After years of fearlessly riding other people’s ‘project’ horses, Victoria Brant was finally in a position to buy her own horse. But after opting for a four-year-old warmblood, she quickly realised she had made a mistake…
Growing up in rural Lincolnshire and riding anything I could get my grubby, child-size mitts on, I soon developed a taste for bringing on ‘lost causes’. You know the types that no one wants to ride? Those were my ‘projects’. Fearlessly, I collected a decent amount of rides and competed at a respectable level before turning 23 and being in a position to buy my own horse for the first time.
The combination of coming from a non-horsey family and a mountain of student debt, meant that I didn’t have enough disposable income to purchase a ‘safe’ option — no big deal, I though! This is where my steep learning curve really began.
So I took myself off on a two-hour trip to purchase a four-year-old, Polish warmblood.
Alarm bell 1 – Unpredictable occurrences/fate?
Buying a young well bred horse with a very brief description and taking a trailer on the first trip seemed very exciting at the time. Four hours later, reality hit. The big grey lump that waddled onto the trailer soon decided he wanted to be anywhere but and flipped upside down. Parked up on the side of a cleared motorway with a set of bolt cutters wasn’t how I had predicted this day going.
Alarm bell 2 — The ‘long haul’ realisation
Home and dry, all my money and time was spent on rehabilitation and getting some sort of trust established. With the woods and trees all merged into one, I couldn’t distance myself enough to overcome the problems we were facing. All the riding I had done for other people had not prepared me for ownership when you can’t turn your back and walk away.
Alarm Bell 3 — Doubting yourself
I began doubting whether I had the capabilities to help him develop and progress. Doubting yourself when working with horses, especially young horses that need defined instruction, is only ever going to end in confusion, which will result in a less than idea outcome.
Alarm Bell 4 — ‘Ding – Dong’… Confusion
Rearing was his way of telling me he was confused. I was in WAY too deep now and every inch of confidence was draining from my trembling body. Eight months passed, I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing any more and I sought the help of professionals.
Alarm Bell 5 — Outside influencers
The imaginary pressure from people around me wasn’t helping and I felt required to take him cross-country schooling to prove I still had ‘it’. The biggest bell of all — the pressure of external influencers; you do stupid things to prove you’re not a giant sack of rotting fruit. No surprises, we parted company. Shattered, beaten and terrified — I waved the white flag.
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Alarm Bell 6 — Wishing you had a hairy, half dead horse to love
So I advertised and sold my ‘too much’ horse. It was a quick process and ohhh… the relief. Six years on, I have gathered up the remaining shreds of my dignity, borrowed some hypothetical balls and re-built myself with a more sensible option.
Alarm Bell 7 — Sweating palms? Racing heart? Making excuses not to ride?
If I have learnt one thing from this experience, it’s that perseverance isn’t always the right path to tread — know when enough is enough, you’ll be thankful in the end. And be honest with yourself about what type of horse would suit the time and expertise you have to invest in order to avoid living through the heartache that I have.
The equestrian world is mourning the loss of pioneering equestrian photographer Barbara Thomson.
New Zealander Mrs Thomson was reported missing after she did not return from an early-morning fishing trip close to her home at the mouth of Waitahanui River on Lake Taupo on Tuesday (21 February).
Sadly New Zealand Police confirmed yesterday (Wednesday, 22 February) that they had found and recovered the 75-year-old’s body from the lake.
Equestrian Sport New Zealand (ESNZ) chairman Nick Pyke extended his “deepest sympathies” to the Thomson family.
“Barbara was so well known by such a large number of equestrian people and her legacy will live on in people’s hearts and homes throughout the country in the form of wonderful photos and memories,” said Mr Pyke.
“Barbara was a pioneer in equestrian photography and many have shared their stories and memories of her photos and support.”
Mrs Thompson photographed almost every Olympics and World Equestrian Games in the past 30 years.
As well as the many international championships, she covered countless shows and events across New Zealand.
