Follow my Blog by Email

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Progress . . .

Finally . . . I had found someone who may be able to help me to achieve my dressage dream - Adam Kemp.  He invited me to go watch him teach and then to meet with him to discuss what I wanted.  So that's what I did.  I was impressed straight away from watching him and the even more impressed when we got together afterwards to talk.  He wanted to know what I wanted to achieve and what kind of horse I wanted.  I remember telling Adam that if I could compete at elementary I would be over the moon.  He listened, he didn't just tell me what he thought I should do.

He suggested that I should take Indi for lessons with him so that he could see me ride and prepare me for my new horse.  He suggested we go over to Holland with him to look for a 5 year old elegant horse.  He estimated this would cost near to £20,000.  That sounded like an absolute fortune at the time.

So that's what we did.  It was extremely intimidating taking my black and white mare down to Adam for a lesson when everyone else had sparkly dressage horses with extravagent movement and all the tricks.  From the very first lesson Adam changed the way I rode Indi and therefore, the way she went, drastically.  I'd never had a lesson that made so much difference to my riding.

Then the time came for us to go out to Holland.  It was terrifying!  Not only had I got to go to this posh dressage yard in Holland I had to ride these quality dressage horses - the like of which I'd never sat on.  On the first morning Adam quickly got me onboard realising I was nervous and the longer I waited to ride the more nervous I would get.  He put his partner, Matt Frost, on board first to show me that the horse was safe and then I rode it.  It wasn't THE ONE but it was a sweet mare who I liked, but she was quite a nervous type and I didn't think I needed the added complication of a nervous horse. 

I ended up on a gorgeous horse that I loved and was also, in my eyes, gorgeous to look at.  Adam taught me on him and I felt really confident.  We talked about him at length and decided he was THE ONE.  But we had to go back and bid for him in the auction about ten days later.

So, we all returned to Holland for the auction.  It's such a beautiful and amazing event - nothing like any auction in the UK.  But it was so nerve wracking because I desperately wanted this horse.  We talked about the maximum that it was sensible to pay for him and then added a bit on top because we liked him so much and it would save us coming back to Holland again and agreed on the top price we would pay.

Adam did the bidding and it quickly became apparant that he was going to go way over what we were prepared to pay.  I went home very disappointed.  Yet again my dressage dream was thwarted!

The following Wednesday I received a phone call from Adam asking what I was doing the following day.  When I told him nothing special he told me I was going back to Holland with Matt.

So in the early hours of the morning I drove to Adam's house, transferred to Matt's car, we drove to Stanstead, flew to Holland and arrived at the Auction Centre at 9am Thursday morning.  There was another smaller auction taking place on Saturday and we were going to try any horses that might be suitable for me.

I tried three horses.  One was too young and green.  There was a mare which I absolutely loved.  She was my favourite.  She found collection easy and was, therefore, very easy to sit on.  And there was a gelding, who I also enjoyed riding.  He was much looser and big moving.  He was Matt's favourite.

Matt videoed me on all three horses and we flew back to the UK and then drove back to show Adam the videos - now well after midnight.  Adam agreed with Matt that the gelding was the nicer horse. 

On the Saturday we found out that the mare - my favourite - was going through the auction first.  Adam had arranged for someone to bid for us.  Again it was a nerve wracking evening but this time waiting for the phone to ring.  The mare went for more than we were prepared to pay but we bought the gelding.

Finally I had my dressage horse - Winston, a black, 5 year old KWPN!!!!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The beginning of the dream . . .

This blog is my day to day quest to be a Dressage Diva.  My passion for dressage started more than twenty years ago when I lived in Tenereife and used to watch a brilliant rider, called Axel Ballinger, school his dressage horses.  This led to me helping out on the yard and being allowed to ride one of his older mares.

One evening there was a big competition and I went to watch.  The arena was immaculate.  It was a warm evening and we were sat outside in the grandstand seating watching Axel.  It was late in the evening and very dark and Axel was on his beautiful black horse performing a serpentine in passage with piaffe each time he hit the centre line.  Suddenly the lights went out - a power cut which was a regular occurence in Tenereife.  There was a lot of panic and activity in the background but I sat still my eyes on the shadowy image of Axel and his horse.  They had halted mid piaffe and remained stock still.  After what seemed like an eternity but in reality was probably only a couple of minutes, the lights came back on.  Axel went straight back into piaffe and continued with the test.  I was amazed.  It was just so beautiful to watch them completely in tune with each other.  It sent shivers down my spine.  I was hooked!  I wanted to be able to do that.

