The experiment is working

Reading my blog since the start of the year you would be aware of the little experiment going on in handing over the reins of my good horse Tempus Fugit (Murphy) to my less experienced partner Ben Mitchell to take around. The aim was for someone else to ride Murphy and to try and get Murphy to enjoy his job again, showing a less experienced rider the ropes.

At the end of the last blog it appeared that the experiment had worked – I had attended some training days and some clinics with coaches like Jon Pitts and all was going well. But the real test came at the next competition.

Wooroloo CNC was Murphy’s first competition with me back in the saddle, running in the CNC 3 star class. And I have to say, the experiment seemed to work!! Feeling rather nervous for the dressage, the aim was to work on keeping the tempo of the test the same as the warm-up and work on the rideablility. He put together a good test, with some really nice moments to score 52.2.

The aim XC was to not focus on time, but work on control and rhythm – all things were going great until halfway around we pulled a shoe, watching it go rolling past us at a million miles an hour, and the jumping quality after that was not great – which resulted in me seeing my life flash before my eyes as we jumped into an A element of angled rails Murphy uncharacteristically left a leg…

Thinking I was definitely eating dirt, and hitting my head on the flag of the B element, somehow Murph being the superman that he is, managed to jump the B element with me half hanging off him!! Very grateful right in that moment for having a freaky chestnut pony under me!

      Phew!!

We finished the event in 1st place and some great photos to take home! The next event was 2 weeks later, travelling all the way to Moora (some 6hours from home). We seem to have really bad luck with cars/floats and tyres and going to Moora, always managing to blow one either on the way home or in this case on the way up.

Murph was entered in the CNC 2 star alongside some flash horses. The aim for the test was to again work on rideablility, and to not be so tactful in the warm-up. It worked a treat, the trot work was great, we walked the entire walk without jogging, and halfway through the canter work I started thinking ‘wow this is going really well just stay calm’ and I forgot the part about ‘keep riding’ and he broke back to trot!!! Finished the dressage day in the lead on 51.9.

XC at Moora started in the fog, a lot like Melbourne of previous years, and our aim this time was to establish a rhythm right from the start and maintaining it all the way around – as I sometime start slow, finish fast. This also worked a treat, and I had the best XC run I have ever had aboard Murph, zooming home. We also showjumped clear to finish on our dressage score and win the event!

So I guess it is safe to say that the experiment worked a treat, and Murphy is now becoming so rideable. The aim now is to work on consistency and re-establishing our partnership (yes more marriage counselling work!) – the motto for Murphy at the moment is

‘Don’t ruin the 95% to get the extra 5%’

Which seems to be working well…I am currently writing this blog from inside my gooseneck at Brigadoon CNC where Murphy and I are on a personal best dressage score of 47.9!

Thanks Ben!

All photos courtesy of Red Photo.com.au

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Stepping back to step forward

 

   Ben and Murph on the show jumping course – I couldn’t watch the warm up

Well at the end of my last blog I reluctantly handed over the reins of my top horse Tempus Fugit (Murph) to my partner Ben to take around the lower grades. After Murph and I becoming more like bickering siblings and having less of a partnership than in previous years I thought it best to take a step back. I also thought it best to head to my sports psych to chat about it.

I have been going to my sports psych Kim for quite a few years now, and we have a great working relationship. She has a lot of in depth knowledge of my relationship with Murph over these past few years. Upon telling her about our relationship ‘dilemma’ we ran through a few exercises which included:

  • Wearing ‘Murphy’ coloured glasses, by getting my mind frame into a state of looking for the things I enjoy about him, rather than racking up evidence of all the stuff he does that ticks me off
  • At the end of each ride write down 3 things that I enjoyed that relates to Murph in particular.

As well as a few more exercises, but you get the idea. At the end of the session, Kim starts laughing while I sit there a bit puzzled thinking ‘what?’… “Well”, she says “this is classic marriage counselling material”… oh! So, hysterically enough, Murph and I are undergoing marriage counselling! Trying to explain that one to a non-horsey person would be interesting!

As for Ben and Murph – well they finished on their dressage score! Sure, the dressage wasn’t technically correct, with lots of ‘4 – not round’ comments being handed out. But the aim of the day was to get Murph actually listening to the rider, instead of trying to be one step in front (he knows the 2009 3star tests so well after doing them for five years!). Another aim was for him not to look around in the halt and to walk the entire walk – all of which was achieved. And at about halfway through the test Murph decided he had no idea what was next and just relaxed – I was quite jealous!

Show jumping and cross country went well also. The warm up was a little bit of a battle of the wills, and I admit I did walk away as it was hard to watch someone else jump Murph. But in the ring it all came together and they looked really good. Ben was under strict instructions to trot out of the start box cross country and although didn’t quite manage to succeed, they did start nice and slow. It turned into a case of Murphy yelling to Ben ‘just hang on and steer!’ but they got around, without time penalty, and I admit the commentary coming from the van was very entertaining including ‘OMG Ben hang on!’ as they went through the water jump.

   Ben and Murph make their way through the water
   Photo: Eric Lloyd photography

Since then I have taken the ride back on Murph (WA had a nice gap of four weeks between that event and the next one). I can’t tell you how well this little has experiment worked until I can get Murph out and about again, but so far so good. I have taken Murph to a training day show jumping, jumping clear around 1.25m and having a ball, it was a great day put on as a fundraiser for the WA Young Rider SJ Squad. I have also attended the marvellous Jon Pitts again and come away with a few light bulb moments, that came mainly from being able to observe someone else riding Murph…so maybe the experiment worked after all!

