Monthly Archives: August 2017

Standing up for sportsmanship

GB’s eventers and Paralympians won gold medals at the European Championships and our dressage riders missed out. But they all reminded us that what matters most is giving credit to your horse – and the value of sportsmanship.

Some riders, at all levels, pay lip service to sportsmanship. Others mean what they say: take a bow, Carl Hester. His praise of his horse after the Brits came fourth and his comment that sometimes it’s good to have other teams at the top should be engraved on every rider’s heart.

I imagine that he knows, from experience, that it’s wonderful to be at the top but that no one can be there forever – and that when you get knocked off that top spot, you have to re-group and fight back.

You can prepare and prepare for a competition and accustom your horse to everything you think he’ll be likely to meet. However, no matter how many times you simulate hazards and distractions, he’ll still be a horse.

“He normally does a perfect rein-back, but he had his eye on the camera the whole time to see if it was moving,” said Carl when asked about a blip in his and Nip Tuck’s test. He didn’t blame the horse, he accepted that these things happen.

Nip Tuck, aka Barney, has been with Carl since the horse was a yearling. He isn’t the textbook picture of a perfectly conformed dressage horse and is listed on Carl’s website as standing 18hh. Add a hot temperament and you can see why it was so important that Carl had faith in Barney when many critics said the horse would never make it to the top; he’s admitted that there were times when even he thought Barney wouldn’t be able to progress as he has.

Top riders in all disciplines praise their horses when things go right and blame themselves when things go wrong. It’s particularly noticeable in the eventing world, perhaps because three phases give so many opportunities for pear-shaped moments.

But even when you can see that a horse was set up perfectly for a fence and glances off, nine times out of ten the jockey will put it down to rider error. Similarly, when training pays off and a rider who has really worked at dressage tops that phase’s leader board, it’s the horse who will get the praise.

Luck does come into it: two horses might tap the same showjumping pole equally hard, but it might stay up in one case and fall in the other. On the other hand, you can’t rely on it and in general, the more practice you put in, the luckier you’ll be.

Generosity of spirit, to your horse and your fellow riders, will take you a long way. It will also make you happier.

Riding for a fall

Have you made an involuntary dismount recently? If so, have you posted pictures of your bruises all over social media, or laughed it off?

Falls are never a laughing matter, even if you manage to raise a smile – as did showjumping legend John Whitaker. It’s great that John could joke about his crashing departure from Cassinis Chaplin in the Longines Global Champions Tour and rather ironic that the horse is named after the funny man of silent films.

But we can only imagine how he must have felt when, in the first few minutes after he hit the ground, he couldn’t feel his feet. Not the ideal way to spend your 62nd birthday – and anyone who claims John is too old to stay at the top of his sport is talking out of an unmentionable part of their anatomy.

Fortunately, John was given the all-clear. Hard on his heels came another legend, Olympic eventing medallist and cross-country course designer Ian Stark. More than a year after a horse he was riding fell over backwards, Ian discovered that doctors had misdiagnosed a serious pelvic injury and he had to undergo complicated surgery.

It’s a fact of life that if you ride, you’ll fall off or be ejected. The odds are that the better you are, the greater the likelihood that the fall will be potentially serious. We lesser mortals sometimes have trouble reconciling our centre of gravity with a horse’s, but riders who seem to have built-in seatbone adhesive rarely lose it. When they do, it tends to be in a big way.

So what can we do to minimise the risks, accepting that we’ll never abolish them? The first essential, says a friend who has broken in and produced more horses than I’ve had hot dinners, is to accept that it’s fine to be brave, but stupid to be foolhardy.

When she takes on a member of staff as resident CTD (crash test dummy: a sense of humour is the second essential) she doesn’t want someone who claims he or she will get on anything and never think twice about it. What she looks for is a rider who appreciates her ability to ‘read’ horses and knows that if she says it’s fine to take the next step, it will be.

Her current CTD is lightweight and as flexible as a rubber band. He’s also happy to listen to her, respects her judgement and loves horses. Magic.

