So today began pretty well… my rising 4 year old walked (more or less) straight onto the lorry, it took 25 minutes yesterday… She travelled quietly, for her, and once we were at the lovely Becky Crosbie-Starling’s Yard (Clifton Equestrian) she got over herself much more quickly than usual – result! She loaded up ok to come home – I forgave her that though, there was a loader taking the muck heap away and a huge sprayer in the field just behind the lorry so she was more than a little distracted!
After spending 45 minutes cleaning and preening my number 1 pony, Pea, it was time to get going for our first session with the amazing Tim Brown who was teaching a clinic at the incredible Casewick Stud, belonging to the lovely Nicole Mills. I was nervous to say the least – i’m having a few issues when it comes to my ability to ride in general, couple this with the fact that I used to love watching Tim ride and my brain went into overdrive – “You’re not nearly good enough to be riding Pea, let alone in front of Tim…”etc. etc. The hour long drive was awful – I almost convinced myself to turn around more than once but I kept trucking and eventually arrived at Casewick (after a slight detour).
The place is stunning – there are no other words for it – it genuinely is the stuff of dreams. A beautiful yard of wooden loose boxes surrounds a grassy centre and the yard walker, two wash and prep bays sit under a quintessential archway and the arena – well, i’m not sure words will do it justice. Built within three red-brick walls that would have originally enclosed a kitchen garden or similar, the surface is wonderful to ride on and the full set of show jumps that were set up were second to none. Nicole has got everything at Casewick Stud absolutely right!
Due to my detour I was running 5 minutes late so Nicole took my session with the second of her two rides – the talented Fearless W. Watching for the first half an hour settled my nerves slightly and I popped Pea’s bridle on feeling a little happier about what was to come. Tim’s training style is fab, he analyses everything about you and your horse, both individually and as a partnership and then helps you work through issues, one at a time.
We started our session warming up as I would do anywhere. Focussing on my terrible hands, that seem to have a life of their own when I’m riding, Tim suggested that I should imagine holding a small steering wheel – this brought my hands closer together and slightly higher off Pea’s neck and encouraged me not to fiddle but to gently ‘twiddle’ the reins. Pea was produced by the amazing James Sommerville and I am incredibly lucky to be riding him now. As you can imagine my ‘amateur’ riding style differs immeasurably from James’ professional one and it’s taking a little time for Pea to adjust and for me to attempt, completely ineffectively, to harness his natural exuberance and obvious talent.
Once we had, mostly, sorted the hand issue, we looked at Pea’s canter and Tim felt that we were ready to get jumping. I have a real thing about ‘missing’ when I jump. Despite Tim believing I have no issue in seeing a stride, I feel I would like to see the occasional correct one..! We began with a small(ish) cross-pole which Pea jumped beautifully, moving on to a parallel with a water tray underneath, Tim noted that I throw away my right-hand and have a nasty tendency to grip with my thighs when I jump – this could result in me being too far forward when we land – and Pea certainly let me know about it by bucking and squealing around the arena when it happened!
The rest of the session is a little bit of a blur, apart from the bit when Pea jumped me out of the saddle and left me unbalanced which in turn caused him to bolt and motorbike around the arena and me to VERY nearly fall off – at least my grippy thighs are good for one thing! I became very frustrated with myself (to the point of getting a bit privately teary – something I very rarely do) as I kept mis-judging the stride Pea was on. He is one of the most genuine, honest and talented horses I have ever had the pleasure of sitting on and all I feel I am doing is blocking his movement rather than helping him.
I think Tim was getting a bit frustrated with me too – my mind begins to work overtime and I over-think everything and then close down both physically and mentally. After working out that my right-side is a lot weaker than my left (due to a twice-torn achilles heel) Tim was able to shout the right things at me which got me riding again – the final round of six jumps was by far the best and I would almost go as far to say that we were nearly harmonious. I’m sure Tim would agree there is A LOT to work on but if we can start our next session where we left today’s I’ll be happy – progress is progress wherever you start from!
I was very very lucky to do the job I did with BEDE. It offered me the chance to watch and learn from the best riders in the world on a very regular basis. Organising events from BE80T right through to Belton CIC3* gave me the opportunity to watch people progress, to learn how the pro’s do it and to understand why amateurs and professionals answer questions given to them by their horses in very different ways (after all no-one is perfect and horses aren’t machines).
However, whilst I still consider myself to be very lucky, I spend so much time with the pros that I sometimes, very ridiculously, forget that I am not one of them… My posture is terrible, my legs aren’t strong and my hands do silly things without me wanting them to but I am trying, really really trying, I am, mostly, enjoying the journey and I am determined to find my ridden confidence again one day!
But for now I’m going to mope into my cup of tea and dream about having my own arena so I can practice practice practice, after-all it makes perfect, doesn’t it..?