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Keeping the fun in competition

Pushy parents have a lot to answer for, says Carolyn Henderson


When a friend broke her ankle and asked me to help her seven-year-old daughter at a local show, I thought it would be a fun day out.


Children…ponies…friendly competition. All enjoyable, character-building stuff, right?


Wrong. For every half dozen happy combinations out to enjoy themselves, there seemed to be a fraught child being hissed at from the ringside by an anxious parent. Worst of all was the sight of a little girl trotting around the ring on a lovely but obviously sensitive pony, her hands clenched on the reins and tears running down her cheeks.


When the judge pulled them into line, she walked up to this little girl and had a quiet chat with her. Moments later, the rider was walking the pony out of the ring, the steward at her side trying to encourage her to relax.


Later, those in the know explained that the child had graduated from an elderly, confidence-giving pony to one with lots of potential in the hands of a more experienced, confident jockey. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it wasn’t working out.


Image: Smiles and success at a JumpCross competition


There’s nothing wrong with being competitive. As an adult who rides native ponies, I know that there are plenty of kids with killer instincts mean they will do anything bordering on legal to win. They ride like demons and often have ponies to match.


But I don’t think it’s always been like that, and I hope there are still shows where fun and competition are synonymous. In my Pony Club days, which admittedly were a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, pushy parents underwent mandatory lessons in sportsmanship and there was a huge scandal when the innocent winner of a best turned-out class told the judge that Mummy had spent three hours cleaning her tack.


There may be a fine line between encouraging a child to overcome nerves and pushing too hard, but no one wants to see it end in tears. And while it’s great to see fun classes where everyone gets a rosette for completing a task, or jumping a little clear round course, healthy competition can provide good education. If you don’t learn that you can’t win ‘em all early in your life, you certainly will later on.


We probably all know of talented young riders who get to the stage, and the age, where they announce to ambitious parents that they don’t want to do this anymore. That’s when the tears come from another quarter – from those selling “dream ponies” because it turns out that the dreams were theirs and not their children’s.


You can imagine how I felt when my friend’s daughter came second in her best rider class but wasn’t particularly thrilled by her blue rosette. Was she turning into a diva who thought only the red ones were worth keeping?



“I wanted a yellow one,” she said. “It’s the only colour I haven’t got.”


The little girl who had been placed third said she had lots of yellow ones but only a few blue and red ones and offered to swap. So they did, and both agreed they’d got exactly what they wanted.


What more can you ask for than that? And if you’ve got any advice on keeping competition fun, please tell us.

The best of the British at Windsor

With a trailer full of immaculately clean horse, tack, crew kit and necessary human and horse accessories, we headed off to Royal Windsor arriving late morning after a swift and uneventful journey. Wonder crew Kiwi arrived from Holland and we were all set with a good friend, Spencer, doing the pre-ride vet trot up for us.



With Chiara being such a go go horse, I decided to start at the back letting the leaders canter off into the park before I trotted through the starting flags. This worked like a dream and, although we managed to catch a few up quite quickly, we notched up a steady first loop which included an exhilarating circuit around Ascot racecourse. The vet gate though was a nightmare with Chiara all over the place and never still. It was soooooo hard for the crew to take a pulse and, indeed, undress her but eventually this was managed and she passed the first vet check so on to the next loop. We were in a groove and this loop passed effortlessly but again culminated in a rather fraught vet gate with a still over-excited Chiara.



The third loop passed uneventfully except for the obligatory Canadian goose attacking at speed as we passed. Luckily he didn’t manage to get airborne before we passed him! Vetting was a bit easier and quicker this time although it was evident that Chiara had a few rubs from her numnah and girth which were swiftly changed and extra protection added.



Chiara was still going easily and happily on the last loop so we maintained our speed overtaking a few stragglers and managed to finish in 10th place best of the British; what a horse she has turned out to be!



The following weekend we were off to the Golden Horseshoe ride on Exmoor this time without a horse but with the accompaniment of the crew dog, Kira. Unusually for the iconic Horseshoe ride, this was a weekend of sunshine, good going and a lot of good completions with a smattering of gold awards. Even with good weather this is a tough ride with the main Golden Horseshoe Class doing 160 km over two days over some of the most demanding terrain in the country. I must confess I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend watching my fellow competitors and helping out with the parking, the large pleasure ride class and the EGB Facebook feed.



