planned Seasonal Debut

Highclere Horse Trials | Our Seasonal Debut

It's been a long, long road to WEG Highclere, three months of hard graft for both of us, but we finally made it! Whilst it has been a day of mixed results (crap dressage, but double clear inside the time), I can't complain, the Great White Charger has come back to form and is as fit as ever.

I walked the cross country course the day before, as they were running other sections , I had tight early times, and I had agreed to walk one of the larger classes with a friend. As you can see from the video this is wide open parkland, so the ground here is usually good, and this weekend was no exception. It is very 'spongy' ground when it's had some rain, and although it can cut up a lot, it actually holds together pretty well, although I notice they moved one of the portable brush fences a few metres from one day to the next.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Eventing Safety And Cross Country Schooling

Riding Cross Country Can Be Dangerous | Think Safety
A few things I saw on the web yesterday, reminded me of the importance of safety in this sport and the sometimes dismissive or complacent attitude we have towards safety.  I came across John Lechner's Eventing Safety blog, that discusses safety efforts in the sport, and Sharon Hunt's video on H&C TV, I think aimed at the younger auidence, talking about preparation for cross country, and I suppose what brought all of this home to roost was seeing a picture of Oliver Townend's fall at Kentucky, on the EN website.

How Many FEI Team Championships Do We Need?

I have long thought that running championships 3 out of every 4 years, has a profound and slightly negative effect on the domestic eventing circuits. The withdrawal of 2 horses from Burghley today, that were also on the GBR Team for next month's AllTech FEI World Equestrian Games, has got me thinking "do we really need this many championships?"

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Road To WEG2010...er, sorry, Highclere! - 1 Week To Go

XC Schooling In Preparation for Highclere
Just one week to Highclere Horse Trials, our seasonal debut, and it seems like an age since I brought the big white charger back into work. He's gone from a white giraffe to nifty looking eventer, and I've shed 2 inches off my waist and about a stone in three months (I can finally fit into my jeans again!). This last weekend I thought we had better have a little cross country schooling session, just to make sure he was committed and still enjoying the job, it was also a good excuse to test out my new gadget, the Helmet Cam, before Highclere.

Cross country schooling is always something I'm very careful not too over cook, as tempting as it is with the facilities we have at home, but I have to say I really enjoyed putting us both through our paces yesterday. From the video you will see that he is generally a very willing and capable horse, and in the 7 or 8 years I've owned him he has never had a dirty stop or a run out, in fact the only xc jump penalties we've ever got are for me circling before a fence, when we were running on a bit too much!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

WEG 2010 Eventing: French Stalking Horses

Nicholas Touzaint
The French always play their cards very close to their chest, when it comes to eventing championships, and then with typical 'bon vivant' roll out a gatling gun for a sword fight at the last minute. They rarely cross the channel to raid anything other than the highest prizes in the UK, but vigourously defend their CIC***s at home, just like their lorry drivers do at Calais!

This weekend the French team selections have been at Haras Du Pin for some last minute practice, and Laurent Bouquet (French National Coach) is very pleased with what he's seen, and so he should be 7 Frenchmen in the top ten after cross country, and in good company with the likes of Clayton Fredericks, Mark Todd, Paul Tapner and a host of others from numerous nations also competing - that's a pretty good result!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Stirrup Cam: The View from My Left Foot (Rider Cam Testing)

Stirrup Cam?
This may appeal to gadget loving boys, more than girls I'm afraid. As you may have seen on You Tube, you can now get a variety of small HD camcorders that you can fit to your helmet or other parts of your anatomy, HRN also reported on Peter Atkins wearing one of these cameras in the Rolex CCI****. The BBC tried this at Badminton a few years ago with a live link up on Polly Jackson as she went round the cross country, unfortunately that was a bulkier bit of kit and didn't really work as well as they may have hoped.

