Tag Archives: Sunshine Riding School

Horse Story: Crystal

“Who am I riding today? Can I ride Crystal?”
“I wanna ride Crystal today. Can I?”
“What do you mean I can’t ride Crystal today. She’s totally the best!”

These are the phrases I hear at least 6 days a week.

“All right! I got Crystal!”
“I’m jumping today and I have Crystal? YES!”
“Crystal is so lovely. I want to take her home.”

These are also the phrases I hear at least 6 days a day.

Highland Crystal is our 14/1hh Highland pony. Like her name, she is a grey horse with patches of dark skin that show through. Because of these dark skin patches and in spite of her pure white coat, she is still a grey and not a rare white horse who has a double Dominant White gene (horse genetics are fun). She is 14 years old with the wisdom of someone far older. It is usual to give the title Schoolmaster to someone so young, but she is a definite contender for the title. There is not much she hasn’t done and done very well, and she will both teach and protect riders ensuring they continue to ride and develop. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but will tolerate and help those who need her the most. She may be the best thing to come out of Scotland since whiskey.

Crystal’s breed is the Highland Pony. This is one of the 3 native breeds to the Scottish highlands and islands – the others being the Shetland and the Eriskay. They are a hearty breed with a double coat of long and short hairs (such fun in the moulting season!), ranging from 13 hands to 14/2 hands high. They are strong enough in the shoulder to plough and strong enough in the hind to jump. They are known for their gentle, calm nature which makes them an ideal riding pony. There are only about 5500 pure Highlands and we are very lucky to have one living with us at Sunshine. Although there is a breeding programme and many Highlands are crossed with other breeds such as a thoroughbred to make eventing horses, Highlands are classed at Level 4 “At Risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. If you have read George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), you will know about the horses used up by the wall – they are called Garrons. Garrons actually exist and are a type of Highland pony. Crystal IS a garron – tall, strong, balanced and dedicated Highland pony. (FYI, the only dragon at Sunshine is me.)

Crystal is a perfect example of her breed. She is loyal, dependable and trustworthy. She is has an intelligence about her and she will also tell you her opinion. Now as many of you may remember, Crystal was attacked when she first came to Sunshine in 2016. She was in her own field because she had not been integrated into the herd. The individuals who did this burned her face with cigarettes, also beat and kicked her side viciously. The attack made both local and national news and vet bills were in thousands of pounds. Crystal was featured in Horse and Hound and her case was cited for stricter punishment for people who abuse animals, especially horses. Despite the loving care she constantly receives from everyone at Sunshine, Crystal has not forgotten and is very wary of people now. Because I was not able to protect her, Crystal now believes she must protect herself. She doesn’t bite, but she will nip if she doesn’t like what you are doing. Yet, she will protect her riders with every fibre of her being.

Crystal’s desire to make sure her riders are safe is what makes her the most popular horse at Sunshine. She is as ideal to teach the first time jumper as much as the Intermediate level jumper (she’s a touch small for the Advanced Class as I don’t want her jumping over 1 metre). Crystal is very aware of the speed and approach she must take to a jump with the consideration of the skill the rider possesses. Working with her is like have a team-teaching experience. This is not say that people haven’t fallen off Crystal, but it is a very rare occurrence. If a rider has lost their confidence in riding, then Crystal (providing they aren’t over 5’6” tall) is my first call. In 2019 at the Early Summer Show we introduced Working Hunter jumping to Sunshine. Our hunters, Ben and Tango, were very happy to have the natural type fences, yet Crystal, who to my knowledge has never been on a hunt, took one look at the new challenges and was all in. She took to Working Hunter like a duck to water and won the first rosette ever offered at Sunshine in that discipline. Maybe it was her hunting heritage or deep love for a new challenge, either way she repeated her victory again in the June Jump 2019 in both Working Hunter and Show Jumping.

Crystal, I am sorry to admit, does not like flat work and dressage as much as jumping. Jumping is fun for her, but flat work is just that: work. Because she is not so in love with this discipline, she will make the rider ask for every move absolutely correctly. In her opinion, if you can’t ask properly then she doesn’t have to do it. That being said, this does mean our riders will have learned all the proper technique necessary which makes them very good dressage riders. Crystal has regularly competed in our dressage competitions as well as with Interdressage where she has always won a rosette – just not red…yet.