Following Fantom’s good performance in Dorset, he had a week off and then training has built up in preparation for the 1* in Norfolk later this month. This training has been mixed with good steady sessions on the sand track around the very large daffodil field where he has been rather switched off, interspersed with a couple of interval training sessions coming up through the dunes from the beach where he was rather more interested and attempts at steady canter work around the cross country fields which resulted in ridiculous behaviour and even a cutting short of the session when it was clear I would not be able to achieve my goal for that session.


A few days ago we went to Dartmoor to do some training with a friend. With the largely dry warm weather we have been experiencing, Dartmoor’s going was near perfect and we managed to do some really excellent work using the very, very long pulls up to the top of the tors and walking down as extended interval training. Fantom enjoyed this and coped very well; it certainly raised his heart rate. With just over two weeks before his 1* Fantom’s training is almost complete with another interval session next week and some schooling and lunging over poles, he will have completed his preparation.



Chiara has had three weeks rest after Windsor and has now come back into some gentle work and schooling as the start of the build up to her first 3* attempt at the King’s Forest in July.


Dilmun continues in light work waiting for a window of opportunity to up his fitness so that he can do one or two competitions towards the end of the season and Wizard, of course, is continuing to enjoy his outings with his new jockey Emily and her children with their ponies.

Team Bussey - Success Overseas

India and Atiya have had a busy few weeks competing abroad, starting with the youth show at Lampreschtausen, Austria from 18th to 21st May.


Atiya and Chesterfield Z


After an amazing performance from Atiya and Chesterfield Z at the European Viewing trials, which took place at Chepstow International at the end of April, they were selected to jump on the Children on Horses team (one of six combinations), representing Great Britain in Austria. On the first day they jumped a super clear round gaining a place on the Nations Cup team of only four combinations. Atiya’s other horse, Ego, also jumped a blinding clear in this class to take the win out of over 40 combinations from all around Europe.  


India and Billy Colman were also super speedy, narrowly missing out on a win in the first of the Junior classes, coming 2nd. They then continued this form for 4th the next day. India’s other ride Goldenboy also improved massively over this week, gaining some experience in the 1.40m classes.


After a day off jumping for Chester it was time for the Nations Cup. As the first members of the team to jump, the two produced a lovely clear to put Great Britain in a strong position going into the next round, and they ended on a total of 4 faults.  In round two Chester jumped another super round to end on an unlucky fence, but with two other team members jumping outstanding clears Great Britain ended in 2nd



We were then delighted to hear that Atiya and Chesterfield Z had been selected to represent Great Britain again at the Dutch Youngster Festival, Wierden, and India and seven-year-old Billy Colman were also given the opportunity to jump again! This meant that we had to leave for Holland just a week after our return home from Austria. After the drive, the horses soon settled in before jumping started on May 30th. The good form was started yet again by India and Colman coming 7th in the 1.35m Juniors.


The next day Atiya and Chester were also clear and 7th in the 1.25m Children on Horses. On Friday this was then followed by a super double clear (one of  only five) in the Nations Cup securing 5th for the Team.



India and Colman also jumped round the 1.35m fast and faultless just missing out on a placing. On the last day they flew around once again, fast enough for a top three finish, but unfortunately just touching the penultimate fence. Atiya and Chester then made their class, the Children On Horses Grand Prix, worth the wait, being one of 7 clears in the first round, out of 45 starters and then claiming 4th with another fence free round! 



All in all it has been a very busy, yet successful month and we thank Feedmark for their support in helping to keep the horses happy, well, and healthy with their supplements; helping with the heat, physical exercise and travelling!




The age of the throwaway horse

A horse is not a sofa, writes Carolyn Henderson


It’s a fact of life that a horse or pony may change homes several times during his lifetime. Often, it’s for understandable and unavoidable reasons – but sometimes, it isn’t.


We live in the age of disposable goods. It’s easy and simple to get rid of a sofa you’re fed up with and the knock-on effect is that we’re also in the age of the throwaway horse.


The adverts are heart-breaking. “Must be gone by the weekend” says a social media post with a picture of the sort of horse you see at every riding club event. “Offers welcome.”


