Published by Horseplay.ie
It is almost impossible to believe that it’s nearly time for Christmas. Early December is an excellent time to start writing your list for Santa-after all,he might need to organise a bigger sleigh……
First things first. We Irish are obsessed with the weather. Constant scrutiny of the weather forecast is prerequisite if you live an outdoor life with horses. Trying to fit working two horses in between a tornado and a thunder storm is an art form in this country,and you better get good at it if you want to survive. Or you could ask Santa for an indoor school. What must such luxury every day be like???? Imagine staying PERFECTLY DRY riding your horses. Imagine not looking windswept and interesting all the time. No one would recognise you. So come on,Santa. Start strapping the cladding onto the sleigh and get the sand lined up. We have all been VERY good,all year……
Next on the list is a string of top jumpers. You would look pretty shit hot jumping Bella Donna around a 1.10 in Cavan. Fit For Fun looks like a bit of craic too.For the eventers,Faerie Dynamo and Wesko look handy enough to do alright at the next Olympics,so add them to the list whilst you’re at it.
Now You’ll need something to travel your horses around in. I quite like the pop out side lorries with all leather interiors and a polished oak finish. A jacuzzi would be a nice touch to help you relax at the end of a tough day in the saddle. Room for at least six horses is a must (Bella Donna likes her space,you know). Throw in a couple of grooms and there will be no stopping you now. From the jacuzzi to the saddle and back again. This is the life,chaps.
When you get to a show,it’s important to look the part. You have taken care of most of the Christmas must-have essentials, but now you’re into the really important stuff. When jumping your amazing horses that Santa has brought you, you need to look classy both in the ring and in photos. The secret weapon here is the right saddle. Finest hand crafted French brands are the way to go,with decent knee and thigh blocks. No matter how shit useless you are,you will still always look superb in the air. You can kit out your horse in a matching bridle,breastplate and boots too. Don’t forget some fancy tricolour stirrup irons and a matching helmet,plus a collection of at least two hundred of the most expensive bits you can find.Now you’re winning.
Finally, you’ll need some designer clothes and sunglasses. To make sure Santa doesn’t make a mistake,peruse the most over priced equestrian websites you can find to select the perfect breeches,shirts and jackets. Even the socks. Bella Donna can’t possibly jump like that if you are wearing Aldi socks,so don’t let her or Santa down…….
Merry Christmas,folks xxx
Published by Eventing Connect
Setting out to buy or breed horses is the pursuit of the often elusive dream-to find a horse with raw ability,an exceptional mind and the capacity to go through the levels to the top of his game. These horses do exist,but they are like hens teeth and are often stumbled upon by sheer accident. What exactly is it that sets a horse apart from an average joe? Of course,big movement and a careful jump are prerequisite,but it’s the brain that makes the real difference. A horse willing to listen and learn,pay attention to you yet also always ready to think for himself,be brave yet also careful,be kind but tough-hes the horse we are all looking for. This near mythical beast does exist,but more often what happens is that you get some of what you want-enough to lull you into a false sense of hope-but not all of what you need.
Horses with ‘The X Factor’ are immediately far nearer the limits of their locomotive capabilities than their more dobbin like counterparts. This obviously means that they are total utter disasters that never cease with shoe pulling,injuries,cuts,lameness and general near-suicidal destruction of themselves. You will spend enough on vets bills annually to buy you two houses in Barbados and three holidays a year for every year you persist in training this knob of an animal. You will carry on,certain that this horse is ‘the one’ and that Olympic superstardom is a mere formality if he ever manages five minutes with all four shoes on and no bits missing……
Along with the constant physical challenge of preserving a superstar horse comes the far worse mental one. These horses tend to be workaholics and vastly intelligent. They need constant mental stimulation and they turn into something from the seven circles of hell if left to their own devices. They spook,they sometimes nap (recalcitrant arsehole version,not snoozy sleepy version) and they are always a jump ahead of you. This is super-useful when approaching a treble of corners,but it’s a total nightmare trying to set up for a half pass. They are often mentally hyperactive in the stable too-untying themselves,opening every stable door no matter how well locked and barricaded and taking off/shredding rugs and bandages are more or less a given with a superstar horse. They pass their time developing noxious personal habits such as wind sucking and breaking apart their stables. Superstar horse is often a real challenge to patience and sanity.
