Highs and lows for Sarah-Jane in her latest blog

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It has been a mixed time since my last blog, some consolidation for Fliss and some frustrating times for Ellie. The weather has also been a struggle with the exception of a week in June. It has been so dry meaning the ground is hard and we are struggling to get the work into the horses at home and competitions have to be carefully picked or left for another day to avoid hard ground. Regular readers of my blog will know I don’t have a school at home so I do all my work in a field or hacking. Most of the year this works fine, but when it gets this dry, it does limit what I can do. 
Big thanks to Suregrow despite the dry weather my grass is looking great and with the girls sharing one field we had a bumper crop of hay off the other. 
So last time I blogged Fliss had just done her first Novice BE at Howick with a double clear. We followed this with a trip to West Wilts. I had sworn not to go to West Wilts this year as it is on the limit of our travel for a novice (four and a half hours), and it is a notoriously unlucky venue for us where we never get placed. Saying all that the showjumping is on a lovely surface, the cross country tracks are well maintained and offer a good variety of fences. I also chose it as it has relatively soft water for the level and this is an area we still need to progress with Fliss. I already had the course photos and thought the course looked quite soft for the level, on walking it I found the pictures were a tad misleading and in fact it was one of the stronger West Wilts tracks with a tricky combination on the mound at six and a couple of other combinations that asked questions.  
The old butterflies fluttered and self-doubts raised their ugly heads! Even the showjumping looked a big track and that should be our most comfortable phase. We had an early start with dressage at 8.06. The test used was 110 which is a more straightforward novice test and I thought Fliss tried hard and offered a consistent obedient test. I still find that in the arena with smaller movements she tightens up in the frame but it is improving all the time. We scored 34.5 which was about middling for the day and a two mark improvement on Howick.
It was a quick turn around and we were show jumping by 8.45. Luckily by this time I remembered what a superstar I was riding. I focused on keeping the canter forward and up and then pointed her at the fences. She was on springs giving them inches and making the whole round feel very smooth.
Cross country was definitely going to be Fliss's biggest test to date, a step up from Howick. I was very aware it was important to set momentum and rhythm over the first four simple fences before we really got into the meat of the course. She warmed up super but set off out the start box and locked her jaw tilting her head giving me a dead contact. The first two fences were therefore spent softening the jaw and getting her off my leg and into the bridle. Luckily by three and four she was jumping super. Fence five was the water with a blue roll top before and after. I was really pleased as she just kept her momentum through the combination and the water. Fence six was the fence that really worried me the most and also a fence that Fliss would never have seen the like of. A steep pull up to a log and then two strides to sloped rails with the ground significantly dropping on the landing. We rather fiddled our way through adding a stride and lost some impulsion nevertheless there was never any danger of a fault. I was so pleased to get the fence out the way and I promptly set sail up the field when I should have been turning left through the gateway and lost myself 15 seconds of time and half frightened an innocent spectator to death! Once re-aligned we popped through a meaty wide tree stump to a brush nicely. A nice hedge and then through the coffin, over a big hay cart and then parallel rails before turning to the corner. Fliss is always great with corners and we had a good line but about a stride and a half out I felt her slip right out her shoulder and go to run past right, luckily a slap down the shoulder (always make sure the whip is in the correct hand) and she straightened and made a somewhat awkward jump over the corner. A decent step to a skinny and a couple of plain fences again before the camera picks us up coming home over the combination of spread fences with barrels underneath. 
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She came home full of running and really confident which I was delighted with. We had too many time penalties to trouble the placing’s although we may have been slightly closer without my detour!
We then headed back to the dark side with both girls for some showjumping at Chard. Both girls picked up some frilly’s but Fliss was particularly clever to come 10th in the Discovery second round. 
I had some exciting training plans at the end of June which was rather disrupted. We were heading to Lyneham Heath for a couple of lessons with Owen Moore.  Some may have questioned my sanity as this involved a 480 mile round trip. To add to this we were going to go to Treborough for cross-country schooling on the way back. 
I had lessons booked for Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, stabling Wednesday night at Lyneham and at Pontispool Thursday night so we could go to Treborough Friday morning. With Fliss having progressed quite quickly up the levels in BE, I felt this was a much needed time to take stock and prioritize any issues to work on. 
Sadly on the Monday I received an email saying Owen was unwell and wouldn't be able to teach. We debated going anyway and in the end decided to postpone until later on in the year. We decided instead just to head to Treborough on Wednesday to school round the flagged track which was merely a six hour round trip! Treborough is the most beautiful venue and I suggested to a friend she came too as she hadn't seen much of Exmoor.
As much as I love Treborough the one disadvantage is the drive, it is hilly and tight in places. As we got closer and gained height we came into fog and the visibility was very poor making driving even more difficult. We arrived at about 11am and made our way into the field. Sadly the fog meant I could barely see the lorry at 10ft!
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The total sum of spectators at Treborough was my friend who dragged me and we saw some grass and a piece of string roping off the trade stand area.
We had lunch and waited for it to clear, and waited and waited and in the end we gave up! I understood it cleared at 5pm by which time we were long gone. We did make a hasty plan B (or should it be z) and rang Stockland Lovell where we could do some cross-country schooling. This meant navigating off the moor in thick fog down a different windy and hilly trail. About five miles from Treborough down the hill the fog cleared and the sun shone - so frustrating!  
Water is the main thing we wanted to play with as I know this can still be a weak area where she needs more experience jumping in so we warmed up by the water and then cantered through it. The water was quite green in places but soon got her used to it trotting round and through. We then progressed to jumping in over a small log and out over a triple brush type fence. There was a reasonable little drop in and went to pop that in and she said she couldn't possibly drop into green stuff. So I went back in popped out up the drop a few times before turning round and asking her to go back in. Still a big 'no way' and just switched off on me. She is so genuine but sometimes if she really isn't sure it just won't happen. So there was only one thing for it, I had to paddle again. I stepped into the water in my short boots which quickly filled up and I had very wet feet. I have to say this is where she is very trusting because she immediately followed me in to the water and we repeated this a few times. I got back on and now she understood what she needed to do and jumped straight in.
We carried on round the course to the other water which was clear and probably would have been the better one to start on. It had a variety of little steps in and one about the same size we had the fuss over initially. This time she was really confident and just popped in all the different ways so hopefully we are still progressing. I just have to be aware that water is something I need to work on and if any doubt carry a lunge line and wellies!
Overall, when things don't go right it is frustrating you can't improve things or correct them if the problems don't show themselves. By the end she was jumping confidently in to both water areas from a slow jog giving her time to look, think and hopefully learn. It is clearly something we will need to work hard at but hopefully over time she will learn to trust me as much in the saddle as she does un-mounted.
Both horses were entered for Bicton BE but unfortunately a few weeks before Ellie had a runny nose and although it was a minor setback her work was drastically reduced and she was withdrawn. Fliss did go for a Novice run but in all honesty I was struggling to get motivated and ready for cross-country. The ground despite a sterling effort was firm enough and that was the excuse I needed to leave it for another day. We did an average dressage and a nice clear showjumping so no setbacks, well, just a little one in my head! 
Looking forward I am hoping we get some proper rain soon and until we do will be focusing more on the showjumping.
To finish off with some very exciting news, my mare Sarnita who is loaned to a friend has had a beautiful filly foal. Sarnie is a fabulous and proud mum.
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July 15, 2019  |   Share: