Gallops & Garlands

Gallops & Garlands is my favourite blog and online resource, written by a special friend of mine.

The blog follows her horse show adventures, and I’m excited to see her embarking on a new dressage career with her very talented horses! She has impeccable taste and I love reading about all her new matchy-matchy finds, and she was my inspiration for starting this blog.

Check out the Gallops & Garlands blog here – http://www.gallopsandgarlands.com

…and the Facebook page here – https://www.facebook.com/GallopsandGarlands

No rest for the wicked

Or so they say!

I hit the ground running as soon as I returned to Australia – I missed the first week of the university semester so was launched back into study mode immediately. It’s now the last week of semester, and with exams looming in the next 2 weeks, I still feel like I’ve barely caught up!

When I arrived back home, I decided I was ready to start looking for my next horse. With my last few horses coming to me through word-of-mouth or just sheer luck, the prospect of heading out to shop for a new superstar was a bit daunting! I found a few promising leads, some of which didn’t turn out to be suitable for one reason or another, and a couple who didn’t pass a vet check well enough. I’m still hoping that the perfect horse will come along, though I’m no longer actively searching – if it happens, it happens ๐Ÿ™‚

In the meantime, I’ve been getting plenty of my horsey fix through volunteering at events, riding horses for friends when they’ve been busy, and starting my own little part-time grooming business. What started out as just plaiting a couple of horses for friends at competitions has turned into quite a fun little venture – I now offer plaiting, mane pulling, show prep and other miscellaneous grooming tasks in my local area. I spent a week grooming four show horses at Sydney Royal, which was loads of fun. While my heart will always belong to eventing, I won’t deny that I enjoy all the fussing and preening that goes into preparing horses for the hack ring.

With mid-year university holidays coming up at the end of June, I’m hoping to be able to spend a lot more time in the saddle. I do have some exciting news to share over the next couple of days, so watch this space ๐Ÿ˜‰

Playing with show ponies at Sydney Royal

More fun at Sydney – trendsetting with new quartermarks

Enjoying the perks of dressage judging!

First person to step foot in the stables at SIEC at 5:30am – the joys of plaiting for early dressage classes!

Nothing beats a bit of no-stirrup work!

One of my “before-and-after” grooming transformations

Flashback – George Morris at Bridle Creek Farm

I know this is months overdue – but better late than never!

Originally I had planned to spend my final week in the US exploring Los Angeles, but when I heard that George Morris would be teaching a clinic next door at Boyd’s, I knew that was something I didn’t want to miss. I postponed my flight out of South Carolina for a few days so that I could stay and attend, and volunteered to spend the two days picking up poles so I could be right amongst the action. Plenty of people warned me to be quick on my feet and race to any dislodged jumps, but I still managed to take a few photos and record some of his best quotes on my ipad throughout the day.

George is such a stickler for correct and solid basics and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him emphasising the importance of soft and light riding, and functionally correct position. It’s quite humbling to know that even Olympians can struggle with the basics – Phillip’s heels became a bit of a running joke over the two days! It was really interesting watching George actually get on and ride a few of the horses throughout the clinic… while he may be getting on in years, his riding ability definitely hasn’t diminished!

There was lots of good-hearted humour interspersed with George’s quick and dry wit. George seems to divide people’s opinions quite strongly, with some criticising his teaching style and mannerisms, but I felt that all his comments and instructions were very fair and constructive. I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to ride in front of him, but I certainly enjoyed my very close-up learning experience!

“Basic principles of horsemanship and riding never change. Fashions and fads change, and that’s what’s damaging our sport.”

“If any of the basics are compromised, there will always be consequences.”

“Position equals function.”

โ€œContact is straight, steady, definite and supple.โ€

“I don’t care how much you win, I want soft and light riding.”

“This is a sport of precision – every inch counts.”

USEF High Performance Training Sessions

I was lucky enough to be invited along to some of the USEF High Performance Training Sessions this week. They’re held at Stable View Farm, which is an amazing facility on the other side of Aiken. It’s well worth having a look at their website, although the property really is much more impressive in person.

http://stableviewfarm.com

The Training Sessions are run by David O’Connor, and are used to assess how the squad members and their horses have progressed over the off season and where they’re up to in their training and fitness. Each horse also undergoes a thorough health assessment with the team vets, again just to see where they’re at, to investigate any issues that may have occurred in the past and to make plans on how to avoid any problems in the future.

Phillip took Mr Medicott, and it was really exciting and informative to be able to watch them have a jump lesson with David. The arena was packed with other people also watching, even though it was bitterly freezing – it seemed that no one wanted to miss out on seeing them jump. They really are a celebrity pair around here. I’m feeling very privileged to be so involved in all of this behind-the-scenes action!

