On Saturday I had a day out. It was due to rain all day and so I wasn't planning on riding. It did rain and rain and rain, all day! Anyway, as the show takes place only about 20 minutes from me I decided to go and buy my ticket on the door. I got pretty wet waiting for the gates to open at 9am but most of it is under cover.
I haven't been for at least 5 years, and I always went on a Friday because I thought there would be less people. Unfortunately they don't hold it on a Friday any more so that is not an option! There were quite a lot of people there but I expect there would have been more if it had been sunny and I overheard several people say it was busier last year.
I didn't mess about when I got there as I had a plan. Paul Tapner (Eventing) and Carl Hester (Dressage) were both running demonstrations and I wanted to catch them both. In the end I saw Paul once and Carl twice! I managed to get a pretty good seat for Paul's first demonstration of the day and again for Carl. I was lucky though because you have to vacate your seat and queue again between each demonstration. That is unless you buy a Standard Plus ticket in advance for £40 which gets you a guaranteed seat for each performance. Next year, if I know I am going to go I will buy one of these, although I think they sell out quickly, because when the on the gate price is £22 the extra would be well worth it to avoid having to waste time to queue for each performance.
Paul Tapner's demonstration was all about balance and was fascinating.
He had most of the audience laughing with his imitations of other eventers and showjumpers and their riding positions! Basically, he demonstrated the effect your balance has on your horse. He talked about the 3 points of contact being the seat and each leg. These are what influence your balance. Starting off on the flat, he initially just shifted his weight off to the left and to the right of the saddle, demonstrating what happens if you are not sitting centrally. His horse moved off in the direction of his weight when he did this! Paul went on to demonstrate what happens if you are leaning forward or backward and suggested practising tipping forward and building up the strength to get yourself back in the saddle. A big advantage if you get to the stage of nearly tipping off over the horses shoulder! It was interesting, I have never thought about practising nearly falling off, for the horses sake (so they learn not to panic and whizz off) but also to build muscle memory and strength! Another part of this is keeping your leg from going back, this is what keeps you safer, so if you tip forward your leg needs to stay in the right place, keeping you in better balance - you can practise this too.
Stirrup length (although personal preference to some extent) also has an effect on your balance. If you are jumping you need to have a good knee angle to allow you to stand in the stirrups and maintain an angle which will still allow you to absorb movement.
Paul finished off by going over a few jumps and altering his position again to demonstrate the effect it had on the horse. This is where he imitated some of our better known riders - and was very funny. He was not criticising them but demonstrating the differing approaches! It was interesting to see how sitting quite upright over the fence had a different effect to leaning back in a 'defensive' position. Paul again said that it was a good idea to practice all these positions at home too, over your average jump. Then when you go to a competition eg: cross country, if something happens or a particular jump calls for a certain position you will know what effect it will have on your horse! He obviously admitted that there is personal taste which influences some elements, but that there are some fundamental points which will influence your horse and your riding ability.
Carl Hester's morning performance was a 'training demonstration' he had 2 horses which were very different, both competing in dressage competitions and 6 years old. The first was a coloured cob who worked really well, he improved as he warmed up as he was a bit on the forehand initially. He had a lovely rhythmic trot and his extension got better with a few attempts. He had a really good canter too and Carl had brought him to demonstrate that with work any horse can improve and compete in dressage. It was good to see what I would call a more 'normal' horse and what can be achieved by us all with time, work and dedication.
The other horse was a warmblood, the more common type of dressage horse. He had the most amazing walk with an enormous overtrack. He too had a great trot but his extension was better than the cobs.
It was interesting to see these two horses performing the same movements and having the opportunity to compare them. It definitely made me think, and gave me some ideas and inspiration too.
After Carl's morning demonstration I had a look around the shops, and there were a lot. I had really forgotten how many stands they have there, probably more than double the number at HOYS. There were also lots of feed companies which are always really interesting to visit as you can actually see and touch the feeds, usually you only see the bag! I used some of the vouchers from the FREE programme to buy some Worm Count kits, which I use regularly. I also used some vouchers to buy some Tapeworm Test kits which I have never tried before!
There were lots of smaller demonstrations and the Equine Learning Zone where vets, farriers and trainers give advice. There just didn't seem to be enough time to see and do everything as I wanted to get a good seat for Carl's afternoon session I had to queue up for over 45 minutes!
I did manage to visit the re-homing village which really brought home the challenges facing the charity's in the UK. I had a really good chat to a lady from Redwings (which is a charity I support www.redwings.org.uk ) about their guardianship scheme which is hopefully going to be available in my area in the next few years. Marmite has only got one eye and she is only 3 years old, but she was so chilled she lay down, despite all the people!
Carl's afternoon performance was again a 'training demonstration' but at a higher level. It included Nip Tuck who he rode at the World Equestrian Games a few weeks ago. Unfortunately Carl wasn't riding, but it was interesting to see the horse with a less experienced (but exceptionally competent) rider on top!
Nip Tuck is, obviously, working at Grand Prix level but is actually relatively new to it. We also had another quite different horse also working at Grand Prix. Again, it was fascinating to compare the two different horses performing the same movements. Nip Tuck is a big, long horse and is not a 'natural' according to Carl but his temperament is perfect. The other more shorter coupled horse was more suited to dressage and had more naturally good paces and movements.
It was really good fun watching them both doing Passage and Piaffe, Half Pass and Travers and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
On the way out I said a quick hello to Hovis! He is Horse & Hound's equine blogger and is so cute.
I had to rush off early to get the horses in, tucked up and settled before the neighbour's bonfire and firework party! I will post a blog later this week about what effect my preparations had on the horses and their reactions.
I had a great day and didn't spend too much on horsey stuff although there were some great offers. I will be putting the dates for next year in the diary as soon as I have them and will make sure I buy a Standard Plus ticket and I might have time to see some more of the smaller demonstrations.
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Until next time!