Monthly Roundup: January 2018

As part of my blogging goals for 2018, I am focusing on doing more on the website, and trying to get into a good posting schedule beyond the posts I do on social media. One thing I am doing as part of this is reviving the ‘monthly roundup’ posts that I tested in late 2017 – a summary of everything we got up to in the previous month, which is a great way for you all to catch up on the various posts I put up across all my channels throughout the month. Typically, you should expect this roundup to be up on the blog in the first week of the month, but I am sorry to say I am a bit behind schedule with the first one of 2018! February has been a particularly busy month for me, so forgive me for being late with the January roundup. But better late than never eh? So here it is…

Willow & Paddy get acquainted!

Paddy Makes Progress

Does anyone else feel like I’ve been talking about Paddy coming back into work for forever?! I know I do! The initial prognosis from the vets was six months off work – a combination of box rest, small paddock rest, and gentle walk work during that time. An assessment from our vet halfway through this showed that he was making good progress, so after four months I moved him from in hand/walker work to ridden work. However, he felt somewhat stiff and just not 100%, so I took some videos and brought him back to our vet for another checkup. We decided to rest him for a further 6-8 weeks, and do some in-hand walking in that time – I was in no rush to have him back in work, and wanted to give him every chance to come back fighting fit.

I followed his program as diligently as I could (it’s not always easy when you’re on the top of a mountain, trying to rehab a fresh horse in the depths of an Irish winter!) and brought him back to the vet halfway through the programme for a final checkup. I was unbelievably nervous going back to the vet, as we hadn’t exactly been getting the news we hoped for both of the previous times we were there. I guess it really is third time lucky, as my vet was happy with the progress Paddy had made following his rest, and gave us the all clear to ‘kick on’ with our fitness plan for the Eventing season ahead. I can’t tell you just how emotional that moment was for me, as I felt like our journey back to ridden work was a long one, and full of plenty of bumps along the way. As an owner you become quite doubtful and paranoid – watching every step, analysing countless videos, doing unnecessary Googling – it creates anxiety in you, distracts you, and even causes sleeplessness.

We’ve been rehabbing rail, hail, shine – or snow!

A good support network is absolutely critical for any horse owner going through a situation like this – I plan to write a separate post about the value of a good network, but you need to surround yourself withn experienced and supportive people who have your best interests at heart. I am lucky to have a vet, farrier, yard owner and good friend who are all experienced, but most importantly pragmatic – they give me solutions, talk me down when I am panicking, and gently let me know when I am over-reacting. I really believe that everyone needs these people in their lives.

And so, Paddy has been ‘kicking on’ – by the end of January, he was cantering on the lunge, schooling in trot under saddle, and even had a little trace clip at the end of the month as he’s now doing enough work to actually sweat! I will continue to ramp up his work and assess how he is coping with each session – and step it back if ever I feel concerned. I am in no rush with him. More on his journey on the Facebook page, and in next month’s roundup…

Willow Goes Hacking

I absolutely adore Paddy and his endless talent, however one thing I wish I could change about him is his lack of interest in hacking on the roads! He is not a fan, and would much prefer to be in the arena, on the beach, or out cross country. As time has gone on, and trust in me has been established, we venture a little further down the roads, but I can still tell he isn’t enamoured with it. So when I had the chance to produce a baby from scratch with Willow, I promised myself that I would produce a horse who hacked, and who enjoyed it! Hacking is a great way for horses to see the world, add variety to their training, and create a more durable horse in the long run – working on varied terrain conditions the horse’s legs to cope better and prevent injury.

I wanted Willow to see hacking as a normal activity from day one, so together with my yard owner who helped me to break her, we long-reined her up and down the roads and lanes around our yard before we even backed her. The roads in our area are very quiet, and many of our neighbours also have horses and are considerate of them on the roads, which makes this much easier.

Horse Hacking Wicklow

Willow loves to hack!

Once we backed her, I pretty much got her going on the roads after just a few sessions – hacking her down to the end of our long lane and back after every session. This created a positive association between hacking and the hard work being over. We then ventured a bit further with a ‘babysitter’ – an experienced, non-spooky horse, who would be safe with a baby horse potentially running up their bum, or spooking sideways beside them. We used our ‘babysitter’ to show us the scary things on the roads were safe – wheelie bins, big walls and gates, and even bends that we couldn’t see around. All these can be scary to horses!

However, I need not have worried, as Willow is a naturally forward-thinking horse, and quickly grasped that hacking is easy and fun – there’s lots to see, and if she’s very good she gets to go on a long rein! She very much has established a positive association with hacking, and I can happily hack her on new routes alone without issue.

Here’s to a Summer of hacking ahead!

She also loves to jump!

Willow Does Dressage (and some Jumping, too!)