Bridle Creek & Red Oak Farm

We’re all pretty well settled in now at Red Oak Farm in Bridle Creek. The weather is much more mild than it was back in Pennsylvania which is a nice change!

Bridle Creek is one of many gorgeous equestrian communities here in Aiken. It’s pretty amazing to have so many dedicated horse properties within the one development – I certainly haven’t seen anything like it back home. Not only am I based here with Phillip Dutton, but our closest neighbours include Boyd Martin, Ryan Wood and Dr Kevin Keane. It’s quite surreal to be surrounded by so much knowledge and expertise within a 200m radius!

The entrance to Bridle Creek

The gorgeous scenery within the community

Not only are there a number of very impressive private properties within Bridle Creek, but there are also some great shared facilities. There is a communal dressage arena, showjumping course and cross country field, as well as miles of wooded bridle paths and trails.

The communal cross country field

The barn and other facilities here at Red Oak are just beautiful. We’ve currently got stabling for 23 horses, though we still try to turn the horses in the paddocks as much as possible. It’s much more pleasant and definitely a lot safer for them to be on the nice sandy soil here, compared to the frozen ground back at True Prospect.

Red Oak Farm’s new dressage arena under construction

While the basics are obviously still all the same, there is a whole new routine to learn here to go along with the different climate and facilities. We’re very lucky that Emma Ford, Phillip’s long-time head groom, has returned to the team after a brief hiatus last year. She has us all working very efficiently and understands how to make the place run at it’s full potential. I love working alongside Emma and being able to pick her brain about all the varying details of horsemanship required to maintain horses at an elite – she is another wonderful source of knowledge.

A famous face – Mr Medicott lounging in his stall

I’ve been here for nearly 2 months now and I still have to stop and pinch myself sometimes. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to be here, learning from some of the absolute best in the industry – I really don’t want to have to go home!!

A smoochy moment with my precious Bones

3 coffees, 4 Red Bulls and 5 states…

We’ve finally make it to Aiken! We left Pennsylvania much later than we’d hoped, and after being on the road for around 11 hours we made it to Red Oak Farm just before 2am on Saturday morning.
It was a little disappointing to do most of our travelling in the dark so I couldn’t really see any of the sights along the way, though the locals assure me that there really isn’t that much to see along 95 anyway.

Farewell, True Prospect Farm!

Cruising down 95, reppin’ my hideously ugly Philadelphia Flyers hoodie.

Rolling out of bed on Saturday morning to get to work after just a couple of hours sleep was a challenge, but it was so nice to be out in the warmer weather, working out of such a beautiful barn. The 4 of us girls are living in the newly built apartment right above the stables which is very convenient… And it’s very pleasant to fall asleep to the sounds of the horses quietly munching away at their hay.

I’m super excited to start this new chapter of my trip – stay tuned for lots more news and photos from Bridle Creek, it is such an amazing place!

The first of many beautiful sunrises at Red Oak Farm.

Stories from the saddle

All rugged up on a cold morning riding William Penn

Good Enough – one of my absolute favourites… He’s a lot more special than his name suggests!

Amongst all the craziness of preparing to move south, we’ve still been getting in plenty of riding. I had my first jump lesson with Phillip last week, on a sweet gelding named Vandy. I was super rusty and a bit nervous riding under scrutiny after not having jumped in over a year!
We worked on some basics and some more challenging grids, and even though I made my fair share of mistakes, I learnt lots of things that I’ll be able to take away and work on. Hopefully I’ll have another lesson soon, and might be able to redeem myself a bit now that I’ve got my starstruck nerves out of the way.

One of the more challenging grids from my lesson

The weather has been much more mild in the past few days, and we’ve actually been able to head outside and use the gallop track to do our hacking and jogging. As much as I love the amazing indoor here, it was so nice to get outside and ride in the fresh air! The indoor has been really busy again with people trying to cram in last minute lessons with Phillip before we all leave, so being able to escape peak hour in the arena has been great.

One of the “quieter” moments in the arena, with only 4 other horses – Fernhill Fugitive checking out the action

The horses certainly enjoy it too, and it’s much easier to get those lazier ones moving actively forward during their trot sets out on the track rather than just going round and round in circles.

Penn checking out the scenery

Hacking out with Vandy and Fernhill Fugitive

One of the great things about being here is the opportunity to just observe so many great riders and great horses working together. I love the chances I get to set poles for jump schooling or lessons, because you can learn so much from watching how each person handles each exercise on different horses, and from the feedback they get from Phillip. There is definitely just as much knowledge to be gained from the ground as from the saddle.

Fernhill Flag during a lesson – too speedy for my poor little phone camera!