So what’s the solution? There isn’t one,really. If you live by the sword you also die by it and this has never been more literally likely than when you are attempting to train your obnoxious prodigy equine. You could lower your standards and find a less talented horse,but where’s the fun in that? Who doesn’t love walking with a permanent limp and living on value baked beans? Totally worth it. Probably…….
Published by Eventing Connect
Sable recently wrote a great article about young people in the sport and the rider/parent/coach dynamic. It was very thought provoking,especially as I had a childhood less ordinary and now also have a child myself. My mother had a saying-‘you learn nothing from the easy horses’ but I strongly disagree. My early education with horses was akin to a downhill toboggan ride after one too many eggnogs-no one knew what they were doing,it was all very blurry and there was no way to stop. Plus vomiting and headache were more or less guaranteed…..
My catastrophe started when I decided to teach my polo pony to do dressage. My polo career was short lived,I was atrocious at the game. Since I can neither throw or catch,it was probably a logical assumption that adding a horse and a stick into the equation wasn’t going to improve matters. However,I had quite a big argentine thoroughbred gelding with a parrot mouth and an attitude problem. The team tactics were always ‘Christa,don’t try and hit the ball. Take out the opposing number 3 and we will take care of the rest’. My horse was fast and tall,and he was a bastard for biting in a ride off. We actually won a national championship this way……Anyway,dressage. Seems inoffensive enough? Well that depends on the horse…..during that brief stint I contested two dressage national championships with my angry argie,won a few rosettes and a trophy,received a ban from the the Pony Club and a yellow card from the affiliate dressage society. He broke my nose three times and on one occasion I fractured my shoulder blade in a mesmerising mid air triple spin and back flip crash after feeding him too much. You might think my mother would have been horrified and immediately rushed out to get rid of him,whilst searching for a safe replacement for her darling child. And you’d be wrong. Way wrong. She in fact began actively seeking out psychotic horses that no one else wanted to ride and when she ran out of those,she started breeding them instead……
There was Patsy,the parrot mouthed thoroughbred with a habit of regularly rearing over backwards. There was Archie,the 17hh thoroughbred who would have put any bull on the PBR tour to shame. There was Fury,the ‘Broken to ride but only when he remembered’ chestnut gelding who totally rearranged my face,causing me lifelong health issues. The list goes on and on. I kept going,sold on the notion that if I managed to get these horses going,I was a shoe in for the next olympics. I had NO idea what I was doing,I was getting hurt repeatedly and I was 28 years old before I realised that I needed to make other choices. Somewhere along the line my ambitions and dreams went out the window. I’m a decent rider and a successful young horse producer,but I fail to believe it enough to make the next step because it was bet out of me. Every day,my body aches. I am on medication daily to be able to do simple things damaged by horses-things like breathing and moving. My life is very different now,I have two very nice mares plus a husband who tolerates me well and a beautiful little boy. And herein lies the point.
I am terrified to let my son Charlie near horses. He likes to sit on my retired eventer and they are great pals, but at the moment Charlie isn’t that interested unless it’s a tractor. The relief is huge for many reasons-mainly that he’s not horse mad,so hopefully I will never have to let go of the leadrein and trust a horse with my most precious love. Also he is probably like his father-good at EVERYTHING. I couldn’t possibly cope if he was better than me at riding……!! I jest,mostly…… Loving tractors means he can spend time with his father in a tractor (nicely freeing me up to ride) and also tractors are better than horses. You can leave them out in all weathers,they do useful things every day and they don’t go lame very often. I just couldn’t imagine ever letting my child loose on a psychotic horse,’for the greater good’. I can’t believe it happened to me,repeatedly.If he wants to ride, I will seek out the best and most reliable animals I can find. He will be on the lead rein until he is 22. He will learn how to ride normal easy horses and if one day he happens on a tricky one,he can say no-or he can use his carefully honed ability to give it a try if it is safe to do so. This is not a poor me sob story,it is an illustration of the damage done by a parent who pushed their child too hard and too far in all the wrong directions. Parents,you have a responsibility to allow your children to learn and grow in a safe environment. If that environment includes horses,then you need to be doubly careful. Don’t worry about fancy equipment,rosettes and national trials. Worry about fun in a safe capacity. That can never be the wrong answer.