For all of Crystal’s dislike of flat work, when she sees a disabled rider Crystal becomes their best friend. She has lots of patience and care for them. If an abled-bodied rider was shouting and kicking, Crystal would very clearly tell them off (she has one of sternest ‘Mare Faces’ I have ever seen!). Yet, for our riders who have Tourette or Spastic forms of autism, Crystal will calmly accept the situation and try to help them enjoy both their ride and their learning. She has taken her riders from a petting situation to independence in canter. Crystal wants all her riders to be winners.

Speaking of being a winner, Crystal has made is possible for nearly everyone who has ridden her in a show a chance at a Red Rosette. Crystal has a very wide competitive streak. She knows when she is in a competition – whether it be in-hand, dressage or show jumping. She has been introduced to cross country but it is only just above flat work on her list of things she doesn’t like. We will continue to work with her on this discipline and we shall see what happens. The 2018 Show season was just as impressive as her 2019 season when Crystal and her rider Caitlin won the 2018 Accumulator Cup (we didn’t have Cross Country until 2019). As expected, Crystal won In-Hand and Show Jumping, but her Dressage was a touch weak. It was an amazing day for an amazing pony. Crystal hasn’t forgotten she won – ask her and she’ll tell you all about it.

Crystal not only shows well in proper In-Hand Showing, but she is the wonder pony for Fancy Dress Showing. Crystal can be dressed, painted, coloured as anything in the universe and she is happy with it. Crystal has shown as everything from a Space Ship to a Santa’s Reindeer, from St George’s Horse to a Christmas Present. What she finds important is that that she in involved. She is also happy to ride around the neighbourhood in her costume as well.

If Gymkhana is your thing, then Crystal is your horse. She is a great games pony — I suppose it is that “I have to win” spirit she has. She is able to bend around cones as if she was made of rubber, yet she will also be the easiest pony to lead if the rider is insecure and needs some support. What is important to her is that her rider has fun and thinks they are a winner.

Crystal also loves to hack out – especially to the pub (don’t we all?). Crystal is used by our smaller adults on our Pub Rides which follow the bridle paths from here to Lilley and back. She has also participated on our Halloween Spooky Hack (a ride in the dark) and our Faux Hunts at New Year.

Hunt for Santa

She is ideal for the first-time hacker because of her “I’ll take care of you” attitude, but she will also give an experienced rider a fun, full-on canter hack if that’s what you want. Crystal does not like being the point horse (the one in front on a hack) and is happy to placed middle to back of the ride. She can keep up with the big horses, but just doesn’t like to set the pace.

Crystal isn’t interested in leading the Herd of Mares. She is happy to leave that to Magic. She would prefer to be allowed to eat in peace and trot when she wants. That being said, she does not like to be left behind if the mares want to change fields (or escape to the Golf Club car park). She was only mildly curious about June’s birth and hasn’t expressed any more interest in the year that June has been alive. Perhaps it is her Scottish nature that makes her a bit taciturn. That being said, she has no problem showing her fellow Scot, Bella, a pair hooves when necessary.

I suppose you can now see why Crystal is such a popular pony. She is the first request of all our young riders be they wanting a riding lesson or a pony for camp. Her Pony Ride patience is matchless and she pretty much does qualify as “Bomb Proof”. What does Crystal want most of all? To have someone to talk to who is happy to tell her what a pretty girl she is. And Crystal is a beauty in mind, body and soul.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Shaanon West Photography and the riders at Sunshine.  Thanks y’all!

Horse Story: Tango

On Friday the 13th of April 2007 Chestnut Colt 13 was born. I wasn’t there. I don’t know much about the early years of this Irish Thoroughbred except he had a tough beginning. I know that he was born on a racing yard – this alone is a situation that makes early life for any horse hard. A bit like his owner (Beowulf), Chestnut Colt 13 has an American mother and an Irish father. His bloodlines are excellent (the horse that is) and Chestnut Colt 13 should have been an amazing racer. But he wasn’t.

When Chestnut Colt 13 was nearly 3 years old someone decided that a racing career was not his future and sold him on to an eventing yard. CC13 stayed there for 2 years before he was sold on due to his eyes (more on this later). He was deemed talented enough and fast enough but the eyes were considered to be a possible deterrent for a professional, high level show horse. But they were wrong.