Other posts are even worse. “Want rid of” is the blunt and callous post about a little piebald yearling.


Recently, a woman in Stoke-on-Trent found a pony in her garden. It turned out that her granddaughter had responded to a post on an online adverts site from a woman who said she didn’t want the pony any more and that he would be put to sleep if no one had him.


The girl gave her grandmother’s address and the pony – a skinny little colt, covered in mites -  was dumped there. He’s now in the care of World Horse Welfare, but this isn’t an isolated case.


If you have a horse you need to re-home, you need to accept your responsibility and do right by him. That has nothing to do with affection. Good dealers aren’t fond of the horses they sell, but they try and make sure they go to suitable new owners, not least because their professional reputations depend upon it.



Sometimes, doing the right thing means doing the hardest thing of all. If you can’t sell a horse because of his age or a soundness issue that means he can’t be ridden, you might decide to find him a home as a companion, with safeguards in place.


That isn’t always easy. In some cases, it won’t happen. That’s when you have to ask yourself whether it’s better to end a horse’s life than to risk him falling into the wrong hands.


Offer a home to one of those unwanted youngsters or “summer projects”, as long as you know what you’re taking on and will accept responsibility for the animal if things change or go wrong. If you have the patience and commitment, you might be able to write a happy ending to his story.


Just look at Blue Cross Jack. He was found abandoned (above), and three years later, he’s qualified for a showing championship at this year’s Royal International Horse Show.  Sheila Henry took him on and did the groundwork to introduce him to riding and driving, and her friend Lacey Smith (pictured) rides him at shows.



It’s a fantastic story, and it’s lovely to know that Jack’s future is secure. If only the same were true for all those whose owners “want rid” of them by the weekend.


Horses might be working animals rather than pets, but they deserve respect. Anyone who can’t accept that should stick to sofas.

Heroes for horse people

Think about the heroes who have shaped your horsey life. You might surprise yourself, says Carolyn Henderson


Can you remember your first hero of the horse world? I thought I’d found mine in 1968 -  a 21-year-old showjumper called Marion Coakes.


She won an Olympic medal on a 14.2hh pony called Stroller and I dreamed of doing the same, even though the nearest I got to competitive showjumping was building fences on the lawn and persuading our dog to tackle my course.


What I didn’t realise until I was much older, and saw another generation of starstruck girls idolising Ellen Whitaker, was that horse world heroes come in different guises and play different roles.


At the time, you might not even recognise them. One thing they have in common, though, is that their influence stretches farther than you might think. (image credit: e-venting.co.uk)



The most important is the person who shapes your riding and your attitude to horses when you start out. Marion and her super-pony were dazzling, but in hindsight, my first proper hero was a wonderful woman called Daphne Riggall.


She and her sister ran a small riding school and had a hierarchy of ponies. You knew you were progressing when you graduated to Pinto, who did what you asked him to rather than doing what he knew he was supposed to even when you didn’t ask. You knew you’d made it when you were allowed to ride Banshee, a grey Welsh cob cross Arab who needed the lightest aids and let you know when you’d overdone it.


“Ask nicely and he’ll behave nicely,” she would say. “If you’re rude to him, he’ll be rude to you.”


You can imagine what a great life lesson that was. Many years later, another one came via Jenny Baillie and Yvonne Nelson. They showed me how horses could change lives.


Jenny and Yvonne founded what was to become the Fortune Centre for Riding Therapy. They pioneered the use of riding and horse management to teach life skills to young people with physical and/or behavioural issues.


Silhouettes of horses painted on the walls of their indoor schools showed riders how to keep a safe distance from the horse in front. By learning to respect a horse’s space, they also learned to respect other people’s.


The day I visited, pupils were excited by the prospect of a visit from a former member of staff. That was one Carl Hester, who stayed for two and a half years and gained his British Horse Society Assistant Instructor qualification there.


Carl is high on my list of heroes and, I imagine, on that of most people. It isn’t just his talent and empathy with horses that makes him so special, it’s his selflessness in letting Charlotte Dujardin keep the ride on Valegro.


After all, Carl co-owns the horse (with Roly Luard) after spotting him and buying him as a two-year-old. How selfless and clear-sighted must you be to leave a horse that showed so much potential with another rider, albeit one you trained?