Friday, 20 August 2010

WEG2010 Eventing: New Team Submissions

The list of participating countries has now been announced there are some encouraging trends for eventing, most notably a few nations fielding a team for the first time (South Africa & Japan). Both these countries are not what you'd call well known for producing world class eventers, but then as so many event riders tend to be based in countries other than their own, you can't hold that against them.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

WEG 2010 Eventing: British 4 Stars Provide Best Individual Medal Indications

More Foreign Riders Are Moving To Britain Chasing Medals
Someone now based in the states, recently told me she really missed the eventing circuit back here in the UK, and trawling the web last night looking at photos and videos of events from around the globe got me thinking about how lucky we are in the UK to have an eventing circuit with such depth and variety.

As anyone knows the British circuit attracts more talent from around the world, than any other eventing nation, thanks to a number of factors; climate, geographical proximity of events,  number & variety of events, and a long history and experience of running large events. I'm lucky enough to live in an area of the UK that is home to a number of top foreign and domestic event riders and have several events running all manner of classes within a 50 mile radius, where as in Germany, France or America you would have to travel 100's of miles to experience the same variety and quality of events. Unlike some in the British ranks I welcome the diversity of nations we have based here eventing, it spices things up.

Monday, 16 August 2010

WEG 2010 Eventing Predictions: The Press Reports

It's time to start my predictions for the Alltech 2010 World Equestrian Games, so first off is, "what you're gonna hear from the Press & Media". It never ceases to amaze me how event after event, and year after year, the press ask the same old questions, and the roll out the same old phrases when they report on an event. So with this in mind here's my top 5 predictions for Uninspired Media Coverage:

The Capt. - hiding a baseball cap

  1. Most of the TV & Radio reporters will start their winners interviews by asking "What does this win mean to you?"
  2. The words "exciting" and "nail-biting" will appear in at least 92% reports about the show jumping phase.
  3. The trade mags will try and squeeze owner's names into sentences that were already long winded. (It's a good thing Matt Ryan isn't running a horse)
  4. Remarks like "Mike E-S's cross country course proved very influential, and was beautifully presented." will appear in at least 87% of reports from the event.
  5. Someone will comment on the fact that Capt. Mark Phillips hasn't removed his hat in 20 years, and that he always wears a tweed hat in the UK, but a baseball cap in the US. (I think he wears the baseball cap underneath the tweed one)

Feel free to add your own predictions.....

WEG2010 Eventing: Hartpury - Silence Of The Lambs

I didn't manage to get to Hartpury this weekend, and I wish I had as the entry list looked like a who's who of UK based World Equestrian Games contenders. So as I can't offer you a bucket load of superlatives about how well presented the course was or how lovely so-and-so's dressage test was, but here's a few observations from looking at the results and a few people I've managed to talk to:

Yogi Breisner - Very Pleased
Yogi Breisner is feeling pretty good right now, he had most of the GBR WEG team at Hartpury (William, Pippa, Piggy, Tina), all of them producing good Dressage Scores, with Piggy delivering the best of the lot and winning one of the CIC*** sections. Showjumping wasn't a disaster with just 3 rails and two clear rounds, and so with bigger prizes on offer next month at WEG, they justifiably didn't push it out on the cross country, except Piggy of course, who stood to win a Mitsubishi 4x4 (and she did). This I hope has silenced the bleating lambs who have questioned her inclusion in the team, because of the lack of form of her horse, Jakata.

Interestingly this horse and Mark Todd's Grass Valley, have both been through the hands of Alberto Giugni, an Italian rider based in Baydon, near Lambourn. Possibly a good place to go shopping.

Personally I think she's as deserving as anyone. I'd even go as far to say she has an outside chance of an individual medal, although I don't think it'll do the image of the sport any good to have a world champion called Piggy!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Road To WEG2010...er, sorry, Highclere! - 2 Weeks To Go

Rain Allows Cantering To Resume & Showjumping For Ducks

Sorry, feel free to stop reading this post as soon as it gets dull and skip to the next one....I'm note taking. I started this series of posts, so I may as well finish it.