When he was 6 he came to Sunshine. Because he is bright (and I do mean bright!) orange, he is called Tango.  When I met him, Tango was a very unhappy horse. He was being used in the school for adult Lead Rein and Beginner classes which he very clearly hated. He was known for biting and kicking. One took their chances when it came to hanging up his hay net. My first summer of working with him was the most challenging times I had ever had with a horse.

The summer of 2014 I taught Tango how to jump properly. Jumping properly is not just getting from Point A to Point B over Obstacle C. It is about rhythm and balance and confidence. Everything that Tango had lost, if he ever had it at all. All the while of doing this, Tango fought like a demon anything I tried. By August I had decided that I was going to sell him. He needed a home where people would put him first and he would not be shared around. Unfortunately Tango’s reputation preceded him and there was not a single serious offer for him.

As I sat in slight despair as to what to do with Tango in January 2015, it came to me that maybe there was a reason he was still at Sunshine. Perhaps I was the one who was to save him and give him the chance he had been denied all his life. I walked down to his stable and looked at him hard. Tango glared at me with his ears pinned back to his head, teeth at the ready. I stood a sensible distance away and asked him, “Do you really want to be a great horse?” He snorted and twitched his ears forward and back in a flash. “Are you going to continue to fight me tooth and nail?” He swished his tail and “air chomped” at me. “Well, that behaviour is just going to have to stop. We can do this or you will die.” I walked away.

I went into the office and Simon walked in – that man may have some eye issues but his hearing is unbelievable. “Are you actually going to call Courtney’s?” “No,” I replied. It was at that moment the “Love Offensive” was born. I was going love that stubborn, stupid Irishman into being a great horse. “I’m taking him out of the school and giving him to Beowulf.” Simon nodded and muttered something about how this was going to be interesting.

So it started: The Love Offensive. The key to this is to not respond to any provocation from the horse with anger or violence. Starting with an air of bored indifference when working with animal rather than trying to push love on them was important. Someone who doesn’t trust you isn’t going to accept that emotion from you. They have built high walls around themselves for protection and you are not going to get through them until they let you. This is the same for horses and it is for humans. This doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to them and treat them civilly, but that you don’t try to buy or force an emotion.

Now I will say that this was hard going. In March Tango bit Wulf so hard on his ribs that Tango’s teeth went through both the jacket and shirt. This resulted in a trip to the hospital, gauze, some sort of fake skin plaster and a jolly good tetanus jab. Wulf wasn’t so sure that he wanted this horse, but he, like his mother, isn’t one to give up quickly. So we carried on. Tango repeated this behaviour to Wulf’s girlfriend at the time 2 months later. It was like he was trying to push us away so that he wouldn’t fall in love. Tango did not want to get hurt and was going to make sure he wasn’t. He had never met the McGuinness Resolve.

We continued with our efforts. We found a muzzle for him so we could be safe when grooming him. So he took to kicking. We took to 2 man grooming where one would hold a foot up and the other would do the brushing. It took a couple of weeks, but Tango learned that we were not intimidated and he was going to lose. We knew we had won when he picked his leg up for us when we came to groom him. It took several more months before he realised that he wouldn’t have to wear the muzzle if he would let us groom him without incident. Five years on and Tango now gets the hump if we don’t groom him!

Once we could groom him well, we then started on serious education. When I say we, I mean Beowulf, Tango and myself. Wulf and I would spend half an hour with Tango 3 times a week working on a rotation of general schooling with poles, dressage, and jumping. Tango began to love these sessions because they were mentally challenging to him and he received the praise and acceptance he so desperately wanted but never seemed to get. In 2015 Tango went from jumping 50cm to jumping 80cm, from never doing a dressage test to working at upper Preliminary/lower Novice test, from fighting the hand and leg to working in an outline. He also was happy to accept praise from me in the arena. Today, Tango jumps confidently at 110cm, rides a wicked cross-country country course, and will be tackling Elementary level dressage. I do see a 130cm jump in his future (oh God! The height! Gulp!).

The year 2016 was a bit of a blot on the page due to my accident and everything in the yard went on a holding pattern. When I came back in 2017, the first lesson I taught was with Tango and Wulf. I was surprised by the level of calm Tango showed. He knew I was not right and he did not act up.