Just look at the number of top class horses he has produced. He doesn’t come from a wealthy background and he’s bought every horse for relatively little and produced it from scratch.


If your 13-year-old wannabe dreams of emulating his success, and has the same natural ability, empathy and determination, who is to say that he or she couldn’t do it? Being realistic is one thing; treading on someone’s dreams is another.


Those are my top three heroes. I haven’t used the word “heroine” because horses are no respecter of gender – or race, or orientation, or looks, or anything else.


There are many more, including the evergreen Mark Todd, Andrew Nicholson and John Whitaker – and not just because I can tell myself that age is a number and as long as they keep riding at top level, so can I, at a much more modest one.


I mustn’t forget Caroline Burt, who as publisher for J A Allen encouraged me to write my first book. You may know her better as Caroline Akrill, author of some of the best horsey books you could read.



I remember ringing her up and wailing that I was halfway through the dreaded book and had got myself into a literary tangle. “We all hit problems, dear,” she said. “Forget about it for a few days and come back to it. It will all seem much clearer.”


So I did – and it did. That advice was a great life lesson, too. Without it, I would have married the wrong person, but that’s a different story!


Who tops your list of heroes, and why? Whether it’s a star rider or an unsung hero, we’d love to hear about them.

Summer dresses and champagne in the sun

The flat turf season is now in full swing, and for once the weather is living up to racegoers expectations of summer dresses and champagne in the sun (admittedly, this is rather less the experience of those working behind the scenes in the stable yard, but it is a lovely thought!)



The blazing heat has led from the horses sloshing through bogs to suddenly running on something that resembles the A1, but the racecourses have generally done an excellent job at maintaining safe ground, which is so important for all of our peace of minds!


After an excellent start on the all-weather this year, our horses are taking a little bit of time to adjust to the turf, but we are slowly getting there. Unfortunately our grass gallops went from bog to road pretty much overnight, leaving us little time to get up them, and some of ours have just shown this in their running style.


However, we were delighted to get our final winner of the 2017-2018 season over jumps, bringing our total to five from a very small team of national hunt horses. We were particularly delighted that it was Ever So Much who rounded off the year for us, as he is a horse that is very close to our hearts.



He arrived here four years ago from Ireland, still a maiden after eleven starts. However, he quickly showed a liking for English soil, winning his first four races for Ben within a time frame of fifteen days, all under the magnificent A.P. McCoy – not a bad effort, and he was as fat as the end as when he started! (He is the thoroughbred equivalent of a Shetland pony with his belly…)  Since that impressive run of things, he added three more to his tally, but last season it looked like 7 might be the limit as he wasn’t showing the same love for the game that he was, and talks of retirement abounded.


However, given some time to come to himself and relax, he started to feel a different horse at home again, and so we took him to Sedgefield with no pressure, and just hoping he enjoyed himself. He travelled an awful lot better into the race, and coming to the last looked set for an honourable fourth under Richie McLernon – but both horse and rider showed the heart of lions, and put in a valiant surge up the hill to grab the race on the line in what must have been one of the most exciting finishes of the year! We were over the moon for the horse, and his very patient owner J.P. McManus – it feels all the sweeter when the path to the winner’s enclosure throws a few obstacles in the way!


Moving back to the flat, we were very excited to take Castle Hill Cassie (right) to York for owners Ontoawinner. York is an absolutely first class racecourse, and having a horse good enough to run there during one of their big meetings is always incredibly exciting (and very difficult!) Another filly who owes us nothing, she is yet to finish out of the top 4 in any of her races, and has won three of them. Still improving, she got bogged down in the mud in her run before York, finishing a nice 3rd still, but we hoped the faster ground would bring about some improvement.



Plenty of champagne was consumed to calm our nerves – thankfully the filly took it better than we did – but she did look a picture, despite being very unfancied at 20—1. She travelled through the race like a dream, and coming into the final furlong was the last one off the bridle. Getting a bit excited now, we were all screaming our heads off – however, Cassie has her own mind, and whilst very genuine, once she thinks she has won she tends to ease off the gas a little. Unfortunately for us, a horse was coming hard and fast on the opposite side of the track, and she couldn’t see it to get into a battle, but she ran an absolutely fantastic race to be second in a very competitive race. She is improving all the time, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds.


