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Hard work to the tail coat dream

I literally have no idea where the start of this year has gone! Once again my horse has reminded me time and time again how lucky I am to have him, we have achieved more than I thought possible and have ended up at a really exciting point in our training.

The year started with lots of lessons; continuing the theme of 2018 we worked a lot on lateral suppleness, getting him a little sharper and focussing on setting up each movement to enable us to perform it at its best. He is very correct in his way of going but has a habit of only giving 75% of what he has to offer because it is easier. I mean, I can’t really moan, I am sure the personal trainer at the gym says the same about me!

I was very lucky to have a break in Dubai back at the start of the year, it was lovely to catch some winter sun and have some time away with a very good friend. It also meant that I was forced to give Stanley another mini break- being a one horse rider I am not great at this, riding is my escape after work and giving him time off is really hard mentally for me. However every time he has a break he comes back better than before, it is a really valuable lesson that I have to learn from and I have been trying to give him more quiet periods to allow his muscles to develop and brain to take everything in this year.

Just before the regional championships in February we were lucky enough to receive a wild card from British Dressage for the Advance Medium Area Festival Finals which are held at the Winter Championships. I was shocked but also thrilled, we only started Advance Medium last summer and our flying changes were not the most consistent. It was so rewarding to feel that even when not perfect he was able to hold his own at that level and get us a place at another big party.

As always our first couple of competitions were good but we were a little ring rusty, a few good spooks at the flowers and a couple of jumps over various light patches meant our scores were good, but I knew there was more in there!

Our regional preparation was then somewhat scuppered by the snow which appeared at the start of February, another small break (not the competition de-spooking I had planned!) for Stanley while I was snowed in at work for 3 days(!) but it did mean we had some time to plan his MOT. He has a fabulous Chiropractor and Physiotherapist who came to give him a treatment each as soon as the snow was gone and he strutted round the yard with a smile on his face for a good two months afterwards!

We managed to fit in one competition before the regionals which meant I had at least ridden the test one more time. We didn’t get the biggest score nor a red rosette but it was better – I had a horse who wanted to work forwards and enthusiastically and gave me some of the most consistent work he ever has in a test. I just needed to channel it for the regionals the week later.

He felt fantastic and really on form at the Regionals and we finished 5th with a PB score in the Medium Silver Regional finals, a huge class full of some really beautiful horses. The top three horses qualified and being the start of the Regionals meant it was going to be an agonising wait to find out if the score was good enough to get a Wild Card to the BD Winter Championships. There wasn’t much time to think about it as we were then off to Wellington Regionals for the Freestyle to Music class. Unfortunately it was a sack the jockey sort of a day and I really let him down. He came out all guns a blazing and the warm up was WOW, but, I did too much of it and by the time I did the test he was cream crackered - even with our less than perfect test he finished in the top 10 which goes to show what a quality horse he has developed into but unfortunately it really was one of those ‘you live and learn’ days as he deserved to finish higher up the order.

A few weeks later we got the best news, a WILD CARD was ours! Woohoo. This is the 4th year in a row he has qualified for the winter championships; that is such an amazing feeling with a little home produced pony with a very amateur rider!

Our preparation was a little disjointed as he had changed so much in the previous few months that my saddle was no longer fitting, whilst we couldn’t find a perfect solution for his awkward body my lovely saddler from Prosaddles leant me one which meant we could go and compete and hopefully ride more effectively! We also hadn’t ridden an Advance Medium test since October so a rushed final outing meant we got to practice a few of those pesky changes and 60% of them were near perfect which was a significant improvement!

What a week we had at the Championships, a week filled with dressage, prosecco, good friends and an amazing horse. The atmosphere really got to him which resulted in an athletic(!) arena walk on the first day, although we only managed to get there thanks to a good friend who leant me a girth – who goes to a championship and forgets such a vital bit of equipment, really? He then tried his best to hold it together in the Medium test and tried so hard with just a couple of moments of tension, it was otherwise one of the best tests we have done and I was thrilled to finish 10th and get a beautiful frilly to add to his Championship collection. A couple of days off before the Advance Medium worked in our favour and he soaked up the atmosphere which meant he was a lot calmer for the Festival Final. We cantered down the centre line in front of three list one judges and rode a test that I am still super proud of. It wasn't foot perfect (sack the jockey for going the wrong way!!) but it had so many lovely moments and was a real taste of the horse he might become with further training. We nailed 4 out of 5 changes in the test and finished 6th out of 32.

One championship, two qualifications and two top 10 placing. I really do appreciate how lucky I am and it has made the tailcoat dream so much more real!

After a five week well deserved post-nationals rest and a continued hunt for a new saddle we picked up the training and have been out a couple of times to get Festival qualification sheets for this summer. He is now at one of those funny stages in our training where he is offering me more in terms of power and connection however it comes at a cost and the balance is sometimes compromised; therefore we are just taking our time and seeing where things go. If I can get a top 10 placing at the first rounds of the festivals then the pressure is off and we can focus on training and working on the PSG moves, which we have started during our training which is mind blowing for us both but also the best fun, until the second rounds in October.

As an amateur rider finding the money and getting enough annual leave to allow me time off work to go to all the big shows can be difficult and therefore we have decided to not go to the summer regional’s this year. A difficult decision when they have such a great atmosphere but realistically we have a big goal to achieve in the next 18 months and we need to be sensible and work out how best to make that a reality!

As always a massive thank you to the team at British Horse Feeds for fuelling Stanley so well that he continues to perform with such consistency at the top of his game - and looks a million dollars to go with it. From the weedy black pony we bought five years ago, he really is changing into such an elegant swan, what an amazing journey we are on!

Love Hannah xx