Published by Eventing Connect
European eventing has just about wound up for the winter now,and so begins every rider’s most hated time of the year. The dreaded off season.It’s not all bad though,you just have to know how to survive it by breaking it down into manageable steps.
Step 1) The single most important tool for surviving the off season is next season’s calendar. Frantically checking the eventing website 4000 times a day throughout November from every device you have is totally necessary. Eventually,the relevant association will have the dates up. Print off AT LEAST five copies and laminate. Download to your phone,iPad,desk top etc. If you are genuinely a die hard eventer,you will have the calendar as your screen saver. Keep a copy in the tack room,the car,the lorry,on the fridge and beside your bed.
Step 2) Work backwards. First event 5th of March 2016? Right. So you will need to have had three bits of fast work,some cross country schooling, at least six days out showjumping,some interminable dressage shows,many lessons in all disciplines,hacking,lungeing and allow an end of season break. Which brings you to today.It can be a good time to utilise your skills with pie charts,line graphs and colour coding, as it is vitally important to stay on schedule.
Step 3) Take a break. Event riders are USELESS at doing this. All manner of noxious personal habits resurface when you and/or your horses are on any kind of enforced rest. Injury breaks are bad enough but at least there’s amusement in trying to Jimmy off plaster casts with a tyre iron. End of season breaks are like an itch you just can’t scratch. Microscopic pouring over videos from the season and scrutinising your results will leave you desperate to get straight back to it,but the stupid horse needs a break and your husband is whining about never seeing you,so you have to relent. Easier than divorce I suppose,although constantly looking at your watch,twitching slightly and drumming your fingers might fast track that process regardless….
Step 4) A handy distraction mid-offseason is of course,Christmas. Destined to strike fear into the heart of any horsey man or woman’s other half (not to mention the pain in the wallet),Christmas can be a superbly useful opportunity to further preparations for the upcoming season. Only nine weeks away,which is the perfect time frame for breaking in new long boots or saddles,and more than enough time to get the hang of driving a new lorry…..Santa is rarely so generous,but you get my point. Men struggling for gift inspiration for their horsey partners,just cut the crap and buy a voucher for the local tack store. We don’t want you to ‘use your initiative’ or ‘pick something yourself’ for us. We don’t care about fancy jewellery or new shoes ( unless they are the newest state of the art horse shoes,obviously). Tack shop voucher. I promise. Fail safe.
Step 5) Enjoy it! You will be so busy getting your shit together with training,competing and managing farriers,physios and fortune tellers along with your every day life and work that it is easy to get totally lost and bogged down. Wrestling mud covered feral horses into some sort of prospect for next year can be very tedious. Every productive day is another half percent improvement for next season. You have SO MUCH to look forward to! Embrace each day,as its one less day in your way en route to next season. It’ll soon be time. Until then,would you for gods sake SIT DOWN AND CHILL OUT……
Published by Horseplay.ie
The Irish weather is a thing of legend worldwide. Along with the stereotype of always being drunk,we are apparently also always getting rained on. It rains many more days than I am drunk,that much I do know…..After an unseasonably dry and warm October,November has hit us hard with storm after storm landing without any let up. For me personally this is particularly difficult as I am juggling hoses with looking after my little boy,farming a suckler herd of cattle and running a haulage business with my husband. Bad weather means cattle have to come in,the arena is permanently flooded,the roads are dangerous and the child is housebound. It’s hard to believe how exhausting this combination of factors actually is……
Even the most civilised horse will become a raving maniac in the high winds,and it gets all the more alarming in the winter. At this time of year,horses in work are generally clipped. A clipped horse in high winds creates a real dilemma-you want to keep the horse warm,but using a quarter sheet can descend into a scene from Ali Baba and his flying carpet. Jumping fences is mostly best avoided,as fences that keep blowing down as you approach them is probably very confusing for the horse-four faults for looking at the jump? That just seems excessive….. Schooling on the flat is a waste of everybody’s time although it can be excellent for practicing things like medium canter or passage-assuming you didn’t put on that pesky quarter sheet-and hacking will descend into total anarchy. The horse walker will turn into a windmill,and turning horses out is like something out of The Wizard Of Oz.