Two of Tango’s Riders at Bury Farm International: Kat and Beowulf.

For the last 3 years, we have been able to work with him, educate him, take him on long show journeys, and win, win, win. For a horse who was not supposed to be able to do anything, it must have been a surprise to be affiliated for his 12th birthday. He was again Chestnut Colt 13 with a big future.

Now in the beginning I talked about Tango’s eyes. Tango has a condition called Hanging Grapes in his left eye. This is where the Corpora Nigra collapses downwards occluding part of the lens. I was told by the vet that Tango had in 2014 a 25% occlusion and that it was going to get worse. I was told that Tango would probably lose all useful vision in that eye by the time he was 13. Well, Tango is a wonder horse and somehow he reversed part of that. Today he has about a 15% – 17% vision blockage. I will tell you now that he can certainly see the jumps – the higher the better!

I am not going to lie to you and say that Tango is reformed and utterly trustworthy. He still has his moments. He will still try it on with Wulf and he will lose. Most of his misbehaviour now is from him feeling ignored. He knows that he is the centre of Beowulf’s riding world and he wants to have every moment of it. He now accepts love and can cautiously give it. Tango has a very limited number of riders: 3 to be exact. I am not one of them. I am his trainer and as such he respects me. He knows I never gave up on him and I never will.

Charlie, What IS he doing?

Tango’s best mate is Charlie and Tango serves as Charlie’s Lieutenant in the herd. The two have shared a cross moment, and Tango has lost every time, so he has given up and accepts that he is Number 2 (if this was Star Trek he’d be Number 1). Tango serves as one of the lead horses when the Handlers do a Formation Ride because if his leadership. He has even learned from Charlie to politely eat a doughnut from me (I’ve just been told he also likes cupcakes – thanks Wulf!).

I am not sure which one of us found our pot of gold – Chestnut Colt 13 or me. He is now living the life he deserved. I now have a son who has a horse to take him places. Together they are dynamite and I could not be more proud. This 17 hand 2 Irishman proved that the Love Offensive works and creates miracles where none could possible have been seen.

This post would not be possible without the help and beautiful photos from Chris Cole Photography, the many Sunshine Handlers and an overly proud Dad.  Thanks Y’all!

Horse Story: Pandora

We all probably know the story of Pandora. She was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus to punish mankind for stealing fire from the gods. She was endowed by the gods with beauty, grace, talent, knowledge…and a box. We know that Pandora was told to never open the box. Temptation proved too much for her and she did open it, and out of the box came all the evils which plague man. At the bottom, almost unseen, unnoticed, was Hope. And it was with Pandora that hope was released into the world.

So how does this Greek myth tie into our Pandora?

Pandora is a soft eyed, 16 hand, grey freckled cob. She is beautiful, graceful, talented, gentle and innocent. Pandora, also known simply as Dora, is 14 years old. Dora brought with her, not in box but in her heart, a gift of hope.

When Dora arrived at Sunshine I was looking for another strong but gentle jumper. I had seen pictures and video of her jumping and I thought she looked like a good fit. We had just retired Tink to a new home in a field of very deep grass. I knew that Tink was happy so I had space to bring a new girl in. Dora came from up north near Doncaster. I had been told that her previous owner had been injured (not a riding accident) and was also pregnant, so riding was out for a long time. The owner was hoping that Dora would have a chance to develop as she was still a young horse. As with everything, Dora arrived with her own ideas.

Once Dora had settled, we began working with her. As to be expected, she was a complete mess upon arrival. It was clear that she had just come out of a very muddy field! It took several days and as many baths to get her grey again. It was a bit of a surprise to find out that Dora was not keen on being tied up. How were we supposed to groom her when each time we secured her to a tie-up point she would back up and start shying? Being sensible about the situation meant that one Handler would hold Dora and another would groom her. Dora was fine about this and has come to love her grooming time. She now can be properly tie-up, but we must never leave her alone that way on the yard.