Finally, we are extremely excited to get started with Feedmark’s new initiative, Formulate!, a supplement specifically designed to suit each horse, eliminating the need for unnecessary additions to their feed. This is very exciting in the world of fussy thoroughbreds, which do tend to start turning their noses up to over complicated dishes! I am excited to learn more about this fantastic idea in coming weeks, and cannot wait to see the improvements it makes to our string.

Fun in the sun

Early morning rides, farmers’ tans and beach rides where you remember not to ride on the promenade – it’s all part of summer as a horse owner, writes Carolyn Henderson.


Summer is just around the corner. In my circle, we’ve been saying that since May; it was mainly to encourage ourselves as waterproofs started to feel more like second skins, but now it’s true.



For horse owners, summer means special times. Some might seem a little different to those outside our world, but if they strike a key, you’re a true horse person. You know it’s summer when…


  •          The alarm goes at sunrise and you leap or creep out of bed, depending on whether your sleeping arrangements are solo or shared, for an early hack or schooling session. If your horse is stabled, this allows time for you to give him a small amount of forage/high fibre feed and let him digest it.
  •          If you’ve crept out of bed, your other half either remains in oblivion; wakes up, decides it’s all a bad dream and goes back to sleep; or says something unprintable. Whatever, you’ve done your best. If he or she disagrees, point out that you could do a lot worse.
  •          You slather yourself with Factor 50 but still end up skewbald – brown face, arms and neck and the rest an unflattering white. With a lot of practice and clever stuff in a bottle, you can even it up. Well, more or less. High maintenance friends of both sexes say the only answer is a spray tan, but if you’ve got horses, how do you find the time?
  •          Even routine jobs seem more enjoyable. Sit out in the garden, soak up the sunshine and clean tack. Even better, sit out in the garden, soak up the sunshine and bribe your kids to clean tack.
  •          You can give your horse a bath without worrying whether he’ll get cold. Nothing beats the pleasure of seeing a gleaming horse with white bits you can only look at when wearing sunglasses. Always take a picture – he’s guaranteed to roll the minute you turn him out, but it’s great while it lasts.
  •          While the non-horsey members of your family will the temperatures to rise and the rain to stay away, you worry that the ground will be too hard to canter on, let alone jump. You’ve got to get your priorities right.
  •          The evenings stay light for so long that you can catch up on all the jobs you’ve been putting off. If your nearest and dearest use your image as a screensaver so they can remember what you look like, you can always suggest that they help. The “You could do this so much better/quicker than I can” works wonders.
  •          Even your farrier is in a good mood. If mine happens to read this, I must add that he’s always in a good mood – except when it’s cold and raining and my Fell pony unties himself and does a runner just before the last shoe goes on.
  •          If local legislation allows, you can treat yourself to beach rides and forest hacks as well as competitions. Check these, and tide times, before you go. The rules for my nearest beach say that “No person can ride a horse or any other animal on the promenade”, so don’t be tempted!
  •          You can make time to just be with and watch your horse. It isn’t self-indulgence, it’s a chance to get away from pressure and give your brain a chance to re-wire itself. Who needs fancy names like mindfulness when you’ve got a horse?

  • You agree to and even look forward to a holiday, but arrange for whoever is looking after your horse to send daily pics so you know he’s OK and not pining for you. We all do it, and who are we trying to kid?


So what are you looking forward to this summer? We’d love to know.

Dressage superstars Nikki Barker and Olivia Oakeley become Ambassadors for Formulate!

We are pleased to announce exciting new partnerships with International Grand Prix Dressage Riders, Nikki Barker (nee Crisp) and Olivia Oakeley. They have become Brand Ambassadors for Formulate!, a revolutionary new way to supplement, which allows you to create an all-in-one supplement, completely bespoke to the individual needs of your horse whether in the dressage arena, show jumping, eventing or simply hacking.


Two of the UK’s most talented International Dressage riders, Barker and Oakeley understand the importance of keeping horses in tip-top condition for competing on the world stage and which elements of nutrition and wellbeing you need to think about to ensure your best Dressage performance.