Relentless rain will quell the enthusiasm of even the most diehard equine fanatic. There is nothing more miserable than being wet to your underwear taking care of and working your ungrateful equine. Horses are desperate to get out of their stables,yet once they find out that it’s now rainy season in Vietnam they immediately want to come in again. You bring them in,and they want out again. Sigh. Sometimes it’s just better to abandon ship……bad weather looks better from the fireside with a well earned glass of vino and a bit of Coronation Street,unless of course the weather forecast comes on in which case my advice is change channel. These days it’s less distressing being surprised than it is having to be prepared. I get through it by fantasising about holidays in Barbados,and clearing Aldi out of their winter clothing.
Ireland is particularly difficult as weather goes,because we don’t really have obvious seasons. Where many countries have a predictable four season rotation, we have the following four seasons without a quarterly pattern-snow and rain (aka Spring,lasts approx two months),warmer rain with grass growth and occasional sunshine (aka summer,lasts approximately five minutes),windy and raining (aka Autumn,lasts about five weeks) and finally as a grand finale comes wind,rain,snow,ice,hail,sleet,more wind,sideways rain,upside down rain,round corners rain and occasional thunderstorms (aka winter,lasts approximately nine months which is also known as FOR POXING EVER). What I find incredible is that we have a thriving tourism industry thanks to the stereotypical ‘soft weather’. A recent trip to the west of Ireland had more Americans per square yard than it did mountain ewes and they LOVED it-they went off sight seeing every day in their cagoules,and positively rejoiced in the sideways monsoon they found themselves in. Crazy. Anyway. I suppose they aren’t jaundiced from changing their clothes eighteen times a day and trying to push full wheelbarrows across windy yards and trying to handle apparently tame,feral animals…..
Wrap up warm,folks.
Published by Eventing Connect
Eventers are a hardy bunch,no one can deny that. Rivalled only by jump jockeys,we positively pride ourselves on our ability to keep going regardless. We face a million challenges every day-from paying bills to keeping the whole show on the road-but nowhere do we excel as well as we do with injuries. No matter if you have an arterial bleed-‘sure just stick a band aid on it and it’ll be fine’. Compound fractures are no biggie-‘well it probably shouldn’t look like that,but get some vet wrap and an animalintex from the truck and il patch it right up’. It’s INSANE when you think about it. But it’s ok,because we mostly don’t…..
Capable of surviving the most horrific of falls-especially if you happen to have another horse or two to ride-is now de rigueur,thanks to Micheal Jung. He casually broke his leg in a fall on his first ride at Burghley,before going on to win on his second horse. I suppose it was only a 4*….. He went north the following week to collect his team and individual gold medals,had a little operation and then sauntered off with the six year old world championships at Le Lion. He had to get his groom to trot his horses up and he used a Segway to get around,but other than that he was tip top. I did laugh at the picture of him leading a horse from his Segway-how is that even possible? It would be a modern day interpretation of ‘Ben Hur’ if I attempted such with any of my horses. Most of us approaching middle age after a lifetime with horses most certainly wouldn’t pass any trot up or vetting. We all creak and crackle getting out of bed,none of us track up in any pace and a square halt is out of the question. Oddly though,sit any one of us in a saddle and we are just as supple and capable as any half our age.