She also owned racehorses and eventers, including a share in Blyth Tait’s four-star ride Delta III — who was second at Badminton in 1994, competed at WEG the same year and won the Scottish Open Eventing Championships.
“She will be greatly missed by the whole equestrian community in New Zealand as she was an ever-present member and a great supporter,” Blyth told H&H.
Barbara then went on to own horses for eventer Heelan Tompkins, including her 2008 Olympic ride Sugoi.
Fellow equestrian photographer Libby Law said Barbara was one of her “ultimate inspirations”.
“When my sister and I were riding, we used to hope to receive her amazing image proofs in the post after events — and when we did, it was like winning the lottery,” Libby told H&H.
“After growing up knowing and loving her work, and finding myself following in her footsteps, I finally got the opportunity to introduce myself to her at the 2010 Taupo Three Day Event.
“I let her know what an inspiration she was to me, how incredible her work was, and what an honour it was to meet her.
“She looked bemused and laughed, and lightly brushed off my compliments — but her smile and love for what she did was obvious.
“Since then I have had the pleasure of seeing her often at events around New Zealand, and every time we chatted and laughed, and she gave me advice and encouragement, and I think I just confused her with my ongoing praise and admiration for her work!”
Libby added that seeing Kit Houghton and Barbara — “the two most pivotal people in regard to what I do” — both standing in the WEG 2014 media centre will always be one of her ultimate career highlights.
“I would like to be standing beside her many more times chit-chatting and laughing, and capturing the action with our cameras of course, but that will have to wait,” she said.
“For now, I am giving her my own standing ovation — and am letting the tears flow.
“Barbara will continue to hold that infinite pedestal position, I will always have her in my thoughts everywhere I go, and every time I look through my lenses.”
‘Wonderful, talented and generous’
Jan Sutherland started her career as an equestrian photographer working for Barbara.
“Barbara taught me so much about the idiosyncrasies of ‘good photos’,” she told H&H.
“Many riders and organisers will remember, probably with frustration, the time spent at presentations getting a horse to stand correctly and everything looking good.
“At the end of the day you just want to go home but for Barbara it wasn’t worth taking a photo if you couldn’t do it right.”
Ms Sutherland added she admired the fact that “you always knew where you stood with her” and she was unpretentious to the extent many did not know how influential she has been in the equestrian world.
“She was easy to talk to, fun to be out on a course with and always so helpful,” added Ms Sutherland.
“An amazing woman who had an equally amazing adventurous life. It is my privilege to have known and worked with her both as a friend and colleague.”
New Zealand Horse & Pony, for which Barbara provided photos for almost 50 years, has also paid tribute.
“Barbara had the rare ability to capture that perfect moment with a single click of the button,” wrote editor Rowan Dixon.
“We are deeply saddened by Barbara’s death, and will forever treasure our memories and association with such a wonderful, talented and generous person.
“We wish to send our deepest condolences to Tom, and the couple’s son Mark and daughter Michelle, and grandchildren James and Grace. Rest in peace Barbara, you will never be forgotten.”
A service will be held for Barbara at St Andrews Anglican Churst in Taupo at 11.30am on 27 February.
Messages to firstname.lastname@example.org and donations to The Heart Foundation or RSPCA in lieu of flowers.
In Mexico, Evidence Of Sustained Consumer Response Two Years After Implementing A Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax [Web First]
Mexico implemented a 1 peso per liter excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on January 1, 2014, and a previous study found a 6 percent reduction in purchases of taxed beverages in 2014. In this study we estimated changes in beverage purchases for 2014 and 2015. We used store purchase data for 6,645 households from January 2012 to December 2015. Changes in purchases of taxed and untaxed beverages in the study period were estimated using two models, which compared 2014 and 2015 purchases with predicted (counterfactual) purchases based on trends in 2012–13. Purchases of taxed beverages decreased 5.5 percent in 2014 and 9.7 percent in 2015, yielding an average reduction of 7.6 percent over the study period. Households at the lowest socioeconomic level had the largest decreases in purchases of taxed beverages in both years. Purchases of untaxed beverage increased 2.1 percent in the study period. Findings from Mexico may encourage other countries to use fiscal policies to reduce consumption of unhealthy beverages along with other interventions to reduce the burden of chronic disease.