As well as regularly competing at the highest levels, Barker runs Nikki Crisp Dressage Training Camps throughout the year in Newmarket, Suffolk and clinics around the Country, and Oakeley runs Oakeley Coaching and Personal Training services at Woodington Training Centre in Hampshire, providing a wealth of insights and advice on performing at your best.  


The new brand partnership will see the rising superstars working with our nutritional experts to promote equine health and nutrition throughout the 2018 Dressage season to help riders understand how they can support their horses to keep them in prime condition.



Nikki Barker comments: “Dressage is a highly demanding discipline and requires your horse to be calm, loose and supple. Ensuring your horse is getting the right nutrition to support its joints, muscles and overall condition is vitally important. Feedmark really understands these specific requirements and Formulate! makes it possible for the first time to supplement the exact levels your horse requires, all in one supplement, helping to support my horse in the Dressage arena.  It’s a fantastic idea.”  


Olivia Oakeley comments: “There is so much to think about when competing and Formulate! makes it very easy to supplement. In just one scoop I can be reassured that the correct nutrition is there for a great performance, reducing the need to transport multiple tubs to events along with everything else, making supplementing quick and easy.”    



Emily Smith, Director of Nutrition at Feedmark, comments: “We are delighted to welcome Nikki and Olivia to the Feedmark family. It’s going to be exciting working alongside them this season to ensure that Formulate! provides the right support for those competing in Dressage at all levels. Every horse is different, Formulate! has been created to support each individual, helping your horse to perform at their very best whatever you do with them.”

Take five minutes to make a difference

Sharing a snapshot of your horse’s health can help boost equine welfare in the UK, says Carolyn Henderson


This week, you can make a vital contribution to equine health and welfare in the UK. It costs nothing, but the benefits are priceless, and it will take you five minutes.


All you have to do is fill in a survey. It isn’t the sort that tells you what your name would be if you were a unicorn, nor the kind which supposedly tells you what sort of horse you’d be by analysing your personality traits.


They might be fun, but this one – the National Equine Health Survey – really matters. Run by Blue Cross in conjunction with the British Equine Veterinary Association, it’s the only survey that gives a snapshot of general equine health in the UK. This enables vets and researchers to understand what’s happening now, and plan how they can continue to improve health and welfare.



It also helps us, as “ordinary owners”, to check that we’re doing the right things for our animals and to be aware of risk areas. This applies as much to those of us who have had horses for donkeys’ years as to first-timers.


It’s frighteningly easy to fall into the trap of following a practice because you’ve always done it that way. While the premise of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” may apply in some scenarios, it can also cause lasting damage.


For instance, minimising resistance to wormers is a problem across the whole animal health industry. Perhaps inevitably, its importance has been overshadowed by the fight to minimise resistance against antibiotics, but it’s something we as horse owners must be aware of.


Years ago, best practice was considered to be worming every horse every six to eight weeks. Now, we know that we should get faecal worm egg counts carried out every eight to 12 weeks from around March to October and treat horses according to the results, while always carrying out targeted worming against species such as encysted redworm.


FWECs are simple to arrange and in many scenarios, turn out to be cheaper than indiscriminate worming. Yet last year’s NEHS showed that a third of respondents didn’t carry them out, and of those that did, only a quarter of them did so at the correct intervals.


The survey highlights misconceptions and pinpoints where education should be targeted.


Its results are used as primary source material by researchers. For example, it’s played an important role in tracking the rise and prevalence of atypical myopathy, a disease which is often fatal, in the UK. Greater awareness leads to focused prevention and treatment, thus saving lives.



Last year, more than 5000 people took part, from one-horse owners to London’s Metropolitan police mounted branch, pictured here by Blue Cross.


So between 21st and 28th May, can all we “ordinary owners” take five minutes out of a day to complete this survey? That really would be extraordinary – see www.bluecross.org.uk/nehs and your horse, and thousands of others, will thank you for it.

Feedmark's Formulate! is the official supplement to Badminton Horse Trials

We are incredibly pleased to have launched Formulate! a revolutionary new way to supplement, which allows you to create an all-in-one supplement, completely bespoke to the individual needs of your horse. 

As the Official Supplement Partner to Badminton Horse Trials, you can get the first glimpse of Formulate! at the Feedmark stand, in the World of Horse Pavilion from Wednesday 2nd May to Sunday 6th May, 2018.