The third essential is to not be stupid. It might be tempting to ride without a hat, but please think again. I interviewed a neurosurgeon who said his pet hate was women who rode without hats because wearing a hard hat messed up their hair.

“If they think that looks bad, they should see what a woman looks like when her hair’s been shaved off and I’m going through her skull to relieve the pressure,” he said.

Give yourself permission to be cautious. Call it risk assessment, weighing up the situation, whatever you like. Being a confident rider also means having the confidence to use your common sense and, when necessary, change your plans.

If your horse comes out of the stable like Tigger on springs, lunge him before you ride – it’s what my trainer friend calls “giving them a spin”. If his regime changes, check his diet and remember that you should feed according to the work done, not according to the work you’d like to do. If nutritional support helps, ignore those who scoff and say the benefits are all in your mind.

When you’ve done everything you can, accept that no one goes through their riding life without buying a piece of ground occasionally – and follow John Whitaker’s example by getting back in the saddle as soon as you sensibly can.

Kicking the guilt trip

Hands up if you spend half your time enjoying your horse and the other half feeling guilty, writes Carolyn Henderson.

Maybe it’s because you seem to only see your other half/family in the gaps between getting home and rushing off to ride. As for non-horsey friends – well, you might see them on social media, but as for conversations in real life, forget it.

And how about the guilty certainty that you’re a second-rate owner? You don’t have time to take your tack apart and clean it every day and sometimes – shock, horror – you ride without brushing all the shavings out of your horse’s tail. Even worse, some days you can’t find time to ride at all.

If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Here are some suggestions that I hope will make you feel better:

1.The fact that you feel guilty means you want the best for your horse/other half/family. If your life is so perfectly organised that you don’t suffer occasional twinges, you must be either Superwoman or Superman. Have you seen any riders wearing underwear over their breeches? Me neither.

2.Having a passion might make you a more interesting person, or easier to live with. In the interests of research, I asked my husband what he thought I’d be like to live with if I gave up horses.

He turned pale and said, “It would be awful.” Before I had time to feel hurt and even more guilty, he added that the fact that we had different interests meant we had plenty to talk about. (We have been married for a very long time and you have to work at these things.)

He also highlighted our unspoken deal that we do things together that take these interests into account. That means I’m due for another trek around an RSPB reserve; I suppose you can’t have everything.

3.More seriously, riding and looking after horses helps keep you sane, fit and active. The older you get, the more you appreciate that. If it wasn’t for a combination of pushing wheelbarrows and Pilates, I reckon I’d be living at half the pace.

4.There are people who dismantle and clean their tack every day and whose horses are always impeccably turned out, with never a hair out of place. The first ones are called grooms and the second are professional riders, owners with grooms or owners who keep their horses on full livery.

I’ll stick to making sure bits are rinsed off and there is nothing on my tack that could irritate a horse before I ride, and cleaning it thoroughly once a week. If I occasionally leave an odd shavings flake in a tail, I can’t see when I’m in the saddle, so who cares?

5.Above all, remember that no one’s perfect. If you do your best, your family and friends still recognise you and your significant other still loves you, you’re doing well.

Exciting times for Annie Joppe and Fantom!

Fantom is quite the most difficult horse to train.  At home, he seems to have the mentality of a riding school hack where all the motivation is kept for the return journey.  However, this is coupled with almost miraculous transformations into the flying horse.  How to read these extremely exciting moments?  A case in point today was a lunging session over raised poles where, to start off with, he was pretty indifferent then in the blink of an eye he transformed into a snorting, leaping monster.  They do say a good horse has to have attitude, don’t they?

It was Dilmun’s turn for a competition with the Inter-regional championships at Cirencester Park.  Despite Dilmun’s protests, bathing was a must and every conceivable part was washed and the very white parts, whitened.  We duly arrived at Cirencester, erected a good-sized corral for Dilmun with a fair covering of grass and went to check in.  I was gone all of 5 minutes and when I came back there was just the remains of one poo in the corral, the rest being stuck to at least half the side of Dilmun’s fly rug.  Obviously, this seeped through and turned my immaculate white/grey horse into a skewbald: just love this horse!

