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!

One year on – a tribute to Freddy.

Today marks one year since I lost my darling Freddy. I know that we all love each and every one of our horses dearly, but I truly believe that sometimes one comes along who really captures your heart like no other – and Freddy was that kind of horse.

I loved everything about Freddy, even though we had plenty of ups and downs. There were times when he misbehaved and let me down, just as there were times when I misjudged situations and let him down. We made a lot of mistakes, but slowly began to learn from them. I’m sure many people wondered why I persevered with a horse who could be so unpredictable, just as others wondered why I hadn’t managed to achieve more with such a talented horse. He just made me so happy, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with him – from the adrenaline rush of galloping cross country, to quietly enjoying the scenery on a fabulous ride out, or just hanging out with him and finding his favourite scratchy spots.

I think my most cherished memory of our time together was winning the NSW Equitation Championships in 2012. While eventing will always be my number one passion, to be rewarded that day for my riding, presentation and our partnership is something I’ll always be proud of. He tried his little heart out for me that day, and when the judge told me she wanted to buy him for her daughter, there could never have been a price that would have made me want to part with him.

My darling boy and our treasured trophy rug – looking exhausted from all that good behaviour.

It has been a long year of ups and down while I’ve tried to come to terms with losing him so unexpectedly. There seems to be some misinformation about what actually happened that day. I guess this might be a good opportunity to clear that up, because it’s not really the most pleasant topic to have to try to explain all the time.

Fred was heading to my coach’s farm while I went interstate for Christmas. On that morning, we spent a couple of lovely hours just hanging out, waiting for him to be picked up… He had a bath, extra breakfast, and then I sat in the paddock with him while he grazed next to me. I had no idea it would be the last chance I had to spend time with him – but it was such a beautiful morning.

The last photo I ever had the chance to take – one of my favourite moments with Fred.

On the way to the farm, a tyre blew out, causing the float to fishtail and tip up onto two wheels. Fred hit his head on the wall, and went down. Initially, he seemed to be fairly unscathed aside from a relatively minor head wound, so we thought he was going to be ok. However, he was cast against the wall of the float, and even with a number of us trying to get him up, we just couldn’t get the leverage to help him onto his feet. The vet had been called immediately, but unfortunately shock set in before he arrived, and Freddy passed away.
It was just one of those truly freak accidents – the road and weather conditions were perfect, and the float was being driven well within the speed limit. Even in hindsight, I don’t know that there could have been anything done to prevent this from happening, aside from avoiding putting him on a float ever again… obviously not a logical option for a horse who regularly travelled for competitions, training and socialising.
All credit must go to my amazing instructor, who managed to avoid what could have been a far more serious accident, and I’m so grateful that she wasn’t injured as well. Absolutely everyone involved had only his best interests at heart – sometimes it seems that terrible things are just inevitable.

This will be the last time that I write about Freddy. While I will never stop missing him, I’m learning that holding onto grief does absolutely no good – it won’t bring him back, and it certainly doesn’t make it hurt any less. So rather than dwelling on what I have lost, I just want to focus on the happy memories we created over the years.
Losing him was certainly the most traumatic experience of my life, but I am grateful that indirectly it has allowed me to travel and experience different parts of the world, and I will certainly never forget everything he taught me.

Rest easy my darling Freddy – thank you for lighting up my life.


Dressage Skillz

I nearly forgot, I absolutely can’t go any further without posting this video… I think this is going to become the theme song of my trip over here. Everyone back home is sharing it on Facebook, and everyone here is talking about it – it was played a number of times in the barn aisle today. It’s lighthearted, hilarious, and something that most of us can relate to. A very fun song to have stuck in your head while mucking out ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dom and Jimmie Schramm, the masterminds behind EventionTV, are only a short drive up the road from here, so I’m hoping I’ll get to meet them while I’m here.

If you haven’t come across them before, you absolutely need to check them out on facebook and youtube. They’ve got some fantastic, informative videos, as well as lots of fun ones like this.

Making plans!

 

 

There are now only 65 days, 23 hours and 38 minutes until I leave on my big USA adventure.. not that I’m counting or anything ๐Ÿ˜‰ For those who don’t yet know, I’m going to be spending my uni holidays in the States with Phillip Dutton. I’ve spent this week booking and paying for boring things like travel insurance, flights and hotels. It’s depressing watching those thousands of dollars disappearing from my bank account when I’d rather be spending it on all the beautiful winter riding clothes I’ll be needing over there.ย It’s also taking a lot of self-restraint to stay on top of my uni work when I’d rather be looking up all the must-sees and must-dos which I’m hoping to squeeze in on my way to Phillip’s!

I’m heading there via New York, and returning home via LA, with about 5 days in each place on the way. So if I have any American followers, or anyone else who has travelled through these areas, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

I’m currently on my mid-semester break and have soo much to try to fit into this week.. it’s Thursday already and I’ve barely ticked off a third of the list! The best news is that my lovely old dog, Willow, went in for surgery yesterday which we were all a bit worried about, but she pulled through fine and is now home and recovering well.

 

Pre-surgery cuddles.. she’s not quite as pretty post-surgery, but I’m very happy to have her home in one piece!

I’m feeling terribly over-committed to so many things in the next couple of months. I made a lot of plans for October and November before I made the decision to head to the US, and nearly every weekend is packed out with events and other commitments between now and December. I’m also trying to fit in as much riding as possible between now and then, so I don’t humiliate myself when I arrive! Soย it will be challenging trying to stay on top of it all and do well in my exams in the weeks before I leave… I don’t think I’ll have a spare moment to relax until I get on that first plane!