   Murph and I back together at a show jumping day
 

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Getting back into the swing of things

First off I attended the Living Legends Super Clinic, comprised of Lucinda Green, Andrew McLean and Jon Pitts giving lessons. This is a genius idea dreamed up by Sophie Warren and co. and proved to be a great weekend.

I have been to Lucinda once before and learnt a lot. This year was a good recap and I also learnt a few different things. For those of you who have been to Lucinda you will know how passionate she is about getting the horse to think for itself – believing that on one arm of the fulcrum they need to think for themselves and on the other they need to listen to the rider and with the dressage becoming more technical it has led to horses that are losing the ability to think for themselves.

   Major Moment jumping with Lucinda

So to fix this, the lesson started with two jumps 180 degrees apart and coming through the corner forward and having the horse in your hand, but not riding to a distance in order to let them think about it, read the fence and learn the footwork. It could be quite ugly at times, but it was an interesting way to start.

Of course there were lots and lots of skinnies and curvy lines and jumping down apexes and then across them all designed to get you to keep your ‘tube’ on (eyes, legs, hand) to keep them looking and learning footwork. Great for baby horses!

   Practising skinnies with Lucinda

It was something I took home and played with on my good horse Tempus Fugit, who absolutely fell in love with the challenge and surprisingly for a horse that likes to take control it actually worked as a sort of reverse psychology and he listened to me really well.

I also took Tempus Fugit to Jon Pitts while I was at the Living Legends and as always there is so much to work on and practice and practice and practice. This time we did a little fine tuning on the flat on day one, finding out what happens if I ride movements only from the seat, working out what works for the horse. Day two was spent putting this into jumping and getting me to be more aware of the changes I make when coming down a line in an open six strides and then down again in a shorter seven.

From there we had a few weekends at home before heading to Capel CNC event. Tempus Fugit was entered in the H/C 3 star class (3* dressage, 2* XC, 3 star SJ). One thing I have learned this month is that the partnership between horse and rider is often like any partnership in life – and on Capel weekend Tempus Fugit and I were more like bickering siblings than best buds, which resulted in a not so great dressage test and a slow cross country round. I decided not to show jump him as he didn’t need it and is a good showjumper.

   Tempus Fugit on course at Capel CNC

However the weekend taught me a lot and after a great ride on the youngster Major Moment (who was supposed to be for my partner Ben this year) I realised that my eight year relationship with Tempus Fugit has resulted in only me competing him. One thing I have recently been doing with a lot of the young ones is putting Ben on them to take around, as an attempt to improve their sale-ability and teach them to do a good job no matter who is riding (Luckily Ben happens to be a good rider). So over the next coming month I have decided to let Ben take the ride on Tempus Fugit to take him back to basics and let him enjoy the more simpler things in life.

Will it work? That I am not sure of … I guess you will all have to stay tuned for next month’s blog!

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Improvements on the horizon

With the New Year come the New Year’s resolutions. The concept behind New Year resolutions is to reflect upon self-improvement annually … and the beginning of a New Year is the perfect time to do this.

So, it leads me to ask myself, how can I improve my blogs? A blog is a website containing a writer’s experiences, observations, opinions. They can be informational or personal. Which led me to think how can I make my blog more interesting?  Rather than just posting a monthly recall of events that have happened in my life I would instead like to be more engaging. So my New Year’s blog resolution is to try and provide you with equestrian items that I am learning or have learnt each month, to pass on information that I have found useful, and perhaps you might too.

In saying that, it has been a quiet start to the year, with the horses coming back into work in dribs and drabs depending on what their year finished like in 2013. The start of the New Year also brought with it a new sponsor for me – my long standing equine therapist – Reset Equine – is expanding and has come on board to support Lush Eventing. 

Nancy, the head hauncho of Reset Equine has been working with Murph on and off for a while now and even in a short time I cannot support her work enough. The difference to the horses is amazing – which has led me to really follow the mantra of what I do for myself as an athlete, do for the horses, including physio!

   Murph enjoys a session with Nancy

Also this month we made use of Yalambi Stud Farm owner, Rory Hovell, being home from Europe and took Murph and Bradley over for some lessons. I have been going to Rory for a few years now to help with not only the jumping but the flat work as well. And it was a bit of a lightbulb moment/weekend, with everything that has been drilled in me the past few years starting to make sense and make a difference in the way Murph travels (although there is still A LOT of work to do!).

We did some jumping exercises on the Sunday with curving lines between a vertical and an oxer trying to keep Murph relaxed and rideable to keep the canter the same – it sounds simple, and basic, and it is, but for Murph who sights a fence from 300m away and believes he is Superman, it was a really good exercise. It also highlighted how far away from the fences Murph was landing – with Rory telling me straight “this is the difference between eventers and showjumpers”.

So what did I learn? Not only do eventers have longer take off spots, we also have a long landing spot. The solution – to put a placing rail behind the jump but not in front, forcing me to ride to a decent take off spot and to help Murph control the arc of his jump and land appropriately.

Check out the video below to see us in action.

And last but not least for the month is the arrival of a new addition! Last year I leased an older broodmare who, after many attempts, didn’t manage to fall pregnant (with everyone telling me welcome to breeding!). So she returned to the owner, and instead we purchased the mare’s daughter – an Australian Stockhorse filly named Touchstone Vegas, (see photo below) who will be broodmare for me and performance horse for Ben Mitchell later in life.

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