I myself was a good example of this last year. I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing on a horse I should not have been doing it on,and I hit the deck. I knew straight away that it was bad,but of course I got up and retrieved my startled animal. Over the coming days,walking became a pretty big problem and I went to the gp. He thought I was fine,but sent me for X-ray which was clear. Fair enough. I battled on for five weeks in utter agony on a sea of drugs before being sent to a sports clinic. The odd thing was,I could ride no problem. Jumping was a bit sore,and driving was difficult but I kept competing. The horses took great advantage of me,power walking everywhere or standing in the furthest corners of fields refusing to come to me. An MRI scan revealed a long fracture of my sacrum,which extended into the right sacroiliac joint with a lot of bleeding and fluid around the injury. Nice. Martyr for the cause,me…..six weeks on crutches,they advised. Plenty of rest. Yeah right. I did howsoever,discover that horses are TERRIFIED of crutches which can be remarkably useful if you have a sticky loader…..
The problem with being so tough is that no one bothers when you have hurt yourself. No sympathy,no help. Really we only have ourselves to blame,but I did feel a bit hard done by post emergency C section when I was expected to muck out stables and feed calves a few days after my return home……A sensible doctor is a must,too. None of this ‘rest and recuperation’ rubbish,just tell me how bad it is and give me the drugs. Two in the O.I. on Friday you know,I don’t even have time to be here…..You could be in a full body cast,and it’s a certainty your biggest obstacle to overcome is getting your horses to stop snorting and running away. Solve that,and you’ll have them back on a lunge in no time……..
Published by Horseplay.ie
(Pictured are-top: Stracomer Sunshine,4 yr old mare by Varo. Bottom:Blackhill Kilcoltrim,5 yr old mare by Contador)
I love buying horses. It’s like a drug addiction,only controlled by my lack of facilities and my husband guarding the credit card. I’m not really sure what it is that I’m so addicted to-lets be real,each new horse is more work,more money and more pressure in an already over-stretched situation but there’s something magic about spotting raw potential and moulding it into a quality performance horse. Each horse teaches me just as much as I teach them,and nothing gives me a greater thrill than a horse suddenly understanding something or really developing his skill set. It’s just as much of a thrill seeing horses you have produced and sold go on to better success with their new owners. This year,one of my former in-mates took the step up to Pony 2* with great success. Another contested his first event and came 6th,finishing on his dressage score and a very good young mare I sold qualified for the Swedish young horse championships. I was absolutely over the moon and it made every hard day in the pouring rain totally worthwhile.
Ireland is a country of sellers,and when you find yourself in the ownership of a truly exceptional horse it can become a real dilemma. Keep or sell? I started dealing initially because I was looking for a horse to keep for myself. I only sell a couple a year and I’m a tiny operation,but I have sold eleven in the last five years. All bar one has gone on to enjoy good success-the one that didn’t was a real lesson for me. I bought her sight unseen from someone who was not as straight as I had thought. I deserved to be caught out,and I was. I won’t be as cocky again. Now I have two mares who are vastly different,but I want to keep them both. I need to build stables and I desperately need to resurface my arena if I want to continue and potentially expand my business. I have several smart young horses lined up on the conveyor belt that just need paying for. The wheel never stops turning. So keep or sell? How do you decide? I just don’t know. I think in the end, it comes down to cold hard cash. You can love a horse and decide that life is short,you will rest on your laurels and keep him regardless. Or you can love a horse,and appreciate the opportunities he gives you by being able to sell him and reinvest in your future. I suppose there is no wrong answer,only an answer that you can live with.
I can never quite describe what it is that makes me want to buy a horse. I have a list of rules that I occasionally deviate from,but it has been a pretty successful formula so far. I tend to only buy fillies that aren’t hugely expensive. They must have good limbs but I don’t mind splints or false curbs. I don’t mind if the trot isn’t great,as long as the canter looks reasonably balanced. I like a horse with a good forearm and an obvious thought process when it jumps,these two things combined are pretty important if you want a safe jumping horse. I won’t buy horses with sarcoids,a poor jump or previous soft tissue injuries. All of this is all very well,but it’s only a guideline that I personally go on. What makes me buy,though? In truth,none of the above. What makes me buy is not being able to stop thinking about the horse. It’s that simple. Sounds ridiculous,no doubt-but any horse that has lingered on my mind and kept me awake at night that I have bought,has gone on to be brilliant. It’s not scientific,some would call it pure stupid but if I get the right feel about a horse,I’m almost never wrong……here’s to keeping her lit!!