Adelaide is done and dusted

Adelaide is done and dusted for another year!

There is something about the Australian International Horse Trials that makes me want to come back every year, with as many as horses as possible – I think it must be the size of the WA cheer squad!

This year I only took over Murph, to have a crack at the 4star. So a week before the stables opened, myself, my mother slash full time groom and our 2 dogs, Flash the corgi and Toby the kelpie made the trip across the Nullarbor.

For those of you who don’t know the drive across the Nullarbor is a long one – Day 1 for me is quite different to most Perth residents, as we drive south to Esperance rather than going to Kalgoorlie, to get to the Eyre Highway. The first stop overnight is on a private station, Fraser Range, which has a number of horse yards available. From there Day 2 starts very early, with over 1000km to cover and a time difference of 2.5hours we constantly chase the daylight. Overnight we stop at Ceduna Racecourse, who over the years have collected ‘honesty’ payments, and been able to put the money to good use, building 2 sheds with large rubber lined yards – perfect for long distance travel! Day 3 becomes slightly easier, no time differences to deal with and back under the 1000km of travel, it feels quite nice to reach civilisation again!

Yards at Ceduna

Long distance travel like this can be very tiring for the horses, with items like Equissage and Red Light Therapy pads almost becoming essentials. The biggest concern is keeping an eye on hydration and temperatures and keeping feed as basic as possible (removing powders/supplements etc). You also get to know little tricks that work for your horse the more times you travel, for example with Murph I know that he doesn’t like to have a drink until he has been for a walk, stretched his legs and starts licking his lips.

Once in SA we pulled into Kersbrook Equestrian Centre, owned and run by Nicki Stuart, just out of Gawler to rest and recoup before heading into the stables at Adelaide. It is a beautiful property, with National Park next door I got to stretch my legs doing lots of hiking with Toby the kelpie in tow, even spotting wild deer on a couple of occasions. We also took a trip into Gawler and had a walk around Dead Man’s Pass where all the old XC fences are still standing!

Dressage Day at Adelaide

So, onto the event – my dressage was as to be expected really, yes more relaxation and less tension (or spooking at the big screen!) would be nice, but it’s all a learning process for us both. I liked the course, with lots of black flag options it was nice to know if I got an ‘A’ element wrong I had the option to detour. However that wasn’t needed, and whilst I didn’t wear a watch or go for time, I did go through all the straight routes and am extremely happy with my round. Showjumping has left me with lots to work on, including my nerves!

Upon returning home on the Wednesday I unpacked and repacked for our State Young Event Horse Championships (because I hadn’t done enough travelling already!). It seemed like a good idea when I entered, but it was a big ask – however I am glad I went, as it was a great lead up to Eventing in the Park and my Australian Stockhorse Touchstone Felix even came home the 6yr old champion!


Infatuated again

Australian Stockhorse ‘Buzz’ attempting his first ODE

Well after last month being busy helping out committees, this month has been busy competing!

As a lead up to Western Australia’s premier event (the Perth Horse Trials Three Day Event) I took Tempus Fugit (Murphy) to the Gidgegannup CNC**. Not only do I like to use these events as fitness runs, I also like to use them to run through ‘mental strategies’ for me and as training runs for the horse.

In this instance, I had a few mental things to work on with the dressage, including trying to be a bit more blasé in the warmup in order to cope with variables I can’t control. My other task was to ‘let go’ of the canter, to try to develop a slower tempo with more groundcover (easier said than done!).

The aim with the XC was to walk out of the start box! At events where it doesn’t matter if I make the time or not, I like to use them to ‘school’ the start box – something that is hard to do without an atmosphere. I was very lucky when I was younger in that one schoolmaster I rode was very naughty in the start box, and he taught me that a horse that doesn’t rear and leap around at the start is a blessing. It is my belief that constant fast starts (especially on ex-racehorses) can create a demon and by walking out and slowly picking up canter can help defuse them.

Hope Springs ridden by Elizabeth Moore

The weekend finished well, and my young horse Major Moment finished up 3rd in the EVA105. I gave another one of my horses, Hope Springs, to good friend Elizabeth Moore to compete whilst he is on the market – after dressage she sat in third place behind me on Major Moment. However, by the end of the weekend and double clear jumping she moved up into second, pipping me at the post! I must say being on the owners side of the fence is actually good fun – I didn’t realise I would enjoy watching him go around as much as I do, the thrills of cross country, the nerves for the show jumping, I rode every stride! Hopefully it has given me a bit of insight and makes me a better choice for future owners.

From there we had a weekend with client’s horses at the ‘Little’ Gidgegannup – the EVA80 and below classes, as limited parking space means that Gidgegannup committee split their event over two weekends. They both enjoyed a ‘spooky’ weekend away learning the eventing ropes.

Tempus Fugit warming up for dressage with Peter Shaw

From Little Gidge, we frantically unpacked, washed and repacked to head to the Three Day 4 days later. I had Major Moment in the CCN105 and Tempus Fugit in the CIC***. Through trot up and onto dressage, it seems my work at earlier events is starting to pay off – Tempus Fugit put in some great work with Peter Shaw in the warmup, and we managed to hold it together nearly to the end of the test to take the lead on 50.6.

Cross country day dawned, and what I thought was a tough CCN105 track, proved to be so! Major Moment was his usual confident self, and was just having way too much fun on course. The third last fence was an apex dressed with pine trees, that when I walked the course thought was really tough, and apparently Major Moment thought that too – uncharacteristically leaving a leg, and leaving me on the ground! This has to be the first time in four years that I have come off on cross country.

It took me a while to convince the medics that I didn’t need to get X-rays  (I wasn’t in enough pain for anything to be broken), and after making me lay still for an hour or two to let the adrenalin die down, they got the Doctor to take a look and he cleared me to continue on. My body vest was torn apart during the fall (well placed hoof as you can see in the video below!) so I was crazily running around trying to find another one so I could take Murph out on cross country (thankyou Felicity Heggarty for lending me yours!).

wooroloo crash of the day from Darren Dawes on Vimeo.

I will admit I was nervous as Murph isn’t the easiest ride, but thought I would take each fence as it comes and pull up if necessary. After about jump 5 I slapped myself on the head and mentally yelled at myself ‘stop sitting and start bloody riding!’ which helped, as we jumped clear just adding some time and holding onto first place.

Monday morning dawned and a very stiff me realised I had to trot up! The Ground Jury did have a giggle when I presented, assuring me they wouldn’t judge my ‘trot’. But we passed through even if the rider was held!  By the time my showjumping came around I was really worried about my strength levels, as at a Three Day Murph can often gain a lot more get up and go, and can be quite strong for the showjumping. However, I whispered in his ear ‘please take care of Mum’ and he show jumped beautifully! The only one to jump clear in the 3star, we held onto the lead – boy was I glad the Medics didn’t get to say ‘I told you so’.


So, after our rough start to my relationship with Murphy earlier in the year all the ‘marriage counselling’ and persistence has paid off, as I am now well and truly infatuated again – I don’t think any other horse would have looked after a nervous me the way Murph did, and I don’t think I would have trusted any other horse as much as I trusted him that weekend! Now, it’s to keep the love coming all the way to Adelaide!

Photos and videos with thanks to Redfoto


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!


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


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


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!