Extendable stirrups, water bottles and padded breeches — H&H’s Aimi Clark spent four days riding in glorious Hungarian countryside, but with a little foresight she could have been better prepared. Here are her top six things to consider before jetting off on a holiday in the saddle
1. Be able to mount from the floor
If your everyday riding involves using a mounting block, you need to get practising from the floor. My ride dismounted at every water stop to give the horses a short break, and sometimes there aren’t any handy banks around to help remount. By the fourth day, my aching body tricked my brain into thinking that my horse Akarot, a 16.2hh Hungarian Warmblood, was a giant. One savvy member of my group took an extendable stirrup with them – genius.
2. Take a water bottle
Riding becomes surprisingly hard work when you’re thirsty, so a reusable bottle you can attach to the saddle is a must. Water stops were frequent, but being able to take regular small sips keeps thirst at bay and makes temperatures in the high twenties easier to cope with.
3. Wear padded breeches
Trust me, saddle sores are not fun. Take a few pairs of breeches and make sure your boots or gaiters are tried and tested for long periods in the saddle.
4. Take your own hat
Hats aren’t always given as standard in other countries, and your own is more comfortable anyway. So make room for yours in your luggage — it also offers some protection from the sun.
5. Protect yourself
While on the topic, don’t forget to pack sun cream — and a lightweight rain coat means you’re prepared for any weather. Until the day I arrived, Hungary was wet but warm, becoming very hot for the duration of my holiday. You don’t want to be that nuisance rider asking to borrow sun cream and sunburnt faces aren’t a good look. Light, long-sleeved tops are worth packing too, as arms scratched by branches aren’t pretty either.
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6. Be prepared to fall in love
Four days riding Akarot led to a tearful farewell but what an adventure we had to reflect on. These horses become your best friend, so take plenty of pictures to look back at.
Don’t miss our travel special in the current issue of Horse & Hound magazine (16 February 2017) to read all about riding in Hungary as well as the top sights for horse lovers in Kentucky
Aimi travelled to Hungary with www.ridingtours.hu
As the old adage says, by failing to plan you are planning to fail. Trainer James Burtwell believes riders need to get strategic if they are going to optimise their competition performance
You’ve had all the lessons you can afford and put in the hours of training required. You’ve tackled your nerves and are competing regularly. Somehow, still, you don’t feel you are doing yourself and your horse justice in the ring. If this sounds like you, try following James’s advice to give you the edge come show day.
1. Plan ahead and make a timetable
You want to arrive with enough time to get ready and warm up, but not so much that you get worked up hanging around. If possible, do a dummy run.
If you’ve competed at the venue before, you will even know how long it takes to get to the secretary’s and into the arena from the lorry park. Make a note of this information, as it’s this detail that can make the difference between a smooth performance and a frazzled, stressed-out day.
2. Never look at the scoreboard
Just don’t do it, however tempting. Ask a friend or helper to go and check your time or arena if necessary. Looking at other’s scores before you ride will only make you start worrying about whether you can better them. And stressing about what everyone else is doing won’t help your performance.
Don’t look to see which riders are going before and after you, either — you don’t want to know if you’re following Mark Todd or Carl Hester.
3. Consider stabling
If you are going to a show that is particularly important to you — perhaps a championship — and your route takes in a road as potentially nightmarish as the M25, consider stabling overnight beforehand. Some horses worry about being away from home, but it’s a good experience and part of their education. The last thing you want is to miss your class.
If your start time is very early, it may be worth staying over, too. Getting up at 4am upsets the horse’s routine. It can be beneficial to have the opportunity to ride in the arena the day before, too.