Seeing as this blog is all about my journey into eventing, I figured I better try and get my new baby horse accustomed to a few of the eventing disciplines too! Having established some confidence over small jumps, I decided to enter Willow into a local unaffiliated Combined Training league – these shows are a great way to expose young horses to a show environment, in a more relaxed atmosphere. She had only been away from the yard twice before, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but we had to start somewhere.

The first week was a bit of a mixed bag – she was understandably unsure when she got off the trailer, and I was extremely nervous, having not done dressage in just shy of a year. This did not inspire any confidence in Willow, and when we got to the warm up I could tell she was lacking in confidence, as she had never seen a dressage arena or a judge’s car before – and so I got even more nervous! This translated directly to our test, where we got stage fright halfway down the centre line, and completed our test a bit further away from C than I would have liked! The judge was extremely fair, using all the marks available – giving us a 2 for our moment of stage fright, and just a few movements later giving us a 6 for a nice relaxed circle in trot.

At least the plaits looked good that first week…

She then went on to produce a lovely clear round in the jumping, and was totally back to herself after a couple of jumps – this she was confident in and new her job. I could not fault her in any way on the day as she was reacting exactly as I should have expected her to, given it was her first time between the white boards – I myself was just not prepared enough to help her, and let her down.

So I made it my mission to get my s**t together for the following week and do my wonderful horse justice. I booked a lesson with my yard owner to give me some tools that I could use if Willow should become unsure – to get her focus back on me, give her something to think about, and help her to feel confident in herself. I plan to do a full write up on this lesson (I am so behind schedule on all the posts I need to get written!) as it was one of the best lessons I have had, and I can tell you that I came away with three tools that really worked for Willow and I. I kept these in my mind from the moment I turned off the ignition at the show the following week until I dismounted after our jumping round – and what a difference they made. We came out with a score of 70% in our dressage, and a clear in the showjumping to come second in Willow’s second ever show! We went from a 2 for our centre line to an 8 – what a transformation.

Louise O'Brien Photography

We were so lucky to have the wonderful Louise O’Brien Photography there to capture us on the day we took 2nd place!

Each subsequent week passed with no more ‘stage fright’ and continued improvement in confidence, and placings! We were never out of the ribbons each week, and didn’t knock a single pole showjumping over the five weeks – which went a long way toward giving us good points on the league leaderboard! The final was in February, so I’ll be referencing that in our February roundup, but for those of you who follow us, you’ll know that we ended up WINNING the league! A much-needed boost after some long hours, late finishes and early starts, and reminded me why I work so hard at this sport, even when it’s not always going my way.

Boswell Equestrian Centre

We won the Combined Training league! Yay for Willow pony!

Willow goes XC Schooling

Willow has proven herself to be a very brave little mare, always thinking forward and loving her jumping. The prospect of eventing her this year is becoming a very real one. To start this journey I took her cross country schooling to Barnadown, who are running a mini One Day Event league in February and March. We started doing some of the baby fences, with a ‘babysitter’ horse who gave her a lead over everything. We then progressed to some of the bigger fences, finishing up on a small course of 70-90cm. She was super! It took her a few goes to become more sure of herself jumping down off the banks and into the water – this is normal with young horses who have never jumped off a drop before, as they are not footsure – but we kept doing it up and down, up and down, until she was just popping off out of her normal stride. This is the best way to teach a young horse banks and ditches – just trot quietly up to over and off them until they do it out of their natural stride, nice and easy. Paddy struggled with ditches when I first started schooling him and I was told this by Ciaran Glynn in a clinic, and it massively helped us both.

Barnadown Cross Country

Assessing the lay of the land at Barnadown!

Playing with new products

We’ve also been busy testing some new products which I hope to start publishing reviews of on the blog very soon! They are:

  • Pro-cush XC whip – I got this as a gift from a friend and so far I really love it
  • Back on Track Royal Quick Wraps – I won these in a competition from Equine Therapies Ireland, who are the first Irish distributor of BoT products in Ireland. This is my first time using a Back on Track product, and so far I am a huge convert!
  • Leroy & Bongo 2018 planner – I bought one in 2017 and loved it so much that I purchased it again in 2018! Full review to follow.
  • My Horse Box subscription – I did a review of the July Box for My Horse Box last year and loved it so much that I purchased a subscription for myself in 2018. I did an unboxing video for the January box which you can see here
  • Woof Wear Riding Wellies – I bought these as a gift for a friend but they ended up being too small for her, so I kept them for myself! Absolutely love them so far, want to test them a little bit more before reviewing.
  • Equiami Lunging Aid – I bought this on the recommendation from a physio and a friend to help with Paddy’s rehab, and to build Willow’s topline. It took me a few goes to figure out how to use it, but so far I’m seeing a real difference in how both of the horses go. Stay tuned!

So, a very busy January to kickstart 2018, no wonder I’m feeling so tired! February has also been extremely busy – hence why I’ve been so late publishing this roundup – so I look forward to sharing that roundup with you in a week’s time!

Until then,

Natalie xo

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