Dora’s jumping became something I began suspect wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Dora can jump (unlike Rosie), but she didn’t enjoy it. When it comes to jumping, it is a discipline that both the horse and the rider have to love to do. A horse who doesn’t want to jump will frustrate the Rider with the result being an over use of the whip. A Rider who isn’t confident with their jumping will find themselves in a possibly dangerous situation as their horse will take control. Something a potentially dangerous should not be left to a creature who has a brain the size of a clementine. Dora was fine jumping if she had a very confident Rider who know what to do and could lead her safely over the fences. If there was any sign of trouble, Dora would always run out to her right (I learned that rather shockingly as I was on the wrong side of a jump once. Only Once.) This tendency was not the best for a riding school. As she was 12 years old that that time, I wasn’t sure I could bring her on fully to enjoy jumping as I had riders to train at the same time. Major dilemma.

It wasn’t long before Tuscany was retired for the riding school and went to live is a big green field nearby. When Tuscany left, I knew I had an opening for a dressage mare. I had noted that Dora was naturally very flexible through her shoulders and forelimbs. Dora was (an still is) as happy moving sideways as she was going forwards. Dora also seemed to understand how to bend properly through a 20 meter circle with very little training. Her upwards and downwards transitions between the paces was easy. Most importantly her ears perked up and went forward when she was brought into a jump free arena for a flatwork lesson.

This is where Dora becomes Pandora and brings hope. I began to seriously introduce and train Dora in flatwork and dressage in Summer 2018. In the beginning both she and her riders were a touch green. You can practice and practice your Test, know it inside and out, but it in the heat of competition that your depth of knowledge and experience is honed. If I, or any other rider, got on Tuscany and felt a bit nervous, Tuscany would say, “Don’t worry. I got this.” It was comforting to know that she would do that …. right up to the moment she would slip from one Test into a completely different one. That kind of equine confidence comes with lots of work and experience. Dora has been learning that. What were once unprepared moves in the heat of the moment have become smooth changes of gears. What was once a frightening mass of humanity have become her adoring fans. What were once 5th and 6th place rosettes have become 1st and 2nd.

Another wonderful thing for her is that she rarely sees or experiences a whip. Because she is willing to do the work, there is no need for force the issue. She is now happy to do Lead Rein and Beginner lessons as much as her private Dressage Coaching. She has learned how to help people who are just starting out gain confidence and love riding. Her gentle nature means there little to fear from her when learning how to steer and balance for a trot. Dora has learned how to hack out and enjoy it. She hasn’t to date made it to the pub, but it is on her schedule for this summer. Again, because it will be fun, she will not fear it and in turn, neither will her rider. However the rider does need to be aware that she will try to take a grass snack for two on the ride.

All this praise does not mean she doesn’t have her cheeky side. She is one of the few horses that comes with a perfect internal clock. If the rider asks in Dora’s presence how long their lesson is and we teachers answer, “half hour” or “30 minutes”, you can count that Dora will be heading down the centre line to a finish halt at that point exactly. If we say, “oh, you have 45 minutes today” or “this is for an hour”, again Dora will finish exactly at that point. Don’t try to sneak another move in. She won’t have it. What she will do is start to canter the arena in a fit of pique. Not a lot of fun if the rider isn’t that accomplished. And as I said, Dora can go sideways as easy as forward, so one can quickly learn how to sit a half pass if Dora is in a mood. Dora also still refuses to go over poles even if they are lying on the ground. This is not a fear issue, but now very much a “mare issue”. Dora will be learning her groundwork poles- end of sentence. So there are times when the horse that looks like an angel can be a right little devil!

As for moods, our Dora is quiet one. She can be shy and doesn’t actually like a lot of people around her (unless she is doing a show and then she likes to be a Queen). If she is feeling unsure or crowded, Dora will hid to the back of her box with a very worried expression on her face. Dora is very sensitive to loud noises, so during firework season (now September through January!) it is important that one of her favourite people are up here and with her. A comforting hand on her face or neck does wonders and she relaxes. Dora also is a mothering auntie to June. She was profoundly affected by June’s birth as she was next door when it happened. Dora has tried and occasionally been successful with caring for June. As June gets older and bigger, I am sure they will have a good relationship.

There are many mean jokes about grey horses. Sunshine’s Pandora defies them all. She is clean, kind, gentle and loving. She wants children and adults to have a good time when they are with her. Her expressive and caring face says it all. Pandora gives hope and love to all in her orbit and in exchange we hope that she knows how much we love and value her. She is a gift to us.