4. Don’t get carried away in the warm-up
Your warm-up is just that, designed to warm your horse’s muscles (and yours) in preparation for the task ahead. Don’t use it to wear you both out, nor to teach your horse something new — if he doesn’t know it now, he won’t pick it up in the next 20 minutes nor sustain it for the competition. That said, don’t under do it in the warm-up, either — your horse needs to be prepared for the job, so ride transitions and make sure he is listening to you.
5. Pretend you’re at home
Remain calm and behave just as you would if riding in the arena at home. Your horse will pick up on any tension, and if you suddenly change the way you ride he won’t understand what you’re asking of him.
Get yourself into a bubble on arrival at a show and ignore all distractions. Explain to anyone going with you that you may be distant when getting ready and don’t need a kind family member offering you a coffee in the warm-up, for example.
While waiting for the bell to ring (or the starter’s orders), you shouldn’t even notice who else is there — just focus and think: same test/jumps, different arena.
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6. Get familiar
If possible, avoid changing your bit or tack before a show — you want your horse to work predictably. Practise riding at home in the kit you plan to wear at the show, too. Putting on your shiny riding boots and white breeches without leather half-seat may suddenly make you feel much less secure.
Don’t change the way you ride right before competition, and similarly don’t over-ride or over-train before a show — your horse won’t know what’s going on.
Have the horse shod at least two weeks before an important competition to give his shoes time to bed down, and take spares with you.
7. And get on with it
If you can’t have leg protection on your horse in the ring, put boots on him during the warm-up rather than bandages, as the latter can be difficult to remove before you go in if the horse is excitable.
If your horse is tense, having warmed up, get in the arena and get on with the test or course — don’t faff about getting him to halt perfectly before you get going, for example, as you’ll only wind each other up.
Welcome to the sixth Horse & Hound e-Training lesson with grand prix dressage rider Keith Robertson. Now that the series is well under way it’s time to think about what judges are looking for at prelim level. This week we focus on accuracy, rhythm and impulsion so that you can really push up your percentages when riding prelim 15.
Session 1: accuracy and rhythm
At prelim level it’s important to keep your horse attentive. You need to work on keeping the same rhythm for long distances without variation while showing positive paces.
Simple polework exercises can help if you struggle with maintaining your horse’s rhythm and balance, and focus both your own and your horse’s mind.
To try at home…
Use circles to gain the horse’s attention and focus on accuracy. You don’t have a fence line when riding your circle in prelim 15, so practise riding quarter turns, rather than an oval. If your circle is misshapen look to see if you’ve had too much or too little bend – you don’t need much at this level.
Set out four poles on a 20m circle at the four points of a clock face. Canter around the poles first and then raise them, altogether or one by one, depending on your horse’s level.
This will help keep your horse supple through the turn and also help with his rhythm and balance. The exercise should help your horse to sit in the canter, carry himself and lighten the forehand more easily.
Let others know if you found this session useful by sharing your progress and pictures with the rest of our e-Community.
Session 2: impulsion
If your horse lacks impulsion you must train him to become responsive to your aids, rather than ignoring them.
To try at home…
Practise walk to trot transitions to keep your horse alert. Use quick, sharp aids – don’t nag.
If he’s slow to respond to the upward transition, use one quick aid from your leg and try clicking with your tongue. Carry a schooling whip if needed.
If he goes forwards quickly don’t restrict him in the mouth and give mixed messages – if necessary school with a neck strap. Praise him when he goes forward immediately.
This will help train him to go off light, effective aids so that when you come to ride your test it looks effortless and you don’t need as much work to keep the forward impulsion.
Repeat this until your horse understands he is to go off a light leg aid.
Session 3: practise the whole test
It’s now time to practise riding the test as a whole, but first watch this week’s test riding video with Isobel Wessels:
Although we will focus on other movements throughout the series, ensure that you’re comfortable with the following:
- Riding in a 20x60m arena
- Half circle 20m diameter in free walk (double score)
- Quick, sharp transitions
The thorny issue of whether licensed trainers should be allowed to run in hunter chases always activates a lively debate.
