A few last outings before Corey's break

Brook Corey head shoulders website

by Brook Howells

Corey has about two months off each year to help him recharge his batteries and after Weston Park we had just a couple of local competitions to do before his holiday.

The first of these was British Showjumping at Southview Equestrian Centre. We're not members of BS yet and this was only our second attempt - I confess going show jumping is not my favourite pleasure with generally long days and too much waiting - but I think come the spring we'll join; we're starting to jump a height that is hard to find at unaffiliated competitions and the cost of day tickets will start to add up! Show jumping is undoubtedly my weakest phase, particularly in competition so we will need to do a lot more in preparation for Badminton.

I could write a list as long as my arm of all the things I'm meant to do when I'm jumping and I'm lucky if I even remember half of them, let alone achieve many in a round. The main things are to get a good rhythm in my canter, not ride for strides (I can’t help looking for them but I’m invariably wrong so I should leave Corey to pick his takeoff point) and look up over the fence. Once I'd fathomed what class was what, helped by a friend pointing out the rules changed in September so advertised class heights don't match the rule book, I entered two classes - 95cm and 105cm. The first class was two phase and he jumped both sections clear, which was great. We were struggling with control on every turn so I took the opportunity of being HC to teach him how to behave and brought him back to trot on every corner – not easy! I also managed to get lost so had to stop and think where I was going, so ended up with 3 time penalties but I was very happy with it overall. The second class was a better controlled round and he jumped out of a nice rhythm. I looked up over nearly everything but sadly saw a long stride into the double, rode for it before I realised what I was doing and had the first part down. I find it really frustrating when I can feel myself making mistakes but I can't react fast enough to stop them, I'll just have to keep practicing and training!

In the week after Southview I reflected on the fact that in dressage he is very responsive and transitions down are easy, but in show jumping he tends to run through the bridle and ignore me, getting faster and longer, losing his rhythm and balance. So my next jump training session at home focused on this control – warming up with lots of canter/trot/canter transitions for a start. When he schools in his jump saddle he seems to take it as permission to ignore my aids, so it took a while before we had consistent transitions and only when he was consistently listening did I start jumping. I had a small grid of 3 bounces to a spread set up, a formation recommended by a friend for horses who tend to knock odd poles off. Having established control in my warm up, I found I could get him back to a steady rhythm before I reattempted the grid but it was still taking a long time after the grid to slow him down before I could come back to it. So then I tried to put the brakes on as I was landing the final fence – not letting him run on for a few strides first. Much more controlled, hurrah! Maybe these things come naturally to other riders but I have to really concentrate and work for even these simple improvements!

Then it was time for my final competition of the year, the flagship competition of our riding club, the Wendy Ashton Combined Training. It is a big ambition of mine to win one of the Wendy Ashton trophies and I've come close in recent years but unfortunately couldn't vie for it this year. I wanted to jump in the 1m and 1.10m classes and the matching dressage was too tough for Corey at this point so I opted for an easier separate dressage test as an end of year cool down. He has a lot of talent and great movement on the flat but he is also very sensitive in the dressage, getting tense and worried if he feels something is too difficult, so I need to be careful of asking too much of him. He tries very hard whatever he does and I don't want to put him off having such a great work ethic.

Even opting for an easier test it was not one of our best tests, though we did learn a lot. When I’m learning my test I write out instructions to myself on how to ride each movement (leg yielding into the turns on a serpentine for example), to remind myself of exactly what I'm meant to do in each one. In this test I managed to do nearly everything ‘right’ and I was even able to think about why we weren’t getting our best work, so even though I didn’t get as far as thinking up or trying out solutions, I was really pleased to have been able to think about it at least – it’s a real aim of mine to have that sort of mindfulness throughout my performances. I also learnt not to use rein-back as a method of keeping control in my warm up if I don't need to do it in the test; I got lots of compliments on how good the rein-back was, just a shame it was meant to be halt and immobility for four seconds!

A slight pause in proceedings followed the dressage - we'd broken off the key in the lock of the car (a Series 3 Land Rover), locking us out! Thankfully the window wasn’t locked and with a bit of help from Al (my husband), I got through the window to unlock it from the inside! The adventure never stops with Mum and Dad's old landy! Very pleased no-one had their cameras out at that point...

I warmed up for the show jumping the same way as in my training session that week; transitions, transitions, transitions. A couple of practice fences and in we went for the 1m class – and I was very pleased with his first round as he kept a good rhythm, I looked up over nearly everything and he jumped clear! The jump off was very competitive – people were planning all sorts of tight lines and I tried to lay down the gauntlet with one particularly tight line but sadly we took the top rail out as I did. A great bit of fun though! He jumped the 1.10m class out of a lovely rhythm too, feeling really confident at the height, which gives me hope that Badminton won't be too scary. We messed the double up and took out both parts in style but recovered to jump the second half of the course confidently and finish on a high.

And with that, Corey is on holiday. His shoes have come off and he will have nearly two months to just chill and have cuddles with old Danny in the field, thinking about everything he’s learnt this year. However, whilst the riding may be over, the obsession with eventing isn’t. I’m trying to do pilates because I could do much better (health wise and riding wise) with a stronger core, we’re planning ahead for Corey's fitness/preparation for the spring, giving all the tack a big clean / overhaul and poring over the recently released BE calendar for 2014 to plan our campaign to Badminton and beyond. I was glad to see on Twitter that we're very much not the only people already planning where we'll compete next year!

Brook

Brook

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