Look mom no hands!

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Show jumping was so last season.

So it would seem was walking with all 4 feet on the ground.

We would be spending the best part of the summer going to shows, paying good money to enter classes, getting into the ring and then spinning around and waving at everyone who had so kindly come to watch us.

This happened at the next few outdoor shows, I wondered whether Red just wasn’t suited to local outdoor shows as there was so much hanging around, too many other horses, maybe the spring grass was affecting him, maybe being turned out overnight was affecting him. I was running out of excuses for him and we were leaving every show defeated, deflated and with no fillies even in touching distance. What had happened to my bouncing Tigger?

I decided to try an indoor show at a venue he was very familiar with and had been winning at until his about turn in May.

But –  same thing happened, he was jumping the practice fence OK (not brilliantly but no napping), things were looking up.

He walked round to the entrance, trotted in fine, jumped the first jump OK and then as he came past the gate and was asked to jump away from the gate put the brakes on and went straight up in the air. To say I was disappointed was the understatement of the century. We persevered for a while but he just got himself into his usual frantic, sweaty state and managed to wedge himself up against the gate and I was worried his waving feet were going going to get caught which would put an end to his bounce once and for all!

Yet again we were led away with our tail between our legs. We untacked, loaded and went home in silence and with a heavy heart.

This went on at various venues over the summer until he also started doing it at home, it got to the point where he would not even walk over a pole at home – the vet had been out to do a lameness work up which showed very little & he had been put on a calmer which did very little. We were at a bit of a loss.

I had a couple of more experienced riders school him at home and at other venues to see what they thought – whilst they did get a tune out of him and wouldn’t give in to his tantrums as easily as I do the general consensus was that he was fearful of something – although we couldn’t work out what.

He really didn’t like jumping anymore, I blamed my riding to start with and then wondered if that XC ride had taken him out of his comfort zone (and mine) and we had lost confidence in each other. I wondered if there had been an occasion where he had hurt himself (I couldn’t think of one) and I was constantly worried there was a physical reason he was like this even though teeth, saddle, back, feet were all up to date.

I had always wondered about ulcers since his previous owner said he was very girthy and when we viewed him they held his head tightly so he couldn’t bite (I had unfortunately not been so vigilant on occasions and had a few love bite scars to prove it). I enquired about ulcers and they just said ‘that’s just how he is’ so I didn’t really think anything more of it…until now.

Tigger lost his bounce

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June 1st 2014 – the day Red decided to down tools and not want to be a jumping superstar anymore.

Looking back there had been a few hiccups leading up to the day he threw all his toys out his pram and we got asked to leave Chilham Park, however at the time it came as a sudden and upsetting (not to mention embarrassing) shock that our perfect, kind hearted, brave as a lion Tigger wouldn’t even go in the ring let alone jump any of the jumps.

After the Wye Ride we were on cloud nine, I was so chuffed with how Red went and how forward going he was over all the fences that I decided to enter us on to an Eventers Challenge competition.

We had a month to prepare so I took Red to Denne Hill XC course to practice, we went all on our own which I don’t think was the problem as he left the trailer fine, we jumped quite a few of the jumps absolutely fine and he was showing great bravery jumping brick walls, concrete tunnels, brush fences and gates – it was when we came to an area where he had to go over a jump with a ditch, down a slope and up the other side that the brakes went on, he started to nap backwards at great speed and threatened to rear – I could not for the love of God get him to even go past this section let alone through it. He was shaking, foaming, google eyed and seemed genuinely fearful of something. I was not going to get off, nor was I going to quit and go back the way we came. We were now at least a few miles from my mum and dad who came with me and there was literally no-one around so I had to tackle this on my own or I could be creating a very bad habit that he would learn he could get away with.

It took me a good 30 mins and a lot of drifting away from where I wanted to go and an alternative route around this horror jump but we got past it and on we went.

Another stretch of great jumping brushes and logs and I thought we were back on track….

Then we jumped a big (it looked big to me anyway) wall into a wooded area that lead down to a series of steps to go down and up the other side – cue huge tantrums again, this time backing up into a wire fence and losing all ability to think properly and almost throwing himself and me down a massive ravine. This time there was no way around so we had to jump the wall again to get out and find another route around – this took another 30 mins and the tantrums were getting stronger – I had no idea what had set these off or how to stop them – he was dripping with sweat and the veins on his neck looked like they were about to pop.

I tried to calm him down and he was just about breathing normally again when we started to head for home, there was one more field to go through with some small schooling jumps that I thought would be a good way to end the day on a positive note but he wasn’t having any of that either, he had now decided to just plant himself mid canter and try and get me off, if I put my leg on he would rear, if I tried to steer him he would just pull me and drift in the opposite direction – then the last straw was the farmer opening the gate to the field we were in and letting about 300 sheep (Red’s absolute pet hate) run in and head straight for where we were standing. I did get off at this point as I had no idea how he was going to react to that but I figured it was not going to be calmly….

We survived the sheep, made one frantic call to my parents and led him back to where they were. I couldn’t leave like this so I got back on and persevered with him and actually got him over some pretty hefty logs, through the water and over some steps (after some strong negotiation).

We did leave on a good note, eventually! And I decided to just write that day off as a bad experience and crossed my fingers and toes tightly that there would be no steps or ditches at the Eventers Challenge Competition in a weeks time.