Obviously I'm a very slow learner because more than twenty years later I still haven't ridden piaffe!  But I live in hope.  As anyone who rides will know - it's not an easy thing to achieve.  Dressage is hard.  It looks easy but it's very hard to ride well.

Anyway, I had three children, got very involved in Pony Club - instructing and with all three of my children as members.  It was their riding that was a priority and I only rode to accompany them on hacks or fun rides or hunting.

As my children got older I began to rekindle that desire to ride dressage.  Richard - who is now my partner but wasn't then -  had several horses which I used to ride, but they were either hunters or ex race horses or both.  He had a horse called Garrison Savannah who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup but who was now retired and I had some lessons on him.  I also began to have lessons on his hunter but his hocks didn't really like doing dressage and he became broken.

When Richard and I got together he offered to buy me a dressage horse.  We went to look at quite a few, taking videos which we could take back and show my instructor.  Finally I found one - when I sat on her I felt like I could ride!  Only problem was she was a chestnut mare by Weltmeyer.  We showed the video to my instructor and she liked her and came back with us for a second viewing.  We both rode her and the deal was done, we bought her for £5000.

The minute she came off the horse box I had my reservations.  She was very unsettled and spooky.  We let her settle in and then I had my first lesson on her after she had been lunged.  She spooked at everything.  If I changed the rein across the diagonal, as I approached the other side of the arena she would spook at the boards.  She would spook at shadows, noises and things that weren't there.

I persevered with lessons for several weeks but it didn't get any better and I became despondant.  She began to get worse.  I bought her home and at the time we didn't have an arena so I had to school her in the field.  It was better so long as it was quiet but still not good and I certainly didn't enjoy riding her.

My neighbour - who had more dressage experience than me - offered to ride her.  She tried hacking her following me on her beautifully mannered horse.  But she was incredibly nappy and dangerous.  My neighbour persevered with her but it became obvious she was not the horse for me so finally we managed to sell her.

This had knocked my confidence and made me feel I was even further from my dressage dream.  I ended up replacing her with a smart confidence giver, Tom, who loved jumping, hacking and hunting but didn't really enjoy dressage!!!  Clever hey?  But he was beautiful and coloured and uncomplicated.

I continued to have weekly lessons but didn't make any significant progress.  It was a constant struggle to get him on the bit and to get straightness and bend let alone anything else.  My daughter sold her 14.2hh to move onto a horse and I bought a 5 year old coloured mare for her who had been broken and ridden away.  However, my daughter wanted to gallop and jump and hunt and Indi wasn't ready for that so we swapped horses!  Tom and Tasha had a whale of a time out show jumping and I set to work on Indi.

Indi is a short striding horse with no real movement but a good temperament.  She couldn't even canter round the school (we had now had a school built) but I worked on her and we made lots of progress.  I found a new instructor who would teach me at home and felt that maybe I could pursue my dressage dream after all.

Weeks went into months and the weekly lessons continued.  I worked hard and always did the homework I was set in my lessons but after about a year and a half I still felt stuck at the same level.  I was bored of doing leg yield and turn on the forehand and my instructors constant mantra of "jiggle jiggle give" just didn't feel right either.

The turning point for me came at Addington Manor Dressage Sale.  I used to go to all the sales with my friend, Emma.  At one particular sale we fell in love with a gorgeous young horse.  I rang Rich to tell him about it and he told me to bid on it.  But I couldn't.  I knew that I hadn't got the knowledge to produce this horse myself and I knew I was still to find a really good instructor.

I went home determined to find the right instructor.  I did lots of on line research and asked around but still couldn't find what I was looking for.  I wanted to buy a horse and I wanted the support I needed to learn how to ride him and get the best out of him so I could start to pursue my dressage dream.  I wanted more than just a weekly lesson with someone who never really advanced my riding.  I wanted someone who cared and was passionate about teaching.

One of my neighbours heard about my quest and suggested I emailed Adam Kemp.  She had trained at Talland with Adam and said that he was not only a brilliant instructor but he was also very kind, which she thought was very important.  So I emailed Adam and explained what I was looking for and awaited his response.  The reply came - what I was looking for was exactly what they offered!  The dressage dream was about to move forward!!!