It saddens me to see a highly rated horse from a large yard winning a hunter chase where the owner and trainer aren’t even there to collect their prize. To them, it’s just
This is in contrast to the sheer happiness that a win on the big stage can bring a trainer who does it for the love of the sport. This takes me back to the late Bob Wale, who lived for his hunting and horses. He had a cheap horse called Morning Dawn whom he trained on his farm and hunted with the Pytchley.
Bob’s biggest thrill was when his horse won a hunter chase at Hereford. That is what hunter chases should be about.
You can’t blame the professional trainer for wanting an easy win, particularly now that you no longer have to hunt to qualify. That is why I applaud the hunter chase “grassroots” initiative whereby horses have to run in a point-to-point before it can hunter chase. This will make it harder for professional trainers to take part and give amateur trainers a chance to fulfil a lifelong dream. Hopefully the British Horseracing Authority will make sure there are more of them in the future.
Ref Horse & Hound; 16 February 2017
It is all spot-on at the moment for us. The horses are in good form, they’ve come out the other side of the flu jabs, and we had a winner with Aintree My Dream on Saturday.
There are a couple of important weekends ahead of Cheltenham where some of our horses will be having a prep run, and then it’s all eyes ahead and hoping to keep out of trouble until the Festival.
Altior was very impressive at the weekend, winning by 13 lengths. However, I think the comparisons to Sprinter Sacre are premature. He still has a lot to prove, including winning the Arkle. It’s always great to have exciting horses, but everyone wants to compare them to past heroes straight away. They want Nicky Henderson to say the horse is the best he’s ever trained. Sprinter did unusual things, so we’ll wait to see about Altior.
It’s hugely important to have stars like that — people want to see the glory horses. It’s the same in all sports. Barcelona is such a popular football team as it’s made up of brilliant players and everyone wants to watch them. Likewise, fans love the Sprinter Sacres and Denmans of the game so it’s great to showcase them.
I thought Native River would win the Denman Chase, and he did. Bristol De Mai was possibly showing the effects of a hard race last time out, but I was impressed with Paul Nicholls’ horse Le Mercurey. He could even be a Grand National contender.
The Gold Cup looks pretty open now, too. Thistlecrack has shown a bit of exposure having been beaten by Many Clouds at Cheltenham and both he and his stablemate Native River have chances.
Girls should go for it
We are big supporters of female riders at our yard. Bridget Andrews (interview, p22) has had many winners for us. Trainers should use the best riders, regardless of their gender, but it’s true that men do get more opportunities in racing. This new ruling by France Galop [of giving female riders in France a 4.4lb weight allowance (news, p6)] has caused a lot of discussion, but I’m in favour of it and think female jockeys should take advantage of it. I do think 4.4lb is actually too much though, and I can’t see it lasting for too long before it will be called an unfair advantage, so they need to make the most of it. I imagine they’ll ride loads of winners, become in high demand and then there will be complaints.
I don’t think the girls should take it as a slight though. They should go for it and prove the doubters wrong. The sport should be judged on winners, not on anything else, so if you’re handed an advantage, grasp it.
Racing in city centres?
There have been talks about having racing in central London. It’s a novel idea and certainly worth a go. I’m for anything that gets the sport in the general public’s view.
Look at the popularity of the White Turf events at St Moritz, for example. Racing on the snow is part of Switzerland’s heritage and is really popular. The best horses don’t run there, but everyone loves to watch it — it’s different and spectacular.
If they had a series that was rolled out globally with racing in city centres it could bring in more revenue and interest. Racing needs to try out new things and support innovators who dare to branch out of conservative thinking.
Ref Horse & Hound; 16 February 2017
I’ve spent part of the winter designing courses in the US, in particular Florida and West Palm Beach. I’ve noticed some key differences and certain trends in many of the competitions in the States.
The time allowed for the majority of classes is incredibly tight — in some cases it is almost impossible for riders to cross the finishing line without incurring faults. The sport
in America has always been about forward riding, but riders tell me they would much rather be tested on a number of technical lines than a series of rollbacks to wide oxers and a battle against the clock.
