Well where to start with Baby. I’ve tried writing this before and it got very long so I’ll try and stick to the important bits!
I was studying for my degree at Writtle College, a lot of time was spent down at the college stud looking after the youngsters, alongside my degree I was also working at the stud on the weekends as well as competing Shearer and Liberty at the time. I remember one fun summer of going to work, coming back in my lunch break to ride Shearer, back to work, then back to ride Liberty. We managed one summer of competing both of them together and it was such a great, very busy summer. While I was studying there in my first year, my favourite broodmare, Darcy, had a foal, they named her Dancer. It was love at first sight, because of how much time I was down there we spent a lot of time together and she became really special to me. Not many other people agreed with me on this one! She could be a bit of a handful and took the mick out of most of the less experienced students, she would often be seen 200 yards in front of her mum, poor student being dragged along after her. Other people saw this as rude, I saw it as brave! My fate was sealed when she was transferred by the judges from the dressage category to the eventing one at her first youngstock grading because she was so fast and gutsy. I had to have her!
We bought her at 5 months old and she came home at 10 months once a stable had freed up. As I write this she is now 7 years old and I still don’t know if I made the best decision ever or made my biggest mistake, it depends on the day! Don’t get me wrong, I love her dearly, but I regularly question whether I bit off more than I could chew and I’m sure she would have been better off with a true professional rider, as she is far from straight forward! But I’m still proud to say I’m the only person to have ever sat on her and she’s not turned out that bad! And you know what they say, the quirky ones are often the best ones, and boy is she quirky. Nowadays she’s known as Baby, most of the students couldn’t call her Dancer and keep a straight face, too much like a reindeer, so her nickname stuck, although as far as I’m aware she’s still known as Dancer at the stud!
Since birth Baby has had an attitude. It’s what makes her so special, she has something that makes people stop and look, she’s sexy and she knows it. Unfortunately we have been known to draw attention for the wrong reasons. I’ve never seen a horse rear so high, luckily she’s never done that under saddle! She came home very rude and it took a very long time for her to understand she didn’t have to live life at 100 miles an hour and to stop and think before she reacted. She has a very dominant streak and had learned early on that she was far stronger than humans were. Because she was so feisty she started basic work early on, she would have a little lunge every now and then as a yearling, nothing high pressure, and do groundwork and desensitizing, we’d go for walks up the lane and round the fields in hand. She was about a year old when Shearer was put down and Liberty wasn’t in much work at the time for one reason or another that I can’t remember, so I didn’t have anything to ride for a few years until Baby was ready for backing, what a great combination! A hot headed 3 year old chestnut mare and a rusty rider. I backed her and rode her away early, she needed the stimulation and to keep her brain busy and I’m a very small person so the odd session under saddle wasn’t going to do her any harm. She went to yearly youngstock gradings until she was 3 too, qualifying for the finals three years in a row, but we never took her, I had no interest in putting a horse that young through that kind of journey and I didn’t take the classes as seriously as others. I wasn’t willing to exercise her enough to make her look as strong as her competitors, she just did the gradings for some experience, along with the odd local in hand showing class.
At 4 she did the odd dressage and Showjumping round a long with a bit of cross country schooling, where she showed skill over ditches and steps, she’s the only horse I have been able to get over a hanging log ditch fence at my old local training ground! She has talent in there. But she’s also extremely flexible! I’ve never seen a horse turn as sharp as she can and she can wriggle her way out of any situation. She has an incredible”fifth leg” but she knows how to use it to her own advantage more than to get herself out of trouble.
I had my daughter in the May of Baby’s 5th year so she had a good bit of time off over then. It all went a bit downhill from there I’m afraid! I didn’t think I would lose my nerve after having a child, and I didn’t, Baby wasn’t safe enough to ride while I was pregnant and I really struggled with having that long out of the saddle, I was desperate to crack on, which was my biggest mistake really. I waited long enough, I was back on board 6 weeks after birth, I felt good, not as strong but not that different to before, and I was confident and kicking on. I didn’t factor in how the time off would effect such a young horses training, and that she might need bringing back into jumping much slower than I did. We had had a break in at our yard where all my tack got stolen. I’d bought a new dressage and jumping saddle and I was desperate to try them out. I was borrowing a lot of equipment off other people so Baby wasn’t in her usual bridle or bit combination, and the stirrups I borrowed were incredibly thin. I should have been more careful, but I was so keen to get back to where we left off. We had a jumping field and as it was summer it was all set up, Baby was used to jumping in the field as we’d schooled there most of her 4th year. But it had been about 9 months since she’d last done it. I set the jumps to what I thought was manageable height. Baby disagreed. I fell off and broke my ankle and my heel! So I think this is where my confidence took it’s biggest knock in my ridden life. I had a 7 week old baby and I was in a cast up to my knee, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t carry my own child! Baby went back on holiday and I went back to square one before I’d even got off the mark. It was the longest 7 weeks of my life in cast and I am pretty sure I had PTSD after, I felt like psychologically I still had a cast on for a good year after it came off, everything felt harder than before and I would put things off because it just felt too difficult. I had one tiny jump lesson after the accident where junping 18″ was stressful and then I didn’t jump for about 6 months or more. We moved house in January 2016 and it became clear we had a problem. Baby had lost confidence and so had I. If I approached a fence at more than a slow trot I would panic, Baby hated being held onto so strongly, I was giving her all the wrong messages and she got progressively worse. Within a few months we had gone from struggling over a 18″ fence at trot to struggling to even walk over a pole on the floor. Something had to change! I took her to see a trainer, a 4* eventer not too far from home. I thought if she couldn’t fix it noone could. What I didn’t know is she wasn’t a fan of quirky horses. We took away some great lessons, we got over loads of poles on the floor at all sorts of speeds and I felt in control for the first time in months. But we also left with the advice that she had a bad brain and I would be best off selling her if I hadn’t got anywhere in 6 months and getting something that wanted to do the job. I could see her point, and my confidence in Baby and my own ability to improve her were so low I agreed with her. At home we carried on over poles on the ground which were getting easier.