The Wye Ride 2014

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We had been out to local shows (jumping & dressage) for quite a few consecutive weekends so I thought a change of scene was in order. Red had been jumping fantastically both indoors and at some of the early spring outdoor shows and as nothing seemed to phase him I thought we would join some friends on the Wye Ride.

I had done this on Millie a couple of years ago, I don’t know whether I was incredibly stupid or incredibly brave but I took her on my own, in a snow blizzard and to be fair to her she was fab! We didn’t jump many of the jumps (not surprisingly) and it was a bit of a mission getting her to the venue and back in the trailer to get her home again but we both survived and I was super proud of the little madam that day…

Fast forward to 2014 and this time aboard the ginger ninja off we set again…..

I don’t think I have ever set off at such a speed! Someone suddenly remembered they were once a race horse and as my eyes watered and I tried to catch my breath we were already half way round the ride.

Red LOVED it, if he could have smiled he would have. I have never seen such pricked ears.

He was literally dripping with sweat from his eyelids to his feet, he jogged all the way round (when he wasn’t flat out galloping or trying to rear as he became impatient with having to wait for other people)

He jumped pretty much everything and as we came to the last downhill stretch of jumps he felt like he could do it all again with ease. I let him go at the top of that hill and just prayed to god that he would decide to jump and not stop or run out…he did jump bless him, at great speed but with great height (those lessons were all worth it) and as we galloped through the finish line we were both grinning from ear to ear. I don’t think Red had ever done a sponsored ride and I don’t think I had ever done one quite that fast…..or bouncy.

From now on the artist formerly know as Red was now affectionately referred to as Tigger.

Back to school

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Although we were coming away from most events with frillies and smiles all round, we kept coming away with 3rd and 4th place and I know that I said I was just happy to be competing after the traumatic experiences we had with Millie but I knew Red could and should be winning and I knew I was letting him down.

We went through a long phase of having one pole down in every class, regardless of height, although he did seem to jump a lot better when the jumps were bigger (or maybe I just rode better)

I knew my reins were too long (despite my mum always being ring side shouting ‘shorten your reins’) and I knew I didn’t use my leg enough (despite my mum shouting ‘leg on, leg on’) and I also knew I was so focused on remembering the course and so thrilled just to be leaving the ground that I forgot to actually ride once I was in the ring and Red thought ‘if she’s not bothered why should I be’ so I went on the hunt for a jumping instructor to help us out.

Luckily we only had to search 3 miles from the yard – we started going to clinics at Goodnestone Equi Training with Alex Hudson (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Goodnestone-Equi-Training/192922240778471) who started to sort us out pretty quickly. She saw straight away that Red was meandering around aimlessly, that he wasn’t using himself properly and that we didn’t have the required energy to jump a course successfully. Alex got us working on 3 canter gaits, positioning into a jump correctly, how he should be cantering in the turn leading up to the jump and how to ride him away from the jump and set him up for the next one.

We also attended the grid work clinics at Alex’s which were fab for getting Red to use his eyes and improve his athleticism – Red got the hang of these grids better than I did bless him.

After a few months we started to put all this practice to the test and woo hoo, we started winning. I started riding properly, Red started picking his feet up and the allusive red frillies were rolling in 🙂 thank you Alex!

Frillies, frillies and more frillies

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I was finally winning some frillies that didn’t say ‘Well done for completing the sponsored ride’.

They weren’t red frillies, heck they weren’t even blue ones but I was over the moon and back to be getting out and about with the worlds easiest horse and getting round a course of jumps.

Red did me proud and I know probably would have done a lot better without me on his back, but he was tolerant of my jumping rustiness, he corrected his own stride when I got it wrong, he luckily kept breathing when I held my breath and I swear more than once he remembered the course when I didn’t.

Red was a little superstar, he would jump anything and everything. Pink pig fillers no problem, gates not an issue, water trays easy peasy, brick walls absolutely – there was never any hesitation and he just seemed to LOVE jumping, and the more we did it the better we (me as he was already fab) were becoming.

When he wasn’t being a jumping superstar he was being a fab happy hack, a fantastic horse for my partner to learn on and generally just the perfect all rounder we had searched high and low for….we had struck gold.

What a difference a horse makes….

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After having Millie for so long its hard to describe the elation you feel when your horse does simple things. Simple things like tie up outside its stable without trying to hang itself every 5 minutes, things like stand still while you get on instead of waiting for you to precariously insert your foot in the stirrup and then do a triple somersault backwards and throw itself on the floor, things like load into the trailer without an army of people waving yard tools at it and cracking a whip up its backside, things like stand still in the field to let you put a head collar on rather than run rings around you for an hour until its dark and you have to go home and then giving you the finger as you walk away defeated yet again.

The bonus on top of all these simple things was that Red could also jump and he was rather good at it. He had been with his previous owners just over a year, in which time he had jumped up to Newcomers with the daughter and competed in dressage with the mother I think up to Elementary (I wasn’t listening to be honest – he was sold the minute he stood still for me to get on…that was worth the thousands of pounds alone)

They said the reason they were selling was due to his scope and the daughter was well on her way to becoming professional and they just didn’t think Red was the horse to take her any further – I can understand that as he can be a bit lazy and sometimes he just can’t be arsed – bit like me. However,  seeing as getting round a 1ft 6″ clear round would be a huge improvement on the previous years achievements I thought he was up there with Arizona Pie and I was young Sarah Brown.

Off we went to tack clean and polish our boots – just in case Anthony Hopkins was watching at our first show……