I would like to say the day of Dilmun’s race dawned fair but it was raining, not hard but in that annoyingly soaking way for most of the race, making the going slippery in places with mud in the woods.  Dilmun is such a professional, knowing his job inside out.  We started at the front because we could and trotted and cantered around the 80 kms presenting in less than two minutes at each vet gate.  We were in the veteran section and duly came 4th after I misread the markers and went off on a jolly of my own, letting two competitors from rival groups come in ahead of me (you’d think I wouldn’t make those mistakes after all these years!).  Despite this, however, our group, the south west, came second and hopefully my mistake didn’t rob us of first place.

Dilmun enjoyed his day I think but that is the last race ride he will do as he no longer has the appetite for the training necessary to compete at that distance.  After a long holiday, he will have a quieter time with shorter rides and ruling the roost at home.

Three days after getting back from Cirencester we were on the road again.  This time off to Euston Park on the Norfolk/Suffolk borders with Fantom for the final selection of the squad for the European Championships in Brussels.  After a super quick trip (7 hours) we arrived at leisure, walked Fantom about a bit and just chilled.

The following day when everyone had arrived we were required to go out together on the 20 kms loop which would be used as part of the weekend’s competitions.  This went smoothly and Fantom behaved well, enjoying the near perfect going.  Following this we had to do one-mile loops at set speeds with short resting periods in between.  Just after this we were told that we had been SELECTED FOR THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS!

Since then I have been sorting and cleaning everything I will need to take with me (and there is a lot!)  I also decided to sort and clean everything in the tack room so busy, busy.  At the assessment, lactic tests were again made and Fantom’s fitness had come on in leaps and bounds (literally) and he was just about ready to rock!  This meant that since then we have had a couple of good training sessions but work has now reduced to more gentle exercise (also safer for both of us!).

In the meantime, I have been studying the information available about the course and the venue.  The venue is actually in Brussels, situated in a park surrounded by roads and the city and the course is apparently through the beautiful Foret de Soignes and surrounding area. This promises forest tracks which I am told are undulating with many twists and turns and the going encompassing areas of deep sand and also hard tracks.  In other words, expect everything!  As I have been planning for this Championship all year (actually planning started the day Fantom qualified last year), I have done my best to condition and prepare him for most eventualities so fingers crossed it all goes according to plan.

We’re now almost ready to go with Fantom being newly shod and me still debating whether to clip him as he has such a fine coat and feels the cold: shivering could be disastrous in the vet gate.  We leave on Sunday with the Championships now in a week’s time – yikes!