There is little doubt that the quality and standard of horse and rider at all levels is extremely high, including some very accomplished amateur riders who are competing at 1.35m-1.45m level. My experience last week in Ocala was that related distances, together with some long bending lines to and from combinations, were equally as effective at reducing clear rounds, and that the time — although still a factor — was there as a reminder, not as a test of speed over the fences.
The approach to course-walking in the USA is also more analytical. Most riders are walking with a trainer and will study the course in some detail, often walking a second and third time. For that reason they demand that course plans are posted the evening before, or by 7am on the morning of the class at the latest to ensure that even those in the final class of the day can study and prepare well in advance.
A flexible concept
I was also involved in a fantastic new venture in West Palm Beach, organised by former Olympian Nona Garson and her partner George D’Ambrosio. A different course was designed each day for each of the two arenas, one which suited horses jumping 80cm-1.20m and the other 1.25m-1.45m. Both courses had the option of being a speed, jump-off or two-phase competition. Although the course did not move, the fences and lines could be jumped differently and were judged under national rules. Riders arrived any time during the day with a number of horses, and with the exception of the grand prix, they could ask for the fences in each arena to be raised or reduced in height to suit their class requirements.
The concept allowed riders like Ben Maher, Laura Kraut and McLain Ward to compete up the road at the Wellington Horse Show and then bring their up-and-coming rides to compete in the classes they wanted to without the pressure of start and finish times. This is a super initiative and definitely be food for thought for British weekday training shows.
Ref Horse & Hound; 16 February 2017
A traffic light ratings system was used to improve eventing safety in Ireland last year, with impressive results.
Diarmuid Byne presented the system — known as the Equiratings Quality Index (ERQI) — at the International Eventing Forum last Monday (6 February).
The ERQI has been developed by EquiRatings, the eventing data analytics company set up by Irishman Diarmuid and his compatriot Sam Watson, a four-star and championship rider.
Diarmuid and Sam were at school and university together, with Diarmuid studying law and Sam management science and information systems. Sam initially started analysing data and performance as a way to improve his own showjumping.
The pair launched EquiRatings in the spring last year and have been working in areas such as media and commentary and high performance, as well as safety.
How the ERQI works
The ERQI is a rating attached to each horse, from zero to one, at each level of competition. Higher ratings mean the horse has a greater chance of jumping clear across country.
The ratings are calculated using the horse’s previous cross-country jumping form. The ratings are also adjusted to account for varying levels of difficulty between classes at the same level and how mistakes at one level are likely to impact on a horse’s chances at another.
Last year Eventing Ireland (EI) linked its entries system to ERQIs, with riders able to see each of their horses’ ratings at each level before they made an entry.
Horses with a green ERQI of 0.5 or more could compete at that level. Those with an amber ERQI of 0.15-0.5 could, but it was a warning to riders. Horses with a red ERQI (below 0.15) could not be entered.
Falls at national two-star level in Ireland fell by 66% in 2016 and EI will be extending its use of ERQIs again this year.
“Solving safety isn’t one person’s responsibility and we don’t have all the answers,” said Diarmuid. “But we do have a tool for prediction.
“It’s predictive analysis, but also common sense. Horses which aren’t jumping many clears turn into horses which have falls. There will always be a risk in eventing, but there’s an acceptable level. Responsibility must be passed back to riders.”
Sam added: “There’s an angle on recklessness versus risk. Everyone in eventing likes to take on risk — they go hunting and skiing in the off-season.
- More falls at four-stars and championships: event riders react to analysis
- Event safety takes a step forward at Luhmühlen
- Proposal for new eventing safety fund financed by levy on entry fees
“But for the protection of our sport and our image going forward, thinking about what we put on TV and as we try to become more inclusive worldwide, we need to decide behind closed doors what level of risk we need to accept and where that’s being surpassed.”
Find out more about the ERQI system, plus opinions from Eventing Ireland and British Eventing, in this week’s H&H magazine (out Thursday, 16 February).