I had started working at the local livery yard that summer on the weekends and the lovely yard managers allowed me to come down and use their manege and jumps whenever I wanted which was a god send. This was about a year after the fall. Every week we would box up or I would hack down and I would trot over ground poles, rarely daring to canter, worrying it would make her too forward and she’d refuse like she did before. The instructors techniques got us jumping a very tentative slow round of small jumps. I was doing it but I wasn’t enjoying it. I was terrified until it was over, and even then I was still scared becauib I’d have to hack back and no matter how much you work Baby she will still be full of energy and running and feel like a bomb that was going to go off. Well that’s how I had gotten in my head! We were in a bad place still and it wasn’t enjoyable having this horse anymore. But you may have noticed a trend here, I was too stubborn to give up on her. I had to make it work!
Unfortunately the managers changed hands at the local yard, I lost my job and free use of the arena, the new management came in and out a phenomenal surface down, but charged a lot more to hire it and with money being tight at time I couldn’t justify it. Our surface at home had been a problem since we had got there and jumping on grass had become a big no no by then. Winter quickly came and it was the hardest winter I think we’ve ever had. If the manage wasn’t deep and boggy it was flooded or frozen. We made the most of the water practice but it wasn’t the place for jumping. We ended up with a lot of time off jumping again! Baby becomes a bit of a fruitcake in cold weather and wind, so that didn’t help with my confidence, I kept her in work but not as much as she needed, a freezing winter with 4 horses and a toddler to look after isn’t easy! I was full of excuses not to exercise her clearly. I honestly can’t remember exactly how it all came about next, but I saw a 1 on 1 jumping clinic down the road at the livery yard and thought a) I can try out their amazing new surface! And b) I need help again with Baby. Just for perspective this is now about February this year I think? I booked in for the clinic, and then started to suspect that I might be pregnant again! It was early early days so I just ignored it and went ahead with the clinic, I knew that if I did a test before I wouldn’t ride the same seeing as I was still so scared of jumping. The clinic was with Claire Gradley, a local show jumper and dealer. I thought a pure show jumper instead of an eventer would have more ideas on how to help us and I was right, one of the first things that she said when I got there was how much she loved mental chestnut mares! If anyone could help us she could. She also had her husband there and together they would brainstorm ideas on how best to work with the horse they had in front of them. Two instructors for the price of one! As soon as I started warming up it was clear I was nervous and she totally changed our techniques and got me riding properly instead of sitting on her. Baby stayed true to form and refused to go over some poles on the floor, as much as it drove me mad it was the best time for her to do it. Claire came up with ideas I’d never thought of and I would never have believed that by the end of the session I would be jumping a full course of fences, not clinging on and holding her back, actually riding her! A few days after I had to tell my mum that I was pregnant and we immediately agreed I needed at least one more lesson with Claire before I stopped jumping again. It was too soon to tell Claire but we went to her yard this time which did Baby the world of good. It’s safe to say I now think Claire is a genius. We were jumping a course of about 80cm, with fillers, and planks, and combinations confidently! It had taken 2 years but we were getting somewhere! I practiced jumping at home a few times afterwards before deciding it was time for Baby to have a holiday again, shess really not the type to ride when pregnant! But I can hand on heart say that I am genuinely looking forward to jumping Baby again after I’ve recovered from baby number 2 due next month. Something I didn’t think I would ever say again. At the end of 2018 I had decided I would make Baby a dressage horse, but now I’m back dreaming of a one day event again and I can’t believe it. But I genuinely believe that with the right instructor, and with positive thinking and a lot of practice it will happen! This brings us round to the creation of Kick-On Cards, but this post is long enough so I’ll save that for another time. This summer’s been about teaching Baby to calm down, slow down and think first and she’s been really getting there so I’m pretty excited about how she will be when I get back on. Keep your eyes peeled for an update!