Recent success for Ben Haslam Racing


I must apologise as I have been particularly useless this month at getting my hooves to the keyboard! I have no excuses really, except that I have been terribly busy training one particular horse, but more on that later!
We got July off to a flyer from a rather suprising source, when the rather mysterious Camanche Grey (left) ran an absolute belter at Hamilton to come home in front in the 5 furlong handicap, recording his third career victory. Not an easy horse to predict, it was his first run on soft ground and he seemed to love it, demolishing the field by 2 and a half lengths. He was given an absolute peach of a ride by Robbie Fitzpatrick, who deserves plenty of credit as he wouldn’t be the easiest ride. He has proceeded to run well this month, finishing 3rd another twice, and is hopefully developing some consistency in his old age for owners Derek Barclay and Paul and Wilma Heseltine. He certainly looks a picture, and hopefully may be able to add to his tally again this year.
We have seen some other nice performances this month which probably went under the radar: Cup Final really pleased us at Market Rasen in the Listed Summer Plate Chase – his jumping stood up to this much sterner test than he had previously faced, taking his fences exceptionally well for a novice, and whilst he just lacked a bit of speed and experience he ran on nicely at the end. There should be a nice race in him down the line over a longer trip. Quiet Moment showed too much speed over 6 in first time blinkers last week and didn’t get home, but she runs on Monday over 5 furlongs and it would be nice to think she could go close for patient owners Ontoawinner and Trojan Horse. Cherry Oak has also had three outings for the same syndicate, along with Daniel Shapiro and David Clifford: still a little weak, she has shown us a really good, game attitude, finishing 3rd and 5th on her last two starts, and she should be a nice prospect for nurseries: you cannot fault a filly who tries!
Finally, the reason I have been so busy recently! I have been closely monitoring the progress of Percy (Prancing Oscar) (left), who has to be one of the best looking horses on the yard, and came to the conclusion that he has been showing enough in his races for me to lend him some of my precious time (I also thought Ben wasn’t doing a good enough job, but don’t tell him that!) I decided upon a suitable race – who doesn’t want to be at Wolverhampton at 9.00 on a Monday night?!) and swiftly set about training him to handle the bends. We went round and round the top field, doing some fairly serious exercise drills, until finally he got the hang of it and I could stand still and watch him from the middle (breathing a little hard, I must admit!). I made sure I accompanied him to the racecourse, and ensured he knew exactly what he was meant to do – and boy did he do it! Given a quite exceptional ride by Oisin Murphy, the pair set off meaning business and led pillar to post to prevail by a neck over the insufficent mile trip. We were over the moon for owners Middleham Park and Spee Fox-Andrews, and there should be loads more to come from this chap. He will get at least two furlongs further on the flat, and even more excitingly I see a few sets of hurdles in his future – and boy I can’t wait to teach him about those! Not the fastest son of Sir Prancealot ever born, it’s true, but definitely one who is going to be around giving his owners fun for a while to come!

Until next time,



In praise of schoolmasters

Schoolmasters (and mistresses) are worth their weight in gold – as long as you get the real deal, writes Carolyn Henderson.

The Mum who posted online looking for a jumping pony schoolmaster doesn’t stand a chance. She wanted a “kick, point and shoot” pony that was guaranteed to take her daughter around 85cm courses.

She’ll probably find one, but that pony won’t be a schoolmaster. He’ll be a robot, and her daughter will learn very little from riding him.

The true schoolmaster is the horse or pony who knows its job inside out and will jump confidently/perform that perfect lateral movement if the rider presses the right buttons. If the rider asks the right questions, the horse will give the right answers; if the rider gets it wrong, the horse will set his own agenda.

The best schoolmasters I’ve known seemed to have a sense of humour. I know that’s anthropomorphising, but I can’t find any other way of describing it.

One was a beautifully schooled gelding who would turn and stay perfectly in balance from subtle weight aids. If you got it wrong and used too much inside rein, he would put himself in shoulder-in and stay there.

When you realised what you were doing and made a correction, he’d float across the school. You could imagine the thought bubble floating above his ears: “At last! I thought she’d never get it.”

The other was a former advanced event horse who, at the age of 18, still enjoyed showjumping. His proviso was that the rider had to establish a canter rhythm and stick to it; the moment you tried to hook back or ride for a long one, he put the brakes on.

It was a salutary lesson, because those brakes could lock on in an instant. It got the message across to riders who couldn’t help themselves trying to adjust their horse’s stride, no matter how many times their trainer told them that their job was to get the horse to the fence in a good rhythm and the horse’s job was to jump it. I know – I was one of them.

Most horses are in their teens by the time they reach schoolmaster status. They’re hard to find and they need and deserve every care we can give them. The best trainers protect their schoolmasters as fiercely as they protect their family, and heaven help you if you blame the horse for your mistakes.

So what if a schoolmaster has a few lumps and bumps? So what if he comes out a bit stiffer through his joints than he used to and needs nutritional support, careful warming up and so on?

Give him all he needs, and if that includes regular massage treatments, appropriate manipulation and downright mollycoddling, good for you. It isn’t just that horse who will benefit – it’s every horse you ride through the rest of your life, thanks to what the schoolmaster has taught you.

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