A Little Canter Work
It's now just two weeks to Highclere, and we finally had a good dump of rain this week, which meant I could finally start some more serious canter work, and I have to say I'm very pleased with how that has gone.

Whenever I watch any video of the us cantering or galloping , it always looks so much slower than it feels, and it probably is. Anyway, our xc schooling field has a 1.3km circumference so I can easily measure out a mile, and with a very slight slope it's perfect for canter work, ground permitting. So armed with my 'big yellow' watch we trotted off.

It's now just under 3 months since I brought the horse back into work, and this is the first real opportunity we've had to do a bit of fast work. He absolutely loves the wide open spaces and as we trot round the field to warm up I can feel him grow in stature, take up a good contact, and start to drift sideways towards the cross country fences closest to the edge of the canter track. He's keen!

Friday, 13 August 2010

WEG2010 Eventing: Phillip Dutton vs. The Rest Of The World

Phillip Dutton - Rarely Out Of The Saddle
When you start trawling through his results you start believing this man has more horses than the Terracotta Army (they have 520 according Wikipedia), and he really could take on the rest of the world. I gave up trying to analyse the potential of the American team for the AllTech World Equestrian Games, when I unearthed his scoresheet, not to mention the fact that the US team has 16 horses on the 'shortlist' and USEF "reserves the right to add more". Add more! what on earth for? Four of these reside with non other than P Dutton.

According to US Eventing, Phillip is a keen golfer and tennis player, I don't believe he can possibly have the time, the man's permanently in breeches and probably has a saddle sewn into them for good measure! A wife and 3 daughters will do that to a man.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

WEG2010 Eventing: Brace Yourself - Ze Germans Are Coming

Chris Bartle - A lot to smile about now
The German Eventing Team Selections will be announced in a few weeks time after their National Championships at Schenefeld (26-29 August), and I think they could have possibly the strongest team overall.

Having a little German blood myself I've followed the ups and downs of the German team over the last 7 or 8 years with some interest, team coach Chris Bartle's look of dispair over the dinner table after the 2003 Europeans at Punchestown, winning then losing a Gold in the Athens Olympics, triumph at the Hong Kong Olympics, etc. etc. They've also performed pretty well at Badminton, Burghley, and Kentucky 4 stars for a visiting nation, probably second only to the Brits.

The German short list for WEG is:

Is 'Schooling In Public' Justified For WEG Preparation?

In 3 out of every 4 years there is a big team championship (Olympics, WEG, Europeans [or other continentals]) run usually in September, and during the months July and August you will see a flurry of "Withdrawn After Dressage" or "Withdrawn After Showjumping" for the short listed horses in the bigger ticketed one and three day events. The reason for these withdrawals is "Schooling in Public", where shortlisted team contenders will practice the softer phases in public to give their horses a little more 'big stadium time'.

The New Zealand WEG 2010 short-listers convened yesterday at Hunters Equestrian Centre for a training session, joined by a couple of Aussie short-listers, where they practiced 4* tests that were videoed and then reviewed. Short listed horses have experienced plenty of stadium time on their rise to the top, so the type of training that the NZL team and others perform out of the public gaze seems to me a very suitable type of schooling for team preparation and selection at this late stage.

Carry your bag sir?

Carry your bag sir?
Does anyone need a groom or an extra pair of hands at Blenheim, Burghley, WEG or any other event for that matter?

It's been a very long time since I worked as groom or pupil, or mucked out for that matter, but having recently sold my business I find myself with a fair bit of spare time on my hands over the next few months, so in between riding, blogging, annoying the wife and helping out with the children, I thought why not "see how others do it" [eventing that is], I should actually end up learning something that will help me with my own horse.