This post would not have been possible without the beautiful photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thanks Chris!

Horse Story: Henry

The first weekend of September is very important to the teachers at Sunshine. It is “Burghley Weekend”. From the Wednesday before to the Sunday, Stamford England and Marquis of Exeter host the Burghley Horse Trials. It is a 5-star international event that features the top eventers from all over the world. It is an amazing experience that I thoroughly recommend to anyone who is an equine lover. You will see some of the very best dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Henry is a “Burghley Horse”… just not the type you might be thinking of right now.

I, Kimberly, have a small addiction which I really don’t know if I will ever be able to kick. It starts in August of every year with me saying that there is simply no way I will buy a horse before I go to Burghley. The Sunshine Staff vacillates between, “That is right. You will not be getting one as we do not have space for another horse.” and “Yeah, right. You really believe that you will not be buying a horse this year? I’ll believe it when I see it.” Currently, six years on, there are far more staff members in the second camp than in the first. In fact, they are now placing orders for the type of horse I am to buy. I don’t go looking. The horse finds me.

Drumcoe Henry is one of these very special “Burghley Horses”. Henry is the second of our Burghley Bros. Donny, who now belongs to one of our former teachers, was the first. Five years ago, 4 days before the horse trials, I received a call from Fiona, now our Senior Teacher but then was working for a horse dealer. She told me that she had just had the most lovely 13 hand, 5 year old pony arrive and that he would make a lovely replacement for Smartie who I was retiring that year. I went down and looked him over. He was exactly what Fiona had said. He was a lovely, young and a bit unsure but a very willing boy. We agreed a price and time for me to collect. It was the morning of Burghley when I adopted him and he came to Sunshine.

And the fun began.

Burghley was great fun and Henry, who was in quarantine, caused the yard no problems. When I got home he was ready to come out of quarantine. He was lovely on the lunge and eager to go. I did note that he had a ‘dishy leg’. This means that one of Henry’s legs goes out more sideways that front-to-back. I spoke with the Farrier and asked what could be done, and in his professional opinion it was too late to do much as Henry was 5, soon to be 6 years old. Proper training was our only recourse so that the dish didn’t become worse and that his transition from walk to trot would be smoother and more manageable. We were also told that his transitions were awful because he used to be a trotter – in other words, a gypsy cart horse.

I took Henry to an autumn pony ride at a local school. There we/I met a man who declared himself to be an Irish Jockey. He looked Henry over with a very keen eye. He asked me what I though (note “what I thought” not “what is”) Henry’s breed was. I said that he was a Cob. The man shook his head sadly (I now recognise that as well) and said that “this boy is a Trekhanner”. This jockey went on to tell me that Henry was 3 years old and would, due to the size of his shoulder blades and the length of his cannon bone, grow to 15/1. Now you must realise that I was not about to take this man seriously. I mean, really now, how many Irish Jockeys does one meet at a local school pony ride? I have spent years ruing the fact I did not ask him more.

I felt from that point onwards that Henry believed that he had the support of a fellow Irishman, a jockey I never saw again, and began to grow. Yes, Henry is Irish with an Irish Horse Society passport. (Maybe I do have thing Irish horses? We do have several….) It was right before Christmas when Shannon came into the office and announced that ‘Baby Baby Henry’s’ rug no longer fit. I went out to his stable with her and was greeted with a very smug face from Henry. Shannon was right. Suddenly the rug was too short on the bum and tight across the shoulders. Obviously we got him another rug and I went into denial. After all, what did a random Irishman know?

This pattern started and went on for over a year. Henry kept growing. Shannon was in 40 shades of love with Henry, so every movement, every trip, every slight change was documented. She spent a lot of time with him and I am grateful for that.

In January of 2016 we had our Vet Inspection. If you have read Pasha’s Story, then this will sound familiar. Our Inspection Vet, Mr McFairlaine, came and was inspecting our horses. He came to Henry and asked me how old this horse was and what was his duties. I said that Henry was 6 and was a general school horse. “Come again? You say he is six?” said the sceptical Scotsman.
“Yes.” I swallowed, “But I was told by an alleged Irish jockey that he was rather younger.”
“You should have listened. This horse is just turned 4. Come here and let me show you his teeth.” Needless to say I complied in a rather embarrassed fashion. I knew he was under 7 because the hook that forms at that age hadn’t appeared. What I didn’t know was the size of the black spots on the bottom front teeth also can help tell you how old a horse is. What had his previous owners done?