Monday, 9 August 2010

3 Weeks and counting to..... WEG 2010 Highclere

Horse's Flatwork: Improving | Rider's Flatwork: Requires Attention

Time ticks on and another week passes by on the road to our seasonal debut at Highclere Horse Trials. Last week I spent mostly concentrating on flatwork, partly because the ground was hard (no cantering on grass), partly because I needed the farrier to arrive (I don't like jumping on long feet), and partly because we needed to improve a few key dressage movements (and Vicky Spicer's top tips delivered via twitter spurred me on! ;-). I'm happy to report great progress in the flatwork to the point where, whilst riding, I was asked "what level does your horse competes at?" from an inquisitive Badminton winner, only to disappoint him will tales of how the horse wouldn't be competitive at Intermediate or Advanced due to 'wind' issues, and wasn't for sale anyway. A little boost for morale always helps though!

The week before Highclere will need to be spent on fixing myself, so I don't look like a bag of half eaten carrots mounted on a stunning white charger in the dressage arena. I need every 'good mark' I can muster!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Gatcombe, The Festival of British Eventing 2010 - Saturday

Saturday started early at Gatcombe, with advanced show-jumping under a light drizzle. The course, in the main arena, was quite tricky, it's Gatcombe so it's not completely flat, and had a few switchbacks, a double to a related distance oxer slightly downhill across the diagonal, and the dreaded planks, which were re-positioned as the last fence in the Novice Championship later in the day, and quickly became the bogey fence.

Particularly good rounds in the advanced included dressage leader William Fox-Pitt on Seacookie, and Cool Mountain, both clear but only Seacookie went on to run x-country as Cool Mountain is being saved for the WEG. Seacookie also went clear x-country, and held the lead in Advanced Section A almost until the end of the day, when Dan Jocelyn stormed round on the experienced Special Advocate to pip him into second place.

Nicholson Holding All The Aces For NZ WEG2010 Team

Nicholson - All Smiles
The New Zealand Eventing Team is one that never seems to have a smooth ride, generally. The much loved, but ever controversial Andrew Nicholson however is currently sat at the card table holding all the aces. With 4 horses listed on the selectors clipboard, 3 of which have nothing further to prove for a pass for the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, he can happily concentrate on his day job with a big smile on his face.  You have to admire this guy, he speaks his mind and let's his results do all the talking. I doubt there's any other rider that can match the sheer number of class horses he currently has stabled in Marlborough.

There is still one trophy missing from Nicholson's mantle piece that he'd dearly love though, The Badminton Trophy. He's been around the Badminton deer park more than anyone, 29 times (I bet the Duke of Beaufort hasn't even been round the park that often), yet the title still eludes him. 

Friday, 6 August 2010

Gatcombe, The Festival of British Eventing 2010 - Friday

Gatcombe Park
I'm extremely flattered to have been asked to contribute to Monty's blog, and hope that I'll be able to hold my end up, as I'm a big fan of Eventing and Horse Trials/Talking Horse.net. Although I currently live in Lexington, KY, home of the 2010 WEG, I'm an english girl at heart, brought up via Enid Blyton, boarding school, British Eventing etc, and nothing pulls at the heart strings more than returning to Gatcombe, home of Princess Anne, in the heart of the Cotswolds.

 It's hard to describe how picturesque and unspoilt this part of the world is; how refreshing to see hedgerows, grazing sheep and cattle dotted in sloping, patchwork fields, narrow roads littered with horse droppings - how I miss hacking out in the countryside!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Websites: Can you afford to get it wrong?

Sorry, time for a rant!

Normal service will resume shortly.......

For many years now my day job, and some of my spare time, has centred around building internet applications and running some pretty big websites, and it frustrates the hell out of me when I come across poorly designed, poorly implemented or out of date websites. Eventing is littered with plenty of poor examples.

One website I've visited today was more than 12 months out of date with comments about photos being available "as soon as they are available during the forth coming 2009 season", and this is the website of a major event, supported by a major eventing sponsor! The website has no more than a dozen pages so shouldn't take up much time to maintain.