Now I was also beside myself because I have no problems jumping and teaching jumping to a horse who is 5 years old. His back is developed and his muscles are strong. His legs are more permanently developed and any growth would be minimal. He is more mentally composed. As I said previously, Henry began a growth spurt that seemed to have to no end, which means his training was going to have to change immediately. A lot more lunge and flatwork with a lot less jumping.

I did speak with the Farrier again regarding what could be done for Henry’s dishy-ness as he was not the age I thought he was. The Farrier assured me that nothing could be done as it would have had to been done in the first 18 months. It would waste my money to have any type of remedial shoe as it would accomplish nothing. So we kept working on the flatwork.

Henry has been star. In the summer of 2015 he competed in his first dressage show. He was willing and sharp. He wanted to win. He did our inaugural June Jump in the 50cm Class and came 3rd. What I noticed at that show, which unlike lessons where I have more control over what the rider does, was that Henry ran at the jumps rather than set himself up to jump calmly. This was an age thing but also something I knew I had to help him with.

So we starting working with Henry on lots of ground poles. It was a cross between desensitising him to them and building his balance. Unfortunately 2016 wasn’t a good year due to a serious injury on my part, so Henry’s training along with everyone else’s was set back until I returned in 2017. I am grateful that my lovely staff were able to keep things ticking over, but they were young and not so sure about what they should be doing.

I was able to watch Henry in the spring of 2017 and saw that he had grown more. He was now 14/3 and much more powerful. His transitions were still erratic – it wasn’t so much popping into trot as being thrown into it. His transition to canter was him zooming up to almost galloping. It was clear that he had to learn the different paces and know he could use them to balance himself and have confidence in what he was doing. It is important that your horse knows his skills as much as you know yours. An unconfident horse is actually a dangerous one because you don’t know if he trusts you or what he is about to do. Henry’s run-outs were the cause of a lot of accident reports, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt.

I starting using Henry’s schoolwork as a way to train him. He was and is used in our Lead Rein and Beginner Classes where we teach new riders how to ride in walk and trot. Because he is on a lead rein held by a Handler, he is not able to rush his work and has become more confident at working in a slower pace. He is relaxed in walk and (almost) has a smooth transition to trot. He is also used in our Upper Novice, Intermediate Classes and Advanced Private Lessons. Here is where we teach both Henry and his rider about proper jumping technique, collection and extension in the paces, softer hands with stronger legs. Henry has been loving this work. It is also where we teach the rider to have real awareness of their horse.

Henry is a sensitive soul. He worries a lot. He wants to do well and when he kicks a pole it hurts him more mentally than physically. He thinks that dropping a pole will mean that we are angry with him and won’t love him. Now you may say, how can you tell this? The answer lies in his carriage – his eyes enlarge, his head goes up, his back hollows out and he runs in fear. It takes a lot of confidence as a rider to halt him and “talk him down”. Give him the love that let’s him know that a dropped pole isn’t the end of the world. It is just something that happens. Henry’s fear is simply an age thing, but we don’t need it to become an ingrained response. Because we want the best from him, we do have to use the best, most confident riders we have when he is not on a lead rein. By using this method with him, throughout 2019 Henry blossomed into the second most requested horse on the yard.

Henry is now 15/1 (that Irish jockey was so right on so many things!) and he is OFFICIALLY 8 years old. He still performs in dressage through the Novice Tests, but will always be marked down for his dishing. He now confidently jumps to 85cm and will be working towards 95cm this summer. He will be going out this year to local competitions as his training now has him confident in what he is doing, and positive in outlook and action. Henry is a brilliant hacking horse and loves his pub rides. He is a beautiful horse that is lovely is body and temperament. Baby Baby Henry is now a Big Boy Henry, but he still loves to play with his friends (which does get him into trouble with me on occasion!). If you ask, then he is willing.

I’m so glad that I go to The Burghley Horse Trials if it means I get a Henry in my life.

This post would not be possible without the photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thank you Chris!