So if you want your website to be popular here's my top tips for getting it right:

Time For a New Team Challenge

All this talk of team selection for the World Equestrian Games and the shenanigans that go with it has got me thinking - Let's have an alternative team competition format.

Now I'm not suggesting we ditch the current championship formats, but I do recon there's room for a fresh approach. Sit in the lorry park of any major horse trials with cool beer on a summer evening with a bunch of eventers, and guaranteed at some point the conversation turns to team selection.

Here's the thing, everybody has an opinion on who and who should not be in a team, nobody likes the politics and shenanigans that goes on behind the scenes, the GB Team selections for WEG2010 raised eyebrows and suffered plenty of criticism. Our team sport at present is all based around nations, this inevitably leads to background engineering to get the best horses into 'your team', hence you'll see a number of riders retain significant shares in their rides so the horses can't be 'repatriated' by owners.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Road To WEG2010...er, sorry, Highclere! cont'd.

Highlere Castle - our planned seasonal debut
Just weeks to go now until our seasonal debut at Highclere Castle Horse Trials (who does a seasonal debut in August?!), and a bit like the Australian WEG Team my own plans are a bit of a mixed bag at present.

The big white charger is actually coming along pretty well, fitness levels are up, weight is back to normal (perhaps a little too much), and show jumping nicely. One of things I'm desperate to improve our Dressage scores. Whilst he's never going to be a Nureyev in the ring we have managed some decent low-mid 30s marks, and I'm determined to re-capture and improve on these good tests. As I don't have a trainer on tap every time I ride, I've started videoing my flatwork sessions so I can review these, and start looking for the room for improvement.

I've just reviewed today's session, and there's plenty to do over the next few weeks! The video below shows the 'best bits' from today (I know, if that's the best bits boy there's lots to do!), and also one of my better tests. 

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Australian Team fielded for WEG2010 likely to be a mixed bag

In true Aussie style the team selection for the World Equestrian Games at Kentucky this September will be a last minute announcement. Probably just before the plane is due to take off!

The team they field though is going to be a very mixed bag with few if any choices. The Australian selectors, and a few riders who'd like to think of themselves as selectors,  prefer to select riders based on home territory, but for many years this has not been possible, nor is it ever likely to be. The depth and breath of the sport in GB is such that any aspiring international rider not to base themselves here, visas permitting, reduces their chances of success in the big northern hemisphere events. Hence numerous Aussie & Kiwi riders head to Great Britain to make their name.

In fact if Clayton & Lucinda Fredericks had horses to field this year, the strongest Australian team would probably be entirely GB based. As it stands the Fredericks duo, who competed at Hong Kong in 2008, are not expecting a call from the Aussie selectors, and Matt Ryan (triple Olympic Gold Medalist) is struggling to get 4 star rides after the retirement of Bonza Puzzle, not to mention his confusion over his own nationality. So this leaves the Aussie selectors with something of a mixed bag to choose from.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Wilton Horse Trials - Another 'Stately' Event

Dressage in the 'stately' surroundings of Wilton House
With a rare free weekend, and nothing better planned than cutting the lawns, I decided to go and take a look at Wilton Horse Trials, particularly as it's only a 30 minutes or so from home. So armed with digi camera & camcorder off I went.

This event is pretty new to the circuit held in the parkland and grounds of Wilton House near Salisbury. They run Novice and Intermediate over two days, and in many ways it's very similar to Highclere, extensive parkland, with plenty of ancient trees, undulating ground and home to cattle most of the year. Wilton probably uses a few more steep slopes than Highclere in their courses, which can mean the need for plenty of control. It also means they have slightly tougher challenges when it comes to preparing the ground sufficiently in dry weather.

Wilton Horse Trials - Photographs

One seriously nice grey horse
While I finishing blogging about Wilton Horse Trials (and wait for the video to upload), here's a load of photographs I snapped of my day down at Wilton. Some lovely horses, including a grey that looks the spitting image of my horse.